It's often reported that Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians. This necessarily speaks poorly of the ability of the American church to call believers to sanctified lives if the statistics are accurate. But as I noted a year ago, flawed methodological assumptions, such as how one defines a Christian, can result in inaccurate studies:
This is a theological definition. But evangelicals, in the sense that Gallup and Barna are using, are a social cohort -- a group of individuals with common and discrete characteristics. I preface with this distinction because I think that an evangelical, in the sociological sense, is someone who is strongly culturally tied to a church.
So how do Gallup and Barna identify evangelicals? Gallup defines it as someone who has had a 'born again' experience. Theologically, I agree. But if that self-identified person does not show up to church at least once a week, I do not think that he could be defined sociologically as an evangelical or, better put, a member of the evangelical culture. Gallup says that 41% of Americans self-identify as evangelical. Maybe so, but 41% of Americans aren't showing up to church on a weekly basis. Barna defined the Christians within their sample as those who have "accepted Jesus Christ as their savior"...and that's it, no other identifiers. So Gallup and Barna are theologically correct in their definition, but not sociologically correct.
We can debate, theologically speaking, what makes a Christian, but if one is engaging in sociological analysis then one must use sociological terms. And in this sense, someone who responds to a phone survey by saying "Yes, I'm a Christian" isn't necessarily a Christian.
So sociologist Brad Wilcox measured divorce against church attendance:
This idea that Christians are just as likely to divorce as secular folks is not correct if we factor church attendance into our thinking. Churchgoing evangelical Protestants, churchgoing Catholics, and churchgoing mainline Protestants are all significantly less likely to divorce.
I estimate between 35 and 50 percent less likely than Americans who attend church just nominally, just once or twice a year, or who don't attend church at all. It is true that people who say they've had a born-again experience are about as likely to divorce as people who are completely secular. But if you look at this through the lens of church attendance, you see a very different story.
Certainly there is excessive divorce in the American church today, among other signs of broken relationships and sin. But the Chicken Little attitudes of many critics are unmerited.
Hat tip: David Wayne