This is the final installment in our series called Redemptive Windows, where CRC Campus Ministers answer apologetics-style questions from CC readers. Thank you to each person who wrote in and especially to the Campus Ministers for thoughtful answers to thorny issues.
The series’ seven articles can be found together at christiancourier.ca.
Albert Wu responds:
I find this such a fascinating question because I think it might be trying to get at more than one thing. My first instinct is to say this: if you are looking to strengthen your marriage, and you see Christianity as one of many competing products that might help, then you probably should look somewhere else. You’ll only end up disappointed, but not for the reasons you might think. I say this because when the question is posed in this way, it makes God out to be a kind of universal butler. A kind of universal insurance provider that we follow as long as we get the lives or the marriages we want. The problem is that, in the Christian worldview, God is not supposed to serve our marriages. Instead, our marriages are meant to serve God. Therefore using God to safeguard your marriage is, in a sense, putting the cart before the horse.
Within the Christian context, marriages are meant to point to and glorify God. A Christian couple who stays together through thick and thin is meant to point to a great, loving God who is totally committed to his people. A Christian couple who is gracious and hospitable to both neighbour and stranger is meant to glorify a God who is gracious and hospitable with us.
Then the question begging to be asked is this: how well are Christians serving and glorifying God through their marriages?
Behind the stats
If the statistic you cite is correct, then the answer is “not very well.” However, I have often been curious about this particular statistic. It’s used a lot. Most of our cited statistics about Christianity and divorce seem to be taken from the United States where yes, in 2008 there was a rather popular study released by Barna showing the divorce rate between Christians and non-Christians to be about identical. However, the study did not differentiate between “nominal” Christians and Christians who were consistently attending a local church. In other words, the survey was only looking at Christian affiliation and not signs of Christian commitment. This is a fact that we should at least be aware of, given that Christian affiliation is culturally embedded in American culture in ways it is not in countries like Canada.
When sociologist and professor Bradley RE Wright looked at church attendance as it relates to divorce, he found that the rate consistently went down as church attendance went up. In fact, as he combed through data from the General Social Survey from 2000 to 2008 (an American survey which is larger and more comprehensive than Barna’s), he found that weekly church attenders have a divorce rate well below the national average. This observation was corroborated by sociologist Brad Wilcox who looked at a different survey called the National Survey of Families and Households. Wilcox found that Christians who regularly attend church are much less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.
So do Christians get divorced at the same rate as everyone else? I guess it depends on how you define the term. At the end of the day, however, I don’t think the heart of your question is necessarily about efficacy or statistical validity as much as it is about hypocrisy. And in that case, you are correct. Christians are all hypocrites. As a Christian I believe in ideals that I know I fall terribly short of. After all, part of calling oneself a Christian is to strive to be like Christ, and who on earth can meet that kind of perfection? Yet at the same time, I think that the statistics also highlight Christians out there who take their commitment to God seriously. There are believers who do try their best to live with integrity, even though they know they are striving for a goal they will never fully attain on this side of the grave, and some of those believers might even be divorced. This is why I earnestly think that if you are truly interested in seeing how the Christian faith can change a life, you need to go past the statistics. You need to try and find believers who are trying hard to authentically follow Christ. A local church is a good place to start. However, be careful what you search for. I had similar critiques of Christianity, found a community of believers who were serving the poor in the inner city and now I’m a chaplain.