There is an article from the Christian Post making the rounds which has modern Christians giddy: Author Debunks Myths About Divorce Rates, Including of Churchgoers. The article and the book it promotes The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce is welcome news to modern Christians.
My first reaction to the article was that the author is using questionable statistics*, even if there is a kernel of truth to what she is sharing. However, what I think is far more important is the nature of article, book, and the responses to the book. It would be easy to miss that they aren’t celebrating a recent decline in divorce rates. Her main point in the Christian Post article is that the no fault divorce regime isn’t really that bad (and never has been):
Feldhahn: The most important big-picture truth: contrary to popular opinion, most marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime. That doesn’t mean most marriages are perfect; there are still plenty of legitimate concerns out there. But for our culture as a whole, the marriages that are unhappy, the ones that don’t make it, are the exception rather than the rule.
She reinforces this with positive data about Boomer divorce rates, as well as divorce rates for second marriages and churchgoing Christians.
So if they aren’t celebrating an encouraging decline in recent divorce rates, what are they celebrating? They are celebrating what they see as a validation of the new (anti biblical) model of marriage. All of those naysayers claiming the wakeup call model of marriage is destroying marriage were wrong! It is working just fine!
If divorce levels were unacceptably high and marriage was collapsing as an institution, then they would need to rethink their rejection of biblical marriage. But according to this author marriage is just fine, the only problem is that people have been tricked into believing that it is falling apart at the seams. According to the author high divorce rates under our no fault divorce regime are caused by concern about high divorce rates, not the other way around. This denies our recent history, where an explosion in divorce rates followed the legal and cultural gutting of marriage, and concern about the exploding divorce rates followed the actual phenomenon.
The reaction to the book is the same reaction Director Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family had when he found that the most devout Christians only have a 38% divorce rate. He was so elated he sent out announcements of the good news two years in a row.
The biggest problem with the message is that the focus on reassuring Christians that our anti biblical model of marriage is working just fine is furthering rebellion. But the problem doesn’t end there. Aside from the problematic stats, the reality is that marriage really is falling apart at the seams. 40% of children are now born out of wedlock, and the US has a higher rate of children growing up without fathers than every country in Europe I could find data for. Marriage is crumbling as an institution, and as a result each year we find that Americans spend an ever smaller percentage of their adult lives married:
These declining numbers represent a combination of delayed marriage, marriage avoided outright, and lower remarriage rates after divorce. As you can see from the chart above marriage patterns vary greatly by race. What it doesn’t show is that other factors like education and class are also very important. This new anti biblical model of marriage works much better for the upper middle class than it does for lower classes. As a result, marriage is starting to become something only the elite can afford to dabble in. Hidden in this tragedy is a potential silver lining. As marriage becomes seen as something only for the elite, those groups which have experienced the highest divorce rates have retreated from marriage. As a result, we should expect to see a decline in overall divorce rates. But even here, this isn’t really good news for marriage, because it is due to marriage becoming weaker as an institution, not a sign that it is becoming stronger.
*As I mentioned above I think the questionable statistics in the Cristian Post article and another one on Catalyst are not the root of the issue, as bad as some of the problems are. I’ve deliberately avoided taking the bait and focusing on the stats in this post in order not to lose sight of the much more important picture.