There are some who say, "The family that prays together, stays together." Not so, according to one religious organization..
According to religious think-tank Barna Resarch Group
of Ventura, Calif., non-Christians divorce at a rate of 38 percent, Born-again Christians 33 percent, atheists 30 percent and Catholics at 28 percent, according to a recent survey of 3,792 participants.
"…Born-again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing," saod George Barna, president and founder of the group.
At least one religion takes issue with his findings, despite the Barna Group's Protestant roots. "Not everyone professing membership in an evangelical church is necessarily a person born again. You would have to determine if they were born again. Many people are members of a church, but are not born again. This issue is conversion not simply church membership," said a spokesperson for the Baptist church, who would not give his name.
Experts general agree that divorce increased substantially for a short time after World War II. It declined in the 1950s, but increased again in the '60s and '70s. By the 1980s divorce rates leveled off and has been declining in recent years. Dr. David Popenoe
, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, whose mission is to provide research on the state of marriage in America, takes issue with the Barna Group Study. "I've never seen divorce statistics arranged around comparative religions. The general finding is, people who are faithful members of their religion who marry someone of the same faith tend to have a lower divorce rate than others," the professor explained.
"...The findings (by the Barna Group) that evangelicals have a higher divorce rate doesn't distinguish strongly faithful evangelicals from others," Popenoe said. "And it also doesn't distinguish levels of education. The big factor in divorce is a person's level of education. The higher the level of education the lower the divorce rate. That's one reason Atheists have one of the lowest divorce rates. Atheists tend to be well educated." Prof. Christian Smith
, director of the Center for the Sociology of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, agr3eed with Popenoe: "I would distrust the Barna Report for various reasons. We academics have various questions about their methods --- both response rates of polls and how they categorize various groups and types. They do not report all the info we'd normally like to see telling about possible non-response bases. And they seem to have biased ways of defining and categorizing at least some groups. Evangelicals tend to gobble up their findings uncritically," the professor added. Dr. Mark Regnerus
, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, says, divorce and religion is all about geography. "It's all about what we call 'selection,' that is — only those who get married are at risk of divorcing. And Middle America and people in the South continue to marry at rates above those in the West and Northeast. So when you talk about geography and divorce you have to also think about geography and marriage," he said.
Like Prof. Smith, Prof. Regnerus questioned the Barna Group Study's, statistics. He put it this way: "When people talk about Evangelicals or Catholics we often make the assumption that these are regular church or Mass attendees. Maybe not, likely not. "I'm also surprised about the Jewish number (found in the 'Barna Group Study.'), but here again it likely reflects the high number of Reformed Jews in the U.S., many of whom don't practice lots of Jewish traditions."
According to Smith, religion has little to do with divorce. "Age at marriage is the number one predictor of divorce. Couples who marry at 18 or 19 years old don't know what they're doing and lack the social skills we once had for making marriage work. Many who marry young have marriages that don't make it."
Prof. Regnerus said the causes of divorce are "…a complicated mixed bag..."
Desipte what they say, Barna stands by the information, saying the criticism is "typical of criticism we get all the time from the public. We use the American Association of PUblic Research's standards --- like most everyone else in the business."
The studies, he said, are important because they: “help church leaders and officials in government agencies if things on the divorce front is getting better or worse. If you don’t have this kind of tracking information you don’t know if our culture is improving,” he explained. Don Moore is a veteran newspaper editor and reporter who spent more than 40 years working at newspapers around Florida. He recently retired from the Port Charlotte, Fla., Sun-Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org