I read a report a couple of days ago that confirmed something I’ve been wondering about for a while. Years ago, studies verified that couples who claimed to be christian had the same kind of divorce rates as everybody else. I never really wanted to believe it…but I knew it was true. This new report has taken those findings to another level.
According to the Council on Contemporary Families, couples who claim to be evangelical (that means Bible-believing, church-going folks) actually divorce at higher rates than the national average and even higher rates than those who claim to have no faith or church affiliation at all.
The study offers a number of possible explanations for this growing trend. They are interesting. You can read them for yourself, if you are interested. I have some of my own opinions, though. Here are a few:
In spite of the Apostle Paul’s command not to take advantage of God’s grace (“shall we go on sinning so that God’s grace may increase?”), Christians are deeply aware that no matter how much they may miss the mark when it comes to the standards laid out in scripture, God will continue to forgive. This awareness provides an enormous safety net for those who knowingly come up short.
“God doesn’t want me to be miserable.” The negative effect of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel message that has dominated religious television programming (not to mention all the books, conferences, and big pastors that propagate that theology) over the past 25-30 years, has wormed it’s way deep into mainstream church thought and practice. The pursuit of happiness has become virtually synonymous with the pursuit of holiness in the modern church.
Hearing the “voice” of God is no longer “heard” through the community of faith. It’s totally individual. “God told me”… “God is leading me”… “God is speaking to my heart”… “God’s Spirit is guiding me”…and the like, is the new mantra of today’s christian. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say something like, “I just feel like God is making it clear that I am supposed to ___________.”
Really? God is telling you that? How about if you run that idea by, uh…maybe ten or twelve older and wiser followers of Christ and see what they say? Ask them to search the scriptures and see if you are making a wise decision or if you are violating any of God’s life principles. Ask them to pray and see if they “hear” the same message from God you are hearing. Ask them if they think the message you are “hearing” from God will damage the reputation of the church or be harmful to you or others in the long run.
Maybe the most heartbreaking explanation of all is somewhere, somehow, we have created a church culture that has learned to hide marriage problems. We love to keep our secrets. We love for other people to keep their secrets. It is entirely acceptable for hurting couples (and hurting people) to paint on smiles, shake hands, sing a verse, eat a communion pellet, and get out the door without anyone ever knowing the struggle they are living through.
And I worry that all of this is not just acceptable, but it is now expected.
God help us.