Divorce has become increasingly common in our society, with some studies estimating that nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce. This statistic is often cited as evidence that divorce rates do not differ significantly between Christians and non-Christians. However, a closer examination of the data reveals a more nuanced picture.
There are several factors that contribute to higher divorce rates among Christians:
- Cultural acceptance of divorce. As divorce has become more socially acceptable, Christians have not been immune to these shifting attitudes.
- Marrying young. Christians tend to marry at a younger age, which is associated with higher divorce risks.
- Failed expectations. Unrealistic expectations about marriage can lead to disillusionment and divorce when those expectations are not met.
However, when measures are taken to control for demographics and commitment levels, studies have found that Christians often do have lower divorce rates. In one national study, authors W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger analyzed data from the National Survey of Family Growth and concluded:
“The research clearly shows that Christians who regularely practice their faith have significantly lower divorce rates than the religiously unaffiliated.” (Wilcox & Wolfinger, 2016)
They found that the following groups had the lowest divorce rates among Christians:
- Conservative Protestants (35% lower chance of divorce than the religiously unaffiliated)
- Mainline Protestants (32% lower chance)
- Catholics (31% lower chance)
Some of the factors contributing to lower divorce rates among committed Christians include:
- Emphasis on marital permanence. Christians are taught that marriage is for life and should be protected.
- Disapproval of divorce. Divorce is seen as a last resort option in cases of abandonment or unrepentant infidelity.
- High levels of religious participation. Regular church attendance supports marriages.
- Network of support. Fellow church members provide support and marital modeling.
What the Bible Says About Divorce
To understand the Christian view of divorce, it is important to examine what the Bible says on the subject. Several key biblical principles emerge:
- Marriage is God’s design. Genesis 2:24 establishes that God designed marriage to be a lifetime covenant between one man and one woman.
- God hates divorce. Malachi 2:16 declares that God hates divorce. This demonstrates how seriously God takes the marriage covenant.
- Hardness of heart leads to divorce. Jesus taught that divorce arises from hardness of heart and was only permitted under Mosaic law because of man’s sinfulness (Matthew 19:8).
- Reconciliation is ideal. Even in cases of separation, couples are encouraged to seek professional help and reconciliation (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
- Divorce may be permitted when the marriage vow is broken. Jesus taught the exception clause that marital unfaithfulness can be legitimate grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32).
While God is very clear about his displeasure with divorce, he also makes provision for divorce in extreme circumstances. The Bible speaks to both the sanctity of marriage and the devastating effects of divorce. God’s perfect plan is reconciliation and restoration, but he permits divorce in instances of repeated, unrepentant marital unfaithfulness.
How Churches Can Build Strong Marriages
If churches aim to foster healthy, lifelong marriages, they can implement some practical steps:
- Provide thorough premarital counseling to ensure both parties understand God’s purposes for marriage.
- Equip newlyweds with marriage mentors that can give guidance and support.
- Offer financial counselling to avoid stresses over finances.
- Promote continual marital growth through classes, seminars, workshops and support groups.
- Provide counseling interventions to strengthen marriages experiencing distress.
- Encourage fellowship with other Christian couples for friendship and modeling.
- Cultivate an environment where couples feel safe admitting struggles and seeking help.
- Develop ministries and support groups for those hurting from divorce.
Churches play a vital role in fostering strong Christian marriages from pre-marriage to late marriage. By providing robust marriage ministries and support systems, churches can support couples seeking to live out God’s design for marriage.
How Individual Christians Can Build Strong Marriages
In addition to church resources, there are important steps individual Christians can take to strengthen their marriages:
- Make faith a priority. Regular prayer, Bible study, and church attendance all help nourish a spiritual foundation for marriage.
- Invest time. Make your spouse a priority for quality time free of distractions. Set aside a weekly date night.
- Foster good communication. Listen attentively, understand feelings behind words, and share vulnerably.
- Nurture intimacy. Stay intentional about emotional, spiritual, and physical closeness.
- Discuss money wisely. Talk through budgets, financial goals, and spending differences without blaming.
- Resolve conflicts biblically. Follow principles of confession, forgiveness, restoration and make-up, not break-up.
- Pursue growth together. Read marriage books, attend workshops, and learn new relational skills.
- Serve others as a team. Find ways to minister together through church and community.
Marriages require constant nurturing. As a covenant, both spouses must invest in the relationship while seeking God’s wisdom and help. Christians who make their marriage a priority and utilize spiritual resources are able to build strong, resilient unions.
How the Church Can Minister to Divorced Christians
Even with the best efforts, some marriages sadly end in divorce. This creates deep wounds emotionally, financially, relationally, and spiritually. Churches have an obligation to minister to Christians in the aftermath of divorce.
- Provide biblical counseling and guidance about next steps.
- Connect individuals to divorce recovery resources and support groups.
- Walk alongside as a church family during the transition.
- Guard against gossip that could damage reputations.
- Offer practical and spiritual encouragement during the grieving process.
- Help form new social connections to avoid isolation.
- Remind the divorced of their enduring value and God’s unconditional love.
Churches should be a refuge where the divorced can find hope, healing and grace. By offering compassion instead of judgment, churches can model God’s heart for the hurting. Divorce is incredibly painful, and Christians have the opportunity to reflect Christ by binding up wounds during times of brokenness.
How Divorced Christians Can Embrace a New Normal
For Christians going through divorce, the road to embracing a new normal can be challenging. Here are some tips:
- Seek wise biblical counseling to avoid hasty decisions.
- Connect regularly with mature believers for support and accountability.
- Spend focused time daily in prayer and Scripture to strengthen your foundation.
- Forgive your former spouse biblically, even if reconciliation isn’t possible.
- Refuse to speak ill of your former spouse to your kids or others.
- Be open about your struggles without making your ex the scapegoat.
- Make wise dating choices by not rushing into relationships.
- Focus on spiritual, emotional and mental health with the help of professionals.
Embracing a new normal takes patience, wisdom and relying on God’s strength. Surround yourself with community, be future-focused, and lean on the Holy Spirit during times of sadness or anger. God can take your broken pieces and create something beautiful again.
How to Build a Strong Stepfamily as a Remarried Christian
When remarrying after divorce, stepfamilies face unique challenges. Below are tips for Christians blending families:
- Take time to heal before rushing to remarry. Allow space to grieve the divorce.
- Seek extensive premarital counseling to address stepfamily dynamics.
- Manage expectations and discuss parenting roles/discipline before the wedding.
- Move slowly with blending households, traditions, discipline.
- Encourage bonding, but don’t force relationships immediately.
- Listen well and remain patient as each member processes the transition.
- Consider professional counselling periodically as needed.
- Rely on faith, prayer, Scripture, and Christian community for strength.
Stepfamilies can flourish with realistic expectations, unconditional love, mutual respect and God’s help. Remarriages with children take additional adjustments, but are well worth the investment.
Hope for All Christian Marriages
Marriage is a spiritual discipline designed to refine believers and draw them closer to Christ. God uses marriage to produce maturity and wholeness as spouses learn unconditional love. While divorce causes deep wounds, God’s love covers brokenness. Churches should extend hope and healing to those hurting.
Whether your marriage is thriving or just surviving, God is able to resurrect what feels dead. Christian marriages are never beyond hope because of the transforming power of Christ’s love. By building your marriage on biblical principles, surrounding it with support and drawing strength from your faith, Christians honor the holy covenant of marriage.