Evangelicals are more likely to be divorced than the average American—even Americans who claim no religion.
This unexpected claim comes from an unexpected source: three researchers at Baylor University.
Jerry Park, Joshua Tom, and Brita Andercheck report that about 17 percent of white conservative Protestants and 16 percent of black Protestants are divorced, compared to 14 percent of all Americans.
They point to the research of demographers Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak, who argue that the evangelical encouragement to marry young and have more babies, along with discouragement to obtain higher education, is to blame. A strong evangelical presence increases divorce rates across the board, Glass reported.
"The common conservative argument that strong religion leads to strong families does not hold up," stated Park, Tom, and Andercheck in their February 4 report for the Council of Contemporary Families.
However, Bradford Wilcox, sociology professor at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, disagrees.
"The claim … that religion doesn't help marriage is bunk," he said. "In terms of people being integrated into a religious community—be it Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish—there is a strong correlation between the couple's integration and marital quality."
The key distinction in the data: identity versus practice.
Research has consistently shown that religious self-identification is much less important than actual religious practice, said Wilcox. People who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce, he said.
"Lukewarm Christianity is a disaster for family life," said Wilcox. "Nominal ...