Stinginess Is More Sinful than Divorce, Say Churchgoing Evangelicals

Pew asks Americans what constitutes a sin, as well as acceptable types of families.
Stinginess Is More Sinful than Divorce, Say Churchgoing Evangelicals
Image: Chi King / Flickr

Refusing to write a check to charity while living in luxury is a sin, according to almost half (48%) of white evangelicals who attend church weekly.

That opinion is also shared by almost half (47%) of all Americans who attend worship services weekly. And 36 percent of all black Protestants (two-thirds of whom identify as evangelicals) feel the same way, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

In fact, being stingy with charitable giving draws more condemnation than divorce. Only 37 percent of white evangelicals who worship weekly told Pew that divorce was a sin. So did a quarter (26%) of all black Protestants. (CT recently noted which reasons for divorce are sinful in the eyes of most Americans.)

The more generous attitude toward divorce may stem from its frequency. The percentage of Americans who have divorced has almost doubled over the past 53 years, from 24 percent to 45 percent, according to University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright.

Evangelical divorce rates were slightly higher than average (47%) from 2010-2014 and correlate with church attendance, Wright told CT based on his analysis of the latest General Social Survey data. Only 38 percent of evangelicals who attend church weekly have divorced, compared with 50 percent of evangelicals who attend monthly and 62 percent of those who attend once a year or less.

Among other actions examined by Pew, getting an abortion was deemed sinful by about 70 percent of white evangelicals and Americans who attend religious services weekly, along with about 60 percent of black Protestants. Engaging in homosexual behavior was also judged a sin by about 70 percent of weekly worshipers and black Protestants, and 76 percent of white evangelicals. In contrast, using contraceptives was deemed sinful by only 9 percent of white evangelicals, 15 percent of black Protestants, and 16 percent of weekly worshipers.

Most evangelicals agree that having luxuries in and of themselves is not wrong: 77 percent of white evangelicals and 72 percent of black Protestants (as well as 74 percent of all weekly worshipers) said that living in a larger house than a family needs is not sinful. In fact, fewer people condemn having a lot of square feet than condemn drinking alcohol or using energy without thinking about its environmental impact. (Roughly 1 in 5 white evangelicals, black Protestants, and weekly worshipers say each is a sin.)

Not only is getting a divorce more acceptable than not giving to charity, it’s also more acceptable than living with a romantic partner outside of marriage. Pew found that 64 percent of white evangelicals, 61 percent of weekly worshipers, and 57 percent of black Protestants said cohabiting was a sin.

But when cohabitation involves children, the answers were more nuanced.

About 4 in 10 white evangelicals (43%) and weekly worshipers (41%) said that cohabiting parents are an acceptable child-rearing arrangement, albeit not as good as other arrangements. About 35 percent of black Protestants agreed.

And cohabiting parents were judged to be as acceptable as single parents by similar percentages of white evangelicals (26% vs. 24%) and black Protestants (44% vs. 42%).

The acceptability of cohabitation goes down a bit if there are no children involved, although 62 percent of white evangelicals, 63 percent of weekly worshipers, and 69 percent of black Protestants said the arrangement was acceptable, if not ideal.

Pew offers several tables with its full findings on sin and social acceptance of family arrangements.

CT’s previous coverage of sin includes the recent exposure of the Ashley Madison list, what internet rage can teach us about sin, and whether churches should apologize for sins they didn’t commit.

CT’s previous coverage of divorce includes how Americans decide when divorce is sinful and the good news about divorce rates.

CT's previous coverage of generous giving includes where evangelicals donate their dollars, the record-breaking amount of money given to American churches last year, and Melinda Gates's take on living out her faith in action. Amy Julia Becker also weighed in on why we need rich Christians.

[Image courtesy of Chi King - Flickr]

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