Born-again Christians are just as likely to get divorced as anybody else in American society, and the vast majority of those identifying themselves as divorced and born-again actually got their divorces after converting to Christianity, according to a new book called The Divorce Reality.
"In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills," said Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality and editor of the JesusJournal.com Web site. "Just being born again is not a rabbit's foot," he said.
Hughes says the divorce statistics referred to in his book come from a 2001 Barna Research Poll, which indicated that 33 percent of born-again Christians end their marriages in divorce, roughly the same as the general population, and that 90 percent of those divorces happen after the conversion to Christianity. Hughes maintains born-again Christians try to foster a public perception that they do not get divorces because of their born-again status.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Evangelical Protestant denomination, acknowledges the crisis families face in contemporary culture, but disputes the Barna poll's conclusions. Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the denomination's Council on the Family said the poll fails to account for the fact that many people call themselves born-again without having made a full commitment to God.
"Since the bulk of our nation considers itself Christian, I would not be surprised with the similarities between the ratios of the nation at large and the ratios among those who would call themselves Christians," Ellis said. "What we have discovered, however, is this: born-again Christian couples who marry ... in the church after having received premarital counseling ... and attend church regularly and pray daily together, that the divorce rate is approximately one divorce out of nearly 39,000.
"We believe that there is something more to being a Christian," Ellis said. "Just saying you are Christian is not going to guarantee that your marriage is going to stay together."
Barna Research stands behind the reliability of its poll, although Project Director Meg Flammang said her firm did not originally set out to determine the divorce rate among born-again Christians.
"The purpose of the poll was not to go out there and just test divorce rates," Flammang said. "It was just a national public opinion poll, and in there, we asked a series of demographic questions, one of which was current marital status as well as if the person had ever been divorced."
Flammang said she and her colleagues then compared divorce rates between survey participants who were and were not born-again Christians. Barna Research defines born- again Christians as, "individuals who stated a personal commitment to Christ, having confessed their sins, embracing Christ as their savior, and believing that they have received eternal salvation because of their faith in Christ alone."
She said most people become born-again during their high school years, and consequently, "a lot of the divorces happened when these people had [become] born-again Christians."
The data is consistent with earlier Barna findings about the actions of born-again Christians, according to Flammang.
"We have found that in a lot of ways Christians are not living different lives than non-Christians, when we look at their behavior," Flammang said. "It's hard for Christians to understand because it seems contrary to what people think would happen."
Barna Research claims it is only interested in reporting facts and not in making born-again believers look bad.
"We would love to be able to report that Christians are living very distinct lives and impacting the community, but ... in the area of divorce rates they continue to be the same," Flammang said.