Jan 30, 2014

Impacting the culture

A staple self-criticism of evangelicals, cited from pulpits and in casual conversations, is that divorce rates among believers are basically the same as with everyone else. That, as sociologist Bradley Wright has shown, turns out to not be true. Or, at least, it turns out to be complicated by where one draws the line between "believers" and "everyone else."

A new study indicates there are other complications, too, when considering American evangelicals' relationship to divorce. According to Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak, in an American Journal of Sociology article titled, “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates," practicing evangelicals have lower rates of divorce. But -- kicker -- those around practicing evangelicals have higher rates.

It turns out one of the strongest predictive factors of divorce is concentrations of evangelicals.

Explaining this is tricky, but it seems that evangelical culture protects and fosters marriages while, at the same time, making marriage harder for those who aren't part of a religious support network.

At Christian Higher Education, John W. Hawthorne says that, if nothing else, this could serve as a sociological warning for Christians who want to "impact the culture":
The result of these social patterns is a divorce rate that is consistently different from those counties that have a lower percentage of adherents to evangelical religious groups.

But therein is a cautionary tale for the evangelical church. For all our desire to impact the broader culture so that Biblical values are represented, there is a probability that those attitudes will impact that culture in unanticipated ways . . . We need to be aware of how our values are experienced by individuals.