One of the most basic tenets of evangelical Christianity is a strict interpretation of the Bible. For this reason, it is not surprising that many evangelical Christians are fundamentally opposed to divorce, as there are passages in the Bible that seem to prohibit the practice. Furthermore, the evangelical emphasis on morality and preserving the traditional family unit would seem to preclude divorce. However, over time, the overall position of evangelicals has softened, leading to conflict among different factions.
Based on the Biblical passages in Matthew and Corinthians, many evangelicals base their opposition to divorce upon several passages in the Matthew, in which the pharisees ask Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause" (Matthew 19:3). Jesus answers that anyone who divorces his wife for reasons other than the wife's indecency commits adultery. Another biblical passage (1 Corinthians 7:15) states than a Christian is not obligated to stay with a non-Christian spouse, giving an evangelical who comes to find that his or her partner does not share their religious viewpoints justification for seeking a divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
For years, the main evangelical position on divorce -- based upon the aforementioned passages in the Bible -- was that it is only acceptable when one partner commits adultery. More recently, however, polls have shown that attitudes toward divorce among evangelicals have become more permissive. Modern Christian scholars such as David Instone-Brewer have stated that physical and emotional neglect, abandonment and abuse can all be biblically justified as grounds for divorce.
Statistics reflect the increasingly relaxed attitudes among evangelicals with regard to divorce. One of the most prominent groups when it comes to the issue of evangelicals and divorce is the evangelical Barna Group. The Barna Group has surveyed thousands of Americans over the years for its studies on faith and divorce, and all of its studies have revealed that Christians who identify as evangelical have some of the highest divorce rates, even compared to those who say they are not religious. Catholics and Lutherans have markedly lower divorce rates in the Barna Group's findings.
Rising divorce rates among evangelicals has led to a rift among leadership. As evangelical author -- and director of Bellingham, Washington's Center for Evangelical Spirituality -- Gary Thompson writes, "A Christian who gets divorced puts their happiness before their devotion to Christ." He believes that modern evangelicals have taken acceptance too far, and that churches have become too tolerant of divorce. R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s essay "Divorce -- the Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" posits that evangelicals have been so worried about so-called culture wars issues like abortion and gay marriage that divorce among their own has been largely ignored.
- Time: "An Evangelical Rethink on Divorce"
- The Christian Post: "Divorce - The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience"
- USA Today: "Evangelicals Shift Toward Acceptance on Divorce"
- Dallas Morning News: "Dumbfounded by Divorce: Survey Inspires Debate Over Why Faith Isn't a Bigger Factor in Marriage"
- USA Today: "Christians question divorce rates of faithful"
- The Barna Group: New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released
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