Why Fundamentalists Can’t Prevent Divorce

Fundamentalists oppose most divorce. Nevertheless their statistics are high in the divorce arena.   (On the Wikipedia site for the Churches of Christ, they brag that their divorce rate is only 6.9%. But that only means that among their current membership only 6.9% have been divorced. Most divorcing couples drop out of church attendance in the hardline Churches of Christ, knowing that their divorce will make them a pariah, if not result in ex-communication.) If their faith was so valuable to them and guided and protected them, as we were led to believe while in fundamentalist churches, then it seems fundamentalists would have a far lower divorce rate than the national average.   But they don’t.

Fundamentalist churches (and other fundamentalist religions) are based on several shame-based issues:

1. Unquestioning obedience to the rules of the church.
2. The church holds my faith.
3. Obedience to one’s husband, father, the elders and the preacher.
4. Rigid rules about family hierarchy and family roles.
5. Lack of introspection, making fun of looking inward at one’s own emotions and motivations, a preference for simple explanations and black and white answers.
6. Poor communication styles.
7. Lack of openness to outside ideas.
8. Openness to propaganda in favor of one’s own group.
9. Harshness and shaming towards lower status individuals in the group: especially women and children, but anyone of lower status.
10. Competitive with other religious groups, competitiveness between ministers.
11. People are held in line by shaming them.
12. The Bible is seen as a rule book (rather than as a record of various peoples seeking relationships with God).

Pros: These attitudes help couples stay together in that there is a group consensus not to commit adultery, not to use porn, not to get a divorce and not to look to separation as a solution to marital problems. Some churches do better than others in that they focus on forgiveness and grace. If they do more than lip service, then they work hard to help people figure out the difference between forgiving someone and trusting someone.

More progressive churches assign a young married couple to an older mentor couple.
The mentor couple invites the younger couple over for meals once a month.

Cons: However just knowing the rules is not really all that helpful. All of the listed attitudes of fundamentalists are counterproductive in helping a couple weather the storms of life and communicate through disagreements. There seems to be a basic theme: Don’t think for yourself, just grit your teeth, keep your head down and barrel through. Seldom do fundamentalist churches do the hard work of respectfully talking disagreements out. The rules above carry the day, until they don’t work, in which case there is no fall back position. The relationship becomes irreparably broken.

Juxtapose that with the prevailing attitude of evangelicals: if you obey Focus on the Family, Family Life Today and all the other Christian family radio programs, books and videos, you will have a wonderful Christian family and wonderful children and grandchildren. But if the kids use porn or have sex outside of marriage, or hate church, then this emphasis on the ideal family becomes more of a disillusioning experience than a help.

Some divorce statistics are skewed by interviewing frequent attending born-again Christians vs. non-attending born-again Christians. The non-attenders had much higher divorce rates. But this does not prove anything. It may prove that when born-agains divorce, they stop attending church, especially in churches that frown on divorce, or where their minister has told them not to divorce.   I know of some Churches of Christ that have no divorced people attending, because they are not welcome (unless they are willing to be celibate for the rest of their lives).

In the hardline Churches of Christ debates were held up as the premiere way to champion the truth, Alexander Campbell having been a consummate debater.   The debates I attended were nasty affairs, with the Church of Christ debaters making fun of (shaming) the other side. Imagine how that works between a husband and wife. They have a disagreement over the checkbook and one partner makes fun of and shames the other one. They do not have gentleness and forgiveness modeled from the pulpit, so, fueled by shame, the other one responds in a competitive way, escalating the conflict. Then out come the hierarchy rules: wife must obey husband, and you have a stew that is ready to explode into a divorce in a few years. Even if this couple doesn’t divorce, they are not going to be sharing any loving sex.

Primitive faith breaks down in the face of real life problems. Either faith grows into a more mature faith (not fundamentalist), or something snaps, often the marriage.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
This entry was posted in Faith and Works, Grace, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why Fundamentalists Can’t Prevent Divorce

  1. I was raised in this cult. Left over with scars from the abuse…so happy it’s over.

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