Very Significant Study

From CT by Melissa Steffan:

A new study suggests that children raised in divorce—even “good” divorces—are less likely to attend religious services and express interest in God than children raised in happy marriages.

Observers say this implies the future health of churches could dependon getting non-traditional family ministries right.

The report, titled “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?”, is comprised of papers from family and religious studies experts who together declare “that today’s grown children of divorce form a ‘broken leading edge’ of the trend of more Americans considering themselves ‘spiritual but not religious.'”

Researchers found that adults raised by happily married parents were “more than twice as likely to attend religious services, compared to those raised in good divorces.” Such adults were also less likely to report negative experiences of God.

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  • Yep. That’s my story. Once my parents divorced it was game over for anything spiritual in our family. While I am church planter, my siblings are not religious. The effect of divorce lingers all these years later. Thanks for bringing attention to this issue. Appreciate your work.

  • Interesting… we naturally want to jump to conclusions. to fixes. … Is it worth considering.. that we may not be going “back to the family” as we know it? that this shift to single parents could continue? that society, neighborhoods,…. religious institutions … will need to shift to be a part of this going forward?

    when I think of the missional paradigms, I think: “shouldn’t it be the opposite? those that come from divorce and such (including “happy divorce”) would be the ones seeking out the solace and assitance, and acceptance of a cmmunity of people who love G-D and really, practically … love their neighbors?

  • jag

    It can be difficult to take your child to the church your family attended pre-divorce. You, or your child, may be tired of explaining what happened. You may not want to encounter the awkwardness of running into mutual friends. You may encounter your ex, who perhaps doesn’t have custody of that child. And, although this was not the case in my church, you might have to deal with judgement.

    I am not sure that this is specific to churches, however; after a divorce, sometimes the last places you want to go are the places that you went together as a family. And sometimes you are operating in pure survival mode, wrestling with finances, with all the work that was formerly done by two people and now rests with one, with legal issues. When you are focused solely on how you are going to both remain employed and pick your child up at school at 2:00 to take her to the dentist, things like going to church can be pushed to the back burner.

  • jag

    I’m also on staff at a church, and when I shared the news of my divorce with a good friend who is a member there, his comment was “Who else knows about this?” He said a lot more with that question than just those 5 words.

  • Perhaps this points to something that’s wrong with churches as they’ve become in Western societies.

    It may be true that ‘the future health of [some] churches could depend on getting non-traditional family ministries right’. But the future of the church as a whole depends much more on going out and making disciples. In my view, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ people out there are looking for answers but are not finding them in traditional church.

    Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. He said he would build the church.

  • Anne Bosworth

    My divorce has done more to keep me out of church than my daughter, though our whole existence is very Christ centered and a perpetual topic of conversation. I can relate to jag up-thread, who notes well some of the difficulties of returning to my home church, or even seeking another. When our family was falling apart our church and its pastors treated us like annoying problems that wouldn’t go away. I was labeled “EGR” (Extra Grace Required) because I was struggling with the intersections of my faith, my husband’s refusal to deal with our marriage problems (or pay our taxes) in any meaningful way, my history as a survivor of abuse, and my husband’s role as a sexual perpetrator in my life. The church prescription was for him to join a Bible study, and me to seek counseling at the church counseling center instead of the counseling center I was attending elsewhere. No discipleship. No pastoral care. No grace. No help. So, after a long struggle of trying to suck it up at our home church, I gave it up to my (ex)husband, so that my daughter could continue there and remain steeped in her regular ministries. I have become a church gypsy. Once you’ve been hurled into the vortex of grief from losing your family, your church, and many of your cherished friends and activities it’s not exactly the most palatable thing to go and try to recover all those things elsewhere. You can’t even understand what the heck happened, how it all went so wrong, in the first place. You feel like the walking wounded and really don’t want to be “touched” by anyone. You’re angry and confused.

    Our family endeavors to circumvent at least some of the potential damage to my daughter by continuing to do many things together. We do not date other people. We spend many weekends and holidays doing things together. This may have its own consequences later, but it’s the best we can manage for now.

    What’s troubling to me is how much the church is so concerned about its future but continues to be a pretty significant failure in really helping families stay together. In my case, I take full responsibility for the ultimate decision to divorce when my husband would not do what needed to be done to keep the IRS from garnishing my wages due to his failure to pay taxes on the wages from his business. I definitely could have “trusted God” and “obeyed my husband” and stayed married to increase the odds of my child’s overall well-being. I own my decisions. My church is not responsible for them. That said, my church IS responsible for its total failure to provide real discipleship to either me or my husband.

    What I see more and more is churches and pastors that are more interested in human trafficking, planting churches, ministering to orphans from the inner city than in being genuine shepherds within their own flocks. Pastors are more and more CEOs, church planting experts, and program developers who write blogs and preach on Sunday; they are less and less involved in the individual lives of their members…except, of course, those blessed few who somehow work their way into the inner circle and have no needs beyond the occasional illness or failed business. Members with publicly troubled prodigal children, or troubled marriages, or anything “messy” become wards of small group leaders and church counseling centers…or are tacitly ignored until they go away wounded and angry and take their troubles to some other church.

    When the church becomes an OK place to not be OK, and when it would rather be the well tended/shepherded pasture of a few people than the collector of sheeple it cannot care for deeply and intimately, then more families will be rescued, and children will have a healthy heritage to which they can cling…at least in part. But of course that does not protect children from the lies and lures of the communities beyond the walls of the church. Church is no longer a safe harbor of peculiar people who are sold out to Jesus. It is a clearinghouse for projects and project-doers. There are Bible studies and small groups, but I see growing trend where Bible studies and small groups are training camps for church projects to attract people, rather than places where sound doctrine is taught and deep discipleship takes place. We eat our wounded.

  • Jen

    Love your comment Chris! As a single young adult I dislike church and the way it is marketed via media outlets. Many churches I’ve been to are worshipping the “family” rather than God. It’s idolatry. If your family doesn’t fit into the ideal family then going to a place to worship that ideal doesn’t hold any appeal. And it also doesn’t address what you hope to find in a church community.

  • Mike M

    I’m with Chris J. on this. Maybe traditional churches need to change. I think “going to church” is less a sign of what goes on in your heart than your relationship to God and others. Reminds me of the mom who sobbed to me that her son was “lost” because he no longer attended (RC) daily masses.

  • Scott

    One crucial factor missing in this discussion: For couples who were attending church before they got divorced, of what benefit was church attendance to their marriage when it was struggling but still had a chance to recover? Apparently for many, not much benefit at all…
    Therefore, if the child who was attending church with mom and dad who then got divorced, what is that child supposed to think about the value of church attendance, when it had no apparent impact on tragedy helplessly unfolding before they eyes as their heart broke in two?
    If churches want to help those broken by divorce, they first must learn how to embrace and offer healing to hurting marriages before they crash. Divorce only reveals the deep brokenness and pain that was already walking into church – silently – every Sunday before the divorce ever occurred. Most empty marriages are ignored until they crash and burn in the light of separation and/or divorce.
    In the meantime, we’ve become relegated to “side” ministries like divorce recovery classes on Tuesday nights. God bless those classes. But why do discreetly shuffle broken marriages into room 215 on Tuesday nights? It’s like we’re too embarrassed to admit that our churches are full of hurting, broken, “intact” marriages.
    The solution is not attending church. It’s attending a church that offers healing to hurting souls, before, during and after divorce. Walking into a building, on it’s own, means nothing. Just ask someone who finally gave up on the loneliest two hours of their week…

  • Scott

    Thanks Anne. You said it better than I did – in your story. BTW, I’m a Christian Counselor and my observation is that, much of Christian counseling, while being more compassionate, also fails to address basic categories of deep sin and true repentance – which only happen through humble encounter with Christ and a changed nature toward others. Church leaders and Christian counselors must come together and dig in on how to address divorce, sexual abuse and sexual betrayal.

  • Michael Teston

    Yes, I think these matters truly matter. The move and drift toward things like “spiritual but not religious” might be symptomatic of the interpersonal hurt out there that is epidemic. The desire to “de-personalize” the divine, to drift toward dealing with forces. The basic categories addressed often as “sin” with subsequent “repentance” must be taken seriously yet done in ways that don’t end the discussion around these serious matters too soon. Many people have been relationally robbed, if you will because the norm seems to be relational brokenness. I am convinced that Jesus fully got this in his encounters with people. The church that encounters people “well,” as Jesus did, non-judgementally and with great care stands a good chance of offering them something more than spiritual, something more than religion, they stand a chance of offering them life. I think Jesus was on to that as we are reminded in John10:10. Dr. Don Joy many years ago mentored me and others in such a “discipleship development in the home” as his class was called. The challenge of course is that the hurt is so raw, and because so many are embarrassingly shamed around these matters that church communities have to move at glacial pace in restoration.

  • Thanks, Scott. Your kind response to my story filled my eyes with tears. What people don’t see is often precisely what you said:

    If churches want to help those broken by divorce, they first must learn how to embrace and offer healing to hurting marriages before they crash. Divorce only reveals the deep brokenness and pain that was already walking into church – silently – every Sunday before the divorce ever occurred. Most empty marriages are ignored until they crash and burn in the light of separation and/or divorce.

    In the meantime, we’ve become relegated to “side” ministries like divorce recovery classes on Tuesday nights. God bless those classes. But why do discreetly shuffle broken marriages into room 215 on Tuesday nights? It’s like we’re too embarrassed to admit that our churches are full of hurting, broken, “intact” marriages.

    ********** ********** ********** ********** ********** ********** **********
    That was certainly our story. It was so bad by the time we began attending our last church together that I could scarcely even acknowledge my marriage among the people with whom I was sharing ministry. It was almost as though I was hiding my husband because I didn’t want to go through another round of pretending that we were a happily married couple, of that he was meeting my needs and caring for our family. Who could stomach another round of church-sponsored subservience to a covenant that was being devoured from the inside out with lies and facades. I got to the point where he was an embarrassment to me. I didn’t want to be known in relationship to him. Much of that was, of course, the devil’s own work having it’s day with me, but just as much of it was from the fact that broken, wounded marriages that are hanging on by threads don’t fit into tidy little boxes of Bible study remedies. When all you want is for someone to stop breathing in the air around you, being tucked away in a counseling center where they begin with the notion that you have no biblical grounds for escape, walking among the body of believers makes you feel conspicuous—like everyone is just waiting for you to come to your senses, and you know that once all your crap is unpacked you will never be viewed in any sort of autonomous or rational way again. This is fact…particularly among women. Somehow or another it is perfectly acceptable for a man to go through a crisis of alcoholism, pornography, and infidelity and be still a whole man amongst his peers. But fact is fact, and women generally operate under the auspices of male leaders who set a tone and definition of weakness and incapability that follows a broken woman through every single aspect of her life within the church. With “support” like that who needs arsenic?

    And the odd thing is, they are more than happy to continue this revision of your personhood after the divorce. Before divorce, when you were too unsightly to receive their care openly (lest anyone think that the church is OK with divorce) you were directed to the counseling center…where the broken members go. You knew the ministerial staff was keeping an eye on you for signs of conformity. They struggled to talk to you like you were something other than 1/2 of a broken marriage. But after the whole thing is done and you’re sitting there among the ruins of your family, your fellowship, your beliefs/doctrine, your responsibilities, all of it…then the church Zamboni comes to flatten out the ice and recycle you into a single parent. You should attend divorce care, parents without partners, etc. You should socialize with other divorced people…yes…in Rm 2** of the chapel building on Tuesday nights.

    Yes, please do rename me as a divorced, single mother. That is SOOOO much more comforting than an “EGR” wounded soul who is entangled in the sin of divorce. How very healing to have an association of other church amputees and lepers to which I can belong. It’s awful! There is NO extra grace in that sort of thing, I assure you. It’s much better defined as “the least they can do.”

    There is no public and accepted space for me to say within the church — “I don’t identify myself as a divorced woman, or a single mother. I don’t want to be her…particularly not as you (the church) characterize her. I do not have sexual infidel or wife beater or addict of a husband to wear as a badge of honor in the club…authorizing me as someone who should be pitied among my peers. I don’t have those kinds of bloody limbs to carry with me as evidence of the crimes committed in our marriage.”

    And there is no one to whom a person (particularly a woman) can complain about such things. The more you call attention to yourself and your brokenness the more you are cemented in the grave of church life that has been created for you.

    I may be unique in that my husband and I are finding ways to continue being a family despite the lack of a happy resolution to our mess of a marriage, but I know that I am not unique in my feelings of perspectives about the church as the recipient of a big honki’ “F” for failure to address marriage and marriage crises in ways that are not sexist, prescriptive, or based upon some inane theory(s) of what “all” men/women want. When the church spends its energies going after the lost sheep in their own pastures instead of the ones on some mission field thousands of miles away, and when it learns lessons of grace and humility aren’t theirs to apply to wounds but theirs to model, then our churches will be overflowing with young people who saw their families get rescued by Jesus.

  • Scott

    “When the church… learns lessons of grace and humility aren’t theirs to apply to wounds but theirs to model, then our churches will be overflowing with young people who saw their families get rescued by Jesus”.
    Men must be aware of their great power within the structures of the church. It is there – either for good or for bad – but it is there. 30-40% of pastors viewed porn in the last month…What about elders?
    The great thing about internet porn is that it is exposing male arrogance in droves. I’ve never seen so much redemption in my practice as this past year – because men are being brought low before the cross of Christ, and women are courageous enough to draw boundaries until true repentance and forgiveness does it’s slow but glorious work. The Cross alive, even in the churches run by fools…which is all of us…

  • Loren Haas

    Anne and Scott, I so much want to validate everything that you are saying. My wife and I run that Tuesday night DivorceCare group. We have both been divorced but were not involved in church when we went through our own. Maybe that is why I see things pretty much as you describe them. We are determined to pick up the bloodied survivors of divorce and with the help of God’s grace get them back on their feet. But we have seen what you have described in terms of struggling marriages as annoying to church staff. The emphasis is too often on preserving the marriage at all cost instead of healing the wounds causing the fissure. It is if the marriage is more important to God than the individuals in it. Post divorce you are tainted and have to earn your way back to status as a full Christian.
    No wonder children of divorce don’t want any part of this.
    One of the goals of our DivorceCare program is to make our church a place for healing. We want our participants to feel that we and our church love them because Christ’s love is shining through us. Ultimately, living out that desire is what makes the difference.
    Anne, I admire you. You are strong and your insights reflect a reality that others choose not to see. I admire that you are finding a way to parent with your former spouse when that must be so difficult. I hope that you can find your way back into a church that would realize how special and valuable you are.

  • Scott

    Thanks Loren. Thanks for what you and your wife are doing. We all do well to learn most from those who have found Christ in their shame and brokenness; like you, and your wife, and Anne. At the cross, His shame heals our own, where “Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame”.
    Let the Tuesday stories be told. I believe the vast majority of church goers are drawn to people who have found the peace and hope of Christ in their shattered dreams.

  • Thanks for this interesting thread and especial thanks to Anne and Scott and Loren.

    Anne, I take my hat off to you. I like the way you are not afraid to call it like it is. Sounds like your ex husband practised a form of financial abuse. I don’t judge you in the least for choosing to divorce him.
    I co-administer the blog A Cry For Justice which deals with domestic abuse in Christianity. One of the first things we do is define abuse as NOT having to include or be limited to physical (or sexual) violence. Anne, I want to give you some hugs for surviving whatever it was you survived sexually at the hands of your ex-husband. The pain of sexual abuse is often almost unspeakable.

    Yes, the Tuesday night group in the back room. Slink in with your wool all bedraggled and your daggy tail between your legs. Wonder whether anyone else cares (well, they do care in that they are real happy to have shuffled you off to counseling or the Tuesday night group. . . but that’s mostly caring about the church’s image, not your bruised and bleeding soul).

    In domestic abuse situations, the reports we hear from survivors are that very often Christian counseling is worse than secular counseling (though both can be bad). With abuse, couple counseling is NOT recommended, and it often makes things a lot worse. There is so much that the average church needs to learn about abuse. We press on, but the unmet need is vast. Do visit our blog (click on my name) if you need more info.

    And thanks Loren for pointing me to this post. 🙂