When It Comes To Divorce, Christians Are Hypocrites

The word on the street is that Christians are hypocrites. I’m sure you’ve heard it: “People go to church and claim to be Christians but they don’t live any differently than the rest of us.” If that’s accurate, that is really bad news because it calls into question whether the gospel has the power to make a real difference in people’s lives. But is it true? Some Christian leaders seem to think it is.

Ron Sider, a professor at Eastern Seminary: “Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity.”

Michael Horton, a professor at Westminister Seminary and the author of many good books: “Evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles as hedonistic, materialist, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general.”

In his book Christians Are Hate Filled Hypocrites…And Other Lies You’ve Been Told, Bradley Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut examines the data. What he finds might surprise you.

Before diving in, I think it’s important to realize that in surveys used to determine behavior and beliefs the respondents label themselves. What I mean is that as far as the survey is concerned each person decides whether or not to call themselves a Christian (or any other religious affiliation). Religion, unlike race or gender, cannot be objectively determined. I think that most of us will agree that a lot more people call themselves Christians than actually are Christians. And if you are willing to concede that’s true, then it’s easy to see the problems that result from attributing the behaviors of non Christians (who identify as Christians) to genuine Christians. This isn’t mean to criticize anyone. I’m just pointing out that it’s hard to get a read on Christians’ behavior when you aren’t sure who is and isn’t a Christian.

The 1990’s saw a rise in the religiously unaffiliated or what are sometimes referred to as “nones.” These aren’t people who are anti-religous nor are they atheists but rather people who don’t identify with a particular religious group. While some are alarmed at the rise of the “nones”, I’m not. That’s largely because of people like Wright who have examined the data and find that the “nones” aren’t leaving evangelical Christianity but rather main line denominations. Translation: People aren’t leaving churches that preach the Bible and believe the gospel but rather churches who have spent the last several decades drifting (and in some cases denying) the Bible and the gospel.

So now back to the question of whether the gospel makes a difference in how people live. Wright looks at marriage, cohabitation (living with a romantic partner outside of marriage), and divorce and finds of self identified evangelicals who rarely go to church “7% were cohabiting, compared to 5% of monthly attendees and only 2% of the weekly attendees. Likewise, with divorce, 60% of the never-attendees had been divorced or were separated compared to only 38% of the weekly attendees.

These statistics don’t take into account that the Bible gives some legitimate reasons to get divorced and that people may have been divorced before they came to faith or to the church. But what cannot be ignored is that as evangelicals get more involved in church, their behavior conforms to biblical values.

Wright goes on to examine abortion, crime, substance abuse, sexual misconduct, and everyday dishonesty and finds that “Christians are in fact more likely to follow Christian teaching about sexuality and morality than the religiously unaffiliated. What’s more, “the more committed Christians are to their faith, as measured by attending services, the more likely they are to ‘practice what they preach.'”

Of course none of this should lead to self righteousness nor should it lead Christians to look down on other people. Every genuine Christian is very aware of their own sin and how they personally fall short. The Bible teaches that even after becoming a Christian a person continues to struggle with sin…sometimes really gross sin.

I guess my point is that the sociological evidence confirms what the Bible teaches: the gospel is powerful to both save us and change us. Going to church to worship, meet with other Christians, and serve makes a real difference in our lives. We need to be humble about our sin but confident in God’s grace and power.

See this for Wright’s definition of “evangelical”.



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