That statement sounds obvious to some folks. But in fact, it challenges the conventional wisdom. For a long time, misinterpreted statistics made it seem that the connection between strong faith and strong families had weakened.
For example, my friend Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action has said for years that evangelical Christian families were no different from secular families. According to Sider, “evangelicals and born-again Christians . . . divorce at the same rate as—or slightly more often—than other Americans.” Sider also has published data that seemed to show that Christians were having extramarital sex at the same rate as their secular neighbors.
Well, now researchers are discovering that Sider’s data is flawed. At a “Summit of Religious Leaders” that I attended last fall, the eminent authorities Dr. Brad Wilcox and Dr. Byron Johnson made a presentation showing that strong religious faith genuinely is connected with strong family life.
In collecting data, Wilcox and Johnson examined the religious practices of people who called themselves Christians—something previous studies had not always done. In particular, they checked rates of church attendance. Their findings were striking. Although church attendance is down, those who do attend, especially weekly, are less likely to divorce. Instead they are more likely to report that their marriages are happy. And regular church attenders reported being happier in general than those who did not attend regularly.
As Wilcox and Johnson pointed out in their presentation, “For much of our nation’s history, religious institutions have been the primary custodians of marriage. . . . Family, in turn, has oriented Americans to the religious life.” It’s no coincidence, then, that church attendance and marriage declined together as divorce and illegitimacy rates rise. And it’s no coincidence that regular church attendance still correlates with marital faithfulness and happiness.
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