divorce in the bible belt

we all know about the devastation divorce causes among the most vulnerable in our society:

• Women divorcing in the past year were more likely than men to be in poverty (22% versus 11%).

• Women divorcing in the past year had less household income than their male counterparts. Of those women, 27% had annual household incomes below $25,000, compared with 17% of divorced men.

• Women who divorced in the past year were more likely to receive public assistance than men (23% versus 15%).

• Children living with a parent divorcing in 2009 were more likely to live in poverty (28%) compared with other children (19%) and more likely to live in a rented home (53%) than other children (36%).

i ran across a few new (and disturbing) statistics in an article by katia heller entitled, “what’s fueling bible belt divorces?”:

– Southern men and women had higher rates of divorce in 2009 than their counterparts in other parts of the country.

– Of the 14 states reporting divorce rates for men that were much higher than the U.S. average — ranging from 10.0 to 13.5 per 1,000 — most were in the South. They included Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

– By comparison, four of the 10 states with below-average divorce rates for women, ranging from 6.0 to 8.9, were in the Northeast: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

“Youth and lack of education can lead to higher divorce rates,” said D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer with the Pew Research Center, who wrote a report on The States of Marriage and Divorce. “There tend to be higher divorce rates in states where women marry young. Education also may play a role. In general, less educated women marry at younger ages than college-educated women, and less educated couples have higher divorce rates.”

living in oklahoma (and having worked for many years with teenagers), these facts were unsettling, but not at all surprising to me.  then ms. hetter piqued my interest by shifting her focus to the church.

Values about premarital sex associated with the Bible Belt and rural America may be encouraging people to marry early, at ages when they are likely to have less education and less income to support a long-lasting marriage, according to Naomi Cahn, law professor at The George Washington University Law School and co-author of “Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture.”

“There’s a moral crisis in red states that’s produced by higher divorce rates and the disparity between parental values and behavior of young adults,” said Cahn. “There is enormous tension between moral values and actual practices.”

Whatever the reasons for the South’s higher divorce rate, Christian author Jonathan Merritt said that church leaders are focusing more on divorce recovery when they should be focusing on preventing divorce.

“The faith community has a twofold responsibility regarding divorce: We need to respond to the divorce epidemic among our own ranks and we need to address the trend among the broader culture,” said Merritt, author of “Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet,” who also ministers at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia.

“Marriages and families within faith communities are no healthier than in the rest of society. Faith communities must provide support systems to salvage damaged marriages and resurrect dead marriages.”

while i agree with mr. merritt that the church is “focusing more on divorce recovery when they should be focusing on preventing divorce,” i take exception to his proffered response: that “Faith communities must provide support systems to salvage damaged marriages and resurrect dead marriages.

i take that back.  i do not know mr. merritt and i have not corresponded with mr. meritt.  but if by “support systems” jonathan merritt is referring to basic christian discipleship, then i would agree.

i suspect, however, that mr. merritt is going the way of most of christiendom and proposing that the church find some philosophical band-aid (i.e.: a new program, a parachurch organization, a church/government alliance) to “respond to the divorce epidemic.”  i am convinced (now more so than ever) that the only solution to the “divorce epidemic,” and to every other sin problem in america (and, make no mistake, that is exactly what it is–a sin problem), is for the church to repent of her compromise and begin to practice what she preaches.

in oklahoma, the state where i live, we rank in the bottom five (worst) in every category that measures social brokenness (divorce, poverty, etc) and yet we are extremely “religious.”  i believe that a religious culture (the south) is far more hostile to the testimony of christ than a secular culture (the northeast).  the church in oklahoma is powerless and ineffective because christians in oklahoma are powerless and ineffective.  when we finally choose to surrender to jesus and actually make him lord, we will see sweeping changes in society.  until that happens, though, nothing will really change much.

but at least we have hope…the elections are just around the corner.


2 thoughts on “divorce in the bible belt

  1. interesting post. however, my worry is that because a lot of people look up to America in many ways, the divorce rate in the bible belt may send a signal that divorce can be an option when marital relationship becomes difficult.

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