Date: September 17, 2004
From: Jerry Falwell
The Ventura, Calif.-based Barna Group has released a distressing report showing that marriages between born again Christians are just as likely to end in divorce as those who do not profess to be born again.
I find this particularly troubling because we in the Christian community have been leading the national effort to protect traditional man-woman marriage from those who wish to legalize same-sex marriages. The Barna report reveals that evangelical pastors simply must begin to more seriously deal with the issue of marriage in our churches.
As the pastor of a church of several thousand members, I have been saddened to witness the breakup of a number of families; such situations never fail to break my heart. I fear that many believers have allowed secular notions and trends to influence their decisions on marriage.
In our feel-good society, many often abandon their marriages when they stop being fun or when a stream of challenges enters the picture. But in the Christian life, we have a line of defense against such feelings, that being our Lord Jesus Christ, our perfect example who is capable of seeing us through any challenge.
Nevertheless, the Barna study revealed that among married born again Christians (35 percent) have experienced a divorce, the same percentage as those identifying themselves in the study as not being born again. Additionally, the study found that multiple divorces are also unexpectedly common among born again Christians, with Barna figures showing that nearly one-quarter of the married "born agains" (23 percent) get divorced two or more times.
I believe the most significant finding in this study is the fact that a majority of those born again participants--defined in the survey as people who said they have made "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today"--(52 percent) saying they did not believe that divorce without adultery is sin.
I see this as a major crisis that pastors must begin to immediately address. We must take on this issue head-on from the pulpit, in counseling sessions and in all aspects of ministry in order to halt this dilemma within the church.Furthermore, I believe pastors must commit to getting involved in young people's relationships before they get married. We must help them, along with their parents, to understand the commitment and responsibility a marriage requires. Lay people in the church - those who have successful marriages - can also be greatly beneficial in this regard. There must be a team effort within the church to ensure that we halt what the Barna study has discovered.
There is much work to do though, in terms of teaching people what the Bible teaches about relationships and divorce.
The Barna study said, "Although Bible scholars and teachers point out that Jesus taught that divorce was a sin unless adultery was involved, few Americans buy that notion. Only one out of every seven adults (15 percent) strongly agreed with the statement "when a couple gets divorced without one of them having committed adultery, they are committing a sin."
Throughout the New Testament, we see great emphasis placed on the "honorable" institution of marriage. These truths remain just as pertinent today as when they were written. We must recommit to teaching the principles of godly marriage, but it won't be easy. George Barna, who heads the Barna Group, says there is no end in sight regarding the plague of divorce in our culture and within the church.
"You can understand why atheists and agnostics might have a high rate of divorce, since they are less likely to believe in concepts such as sin, absolute moral truth and judgment. Yet the survey found that the percentage of atheists and agnostics who have been married and divorced is 37 percent - very similar to the numbers for the born again population. Given the current growth in the number of atheists and agnostics, and that the younger two generations are predisposed to divorce, we do not anticipate a reversal of the present pattern within the next decade."
This is where pastors and church leaders must enter the picture. Pastors, we must boldly and lovingly reach out to struggling couples, attempting to help them heal whatever wounds are preventing them from moving forward in their marriages. It will require hard work and dedication, but it is apparent that the soul of the church is at stake here. Every church suffers when members within that setting choose to divorce.
Furthermore, if evangelical churches cannot offer clear alternatives to the secular culture, specifically in terms of marriage, we will lose our way in reaching out to a lost world. May we prayerfully commit to turning around this acute problem within our own ranks so that we can continue to be a beacon of hope to our communities and to the world.