Divorce Statistics Do NOT Belong in a Sermon!

Cartoon image of a preacher

Now, hear me out!

If I hear another sermon or newsletter quoting divorce statistics and repercussions of divorce, I may just puke!

This has been a growing pet peeve for some time, and in the last two weeks I have heard one sermon, received one newsletter, and one e-newsletter quoting divorce statistics.  I walked out of the sermon half-way through, not because I was angry, but simply because I realized by then that there was no benefit to staying, and my time was better spent doing other things.  I threw the newsletter away, then dug it back out of the trash to quote in a blog-post, then thought better of it, because it was from a group for whom I actually have a great deal of respect and don’t want to publicly disparage on the basis of one poorly written bulletin.

Here’s the thing.  First of all, any statistics quoted without the background information of where the data comes from and how the study was conducted are simply being taken out of context, and have no meaning.  When I hear someone say that 50% of all marriages in America end in divorce, I immediately wonder where that information came from, and what time period it covers.

Is that a study across one year, two years, ten years, or twenty years?  And if it covers multiple years, then how can it be compared against the divorce rate of another year, which may be included in the same time frame?  If it is for one year, does that mean that 50% of marriages conducted in that year lasted less than a year before ending in divorce?  Or does it mean that marriages conducted within that year are being compared against divorces of marriages conducted in prior years, which would mean that the specific marriages and divorces being compared have absolutely no direct correlation to each other?

You get the idea.  Without this contextual information the statistic is completely meaningless.  Presented in a publication with all the background data, it might be of interest to me, and might be useful in targeting a specific need to address in ministry.  However, presented in a sermon, without the contextual information, it is meaningless jargon with no relevance.

Secondly, while statistics may tell us something about an overall population, it tells us nothing about any given individual within that population.  Which means that no statistic quoted has any direct relevance to my specific situation or to the situation of any other specific individual who may be listening to the sermon or reading the newsletter.  Since it is not relevant to the specific situation of any individual listener, there is absolutely no reason to mention statistics in a sermon!

Thirdly, sermons quoting divorce statistics come across as just incredibly naive!  Who, exactly, is intended to receive this information and how, exactly, are they expected to respond?

People who believe their marriage to be on solid ground aren’t paying attention, other than to nod their heads and reflect on how bad society is and how fortunate they are.

People whose marriage is in grave danger already know that, and are either working to save it or have already given up on it.  Either way, quoting statistics to them is not going to change the situation.  Do you really think they’re going to say, “Oh, wow!  If I’d realized that I would have worked harder on building a stronger marriage”?  Not likely!  Either they are already doing everything within their power, or they have already decided the marriage is no longer worth the effort.

And what about all the people who have already experienced divorce?  If the statistic being quoted is to be believed and accepted at face value, the implication is that half the congregation has experienced divorce.  What benefit is it to them to quote statistics, or to tell them how painful divorce is?  Honestly, to this audience, the speaker is an amateur showing his ignorance by pretending to be an expert in front of a crowd of seasoned veterans.  Nobody knows divorce like someone who has personally experienced it!

One recent article referred to divorce as “a preventable tragedy if there ever was one.”  While I understand that for someone who has never experienced it, this may appear to be a valid statement, it is an incredibly simplistic and naive viewpoint.  Certainly, most divorces would be preventable if both partners were committed to working at improving their marriage, with expert counseling.  However, if that were the case, they would probably not be in danger of divorce to begin with.  If one partner is not committed to the relationship, there is absolutely nothing the other partner can do to improve the relationship or to prevent divorce; for them it is a completely unpreventable tragedy!  Moreover, many couples do not have access to professional counseling.  If divorce were so easily prevented, it would not be so common.

Fourth, I’m not real sure whether an increase in the divorce rate as compared to 1960 is a good thing or a bad thing.  In every sermon I’ve heard or article I’ve read mentioning divorce statistics, it is presented as a very bad reflection on our society that the divorce rate has climbed so high as compared to prior decades.  Maybe they’re right; maybe it is a bad thing.  But then again, when I hear a 50% divorce rate quoted, I immediately wonder what is the rate of marriages that have become a covenant of bondage due to the repeated unrepentant abusive behavior of one partner against the other?  And how does that statistic compare to 1960?

Of course, we never hear this statistic mentioned and it would be incredibly difficult to obtain, but it would be, by far, the more relevant statistic.  A climbing rate of divorce may be indicative of more people finding the courage to escape an abusive relationship, which would be a very good thing, relative to people staying in abusive relationships.

We, as believers in Christ, need to be very clear on this point.  God is opposed to allowing the continuance of relationships that have become abusive bondage.  Abusive covenants of bondage do not glorify God.  Just dissolution of an abusive covenant of bondage does glorify God.  It is for this reason that God redeemed Israel from Egypt, and it is for this reason that He redeemed us from the kingdom of darkness.

We, as the body of Christ, should be a lot less concerned about the number of divorces, and a lot more concerned about how well covenants are honored while they do endure.  There is a lot more to honoring a marriage covenant than just sticking it out and refusing to request a divorce.

You want to hear a relevant marriage statistic?  Here’s one for you. 100% of all marriages end.  Every single one of them dissolves before entering the next life.  According to the words of Jesus, in Matthew 22:30 (and Mark 12:25) not one single human marriage will continue into the next life.  Only one Christian covenant is eternal, and that is our covenant with God through Jesus Christ!

So why do we, the church, so often act as though divorce is the worst thing that could ever happen to a believer?  Yes, divorce is tough!  But it is not the worst thing that could happen.  Divorce is not nearly as bad as allowing the continuance of unrepentant abuse.  The sin is the treacherous abuse of the marriage vows, not the divorce.

What do you think of statistics and simplistic clichés used in sermons?  Do you find them annoying and unproductive?  Or do you see a benefit in them that I am missing?



21 thoughts on “Divorce Statistics Do NOT Belong in a Sermon!

  1. Recently our children’s minister lost his wife to cancer but before her death he was filling in for Sunday morning preaching, preaching on Psalms 23. One of the things (and I am paraphrasing) brought up was “God won’t give you more that you can handle” Tony did not agree with this statement because if God only gave us what we could handle WHY would we need God?!? This hit a big spot in my heart and for a long time (since Tanner was born) that statement of “God won’t give you more than you can handle” has been a BIG pet peeve for me. When we found out Tanner would have Down Syndrome I was mad at several things/people and God. The child with Down Syndrome wasn’t in my plans/dreams, so when people said that phrase it would just infuriate me, especially when family said it. Now looking back I understand what Tony means when he says God does give you more than you can handle because I couldn’t have handled the last 15 years without God.

    And that’s my two cents…………………Thanks Joe!!

    • VERY good example, Robin! I have not noticed that one as much in sermons, but it comes up a lot in conversations and Sunday school classes. I have started correcting people when I hear it. God never said that He would not give us more than we can handle. He did, however, say that He would never leave us nor forsake us, and He did say that He will give us the grace and strength to bear our trials. it is HIS grace and HIS strength, not ours!

      Thank you, Robin, for sharing!

  2. While I always take statistics with a grain of salt, most people need some ‘statistic’ to see something as true. e.g. If you just say ‘divorce is on the rise’ people tend to respond with ‘well how do you know that?’. If you qoute some kind of study with it (whether true or not), then people think ‘oh, they must know b/c they’ve done the research.’
    I agree that Christians take ‘divorce is a sin’ to a bad degree at times. However, I find it sad and discouraging too when I hear peers say ‘oh well, if it doesn’t work out then we’ll just get a divorce.’ This flippant attitude of ‘well everyone is divorced, so I probably will be too.’ is not good as well, and really grates me. Marriage takes work. Constant work. If you’ve REALLY worked at it and it doesn’t work out, then divorce may be more healthy for you. But if you’ve gone into the marriage with the attitude that you can always just leave, then you’ve never given it a good try.
    I tend to think of the divorce statistics as a warning to those who are not married yet. Marriage is hard, it takes work, know this BEFORE getting married and when you’re in a healthy relationship where both people are working hard the marriage is ssssooooo worth it!
    Sorry, this is kinda long. Don’t even get me started on how I hate sermons that bring political debates into the sermon. Love you, love the blog! Always an encouragement in my day!

    • Very good points, Corrie!

      I absolutely agree that there are way too many situations of people going into a marriage with a flippant attitude, and no understanding of real covenant commitment. If used as a tool in premarital counseling or in discussions with a group of singles, I might see where it could make sense to discuss both divorce statistics and the repercussions of divorce (single parenting, custody agreements, child support, etc.). Even there, though, I think the emphasis should be on a full commitment to honor the marriage covenant with all of your heart, rather than on divorce prevention.

      If a bicyclist focuses on a hazard, he will hit the hazard every time. To avoid a hazard, you focus not on the hazard, but on the path you want to follow. Same holds true for skiing, barrel racing, skating, or golfing…and yes the same holds true for marriage, as well as for the Christian walk in general. If you would avoid sin, focus not on the sin, but on learning to walk in God’s love. If you would avoid divorce, focus not on divorce avoidance but on living out God’s heart of love toward your spouse.

      Thank you, so much, Corrie, for the perspective. …and if you want to jump into pet peeves of pulpits used to promote political platforms, feel free. I’m with you on that one, too! 😉

  3. I love everyone’s point on this so far. I would have to say that my pet peeve in sermons is for anything to be taken outof context. Whether it be a statistic like you are saying or a political quote or a biblical quote. If it is a. done in the wrong context or with the wrong audience it is a worthless piece of information that you just took up my time with as you just explained, or b. quoted in the right subject, but understood wrong because you aren’t looking at the whole picture, of which I cannont think of a specific example unfortunately, and I am without my sword at the moment.
    But, I think that the b. scenario bothers me the most. I you are going to quote a source, any source, especially a biblical source, than give it some background information just like you would in for any good seminar/sermon. Any quote taken out of context can be made to look good to make your point, but if you want others to really believe/trust in what you are telling them give the whole picture, just a brief re-cap.

    • Very true! One verse lifted out of context can be made to sound like something very different from the author’s intent. One thing I like about Kay Arthur’s “Precepts” studies is the empasis she gives on looking at a verse first in context of the paragraph and preceding paragraphs, then in context of the entire book, then compare it to any other books by the same author, and finally in light of the rest of the body of scripture.

      Thank you, Tabitha, for sharing!

  4. For sixteen years I stayed in a covenant of unrepentant emotional abuse with an alcoholic who belittled me and rejected my children from a previous marriage. I did this because I have been taught that the only Biblical grounds for divorce is adultery. Two years ago I learned that my husband had been keeping a mistress, a woman who worked as his assistant, since 1998. I suppose I could have been free since then. I always knew it, but I couldn’t prove it, and he lied adamantly about it all those years. I stayed with him absent that proof. Now that I know for sure I am finally divorcing him, but my youth and attractiveness are gone and I am exhausted. I tried so hard, but to my husband I always failed. I’m healing, but it is very gradual. I continue to praise God. The sermons you reference have invoked shame and guilt in me on many occasions. I have simply stopped thinking and begun simply trusting. I believe – I know – it will be OK. God will never leave me or forsake me. Never.

    • The God you are trusting is worthy of your trust, Sylvia. I know, because I’ve been there; not the exact same circumstances, but similar enough to understand, and to bear witness to God’s faithfulness.

      God never uses covenant to enslave or abuse, and He does not want His children to be enslaved in abusive covenants. For His children who are trapped in abusive covenants, God offers redemption, not condemnation.

      When the nation of Israel was enslaved in a covenant with Pharoah that had become abusive bondage, God responded by redeeming His people from that covenant of bondage and delivering them from Pharaoh’s armies.

      He is still in the business of redeeming His people!

      I am continuing to pray that the Holy Spirit will wrap you in His comforting love, as He redeems you from your covenant of bondage and delivers you through the divorce.

  5. My first thought was a quote by Mark Twain who said, “There are lies. There are damn lies. And then there are statistics.” As someone who loves statistics as a subject, anyone who knows very much about them also knows how easily they can be misconstrued, slanted & manipulated. I think that any statistics quoted in sermons, articles, speeches, etc. Would be better served to site the study itself, the subjects, the control group, etc. Otherwise the statistics are generally pointless & usually serve only for dramatic effect – which the Word of God doesn’t need. It is dramatic enough as it is. It can stand alone as the most dramatic piece of work ever written. It doesn’t need our help to prop it up.
    Probably my least favorite sermon topic (when preached from the “wrong” slant – which of course is just my opinion) is that women’s submission to their husbands mean that they obey them in everything, follow them anywhere, and never question them or make decisions on their own. Not only does that NOT sound like a Proverbs 31 woman (intimidating though she may be she is amazingly independent!) but it has been used by many to subject women to the lowest types of degradation that you would never WANT to imagine!! If you don’t believe me then come to work with me for just ONE day!!!

    • Thank you, Dorcas!

      Yes, that is another area that we often hear horribly misconstrued, with devastating effects. For some reason, the topic of marriage is an area that the church, overall, seems to do a very poor job of teaching well. Dogmatic sermons advocating various forms of legalism do not work well in dealing with the intricacies of human relationships, and are an extremely poor substitute for the Gospel of Grace.

      • This is extremely sad to me to think of the church so often misconstruing marriage, because of how marriage is supposed to be a small version of God and his church. God as the husband and the church as his bride. You would think we would be able to at least teach that correctly, but then maybe that is the reason we have so many different denominations/differences . Maybe that is our biggest lesson, it seems so simple and yet God tries to show and teach about a relationship with him in soooo many different ways in order for us to understand – to get the concept. I mean God has Paul write most of the New Testament simply to inform the church of how we are supposed to act/live/have a relationship with God.

        • Yes, Tabitha, it is sad. I almost think the issue may be that we tend to confuse the picture with the reality. Because the Bible uses marriage as a picture of our relationship to Christ, we have elevated our view of marriage to be equal to our relationship with god, turning it into an idol, and then surrounding it with a system of legalistic rules.

          I’ll have to give this topic some more thought…maybe fodder for a future post…

          Thanks for the viewpoint!

    • Hey, Michelle! Thanks for stopping by! I feel honored having such an experienced blogger visit my site!

      Check out my post this morning, and you’ll see why I struggle with defining my specific message. Who else blogs about pet sermon peeves in one post and newborn babies in the next post? I try to write what God lays on my heart…and He and I have a wide variety of conversation topics! =^)

  6. Preachers probably like to stick with topics their congregations will agree with. We hear a lot of sermons about marriage, but how many sermons do we hear on gluttony?

    I find the least effective sermons are the ones the majority of the congregation agrees with. The more “Amen! Preach it brother!” I hear, the more I realize not a single heart is going to be changed. People were simply affirmed in their own beliefs.

    I’ve had a few sermons that make me feel like a spotlight is shining directly on me, where I want to cower under the pew in embarrassment and fear because one of my sins or weaknesses just came to light and I’m suddenly afraid everybody knows. Those are probably the best sermons. I get nothing out of the sermons that focus on topics I already agree with.

    • Hey, Eric! Good to hear from you!

      That’s an interesting perspective and one I had not previously considered. I think you may be on to something. The sermon I mentioned in the post was a turn-off to me for a variety of reasons, with the divorce stat’s playing a role. Overall, it had more the feel of a political rally than a biblical message. Not that it was specifically political in topic, but that it was full of feel-good rhetoric and dogma, with not a lot of substance or biblical reference.

      That theory would also fit with our previous discussion of Mother’s Day sermons versus Father’s Day sermons. The preacher may be falling into the trap of preparing a sermon based on popularity over godly principals.

      I’ll have to think about this one some more, too.

      Thanks for the discussion!

  7. When conception occurs, a spirit becomes bonded. The initial bond attachment transaction can be joyous, even though a spirit became encapsulated. Likewise, the spirtual bond detachment transaction, can be full of grief, even though a spirit has become free.

    Within these two transaction extremes, there can be blood bonds (spiritual?).

    The separation event of any spiritual bond, can be emotional if viewed through the eyes of the world. The actual event is invisible through eyes, but not through the invisible.

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