With gay marriage being legalized in states around the country, national conversations about family and marriage have rapidly shifted to another controversy, one that’s been brewing ever since King Henry VIII said “I Don’t” in 1533. And Americans aren’t the only ones having difficult conversations about divorce this year.
At a recent papal synod in the Vatican, Pope Francis’s more tolerant views on divorced Catholics divided the synod. Currently, most divorced Catholics are prevented from remarrying within the church or even receiving communion. At the same time, many Protestants and evangelicals are also re-examining their views on marriage, though not everyone is inclined to reform their long-held beliefs.
Jesus himself was explicit about God’s views on divorce (he forbade it), but despite this, nearly 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce. While divorce has gone mainstream in recent decades, many religious communities still have a strong stigma against divorced couples.
“It is no longer true that the divorce rate is rising, or that half of all marriages end in divorce, and it has not been for some time,” says Greg Enos, Divorce Attorney, The Enos Law Firm. “The divorce rate peaked in the early 1980s and has been declining for the last three decades since. For marriages that began in the 1990s, about 70% reached their 15th anniversary, up from about 65% of those marriages that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Couples who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates.”
This November, Protestant pastor Russell E. Saltzman (of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) lamented, “The culture of divorce, its prevalence almost to the point of social irrelevance, and the redefinition of marriage have left the Protestant mainline disarmed…There is a part of me that wants to see in some instances an easier path for restoring divorced and civilly remarried Roman Catholics to the Eucharist. There is also a part of me that wants to see Protestants tighten things up. I cannot say which possibility is the more likely.”
No matter what the various Christian denominations decide, the divorce process has wide-reaching consequences on Americans’ spiritual lives. A new survey sponsored by conservative values group Focus on the Family found that 20% of church-goers stopped going to church after their divorce. What’s more, 35% of divorced couples reported that at least one of their children stopped attending church as well.
Previous research shows that Americans are becoming less religious in general, and that goes doubly so for younger generations, so other factors could account of the drop in attendance.