I recently came across an article from The Gospel Coalition showing that divorce rates are lower among the seriously religious than they are among the general population. The article’s source makes it suspect, with the author being on staff at Focus on the Family. Yet, even granting the article’s points for the sake of argument, we must consider that social and religious pressure is an important factor in keeping families together. If the lack of divorce is a result of coercion, then we have an undesirable situation.
In a certain sense, we do want a low divorce rate. Commitment and love are wonderful things to which we should aspire. However, we want a low divorce rate for the right reasons. Many women (and men) feel trapped in abusive marriages because of the outside pressures to stay married. If the reason we have a low divorce rate is because we forbid divorce under any circumstance, then we’ve missed the real reason we desire lasting marriages: healthy relationships.
Divorce is a bad thing, but it is not necessarily an evil thing. It is bad in the sense that it is not ideal: ideally, everyone can be respectful of everyone else and learn to love one another, especially their spouses. The problem is that some people refuse to change their ways, and these people’s spouses are suffering. Somewhere between leaving the cap off the toothpaste every morning and regular physical or verbal abuse is a line where divorce is an unfortunate but potentially necessary option.
Crusaders against divorce must bear this in mind: we do not want people to conform to some “no divorce” rule simply out of mindless obedience. The reason to fight against divorce is because we want healthy marriages. Toward that end, I would suggest reframing the battle in new terms, advocating love, patience, and understanding rather than railing endlessly against divorce.
We must consider that the health of our nation’s marriages has way more than one dimension. Consider for example the Christian view of women — which is often abysmally bad. Case in point, Focus on the Family’s insistence on gender roles in marriage is a damaging phenomenon (remember that the author of the original article is from Focus on the Family). It is fine for two people to agree to play different roles in a marriage relationship, even to the point of conforming with what one might construe as traditional roles; there’s nothing wrong with being a housewife. There are, however, lots of things wrong with forcing or pressuring women to be housewives. If a woman has talents and aspirations, it would be cruel to ask her to dash them completely in order to raise kids. This view treats women like cattle, while the men are free to follow whatever dreams they desire.
Without going too far afield — since this post is about divorce and not views on women — suffice it to say that we need many more metrics to measure marriage quality than just the divorce rate. Thus, even granting the statements of the linked article, we must make sure that any sort of low divorce rate is not merely a sign of rigid and unthinking conformance to religious pressure. I would gladly sacrifice a few percentage points on the divorce rate if it led to an increase in human flourishing and goodness.
Again, the point of fighting divorce is not strictly to prevent divorces but to promote healthy relationships. We must not forget this, or we will lose sight of what is truly good, exchanging it for a poor substitute.