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Good News About Christian Marriages

If you’ve ever heard a sermon on marriage, you’re probably familiar with the oft-quoted and depressing statistic that when it comes to divorce rates, Christians fare no better than the average person in the United States. While the broader message in such a sermon is typically a well-intentioned warning that divorce can happen to anyone, this statistic simply isn’t true.

In his compelling new book, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization, Brad Wilcox shows how the antimarriage narratives we hear nearly everywhere—from the mainstream media and political pundits to Hollywood and the ivory tower—are wrong. And he has the data to back it up.

Wilcox, professor of sociology and senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, doesn’t shy away from deeply embedded cultural myths, taking on an array of commonly parroted assertions and disproving them with groundbreaking new research.

These myths—that marriage is of no benefit, that personal satisfaction matters more than the good of the family, that kids make life miserable, that the religious are just as likely to divorce as the nonreligious—are only a few of the many assumptions Wilcox debunks in his timely and informative book. It’ll be as useful for the pastor as it is for the policymaker, the married as the unmarried.

Faith Benefits Marriages

Get Married isn’t a Christian book, nor is it released by a Christian publishing house. However, it should be encouraging to Christians due to the data it presents. In each chapter, Wilcox highlights the four categories of people most likely to succeed in their marriages: Asian Americans; “strivers” (the college educated); political conservatives; and, yes, the religiously faithful. Most encouraging to me—as a married Christian woman—were the findings regarding religious marriages in the U.S. The data is sunnier than we’re often told.

According to Wilcox, “Faith is the strongest predictor of marital quality—when compared to other factors like ideology, education, race, and income” (32). Perhaps most inconsistent with the cultural narrative is the finding that “women who regularly attend church are about 50 percent less likely to divorce” (176). But that’s not all. Religious men are less likely to be unfaithful or use pornography, more likely to talk about guardrails and erect fences to protect their marriages, and especially likely to receive “top marks” from their wives for provision and attentiveness.

Religious couples are “significantly happier in their marriages, less likely to end up divorced, and more satisfied with their lives” (175), as well as more likely to have children who are flourishing, with “better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning” (178). Oh, and religious couples are also better than the average nonreligious couple at displaying what Wilcox calls “sexual generosity.” How’s that for puritanical?

While these trends are encouraging, nothing is guaranteed. After all, Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil,” and he still lost everything important to him (Job 1:1). Alongside every comforting statistic, there are still those who will suffer in ways we might never fully understand on this side of eternity.

However, there’s a moral order to the universe as God created it. God has shown us what’s good through the natural, created order as well as through the revelation of Christ and his Word. Christians shouldn’t be surprised to find there are scientifically observable benefits to living in keeping with the grain of the universe.

Marriage Is Good for Children

Another interesting (though perhaps unsurprising) finding is that children thrive in traditional marriages between their biological parents. But this flies in the face of a secular narrative that says “family diversity” is a “mark of moral progress” that “requires silence when it comes to any advantages that marriage might afford kids” (59).

Christians shouldn’t be surprised to find there are scientifically observable benefits to living in keeping with the grain of the universe.

Similar to Steve Jobs, who created the iPad and iPhone but didn’t let his own children use them, secular elites promote the “family diversity” myth while mostly practicing traditional family structures themselves. There’s a reason why many elites “talk left but walk right”—it’s because, according to the data Wilcox presents, they (and their children) are more likely to succeed, to be happy, and to be well-off when they do. Whatever views our cultural elites might espouse, they cannot help but “lapse” into these “traditional” habits.

Like Paul at Mars Hill, Christians have a responsibility to proclaim the truth about reality to those who stumble after it in ignorance: we were made to be like our Maker, giving ourselves to each other in faithful, long-suffering love. The family thrives most when it looks like Christ and his church (Eph. 5). Our secular culture, and specifically our post-Christian nation, tends to operate on the assumption that when it comes to experiencing happiness and goodness, you can, as Andrew Wilson says, “keep the fruits of Christianity while severing its roots.” But Wilcox’s findings show the opposite.

Church Attendance Matters

By now, you may be wondering, If I’ve been hearing negative statistics about Christian marriages for my entire life, why are Wilcox’s findings different? As every good sociologist should, Wilcox controls for regular church (or synagogue or mosque) attendance instead of simply grouping everyone who self-describes as religious. People regularly engaged in faith communities are morally shaped by them.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the data-driven recommendations for healthy marriages are consistent with a Christian understanding of marriage. In his conclusion, Wilcox highlights five pillars that tend to support successful marriages: communion between the couple that emphasizes oneness over the individual, prioritization of child-rearing and family activities, stubborn commitment to fidelity and the longevity of the marriage, intermingled finances and co-ownership of assets, and participation in communities (like the church) that affirm and support marriage.

It’s no coincidence these pillars are consistent with what churches have long taught to be good for marriage. Church leaders should be encouraged to continue leaning into the message of Scripture, rather than seeking out the latest counseling trends, when giving advice about successful marriage. We need to tell a better story about Christian marriages using data that controls for church attendance.

The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre writes that the stories we use to describe ourselves influence our decision-making because mankind becomes “a teller of stories that aspire to truth.” Perhaps it’s time, especially in an age where fewer people are getting married and having children, that the narratives we perpetuate about Christian marriages are closer to the truth. While it’s good to heed the warning that divorce could happen to anyone, it’s also good to recognize that faithful adherence to biblical ethics works in tandem with the moral order of the universe.

Faithful adherence to biblical ethics works in tandem with the moral order of the universe.

Ultimately, the data is encouraging: faithful Christian marriages are stronger, are happier, and produce more successful children than nonreligious marriages. Wilcox’s book is a resource I expect I’ll be turning to frequently in the coming months and years. It’d be a valuable addition to any pastor’s library and an encouragement to any Christian who is or someday may be married.

This book offers encouragement to the faithful men and women of our nation to do the one thing statistically likely to make them happier and more prosperous, in an age where being happy and prosperous seems increasingly elusive: get married.


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