New surveys conducted by LifeWay Research have found that the majority of Americans do not believe that divorce is a sin, while the majority of Protestant pastors also believe that divorce is morally acceptable, under certain circumstances, except in scenarios when the couple has fallen out of love.
LifeWay recently conducted two surveys where they asked 1,000 lay Americans and 1,000 Protestant pastors whether they think divorce is a sin under certain circumstances.
Respondents were asked to clarify if they thought divorce was a sin in cases where the couple has fallen out of love, a spouse cheated on the other, physical abuse was apparent in the relationship, one spouse was addicted to pornography and when one spouse has abandoned the other.
When asked about the morality of getting a divorce when the couple "no longer loves on another," only 38 percent of lay Americans consider divorce to be sin, while 61 percent of pastors also consider such a divorce a sin.
In the case of a spouse being addicted to pornagraphy, 35 percent of lay Americans label such a divorce a sin, compared to the 39 percent of pastors that also consider divorce in that case to be a sin.
In other scenarios, however, average Americans are more likely than Protestant pastors to consider divorce a sin.
When adultery is the cause for separation, 39 percent of lay Americans consider divorce a sin, while 32 percent of pastors feel divorce is sinful in that case.
Twenty-eight percent of pastors consider divorce when spousal abuse is apparent to be a sin, compared to the 37 percent of average Americans who also think divorce is a sin.
But when one spouse abandons the other, 27 percent of pastors think it is a sin to get a divorce, while 38 percent of average Americans consider divorce in that scenario a sin.
But when none of the aforementioned scenarios are the cause for divorce, 19 percent of pastors think divorce is sinful, while 37 percent of average Americans also think divorce is sinful.
"About one in seven Americans are saying divorce is a sin in all of these cases, more than a third don't think any of these would be a sin, and almost half believe some circumstances would be sinful, but not others," LifeWay Research Vice President Scott McConnell said in a statement. "Pastors make a distinction about the rightness of a divorce based on the reasons behind it. … They want to account for the parts of Scripture that speak of possible rationales."
Although the majority of Protestant pastors think divorce is sinful when the couple no longer loves each other, the research found that 66 percent of Evangelical pastors consider divorce sinful in that scenario, compared to the 52 percent of Mainline pastors who consider divorce sinful when the couple falls out of love.
Although most pastors consider divorce sinful when the couple falls out of love, only 46 percent of Protestant church members feel divorce is sinful in that scenario.
Although church members are less likely to think divorce is sinful when the couple falls out of love, they are more likely to think divorce is sinful in the case of porn addiction. Forty-four percent of Protestant church members believe divorce is sinful in the case of pornagraphy addiciton, while 39 percent of pastors feel such a divorce is sinful.
"While most Protestant pastors view the sinfulness of divorce differently based on the reason for the divorce, this sensitivity is lost on their members," McConnell said.
As no-fault divorce has made it possible for couples to get a divorce without a substantial reason behind the separation, McConnell argues that Americans have become accustomed to believe that divorce is free from sin because of the normality of it in today's culture.
"[Since] our laws went to no-fault divorce across the country, that's really the mindset of Americans: that there's no fault, there's no sin involved in a divorce in most situations," OneNewsNow quoted McConnell as summarizing. "And so, something that we see as really a biblical value — whether something's a sin or not — is something that the average American is not in tune with."
Rev. David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, wrote in an op-ed that Western society and the no-fault divorce culture has turned spouses into "consumer products."
"In western culture today, individuals almost always are free to marry, or not marry, if and when they wish. They are free to choose their partner on the basis of their own entirely self-selected reasons. They are free to conduct themselves in marriage precisely as they choose to do. They are free to initiate divorce if and when they choose and for whatever reason might seem compelling to them," Gushee wrote.
"In other words, a spouse has become a consumer product, to be bought, abandoned, or traded in for a new model at the will of the customer."
Gushee contends that clergy need to instruct newlyweds that marriage is more than just a temporary pact to be thrown away on a whim.
"But such efforts swim against the tide of a culture in which such norms are increasingly incomprehensible. And we know that many of those who come to us for our wedding services are not all that serious about faith," Gushee continued. "So the request for wedding services becomes an opportunity for clergy to make a serious pitch not just for a religious wedding but a serious life of faith within which vibrant lifetime marriage can be sustained."