It’s not uncommon to hear that the divorce rate is the same inside the Church as outside. Though it’s not true, even Christians tend to repeat it as if it were. Both the kind of church a married couple attends, and how faithfully they attend, make a notable difference in marital stability.
In her new book, The Toxic War on Masculinity, Nancy R. Pearcey, professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University, refuted another widely held misnomer.
Many people assume that most theologically conservative men are patriarchal and domineering. But sociological studies have refuted that negative stereotype. Compared to secular men, devout Christian family men who attend church regularly are more loving husbands and more engaged fathers. They have the lowest rates of divorce. And astonishingly, they have the lowest rate of domestic violence of any major group in America.
The research Pearcey is referring to here was first published by sociologist Brad Wilcox in 2017. As Pearcey notes, this research seems unknown, especially by Christians quick to self-flagellate. For example, Pearcey continues, the “Christian” men with the highest divorce rates are those who are not actually in church. She explains:
Most of these men are nominal Christians, which means they are not particularly devout and attend church rarely if at all. They are prone to pick up terms like headship and submission but interpret them through a secular lens of power and control. Surprisingly, research has found that nominal Christian men have the highest rates of divorce and domestic violence—even higher than secular men. … Nominal men skew the statistics, creating the false impression that evangelical men as a group are abusive and domineering.
When Pearcey shared these stats online after her book came out, it elicited a cynical and even angry reaction. Pearcey responded by insisting that she did not share the data in defense of complementarianism.
I simply report what the psychologists and sociologists find in their studies of complementarian men. I was totally surprised at how positively they test out. I’ve been asked why I focused on complementarian couples—the answer is that they are the ones being studied. They’re the ones being attacked as inherently oppressive, abusive patriarchs.
Unsurprisingly, many responded with stories of bad behavior by men in conservative churches. But, of course, Pearcey was not asserting that abuse never occurs in conservative churches among those with conservative views about men and women. In fact, she opens her new book with the story of her own abusive, churchgoing father.
Rather, what Pearcey is arguing in The Toxic War on Masculinity is that a man’s conservative views about gender roles aren’t as important as his views of the importance and centrality of the family. These husbands, Wilcox has reported, “believe marriage is not primarily about individual fulfillment but about forming a stable, loving home to raise a family. They hold to an ideal of fidelity and permanence.” It is because of this view that conservative husbands tend to care about their family the way they do. And, among the positive outcomes are wives who tend to be “the happiest of all wives in America.”
Once again, Christianity proves to be good. It makes better humans, both men and women. It matters whether or not husbands and wives take the family seriously. It matters whether they think it’s important to fulfill the creation mandate of Genesis 1,“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” It matters whether they take seriously the words of Jesus when He quoted Genesis 2, that the husband and wife “are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Apparently, it really matters what men think about themselves, about women, and about families. Though men are often told there is something inherently wrong with being male, as Pearcey writes, “The evidence shows that Christianity has the power to overcome toxic behavior in men and reconcile the sexes—an unexpected finding that has stood up to rigorous empirical testing.”
Pearcey’s The Toxic War on Masculinity is especially important right now, given all the myths and the lies about men that are so often repeated in our world. It’s thoughtful and sound, carefully researched and well-written. Even more, it’s profoundly helpful.
As Pearcey exhorts us in her book, “We should be bold about bringing [the truth about men] into the public square.”
Thankfully, her book equips us to do just that.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Heather Peterson. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
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