Crusty Logic Christianity & Liberty

Monogamy: Unrealistic Expectation?

Note for my family: This is not an appropriate topic of conversation when guests are around. EG, it s/b off limits from 24 Dec until 3 Jan. 

Now, let’s see how much trouble I can get myself in.

According to Barna Research, Christians have a nominally higher divorce rate than non-Christians. Worse, from some preliminary research I’ve done, divorce of those who meet at Christian universities appears to be about 22% higher than that. You stand a better chance of a successful marriage if you meet in Bullwinkle’s Bar than at Bethel University.

Purely from a lot of anecdotal evidence I’ll go out on a limb and state that divorce is very harmful to everyone involved and in particular to children. Even adult children are negatively impacted by their parents divorce.

Why do we get divorced so often? From conversations with a number of pastors the core cause of divorce among Christians centers around high expectations that go unmet. Number one unmet expectation: sexual monogamy. Religious incompatibility and financial issues come in tied for second, but way down the list. Interestingly, an unmet expectation of him becoming a pastor or missionary is a measurable reason given for Christian divorces.

The Tiger scandal is just the latest in a very long list of ‘men behaving badly’. In our society we expect that when men get married that they will be sexually monogamous. No sex with anyone else. Till death, or more likely, divorce, do they part. Going one step further, Catholic folk expect that their priests will remain sexually celibate for life. Realistic expectations?

Numerous studies have indicated that somewhere around 80% of men have sex outside of their marriage and this isn’t unique to the U.S., but holds true for pretty much every nation in the world.

Of all the marriages in the Bible only about 28% could possibly have been monogamous, because we know that at least 72% were not. Those we know who were not monogamous include such heralded folk as Abraham, David, Judah, and Moses. As one Biblical historian and anthropologist mentioned to me, it’s unlikely that any more than a very small minority of men in the Bible were monogamous as sexual monogamy, for men, was simply not a moral concept that existed until several hundred years after Jesus ministry.

Even Catholic priests were apparently not required to be monogamous in marriage until about 800 and celibacy was not required until around 1050. Such figures as St. Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther argued against both the celibacy requirement for priests and monogamy for anyone as not Biblical and not realistic.

Whatever your beliefs, reality is that when a couple gets married, when they’re walking down the aisle, there is about an 80% likelihood that he will, at some point during their marriage, have sex with someone else. And in all probability, many someone else’s. It is a little better for Christians, about 28% of evangelical Christian men appear to remain monogamous (though over 90% admit to regularly viewing porn which has been the basis for a number of divorces). Even for evangelical Christians it is very unlikely that he will be any more monogamous than Abraham, David, Judah, or Moses (and my hats off to those very few who are more monogamous than Abraham, David, Judah, Moses, and all the rest!)

This isn’t saying that it’s OK for him to have sex with someone other than his wife or that viewing porn is OK, just stating a statistical reality. And historically this appears to have been the case since Adam and Eve.

Is there any point then in an expectation of monogamy?

If you know that there is greater than an 80% risk of failure, why make the vow? Why take the risk? Why get married and more importantly, why have children, if the likelihood of foisting the pain and agony of divorce on everyone is so great?

Statistic: Over 40% of children in the U.S. live with other than their biological or adoptive parents. Many more than that will by the time they graduate from high school.

Imagine for a minute that you are a pastor counseling a young couple who is getting married. You know that there is greater than a 70% likelihood that he will have sex outside of their marriage and that there is a high probability of divorce if she finds out. What do you tell them? What responsibility do you have in effectively assisting in planning for a large number of children becoming the victims of their parent’s divorce?

We know fairly unequivocally what God thinks about divorce. He doesn’t like it. At all. He told us very clearly that the ONL, even mildly acceptable reason for divorce is the unfaithfulness of a wife. Even in this case he makes it clear that he’d still prefer that we not get divorced. Otherwise God’s commandment is to remain married.

Not too surprisingly, in our 2003 survey of approximately 1200 professing born-again Christians, over 50% of women said that if they found out their husband had any kind of sexual relationship with someone else, she would divorce him immediately. So right from the start about 60% of Christian marriages begin with a probability and expectation of divorce.

We can certainly say that men just shouldn’t visit escorts or look at porn and that priests should just remain celibate. Good luck.

Knowing all of this, is monogamy an unrealistic expectation? Should we keep expecting it and then just keep divorcing when it goes unmet? Or goes unmet a second time? Or a third? Or?

3 Responses to Monogamy: Unrealistic Expectation?

  1. Crusty

    Anon, I was thinking of something else when I replied. What statistics are you questioning?

  2. Crusty

    Some well regarded published statistics are included in "The Sexual Man" by Archibald Hart, "The Janus Report", and "The Myth of Monogamy" Hart's was focused purely on Christians so that is perhaps the most relevant. You can also check your local university library for studies by Guttmacher, Kinsey, and Hite.

  3. Anonymous

    Frankly, it's easy to throw statistics around as long as they aren't anchored to anything. Have you cited one single, solitary research study for this? It's pleasant to justify cynicism about marriage, or to justify serial unfaithfulness, but where's the data? I mean, not where the dickens do you get your statistics, because they're cheap as snow–but what EVIDENCE do you have.

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