Editor’s Note: Today and next week we will be looking at a recent report detailing the impact of divorce on children’s spiritual development. I hope that you will come back Monday and next Wednesday for the final two installments in this series. Next Wednesday, we will post a pdf file containing all three parts.
Welcome back to our series of articles about the 6/50 Window. The 6/50 Window is a new name for an existing mission field for the Church represents the number of children of divorce who eventually end up as born again Christians with a biblical worldview (6%) as compared to the total number of children who will witness the dissolution of their parents’ marriage/relationship (50%). We have also looked at how the church has historically failed children of divorce by failing to reach out to these kids in their hour of greatest need. In order for the 6/50 Window to represent a viable mission field, it is important to establish that there is indeed a spiritual impact of divorce. Those of us who work with children of divorce know intuitively that there is a spiritual impact, but the purpose of this article is to examine the statistical support for that assertion.
A New Report
Unfortunately, very little scientific study of this issue has been undertaken, but with the recent release of the Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith report, and the associated releases of related studies, the gap in research has closed somewhat. One particular study was performed by Melinda Lundquist Denton of Clemson University with the results released in the article, “Family Structure, Family Disruption, and Profiles of Adolescent Religiosity” published in Journal For The Scientific Study of Religion.
How Is This Study Different?
The report explains that many of the reports that have been done thus far on the spiritual impacts of divorce on kids have utilized a “variable-centered” approach. In other words, they have measured the effect of divorce on one individual measure of religion. In other words, previous studies, for example, might have asked “What is the impact on divorce on a child’s religious attendance?” or “How does divorce affect a child’s prayer life?”
By contrast, Denton’s current report takes a “person-centered” approach to studying the impact of divorce which accounts for the varied ways in which children understand and practice their religious faith. As such, it is better able to capture and analyze the “complex religious profiles of adolescents.”
The Impact of Divorce on a Child’s Spiritual Development
The report explains three ways in which divorce can impact of child’s spiritual formation (two negative, and one potentially positive):
1) Disrupted Religious Practice.
Divorce makes it harder for kids to get to church events and services. These are referred to as “practical barriers to continued religious practice.” Studies show that many parents leave church following a divorce, and children (in most cases) are subject to their parents’ attendance patterns. Even children who find their own way to church often fall away from the church after a time. Visitation patterns, moving neighborhoods and parents’ changing congregations or not attending can all work together to impact a child’s ability to be involved in the religious life of their church. Furthermore, things like working patterns (when a mother has to go back to work full time) can impact the child’s ability to make it to church events.
Oftentimes there are also emotional barriers to continued participation. Unfortunately, many churches are still not inclusive of non-traditional families causing children of divorce and their parents to feel unwelcome and unwanted at church.
2) Sacred Loss and Desecration.
Where marriage is viewed as having a sacred component, for example a biblical understanding of marriage as an institution created by God, the loss of that relationship is viewed not only as the ending of a relationship but also as a desecration of something sacred. Likewise, for kids who are raised in a faith where they are taught that marriage is a sacred institution, when their parents divorce they also experience that as a destruction of something sacred. This can be much more devastating than it would be to a child who did not view marriage in this same light. Obviously, this has the potential to adversely impact their view of God and other spiritual matters. Studies have shown that children who hold this heightened view of marriage also experience a “deepened sense of loss and violation” when the marriage is ended and may struggle with their own faith as a result.
3) Religious Coping.
Another train of thought, which is supported by some research, holds that children may actually turn to religion and the church for help and guidance in trying to deal with their parents’ divorce. This could be seen as a positive outcome in terms of the spiritual impact of divorce.