Update on Inaccuracy of Pastoral Divorce Statistics

June 19, 2007

Officially, this will be my last word on this subject. I have continued to research and seek out the sources for this misinformation on pastoral divorces. Go to the earlier blog entry for background. I contacted one website that claimed to have the source. I am surprised that I received a note from the author of the article himself. I had asked him for his source, which he claimed was “Focus on the Family”. Here is his response in the email:

Mike –

Sorry, but I don’t have source information. All the statistics I quote came to me via an e-mail from Bill Bright. I accepted them, because of where I got them, but do not know the source information. Sorry I don’t have more, but if you find out otherwise, please let me know.

I will leave aside for a second that he had claimed to have the information from Focus on the Family in the article and go to the heart of the matter. He does not know the source. Yet, he claims the information as fact in his article. As I reported, this article is one of many that have sprung up like weeds in the past two months claiming that half of all pastoral marriages end in divorce. I contacted Bill Bright’s website, but they could not verify that the information was correct. They do not know where they got it from, though they also claimed it came from Focus on the Family.

Preachers and teachers employ a science called “rhetoric” when we try to influence thought. But rhetoric has rules and as such, it stands or falls on those rules. An argument is only as strong as its adherence to those rules. One rule of rhetoric is that the presenter is more effective if they stay relatively dispassionate. Truth comes out better if the emotion of the presenter is not more powerful than the Truth they are presenting. This was exemplified in the Presidential Primaries three years ago when Howard Dean went off on an emotional tirade about his chances in the upcoming states primaries. It is largely believed that he ruined his chances for the nomination because of his emotional outburst.

In our situation, the rule of rhetoric broken is the rule that the facts need to be true, or they need to be understood as unprovable. For instance, in presenting an argument, we don’t need to prove the statement “Men are attracted to women” in order to use it. Most people will accept that datum without question. But if you say “John Deere tractors are unsafe”, you had better be quick with the statistics that prove this, or your opinion is a lost cause in terms of rhetoric.

When Driscoll et al do not have credible sources for their argument that half of all pastoral marriages end in divorce, it ruins the rest of their presentation. They were seeking to convince a group of pastors that the pastoral marriage is in trouble. The only thing that using an unverified (and probably false) set of statistics accomplishes, is it nullifies everything else said in the rhetorical argument.

Billy Graham never did this. He employed two people who constantly fact-checked his sermons. He realized that his credibility had to extend way beyond today’s crusade: it had to stand the scrutiny of friends and enemies alike. Learn this lesson friends: If you seek to convince someone that your argument is valid and helpful, make sure you have all your facts correct. To lose even one key fact loses the argument, and maybe even a soul in trouble.



  1. This is case in point why I get fustrated when something is thrown out on the news, whether it be TV or print, that is completely or mostly wrong but you never see a follow up. But once that first statement is made, most people take that as fact, even if it is shown in the future that the first statement wasn’t fully fact. So…………it’s to bad that 50% of pastoral marriages end in divorce.

  2. Not long ago, there was an article on the front page of our local daily newspaper about a person who attends our church. The title of the article was designed to entice readers into a visceral response right from the get-go. The content of the article implied unethical…not illegal…behavior had occurred. The article went back and forth and when finished, a logical person would come to the conclusion that not quite enough information had been presented to make an accurate determination one way or the other. Yet I have no doubt that many who read the article came to a conclusion, one way or the other.

    What I find so tiresome is the reality that one can’t hardly trust anything one reads anymore. Who of us has the time and resources to research the “facts” of each article of interest. Nobody! And so we tune out a little, barely taking in what we’re reading. It’s a sad commentary on our times. Write what sells! Tease it with a good hook! Make it tantilizing so we can sell more advertising! Too bad if the innocent get hurt in the process. Too bad if the guilty get away with improper behavior. Just…sell…papers!

    I suppose you could say we got lucky on this one since nobody seemed to care about it. But apathay or a foredrawn conclusion about the facts can be a dangerous thing.

  3. Anon: Perhaps we didn’t get so lucky on this one. Even though most of us don’t care about the article, some people really did. It has hurt someone who matters very deeply to us. Also, it has done irreparable harm to his reputation, even though there is no evidence that anything illegal has happened. That, unfortunately, is the power of innuendo.

  4. It’s natural for Christians to rally around a brother or sister who has been hurt by allegedly unjust allegations. But what happens if the allegations turn out to be true? If that happens then some will experience intense feelings of betrayal. A cautious posture is appropriate.

  5. Anon: I agree, a cautious position is always appropriate. Even the wisest Christian gets caught up occasionally in situations where they look bad and are actually found guilty of indiscretions.

    That having been said, let’s be clear that many times the media can create a situation that looks different than it actually is. If we didn’t have the media as a “watchdog” would certain problems appear as dangerous or horrible as they now appear. I doubt it.

    We also stand with people, not for what they have done, but because of our relationship with them.

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