“Church-going Christians Less Likely To Commit Adultery”

Seen at Magic Statistics, insight on how to keep your marriage healthy:

“What matters the most is being involved in a religious organization,” says Amy Burdette, co-author of the study and a post-doctoral scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Those who attend church more are less likely to cheat, and those who have more conservative views of the Bible are less likely to cheat.”

In addition to being good advice for living, this is also part of an ongoing series on spiritual practice and life outcomes. See the series link for information on how to interpret studies like these as evidence supporting Christianity.

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Tom Gilson

Vice President for Strategic Services, Ratio Christi Lead Blogger at Thinking Christian Editor, True Reason BreakPoint Columnist

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8 Responses

  1. Jordan says:

    In another post, Tom wrote: “That’s about as bad as you can get in drawing conclusions from social research. Good thinking recognizes that correlation does not equal causation.”


  2. Tom says:

    Correlation can indicate (suggest, hint at) causation when there is a) theory to explain the causal connection, b) lack of confounding variables, c) lack of conflicting variables. Correlation cannot prove causation even with those factors present.

    I did not say this proves that all churchgoers have healthier marriages than all non-churchgoers. It’s not even proof that going to church helps marriages. Yet I stand by my statement that this study provides insight into how a couple can keep their marriage healthy. “Insight” means information with understanding.

    There is theoretical reason to believe that church attendance supports marriages–it’s one of most conservative churches’ primary missions. Persons with higher religious devotion are generally healthier than less devoted persons on dozens of social and emotional dimensions. And (more controversially, I recognize) devoted followers of Christ have the power of prayer and of God’s presence to help them.

    There is some conflicting research out there, but this is from a very high-quality research database, and it does a better job than prior research does of separating out subgroups of professing Christians. So the correlation in this case quite likely is an indicator of causation. Not proven, but quite likely.

    James Corbett, in the case you quoted back to me, ignored mountains of conflicting research that contradicts his presumed correlation-causation connection.

    Also, Jordan, I hope you read the disclaimer I referred to in the main blog post.

  3. Mike R. says:

    Are church-going Christians less likely to commit adultery because they go to church or is it because that church-going Christians have deeply held convictions about marriage and fidelity?

    I’d say the correlation isn’t the church going but rather the church-goer’s convictions. If a person is inclined to be an adulterer, the act of attending church is not going to change his heart.

  4. ordinary seeker says:

    Tom, I’m a bit confused about this from the study:

    “…those who have more conservative views of the Bible are less likely to cheat.

    That said, Baptists are one-third less likely to wander than those with no religious affiliation, researchers found, and Catholics display similar odds. Moderate Protestants such as Presbyterians and Lutherans have 37 per cent lower odds of cheating than the unaffiliated, while liberal Protestants such as those in the United and Anglican churches are 31 per cent more faithful.”

    I would think that Baptists and Catholics would have more conservative views of the Bible than moderate Protestants, yet moderate Protestants are more faithful than Baptists. Am I wrong in my thinking, or would this suggest that there’s an error in the conclusions drawn from the study?

  5. Tom says:

    I don’t know… maybe they used a measure of individual beliefs in addition to measures of denominational affiliation. I’m not budgeted for the $15 to read the whole study, sorry to say.

  6. The study’s abstract, posted here, says “Both church attendance and biblical beliefs are associated with lower odds of self-reported infidelity.” Based on that, it would appear that Tom is correct in surmising that data on individual beliefs were part of the mix.

    Also, differences between “liberal”, “moderate”, and “conservative” Christians may not be as denominationally clear-cut as one might assume. Some Catholics (and even some Baptists) are theologically and morally liberal, while many Presbyterians and Lutherans are very conservative.

  7. Phil says:

    Could it be that those less likely to commit infidelity are more likely to go to church which is contributing to the correlation?

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