“As a child of divorce you’re always missing somebody,” says Elizabeth Marquardt of the Institute for American Values . Missing a mother, missing a father . . . missing God.

In a first-of-its-kind study on the spiritual lives of children of divorce, Ms. Marquardt found that young adults who grew up in broken families were far less likely to be religious, to join a faith community, and to hold an ecclesial leadership position. And she is not particularly surprised. “The rough edges of [mom and dad’s] different worlds rub together in only one place—the life of the child,” she notes, often leaving the child to sort out the big questions of life for himself— What is truth? and Who is God? , for instance.

Maybe this is the place for church community to step in, to provide stability, continuity, and love to these children. But that rarely happens. Two-thirds of the young adults surveyed said that that neither clergy nor congregation reached out to them at the time of the divorce; quite simply, no one knows what to say, no one wants to offend the parents, no one wants to see the children cry. And as those children grow older—often literally traveling between two worlds, the shattered community of their family—they have difficulty becoming part of any community, much less a spiritual one.

Moreover, the story of Salvation History—a Father’s unbroken convent to his children—frequently has little resonance in their lives. As one young man comments, it is not the end but the beginning of the parable of the prodigal son that stands out for him: The parable is not so much an illustartion of paternal forgiveness as a painful reminder of his own father’s departure.

Ms. Marquardt does not give solutions, but she does bring a very real question to light: How do Christians, individually and communally, minister to the growing number of children of divorce? Her published study , complemented by a documentary out this month from the Institute for American Values, is a great first resource for church leaders and members unsatisfied by indifference.

Articles by Amanda Shaw

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