Recently, Pat Robertson, host of The 700 Club, said something that I believe was unbiblical. I hope he takes it back.
He was asked if divorce was justifiable if your spouse is suffering from the dread disease, Alzheimer’s. Basically, he said yes.
It all began with a question from a man with a friend whose wife suffers from a severe case of Alzheimer’s. The husband is now dating other women, and justifies it because “his wife, as he knows her, is gone.”
Robertson agreed with that view: “What he says basically is correct. I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”
Then Terry Meeuwsen, the co-host of The 700 Club, asked Pat about the vow “until death do us part.”
But Robertson said that Alzheimer’s “is a kind of death.”
By this means, one could justify all sorts of reasons for divorce (or I suppose even mercy killing).
Jim Davis, the religion editor of my local paper, the Sun-Sentinel, called me, as I’m sure he called other active Christians, to ask my opinion on this. I told him this was very wrong and I hoped Pat Robertson would retract it. He quoted me in his article, which was cleverly entitled, “’Til Alzheimer’s Do Us Part.”
Jim told me that he was surprised there was no outcry from the Christian community, as opposed to just some objections from some Alzheimer’s support groups.
But I told him I thought there had been an outcry in some Christian circles. For example, the dean of the School of Theology at the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist denomination (in Louisville) is Russell D. Moore. He wrote of Pat’s remarks: “This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
One could add that this is an affront against the sanctity of life.
We live in a very selfish generation, where it’s all about me and my happiness.
I remember a church-going friend who asked me about someone with an unhappy marriage. (He didn’t say it was his, but I got that impression.)
The gist of what he was saying was that this person was stuck in an unhappy marriage. God wants us to be happy, including in our marriage. Therefore, divorce was acceptable. Correct?
I told him what the Bible says. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder — not tear apart. Thankfully, he is still married.
We buried my mother less than two weeks ago. I even had the privilege of being one of her eulogists at the funeral service. She had Alzheimer’s for years. It was difficult for her; it was difficult for the whole family, especially Dad. But was she gone before she was gone? No. Her life was offered up to God, and in ways unknown to us He kept her in His care, even though her mind was gone. Love outlives knowledge.
Commitment is commitment. A vow is a vow.
Maybe one of the reasons our society is in such a mess today is that vows are so easily said and so easily broken.
Long before her illness, my mom used to always say: “Before you get married, keep both eyes wide open. After you get married, keep them both half-closed.” I came to find out later that this advice came from Ben Franklin’s classic book of maxims, Poor Richard’s Almanack.
Before saying those vows, be sure. After saying them, don’t look back.
I don’t believe in playing “Pile on Pat.” He has done a lot of good with his broadcasts, with his college and law school, and more.
He’s on the air on a regular basis. I’m sure if any of us were on the air that often, there would be an occasional lapse. There are statements he comes up with sometimes that I feel compelled to distance myself from.
But of all the questionable remarks of Pat Robertson, this Alzheimer’s comment is among the worst. It opens Pandora’s box. Here you have a Christian leader embracing the secular view of the “quality of life” ethic. This is a line we should never cross.
Think of all the things you could justify by using this criterion.
If an Alzheimer’s patient is “dead,” then so are many other ill spouses. In our selfish age, we could increase the divorce rate even more.
If this is a legitimate excuse for divorce in the eyes of God (after all, the state won’t stop you in our land of “no-fault divorce”), then there’s a multitude of excuses for splitting up a marriage. Where does it stop?
I hope Pat Robertson will think through the implications of his Alzheimer’s remark, apologize for it and cut his losses.
The unbiblical precedent it could create is very dangerous and cruel.
Jerry Newcombe is the senior producer and co-host of Truth that Transforms with Dr. D. James Kennedy (formerly The Coral Ridge Hour). He has also written or co-written 21 books, including The Book That Made America: How the Bible Formed Our Nation. Jerry co-wrote (with Dr. Peter Lillback) the bestselling George Washington’s Sacred Fire.
Publication date: September 23, 2011