I was shocked to hear such a bold statement from Mr. Pat Robertson, 700 club host, who, on Tuesday’s broadcast, justified that a person should not be held accountable for leaving his spouse and seeking divorce if his spouse has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
In this scenario Mr. Robertson has shown the world that one’s personal comfort, especially in the case of having a spouse with a chronic illness, is more important than the marriage vows of “for better or for worse, until death do us part.”
The religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) told his “700 Club” viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s is justifiable because the disease is “a kind of death.”
During the segment of the show where he answers questions from viewers, Robertson was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the Alzheimer’s Disease.
He responds, “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,” Robertson said.
When Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson’s co-host, asked him about couples’ marriage vows to take care of each other “for better or for worse” and “in sickness and in health” I thought he may be able to redeem himself, if he wasn’t sure what hole he had just dug for himself. . .but he didn’t.
“If you respect that vow, you say `til death do us part,’ This is a kind of death.”
It was perhaps this clarification that made me most annoyed me. Besides the statement on divorce, I was also frustrated to hear Robertson emphasize that, in the case of Alzheimer’s the person is “gone.”
He says, “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone.” (emphasis added). Robertson said that the viewer’s friend could obey the vow of “death till you part” because the disease was a “kind of death.”
Joel Hunter, senior pastor of the 15,000 member Northland Church in Orlando, FL is quoted as saying, “Obviously, you could do this for anything. … ‘My husband watches and plays video games, and so he has left the marriage and it’s kind of like a death,'” he said. “It’s not death, and so we can’t start describing things as death that are really not death, and we have to stop trying to mischaracterize what Scripture says for our own convenience.”
Though loved ones of a person who lives with Alzheimer’s Disease may feel the person they once knew has faded away, if that person is still alive on this earth–God still has a purpose and a plan of his or her life–regardless of how “meaningless” their life may seem to others.
My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and lived in assisted living at the end of his years. Even though in his 90s when he died, his memorial service was packed full of people who wanted to celebrate his life–many who didn’t even know him before the Alzheimer’s set in. He impacted many, many lives, even when he had little memory.
We never know what nurse may be living a life of abuse at home, what physical therapist has asked God for a sign of His faithfulness today, what doctor has just lost his wife to cancer. . . and that a patient with Alzheimer’s may be the one who encourages him or her that day.
Joni Eareckson Tada also made a public statement on her website Joni and Friends:
“I was dismayed when this week Pat Robertson said to a nationwide audience that Alzheimer’s disease is a kind of death that makes divorce justifiable. When a Christian leader views marriage on a sliding scale, what does this say to the millions of couples who must deal daily with catastrophic injuries and illnesses?”
Marriage is designed to be a picture of God’s sacrificial love for us. Alzheimer’s disease is never an ‘accident’ in a marriage; it falls under the purview of God’s sovereignty. In the case of someone with Alzheimer’s, this means God’s unconditional and sacrificial love has an opportunity to be even more gloriously displayed in a life together!”
To put a “value” on any life based on what one can remember or what one can do, is to make us all replaceable to our loved ones. What if my coping skills crack under the stress of chronic pain? What if my husband didn’t want to deal with me when I had the flesh eating bacteria? What if we all gave up on our spouse every time life got tough and we said, “S/he just isn’t the same person anymore. . . “?
Is every marriage like Noah and Allie in The Notebook? No, we don’t live in Hollywood. But could we learn something about their faithfulness to one another despite life’s difficulties, including Alzheimer’s? Yes.
May God open the eyes of Mr. Robertson, and may we cover the many in prayer who heard is message and now believe their acts of leaving a spouse who is suffering is justifiable because “they just aren’t the same person I married.”
It is a sad thing to see our Christian leaders conforming to the world’s views so that people can live a life of comfort, while sometimes the world, such as in the movie The Notebook gets it right, showing true compassion.
Video of the 700 Club broadcast
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.