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September 19, 2011

In a recent broadcast of the 700 Club, the Reverend Pat Robertson shocked many of his listeners with his response to a plaintive letter from the friend of a husband whose spouse has Alzheimer’s Disease (link). The man’s wife no longer recognized him, and he claimed that his wife as he knows her is gone. So he was wondering about seeing another woman. Pat Robertson responded this way:

That is a terribly hard thing. I hate Alzheimer’s . . . That person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone.  What he says basically is correct. I know it sounds cruel, but if he is going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again.

Predictably, the interviewer responded with a question about marriage vows. The Reverend Robertson replied:

If you respect that vow, ‘until death do us part,’ this is a kind of death . . . I can’t fault him for wanting to have some kind of companionship. If he says, in a sense she’s gone, he’s right. It’s like a walking death. But get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer because I recognize the dilemma . . .

To his credit, the televangelist is not guilty of complete abandonment, since he did remark that the husband should take care to provide proper custodial care. But otherwise his comments have drawn almost universal criticism from religious and secular commentators alike. Here are three reasons why Pat Robertson is just plain wrong:

  • The traditional marriage vow “until death do us part” is not directly from Scripture, but it is consistent with the Bible’s covenant view of marriage. The “one flesh” of Genesis 2:24 connotes a deep, long-lasting bond. The Lord Jesus, in referring to this text in Matthew 19:4, said, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (NIV).
  • Marriage is about more than two people sharing their lives together; it is a testimony to the relationship of Christ to His church. Ephesians 5: 23 says: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Verse 25 goes on: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Faithfulness within marriage is therefore a representation of Christ’s faithfulness to His church. And if we would stretch the metaphor, we His church were certainly dead in sin, yet He did not abandon us.
  • Speaking of death, the wife is not dead yet! Of course such sloppy thinking is very much in line with the functional view of human personhood, where those who cannot think rationally or make decisions for themselves have less value than the rest of us. So we continue to marginalize the poor, the infirm, the elderly, and the voiceless in our midst, rather than seeing each human being as a valuable person, uniquely created in God’s image.

At the heart of all this is a soft-hearted but poorly thought out concept of compassion. Such “compassion” is a poor substitute for Christian justice, and for a true understanding of the poor in spirit, merciful, and pure in heart of Matthew 5:1-11. Real mercy, love, and biblical compassion begin with a genuine understanding of biblical truth. Unfortunately, this was sadly lacking in Reverend Pat Robertson’s remarks.


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