Friday, 23 September 2011

Divorce is ok if your spouse has Alzheimer’s… isn’t it?

Pat Robertson Photo credit: (Paparazzo Presents/Wikipedia)

Controversial televangelist (yes, that is a real word) Pat Robertson has caused uproar by suggesting that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's may be permissible.

During a question and answer session on The 700 Club, the show he hosts, Robertson was asked what advice should given to a viewer’s ‘friend’ who started seeing another woman after his wife developed the incurable disorder.

"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 responded.

Questioned by co-host Terry Meeuwsen about this view in relation to marriage vows, which are binding "in sickness and in health" and "for better or for worse", Robertson’s response is even more controversial.

"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" he said. "This is a kind of death."

Robertson, who is chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a former Republican presidential candidate, said that he wouldn’t "put a guilt trip" on someone who decided to divorce their spouse because of the neurological disorder. However he added, as a sort of disclaimer, that viewers should "get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer".

My personal opinion is that this is wrong on many levels. Would we divorce a spouse who had cancer or had suffered a stroke? Would we split if our partner had sustained brain damage in a car accident? I hope most of us would answer with an emphatic NO.

I understand living with a partner who has dementia can be stressful and upsetting. The disease is an irreversible, progressive disease that gradually destroys memory and thinking skills, and, in the latter stages, prevents sufferers from carrying out the simplest of tasks.

But rather than getting shot of our afflicted partners, surely it would be better to ask for help and stick by our loved ones. The Alzheimer's Society offers expert help including day care and home care services and support for carers. And, as Christians, we should have a network of people we can call on for prayer and practical help. 

So what does the Bible say about this? 

  1. Marriage is a lifelong commitment (Matthew 19:6)
  2. God understands people will divorce, but makes it clear that it is not his will  (Malachi 2:16)
  3. Jesus makes his views on divorce and remarriage (or an affair) very clear: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Therefore, if the viewer’s ‘friend’ is cheating, it is the wife who is entitled to divorce him, not the other way around
I’m not saying we should condemn divorcees (my amazing mother is sadly one) or Robertson, who I know next to nothing about. But I think if most of us search our hearts we would conclude that illness can never justifiably be grounds for divorce.

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-3). Sickness continually roused Jesus' compassion and it should provoke the same reaction is us.

Here are some of the responses I saw to Robertson's views. Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below:

"Sure - to the religious nuts marriage is sacred - until it is inconvenient. Don't let the gays marry but by all means divorce your spouse when they get sick!"

"So, just when the spouse REALLY needs help, you bow out."

"Any suggestions on how I make my wife get Alzheimer's???" 

"And this is why so many have no respect for religion and those like Pat."

"You can spin it whatever way you want but I find his advice shocking - I am an atheist and I take those vows to my spouse more seriously than Robertson does!"

"Wow.... shame on you Mr Robertson. You have just lost so much credibility by the reply. And it just goes against what is contained in the Bible. Again, shame on you."

Read more from Joy in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine and in the next edition of its sister magazine, Liberti.

1 comment:

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