Thinking Out Loud

September 17, 2011

‘Til Death — or Alzheimer’s — Do Us Part

Once again, Pat Robertson has been boldly going where no theologian has gone before, in suggesting that it’s okay for the spouse of someone in later stages of Alzheimer’s Disease to divorce that person.  From the CT Live Blog:

Pat Robertson advised a viewer of yesterday’s 700 Club to avoid putting a “guilt trip” on those who want to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s. During the show’s advice segment, a viewer asked Robertson how she should address a friend who was dating another woman “because his wife as he knows her is gone.” Robertson said he would not fault anyone for doing this. He then went further by saying it would be understandable to divorce a spouse with the disease.

“That is a terribly hard thing,” Robertson said. “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. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen asked Pat, “But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it’s For better or for worse. For richer or poorer?”

Robertson said that the viewer’s friend could obey this vow of “death till you part” because the disease was a “kind of death.” Robertson said he would understand if someone started another relationship out of a need for companionship.

…continue reading here…

CT Also invited Russell D. Moore to post a response:

…Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her.

At the arrest of Christ, his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn’t divorce her. He didn’t leave.

The Bride of Christ fled his side, and went back to their old ways of life. When Jesus came to them after the resurrection, the church was about the very thing they were doing when Jesus found them in the first place: out on the boats with their nets. Jesus didn’t leave. He stood by his words, stood by his Bride, even to the Place of the Skull, and beyond.

A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church icon, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore…

…continue reading here…

After reading that, I noted that Zach Nielsen had linked to a classic 2004 CT article by Robertson McQuilkin, written shortly after his resignation from Columbia Bible College and Seminary; a resignation that he felt was necessitated after his wife Muriel was dealing with the same disease:

…As she needed more and more of me, I wrestled daily with the question of who gets me full-time-Muriel or Columbia Bible College and Seminary? Dr. Tabor advised me not to make any decision based on my desire to see Muriel stay contented. “Make your plans apart from that question. Whether or not you can be successful in your dreams for the college and seminary or not, I cannot judge, but I can tell you now, you will not be successful with Muriel.”

When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, “in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part”?

This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned, however. It was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.

…read the full article here…

Eugene Cho responds:

Let’s be honest here. Sickness or not…Marriage is hard. Utterly hard. Incredibly beautiful but utterly hard. It’s the most difficult and profoundly beautiful thing I have ever experienced thus far in my near 41 years of life. But our vows to one another and to God speaks to a deeper covenant that transcends our earthly circumstances and situations – even sickness.

In these days of pessimism, I do hope that our words and lives speak and testify to a more deeper portrait of Christ’s utter devotion to his creation and His people. In these days where people – including and perhaps, especially Christians – have grown deeply cynical about marriage, commitment, and covenant, we need a better answer. We need a more godly answer; We need a more biblical response; We need a more Christ-like response.

…read his comments and watch a video clip from The 700 Club…

Get Religion looks at the media handling of Pat Robertson’s latest pronouncement:

…Such comments might not be shocking from advice givers who embrace relativism but even for the ever-quotable Robertson, they were bizarre.

…read that one here…

For the last word on this today, we go to Matthew Lee Anderson at The Washington Post:

…[T]he reaction to Robertson’s remarks was surprisingly unified: the condemnation was swift, strong, and universal–especially among the demographic that Robertson purportedly speaks for, evangelicals…

…While it might seem somewhat paradoxical, the uproar is an encouraging sign for those who want marriage to be a vibrant and healthy institution in American society. The widespread recognition that such a divorce would be rooted in a desire for personal convenience suggests we have not yet forgotten that the sacrifice necessary to make marriage work is a heroic sacrifice that often returns nothing–at least not immediately–to those who make it. The sacredness of marriage exists precisely in the opportunity to keep our word, regardless of the personal cost. And the vow exists to guide us and remind us of those possibilities precisely when the cost seems the highest.

One need not be a Christian, of course, to affirm that this sort of self-sacrifice is important for marriage. But it is more difficult, if not impossible, to uphold a definition marriage that has stripped out the sacrifice. The tragic beauty of marriage is that when we enter it, we are not yet capable of loving one another as we ought, but that such a possibility lies before us. But to arrive at our destination, we must discover that the path leads through the thickets of forgiveness and the trials of self-denial. Marriage enables and requires the acquisition of this virtue, the recognition that the other’s interest is more important than our own.

We can see this in the extreme circumstances like that which was posed to Pat Robertson and which he so abysmally failed to respond to appropriately…

…read that item here…

What do you think?  Is this not a case of advocating situation ethics?


  1. The vow of marriage is a commitment to God primarily. We are to remain with our spouse — the spouse of our youth presumably since most people marry in their early 20s or 30s — until one of us dies, physically or until one of us commits adultery and denies the marriage bed. Pat Robertson is incorrect. God bless.

    Comment by lambskinny — September 17, 2011 @ 8:47 am

  2. It took me awhile to stop crying. You see, this is not a distant thought to me because both my parents have alzeihmers. And it is not a distant thought because one day I may too.

    My parents were gifted and committed evangelists in their own right when they met at one of my mothers crusades in England and fell instantly and deeply in love. When they married they continured in their ministry as self-less, God-seeking and much sought after pastors. But above everything, they loved each other unwaveringly.

    Fast forward to today. My father is in the last stages of the disease, my mother in the middle. Because Dad was wandering great distances and becoming a danger to himself and others we had to make the decision to put him in a locked alzheimers ward (just across the field from my brother who goes to them daily and takes them out often). My mother does not need to be there medically, but she feels she needs to be there morally.

    My father has gone way back in time, before any of us were born, and my mother is now, to him, a beautiful young woman he has fallen madly for. He does not know us but he knows her. He holds her hand as they wander over and over down the hall and around the common room. On my last visit she saiid “Cynthia, he is still the sweetest man in the world to me”

    In their altered mental state they are still teaching me and my siblings and all the staff what love looks like when it is fueled by God. They still have a purpose in the kingdom and they will until God takes them home.

    Comment by Cynthia — September 17, 2011 @ 9:25 am

  3. A friend’s parents dealt with this same issue. The father decided he would look after his wife of many years even though physically it would be very difficult for him. He wanted to honour his commitment to look after her ’til death us do part’, even though his family thought their mom should go into a facility. One November morning he took the garbage out to the curb and she followed him out. He turned to go back in the house and asked her to come back in too since it was a cold morning. He thought she was following him but she wandered into the road and was killed by a car. God bless him for honouring his commitment to his wife, even though the ending is tragic.

    Comment by Issy — September 18, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  4. My vows were “for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, …. ’til death do us part”. Seems that “sickness” has taken over here, not death. I hope that the same logic wouldn’t be applied to the “richer or poorer” part. I’d have to say that I *TOTALLY* disagree with Pat on this one!!

    Comment by Murray Lahn — September 18, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  5. Luke 6:31-Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is the fist thing that came to mind. However, if I were in this situation I’m not sure what I would do. Everyone tolerates to different degrees so it’s best not to judge.

    Comment by Tina — September 19, 2011 @ 10:04 am

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