Pat Robertson, Divorce, Alzheimer’s, & a Bad Step Away from Fundamentalism?

Surprise surprise.  Christians once again have Pat Robertson to thank for a ridiculous comment.  Watch this video:

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What interests me most about this, besides the absolute insensitivity toward families that are victims of Alzheimer’s, is that this might be the one of few instances in which Pat Robertson takes a step away from hyper-literal fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.  Its a weird step away from dogma and towards some sort of psuedo-grace.  The only problem is that he chose to step outside of his typical box based on a poor assumption about this difficult sickness… that a person is no longer “there” when the disease takes over.  Does this surprise you?  With all the places in Scripture that would be worth being less restrictive or “literal,” it seems odd that this is the one he’s chosen to speak out about.

What are your thoughts? Was this a step towards grace (I think it was an attempt at it)? Was this irresponsible? Do you think this might have been an odd move away from Fundamentalist sorts of black and white interpretation? What are your thoughts on divorce in general and in this instance specifically?

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  • I lost two aunts to Alzheimers…. and I know that one of them, Irene, was DEFINITELY still there.  God gave her grace, on a couple of occasions, to come out of the darkness and minister His spirit to others.

    And yet I grieve that the Christian theological world has come out and lambasted Robertson along with the press, the late show comedians, and everyone else.  He’s journeying just like the rest of us.  We call out to give other grace who seem to stick both feet in their mouths… and we can’t do so for one of our “own”…  very sad, really…

    • Interesting perspective. I’m behind the game. All I’ve seen are a couple internet videos from ABC.  I agree with you to an extent, but this is a recurring pattern with Robertson and he has yet to recant on most of the wild things he’s said.  If this were a simple faux pas I would hope that after some clarification that this would be remedied.  But, it seems like this is actually what he believes.  And because of the perception it brings to nonChristians about the faith, it really needs to be called out as not true.

    • Interesting perspective. I’m behind the game. All I’ve seen are a couple internet videos from ABC.  I agree with you to an extent, but this is a recurring pattern with Robertson and he has yet to recant on most of the wild things he’s said.  If this were a simple faux pas I would hope that after some clarification that this would be remedied.  But, it seems like this is actually what he believes.  And because of the perception it brings to nonChristians about the faith, it really needs to be called out as not true.

      • Don’t get me wrong…  I think Robertson was wrong… but must we join in with the rest of society, we who are to give grace to even the most undeserving?

        Correct him… yes… but consider the Biblical model for correction…  In relationship…

        Again, as I said, I’ve lost loved ones to that disease and I don’t for a moment agree with his evaluation…  

        But what about this perspective… what if Robertson, in his clumsy way, WAS trying to give grace… to say “You know, living with someone with Alzheimers is ROUGH.  It is not easy and, considering that, from the perspective of the care-taker, their spouse does not exist,  I can sympathize with someone who would choose divorce.”  

        Perhaps this is what Robertson SHOULD have said.., or something like it…  But I remember a blurb from Bonhoeffer’s “Ethics” where he talks about abortion and notes that he believes it to be wrong… but at the same time, considers the plight of those who may feel they have no choice and that, in such light, should we not consider the despair they may feel and give grace and mercy where it is needed?

        Robertson is clumsy, in some ways rather bigotted, self-righteous, and a bit of a fool at times… am I any better?  

        I belong to a community where we can all say that at some point in time… should we not exemplify grace in all things?  Especially with our own?  Consider the perspective of the world around us who already see nothing but Christians fighting with other Christians… do we really need to add to that noise?

        • Your point is well taken.  I would challenge you to a point however.  Someone opens themselves up to criticism in a non-relational way in a media driven world.  This means that what Pat R says in and to the public is up for public correction.  He is in “relationship” to whoever his influence (or lack there of) reaches.  If this was isolated to a single covenant community, then that would be the appropriate context for correction.  Because his community is the whole media, then the media (even Christian forms of media) have the “relational” right to call him out for the sake of others who know what he says in the name of Christ.

          • I reiterate… and add to the noise… Christianity already has a bad rep in the US today…  I’d prefer not to continue it.  Let the rest of the media hold him accountable… let Christians, at the least, remain silent or, at best, publically speak grace…

          • You’ll notice I added some clarifying questions that at least broaden the scope of this discussion.  Thanks as always for interacting…

  • Darren

    Yes, few are better at putting their foot in their mouth than Mr Robertson, however, when I first heard this I also thought that just maybe this was an initial foray into the world of embracing uncertainty. Clumsy and probably wrongheaded, but at least an admission that easy answers aren’t always (ever?) the right answers – I hope he doesn’t get roasted too severely over these comments based on that glimmer of grace that might have leaked through.

    • Darren Barkey

      Slate Magazine actually posted a really good take on this issue (I know, right?) I think the author shows a great deal more grace than most people I’ve heard responding to this issue.  Pat Robertson makes a great whipping boy and often deserves it – I think that fact makes people all the more ready to pounce on anything he says that sounds less than straight down the line with ferocious glee.  Maybe grace is a better response.

      • Thank you so much for posting this. Seeing Robertson’s full comments in context they are so different from what is in the headlines and even what appears in the short clip in the video.

        He was wrestling with a difficult question  and he showed great empathy, compassion, and even pragmatism.

  • Ian

    I lost my grandmother to Alzheimers just recently. She has’t remembered anyone for at least 4 years and was in a home for at least 6. When it comes to the divorce part I think he was wrong, but when he says “it’s like a walking death” in a way he is right. She was suffering and trapped. If she was still there, it may be like a one foot in this world her other foot in the other. I can’t say for certain. All I can say is that I’m glad she is no longer going through that.

    Anyway, Pat has said much stupider things. 

  • I opened up a discussion about this on my blog today too. For me, this is a touchy subject. My grandfather has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home because my grandmother can’t take care of him. But she visits him everyday, talks to him on the phone a couple times a day, and is trying to sell their house so she can move into the apartments beside the home so she can see him easier than having to drive into town everyday. I have no doubt that she’ll stand by him until the end.

  • Samuel Warren

    Kurt, thanks for sharing. I too was very shocked to see Pat Robertson making this claim. Any Christ follower must understand 2 things. 1. Christianity is about love. Love people, divorce is not love, and quite frankly the bible does say that God hates it.
    2. Christians, especially those who speak publically, need to mind their tongue. Because when they speak, it is assumed by all hearers that the rest of Christendom shares their views.

    • Kerry Miller-Whalen

      Just reading through this thread, and picked up on your comment, Samuel, “Divorce is not love”, and thought I’d add my personal perspective.

      I’m a Christian, and have made the decision to divorce after 18 years of marriage.  In my case, Alzheimers was not a factor, however my husband suffers with Aspergers syndrome – a kind of high functioning Autism.

      I stuck with a difficult, often abusive (although there was no physical violence)  and very lonely marriage for so long, not because I believed that I was bound by any “law”, but because “divorce is not love”.  I believed that to walk away from my “marriage” (inverted commas intended) would be self-focused and unloving, and as you have intimated, against the character of Christ.  This is not to say I behaved in all that time, with beautiful, Christ-like love.  I was not able to. 

      In January of this year, I saw a way forward, that I believe was from God.  I realised that if I took steps towards leaving, but did so slowly and taking measures to help my husband cope with the changes, I would be free, and he would also be taken care of. 

      In the months since separation, I have seen him become a far better parent than ever before, and cope better with “life” than I had previously thought possible.  We still have a friendship, of sorts (it is taking time to work things out – for both of us) and because Aspergers is a social/relational handicap, I think perhaps this is partly because he is now freed from the demands of an intimacy he was never “wired” for. 

      I believe marriage is meant to be a living picture of the intimacy  God desires with us.  There are instances where the “vows” are taken, and the words are said, but there is no possibility of establishing that kind of intimate connection.  Perhaps in those cases “marriage” is not love.  I actually believe what I endured was not truly “marriage”, and  I have called the farce.  Divorce is an ugly word – and reactions from Christians have been… interesting!  However we can never afford to make judgments about others. 

  • heath

    Not to wax spiritual and all, but… It must be unimaginable to sit down beside of the a spouse and basically be looking at a stranger. They resemble the person you married, but they talk and they act like they don’t even know you.  How many times in our history have we put the Bridegroom in this scenario?   It is not a matter of trying to quantify or qualify “sin.” We who are not fundamentalist are just as guilty of that game when we try to play it in reverse.  It’s about loving as we are loved. And, God forbid, if we should find ourselves in that horrible situation, I hope that we would remember the grace that did not leave us in our affliction. 

  • Bobby Valentine

    I’ve been upset by Robertson before but I am nothing short of stunned by his gross pragmatism in his “moral guidance.”  Even Hollywood had deeper insight into this in the movie The Notebook.   The 700 Club itself should issue a statement that it disagrees with its host!!

  • You know, I really want to track with you guys on the grace thing…but I simply can’t believe that this particular case of foot-in-mouth is a stirring of grace in Robertson’s heart…if it were, it would be proceeded with floods of tears for all the ungraceful and downright evil things he’s said before.  And yes, I know that’s not a gracious thing for me to say, but I’m not buying it!

    As to Alzheimers’ itself…as God is my witness I hope never to experience that either in my own body or that of my family.  However, having a child with a mental disability perhaps makes me particularly sensitive on this area.  Just where do you draw the line between “living” and “dead” in Pat’s scenario?  There are too many cases like @ab0c82620257a94ba9cff83e6f6907c1:disqus ‘s account…it’s not like the light suddenly goes out and you can tell it’s out.  There’s a lot of evidence in brain injury, stroke, and a variety of other conditions, that consciousness doesn’t always track with ability to express.  How do we know the person we love–and who loves us–is actually “gone?”

    In fact, I remember a report not too long ago where a secular group of psychologists did a study of the basic demeanor of people with Alzheimers’ in a long-term care facility, comparing those who got visits from family members from those who didn’t.  Even if the patients did not actually know or recognize their visitors, they displayed a happier demeanor and a more cooperative manner than those who did not.

    There’s still a human in there.  And though I most devoutly hope never to go through this, when we marry we commit to another human through the bad times as well as the good.  Pat’s permission to punch out may be compassionate, but it’s not Christian.

  • Marie Knowles

    Hmm, I cannot help but wonder if Robertson’s ‘compassion would have been less if the question had been raised by a woman whose husband had Alzheimer’s.   Our family is all too familiar with the difficulty of caregiving, and it has often appeared to me our society is far more comfortable with a woman bearing the burden of responsibility.      

  • STH

    PR’s comment immediately brought to mind the extraordinary care I’ve been blessed to see respective spouses give a cousin with a horrible rare disease, a sister following her stroke, an uncle with severe emphysema – housebound for years (well before the portable O2 canisters),  a brother-in-law with lung cancer, a friend with brain cancer…and the care friends gave to friends in dying from AIDS….  The caretakers’ dedication, loyalty, loving commitment was a gift from God!

    So, PR, using a scale of 1 to 10, at what point is an illness or injury “too” whatever and dumping a spouse … a child … a parent … a sibling … me…(after assuring “adequate care” is provided)?   6?  8?  and what constitutes “too” whatever?

    Can’t help but wonder, also……at what point would PR say God would be justified in dumping us?   We humans do seem to have caused Him a lot of grief over the years, even to the point He sent His Son to save us by dying a horrible death for us….

  • Anonymous

    I find it hard to believe anybody much less a religious  leader would advocate divorce when your spouse is totally vulnerable and dependant on you.  If this is what Christianity has come to it is time for my children to end their religious training and join a bowling league.

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