If encouraging a divorce where the Bible forbids it wasn’t enough, former Presidential candidate and broadcaster Pat Robertson shows once again he no longer deserves the respect of the pro-life movement. Slate (which sadly supports Robertson’s comments) has the transcript of remarks from his television show:
A viewer poses this question:
I have a friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t even recognize him anymore, and, as you can imagine, the marriage has been rough. My friend has gotten bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman. He says that he should be allowed to see other people because his wife as he knows her is gone … I’m not quite sure what to tell him.
That is a terribly hard thing. I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the 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—
Robertson’s co-host Terry Meeuwsen then tried her best to rescue Robertson from himself:
“But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone, that it’s for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer?”
Robertson, refusing the correction, however, continued on with an even more careless response:
Yeah, well I know, if you respect that vow, but you say “till death do us part,” this is a kind of death. So that’s what he’s saying, is that she’s like—but this is an ethical question that is beyond my ken to tell you. But I certainly wouldn’t put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship. You’re lonely, and you’re asking for some companionship, as opposed to—but what a grief. I know one man who went to see his wife every single day, and she didn’t recognize him one single day, and she would complain that he never came to see her. And it’s really hurtful, because they say crazy things. … It is a terribly difficult thing for somebody, and I can’t fault them for wanting some kind of companionship. And if he says in a sense she is 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 and the last thing I’d do is condemn you for taking that kind of action.
There is so much wrong with Robertson’s answer that it is hard to know where to put the focus. First, he ignores the anger the writer had towards God. Then he basically justifies committing adultery and seeking companionship outside of marriage. Finally, he suggests getting a divorce outside the grounds which God permits.
Beyond all of this bad advice, his overriding sin was to depersonize people who have serious illnesses.
He says she is “gone”. No, she is not gone. She needs a caring husband present with her more than ever. Would Robertson have justified the adulterous behavior of Terri Schiavo’s husband Michael because she couldn’t communicate and give him companionship?
Robertson says “I know it sounds cruel” when he advises the man to divorce his wife. No, Mr. Robertson, it doesn’t sound cruel, it is cruel. He then gives the man a reason to feel good about his decision as long as he makes sure “she has custodial care and somebody looking after her” (Michael Schiavo ostensibly did the same). Maybe he has in mind one of the hospices that specialize in hastening the death of the “terminally ill”, since she is dead anyway.
We have lost the pro-life cause when we mistake metaphors for reality. Robertson says that Alzheimer’s is a kind of walking death. If the man may consider the wife of his youth dead for purposes of divorce, why can’t hospices and hospitals consider her dead for purposes of putting her in a grave? Robertson has sympathy for the adulterer, but not one ounce of care for the one suffering with the sickness.
Two additional observations.
First, this whole thing should come as no surprise. Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for President of the U.S in 2008, in spite of the fact that Giuliani was probably the most pro-abortion major Republican candidate in history.
Slate, has spotted this before in Robertson:
Robertson has had squishy tendencies all along. In 1992, he said “if a woman gets raped by a syphilitic or something like that, I mean, she maybe should have a right” to terminate the pregnancy. In 2001, he said Chinese officials enforcing that country’s one-child policy were “doing what they have to do.” In principle, Robertson opposes abortion, the one-child policy, and divorce. But in all three cases, he’s open to contrary viewpoints and exceptions.
Second, Pat Robertson is not alone in using unguarded words or the language of death when referring to the incapacitated. The late D James Kennedy in his book, How Would Jesus Vote, after writing about his opposition to suicide, adds this:
“This does not mean that those who are essentially dead should be kept “alive” indefinitely through artificial means….By “artificial means”, I am talking about keeping a person’s body alive by a battery of machines when an individual is not even conscious.(emphasis mine).
Not even conscious? That is the language of death. Consciousness is not a Biblical criterion for determining or defining life. People in comas are not dead. If a person is breathing and his or her heart is beating, that person is alive. Maybe near death, but not dead. It is quite frightening that a pro-life leader would use such language and put the word “alive” in quotation marks, suggesting that the person using life-sustaining technology is not really alive.
Perhaps much of the pro-life movement is near death. It certainly appears, in parts at least, to be completely unconscious. Robertson not only struck out at keeping the vows of marriage and God’s Commandments, he lashed out against life itself.
1. He’s wrong here. Alzheimer’s is almost imperceptibly slow at its onset.
2. The word “well” is incorrectly left out of the Slate transcript, but is in the video clip. It shows that Robertson’s instinct was to dismiss the concern that the marriage vow was being violated.
3. Even the character Miracle Max (played by Billy Crystal) in The Princess Bride recognized “there’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead.”
David is currently an adjunct instructor of Composition and Speech at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. His wife and he have also owned a business selling antique and collectible postcards on eBay since 1999. David was an activist with Operation Rescue in the early 1990s. He is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, Iowa.
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