Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network this week on the 700 Club said that a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman because she’s “not there anymore.”
Robertson said, "I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start off all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”
It doesn’t just sound cruel, it is cruel. That somebody who should have custodial care and be looking out for her is the husband. It is his responsibility. Saying that Alzheimer’s is a “kind of death” is simply rationalizing the man’s desire to skip out on his wife. Robertson is endorsing a selfish approach to marriage – “well I’ll stay with you until I have to suffer with you.”
I’m not saying I don’t feel for men (and women) whose spouses are suffering with Alzheimer’s. I can’t even imagine the pain that they experience when their husband or bride of years can’t even recognize them anymore. That doesn’t mean their spouse can skip out. I don’t fault or criticize those in that situation who are experiencing emotional turmoil, but Robertson again proves himself to be a false teacher.
I agree with Russell Moore’s assessment that this is more than a cruelty or embarrassment, but Robertson’s comment is a repudiation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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.
So since a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, his reaction to a circumstance like this should not be abandonment, but selfless sacrifice.