Sunday, September 18, 2011

‘Till Death Do Us Part?

On September 15, 2011 religious broadcaster Pat Robertson publicly stated he believes that a man or woman is fully justified seeking a divorce if their spouse is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease because "if you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,” having Alzheimer’s "is a kind of death." Robertson’s statement made national headlines because Even for those who have a more liberal view of divorce, abandonment of a spouse who has a sickness or disease seems to go beyond the norm.

In Colossians 2:8 the apostle Paul writes: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Clearly Pat Robertson’s theology and morality are not rooted in the truths of God’s Word. While there is no verse in the Bible that states “till death do us part” – the statement itself is clearly supported biblically. Jesus himself made a clear statement regarding marriage and divorce.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9)
Below I have post the original article by Pat Robertson – along with two responses in which I am full agreement with (one from Justin Taylor and the other from Russell Moore). At the end I have included an article from Christianity Today which is an interview with Robertson McQuilkin, where he speaks of his response in being faced with a spouse who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. I have also include a YouTube audio of a statement he made about being marriage to someone with the disease.


Pat Robertson says Alzheimer's makes divorce OK

September 15 2011 - The Associated Press

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is justifiable because the disease is "a kind of death."

During the portion of the show where the one-time Republican presidential candidate takes questions from viewers, Robertson was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the incurable neurological 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 said.

The chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which airs the "700 Club," said he wouldn't "put a guilt trip" on anyone who divorces a spouse who suffers from the illness, but added, "Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer."

Most Christian denominations at least discourage divorce, citing Jesus' words in the Gospel of Mark that equate divorce and remarriage with adultery.

Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson's co-host, asked him about couples' marriage vows to take care of each other "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health."

"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" Robertson said during the Tuesday broadcast. "This is a kind of death."

The Gospel-Emptying Cruelty of Pat Robertson
Justin Taylor, September 15, 2011

Sometimes I think the category of “righteous anger” was created to respond to people like Pat Robertson.

His latest cringe-inducing statement is that a man should divorce his wife suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and “start all over again” if he is lonely and in need of companionship. When asked about the vow “to death due us part,” Robertson responded that “if you respect that vow,” then Alzheimer’s can be viewed as “a kind of a death.”

The best counsel is usually to ignore Robertson. But when a professing Christian says such cruel and worldly things, it also presents an opportunity to reexamine gospel truth afresh. In that regard Russell Moore has provided a wonderful service for us. He rightly writes that Robertson’s statement “is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson

Russell Moore, September 15th, 2011

This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Few Christians take Robertson all that seriously anymore. Most roll their eyes, and shake their heads when he makes another outlandish comment (for instance, defending China’s brutal one-child abortion policy to identifying God’s judgment on specific actions in the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or the Haiti earthquake). This is serious, though, because it points to an issue that is much bigger than Robertson.

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.

Pat Robertson’s cruel marriage statement is no anomaly. He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross. They have given us a politicized Christianity that uses churches to “mobilize” voters rather than to stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel.

But Jesus didn’t die for a Christian Coalition; he died for a church. And the church, across the ages, isn’t significant because of her size or influence. She is weak, helpless, and spattered in blood. He is faithful to us anyway.

If our churches are to survive, we must repudiate this Canaanite mammonocracy that so often speaks for us. But, beyond that, we must train up a new generation to see the gospel embedded in fidelity, a fidelity that is cruciform.

It’s easy to teach couples to put the “spark” back in their marriages, to put the “sizzle” back in their sex lives. You can still worship the self and want all that. But that’s not what love is. Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

But the gospel is there. Jesus is there.

Living by Vows

Robertson McQuilkin in Christianity Today, February 1, 2004

After his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, college and seminary president Robertson McQuilkin found himself torn between two commitments, two divine callings. At the request of the CT editors, he shares the story of his struggle:

It has been a decade since that day in Florida when Muriel, my wife, repeated to the couple vacationing with us the story she had told just five minutes earlier. Funny, I thought, that's never happened before. But it began to happen occasionally.

Three years later, when Muriel was hospitalized for tests on her heart, a young doctor called me aside. "You may need to think about the possibility of Alzheimer's," he said. I was incredulous. These young doctors are so presumptuous—and insensitive. Muriel was doing the same things she had always done, for the most part. True, we had stopped entertaining in our home—no small loss for the president of a thriving seminary and Bible college. She was a great cook and hostess, but she was having increasing difficulty planning menus. Family meals she could handle, but with guests we could not risk missing a salad and dessert, for example.

And, yes, she was having uncommon difficulty painting a portrait of me, which the college and seminary board—impressed by her earlier splendid portrait of my predecessor—had requested. But Alzheimer's? While I had barely heard of the disease, a dread began to lurk around the fringes of my consciousness.

When her memory deteriorated further, we went to Joe Tabor, a neurologist friend, who gave her the full battery of tests and, by elimination, confirmed that she had Alzheimer's. But because she had none of the typical physical deterioration, there was some question. We went to the Duke University Medical Center, believing we should get the best available second opinion. My heart sank as the doctor asked her to name the Gospels and she looked pleadingly at me for help. But she quickly bounced back and laughed at herself. She was a little nervous, perhaps, but nothing was going to get her down.

This time we accepted the verdict. And we determined from the outset not to chase around the country every new "miracle" treatment we might hear about. Little did I know the day was coming when we would be urged-on average, once a week-to pursue every variety of treatment: vitamins, exorcism, T chemicals, this guru, that healer. How could I even wife 1 look into them all, let alone pursue them? I was grateful to friends who made suggestions, because each was an expression of love. But for us, we would trust the Lord to work a miracle in Muriel if he so desired, or work a miracle in me if he did not.

One day the WMHK station manager, the program manager, and the producer of my wife's morning radio program, "Looking Up," asked for an appointment. I knew an occasional program she had produced was not used, but the response to her monologue of upbeat encouragement continued to be strong. Though the program was designed for women, businessmen often told me how they arranged their morning affairs so they could catch the program.

As the appointment began, the three executives seemed uneasy. After a few false starts, I caught on. They were reluctantly letting me know that an era was ending. Only months before they had talked of national syndication. I tried to help them out. "Are you meeting with me to tell us that Muriel cannot continue?" They seemed relieved that their painful message was out and none of them had to say it. So, I thought, her public ministry is over. No more conferences, TV, radio. I should have guessed the time had come.

She did not think so, however. She may have lost the radio program, but she insisted on accepting invitations to speak, even though invariably she would come home crushed and bewildered that her train of thought was lost and things did not go well. Gradually, reluctantly, she gave up public ministry.

Still, she could counsel the many young people who sought her out, she could drive and shop, or write her children. The letters did not always make sense, but then, the children would say, "Mom always was ,a bit spacy." She also volunteered to read textbooks for a blind graduate student. The plan was to put them on tape so that others could use them. I was puzzled that those responsible never used them, until it dawned on me that reading and writing were going the way of art and public speaking. She was disappointed with each failure and frustration, but only momentarily. She would bounce back with laughter and have another go at it.

Muriel never knew what was happening to her, though occasionally when there was a reference to Alzheimer's on TV she would muse aloud, "I wonder if I'll ever have that?" It did not seem painful for her, but it was a slow dying for me to watch the vibrant, creative, articulate person I knew and loved gradually dimming out.

I approached the college board of trustees with the need to begin the search for my successor. I told them that when the day came that Muriel needed me full-time, she would have me. I hoped that would not be necessary till I reached retirement, but at 57 it seemed unlikely I could hold on till 65. They should begin to make plans. But they intended for me to stay on forever, I guess, and made no move. That's not realistic, and probably not very responsible, I thought, though I appreciated the affirmation.

So began years of struggle with the question of what should be sacrificed: ministry or caring for Muriel. Should I put the kingdom of God first, "hate" my wife and, for the sake of Christ and the kingdom, arrange for institutionalization? Trusted, lifelong friends—wise and godly—urged me to do this.

"Muriel would become accustomed to the new environment quickly." Would she? Would anyone love her at all, let alone love her as I do? I had often seen the empty, listless faces of those lined up in wheelchairs along the corridors of such places, waiting, waiting for the fleeting visit of some loved one. In such an environment, Muriel would be tamed only with drugs or bodily restraints, of that I was confident.
People who do not know me well have said, "Well, you always said, 'God first, family second, ministry third.' " But I never said that. To put God first means that all other responsibilities he gives are first, too. Sorting out responsibilities that seem to conflict, however, is tricky business.

In 1988 we planned our first family reunion since the six children had left home, a week in a mountain retreat. Muriel delighted in her children and grandchildren, and they in her. Banqueting with all those gourmet cooks, making a quilt that pictured our life, scene by scene, playing games, singing, picking wild mountain blueberries was marvelous. We planned it as the celebration of our "fortieth" anniversary, although actually it was the thirty-ninth. We feared that by the fortieth she would no longer know us.

But she still knows us—three years later. She cannot comprehend much, nor express many thoughts, and those not for sure. But she knows whom she loves, and lives in happy oblivion to almost everything else.

She is such a delight to me. I don't have to care for her, I get to. One blessing is the way she is teaching me so much—about love, for example, God's love. She picks flowers outside—anyone's—and fills the house with them.

Lately she has begun to pick them inside, too. Someone had given us a beautiful Easter lily, two stems with four or five lilies on each, and more to come. One day I came into the kitchen and there on the window sill over the sink was a vase with a stem of lilies in it. I've learned to "go with the flow" and not correct irrational behavior. She means no harm and does not understand what should be done, nor would she remember a rebuke. Nevertheless, I did the irrational—I told her how disappointed I was, how the lilies would soon die, the buds would never bloom, and please do not break off the other stem.

The next day our youngest son, soon to leave for India came from Houston for his next-to-last visit. I told Kent of my rebuke of his mother and how bad I felt about it. As we sat on the porch swing, savoring each moment together, his mother came to the door with a gift of love for me: she carefully laid the other stem of lilies on the table with a gentle smile and turned back into the house. I said simply, "Thank you." Kent said, "You're doing better, Dad!"

Muriel cannot speak in sentences now, only in phrases and words, and often words that make little sense: "no" when she means "yes," for example. But she can say one sentence, and she says it often: "I love you."

She not only says it, she acts it. The board arranged for a companion to stay in our home so I could go daily to the office. During those two years it became increasingly difficult to keep Muriel home. As soon as I left, she would take out after. me. With me, she was content; without me, she was distressed, sometimes terror stricken. The walk to school is a mile round trip. She would make that trip as many as ten times a day. Sometimes at night, when I helped her undress, I found bloody feet. When I told our family doctor, he choked up. "Such love," he said simply. Then, after a moment, "I have a theory that the characteristics developed across the years come out at times like these." I wish I loved God like that-desperate to be near him at all times. Thus she teaches me, day by day.

Friends and family often ask, "How are you doing?" meaning, I would take it, "How do you feel?" I am at a loss to respond. There is that subterranean grief that will not go away. I feel just as alone as if I had never known her as she was, I suppose, but the loneliness of the night hours comes because I did know her. Do I grieve for her loss or mine? Further, there is the sorrow that comes from my increasing difficulty in meeting her needs.

But I guess my friends are asking not about her needs, but about mine. Or perhaps they wonder, in the contemporary jargon, how I am "coping," as they reflect on how the reputed indispensable characteristics of a good marriage have slipped away, one by one.

I came across the common contemporary wisdom in this morning's newspaper in a letter to a national columnist: "I ended the relationship because it wasn't meeting my needs," the writer explained. The counselor's response was predictable: "What were your needs that didn't get met by him in the relationship? Do you still have these same needs? What would he have to do to fill these needs? Could he do it?" Needs for communication, understanding, affirmation, common interests, sexual fulfillment—the list goes on. If the needs are not met, split. He offered no alternatives.

I once reflected on the eerie irrelevance of every one of those criteria for me. But I am not wired for introspection; I am more oriented outward and toward action and the future. I even feel an occasional surge of exhilaration as I find my present assignment more challenging than running an institution's complex ministry. Certainly greater creativity and flexibility are needed.

I have long lists of "coping strategies," which have to be changed weekly, sometimes daily. Grocery shopping together may have been recreation, but it is not so much fun when Muriel begins to load other people's carts and take off with them, disappearing into the labyrinth of supermarket aisles. Or how do you get a person to eat or take a bath when she steadfastly refuses? It is not like meeting a $10 million budget or designing a program to grasp some emerging global opportunity, to be sure. And it is not as public or exhilarating. But it demands greater resources than I could have imagined, and thus highlights more clearly than ever my own inadequacies, as well as provides constant opportunity to draw on our Lord's vast reservoir of resources.

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.

But how could I walk away from the responsibility of a ministry God had blessed so signally during our 22 years at Columbia Bible College and Seminary?

Not easily. True, many dreams had been fulfilled. But so many dreams were yet on the drawing board. And the peerless team God had brought together-a team not just of professionals, but of dear friends-how could I bear to leave them? Resignation was painful; but the right path was not difficult to discern. Whatever Columbia needed, it did not need a part-time, distracted leader. It is better to move out and let God designate a leader to step in while the momentum is continuing.

No, it was not a choice between two loves. Sometimes that kind of choice becomes necessary, but this time responsibilities did not conflict. I suppose responsibilities in the will of God never conflict (though my evaluation of those responsibilities is fallible). Am I making the right choice at the right time in the right way? I hope so. This time it seemed clearly in the best interest of the ministry for me to step down, even if board and administrators thought otherwise.
Both loves-for Muriel and for Columbia Bible College and Seminary dictated the same choice. There was no conflict of loves, then, or of obligations.

I have been startled by the response to the announcement of my resignation. Husbands and wives renew marriage vows, pastors tell the story to their congregations. It was a mystery to me, until a distinguished oncologist, who lives constantly with dying people, told me, "Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their women." Perhaps people sensed this contemporary tragedy and somehow were helped by a simple choice I considered the only option.

It is all more than keeping promises and being fair, however. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life. Daily I discern new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the wife I always loved. I also see fresh manifestations of God's love-the God I long to love more fully.

In Sickness and in Health: A Man of His Word - Robertson McQuilkin