I know "Pat Robertson says something shocking" hasn't been a man-bites-dog story in decades. But occasionally his comments are interesting enough to warrant media attention. Or, as Religion News Service put it yesterday:
Televangelist Pat Robertson can always be counted on for some nutty-but-quotable (alas) comment on a natural disaster and God's wrath and gays, or some combo thereof.
But his remarks on Tuesday's edition of "The 700 Club" are really eye-popping.
I first read the remarks in question at Christianity Today, when they reported the news that the media mogul had advised a viewer that Alzheimer's is grounds for divorce (click here for the video). Here's how they put it:
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."
Yes. Such comments might not be shocking from advice givers who embrace relativism but even for the ever-quotable Robertson, they were bizarre.
Christianity Today concluded its report with a mention of Robertson McQuilkin, who ended his 22-year tenure as president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary to care full-time for his wife Muriel who suffered with Alzheimer's for 25 years, the last decade of which she could not recognize her husband. He wrote an article where he explained that his decision to care for her was easy:
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," McQuilkin wrote.
In an interview in 2004, McQuilkin said he made the right decision. "Some people sort of resent the imposition, but those thoughts never came to me," McQuilkin said. "I thought it was a privilege to care for her. She had always cared for me. So it was not a burden. In fact, if it had been a burden, maybe there wouldn't be so much grief now, that sense of loss."
I generally share RNS' resignation about whether to quote Robertson. But it's good to see that this story wasn't relegated to the Christian press. The Associated Press also covered it, with a brief report on the matter. I almost missed it the first time I read it, but it includes a brief explanation of why Christians tend to frown on divorce:
Most Christian denominations at least discourage divorce, citing Jesus' words in the Gospel of Mark that equate divorce and remarriage with adultery.
It might be helpful to revisit some of the themes from our discussion we had last week on the Tennessean article on Christian marriage and the role of sacrifice in the same. Of course, volumes could be written and have been written about Christian views on divorce but, like I said, it's a brief piece.
The article also gets some context from Beth Kallmyer, director of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association, which provides resources to sufferers and their families. She explains, in so many words, that most families of Alzheimer's sufferers are not as callous as Mr. Robertson.
Christianity Today's mention of how a Christian man cared for his wife and the Associated Press mention of Scripture and practical family matters provide context without being snarky or rude (a feat I obviously have trouble with).
Perhaps this will just be added to the lengthy list of interesting or inflammatory things that Robertson has said over the years. It might also be a piece of a larger puzzle about Robertson's views on morality or his own health. But the media seemed to do a fine job handling this one. What do you think?