Last Tuesday, Baptist TV personality Pat Robertson made headlines yet again. On his show, The 700 Club, Robertson sat answering questions from concerned viewers seeking his moral guidance. One viewer posed the question about marriage, and if it was acceptable for a person to divorce their spouse if they had Alzheimer’s, after all, they were really “gone” anyways.
Surprisingly, Pat Robertson affirmed this reasoning responding with, “I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her. He is right, she is gone; it is like a walking death.”
This response ignited a wildfire of media attention as Christians and medical professionals who care for and work with Alzheimer patients spoke up against this cold and dismissive ethical stance. Dr. Russell Moore, from Southern Seminary, wrote a profound response to Robertson’s claims saying that, “This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Lisa Tatlock, in Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God, says,
“Research suggests that numerous factors in twenty-first century society detract from the concept of oneness rather than strengthening it. The world promotes independence over dependence, self-preservation over self-sacrifice, leadership over servanthood — the list goes goes on. Society, in general, promotes an isolated existence where one must defend, preserve, and often fight for one’s individual rights rather than consider the needs of others. Herein lies the challenge for applying the principles that Scripture gives for developing oneness in marriage.”
In a world that champions looking out for self and personal needs above all else, it’s no wonder Robertson, and others like him, have bought into the philosophy that circumstances change everything, even moral convictions. Interestingly, the motivations for Robertson’s allowance of divorce and many other divorces today fall right in line with what Lisa Tatlock suggests is a worldly way of thinking.
Independence vs. Dependence
Our world today is the self-proclaimed poster child for Independence. As women, we fall into this line of reasoning rather quickly and can see independence as “the thing” to be attained, like a coveted prize. We want to make our own money, own our own stuff, have our own lives, work our own jobs, drive our own cars, pay our own bills, open our own doors. Like a throw-back to Destiny’s Child, we are “Miss Independent!” So many women take this mentality into their marriage relationship. And to give up that independence is like asking for voluntary enslavement….or so we think. Tatlock suggests that it’s this mindset that stands in direct opposition to Scripture and stifles a spirit of oneness in marriage.
Scripture from the beginning speaks of dependence when defining the marriage relationship. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 1:24). This leaving/holding fast principle is fundamental to a good marriage foundation. Ask any married couple celebrating their golden anniversary and they will affirm this dependent team-like mentality because they are one flesh. When the gospel becomes the focus of your marriage relationship, you can see how both partners are dependent on Christ to give them the strength to be who he called them to be in their marriage.
Self-preservation vs. Self-Sacrifice
I must confess, I’ve been a huge fan of Survivor for years now. It’s like watching a train wreck; I just can’t keep my eyes off it even though I know it’s going to end in devastation. People lie, steal and cheat on this show. To win, you almost have to be deceptive. In fact, I’m not sure if there’s ever been a winner who has yet to play the game with a high sense of morality and integrity. So, why do they do it? To survive. To become The Survivor…well, that and the million dollars waiting for them at the finish line. The beauty (and travesty) of this show is that it’s caught onto one element of human nature to which every person is susceptible: self wants to survive….at all costs. This principle is just as true in the marriage relationship. We look out for our needs, physical, emotional, spiritual…sexual; and if they’re not being met we seek to survive self, not sacrifice it. We look out for “numero uno,” and like a contestant in Survivor, we don’t care who we leave in the wake of us attaining our goals.
Scripture on the other hand promotes a self-sacrificial love within the context of marriage, and love in general. In Ephesians 5, Paul describes what it means to be in a marriage relationship. Paul tells the wives to submit themselves to their own husbands. And husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He died for her (Ephesians 5:26; Romans 5:8). He sanctifies her by teaching her the Word (Ephesians 5:27). He nourishes and cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:29). He didn’t cut ties with her simply because she was no longer fulfilling his needs and wishes. Instead, His love is a perfect love, one described in 1 Corinthians 13. As Christians, we have a responsibility to pattern our love for our spouse after this love. And if we don’t, we’re not loving as Christ has commanded us to love, we’re loving like the world has taught us to love… selfish love.
Leadership vs. Servanthood
Leadership as defined by the world is based on authority, influence, guidance, command, and effectiveness. Leadership as defined by Scripture is defined by servanthood. In Luke 22, the disciples question Jesus about who would be running the place up in Heaven. They were pitching themselves for the key leadership positions Christ would be handing out. But His response to them was startling. He said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” In John 13, Jesus can be seen washing His disciples’ feet. Was he the servant or the leader? The leader, of course, but Christ’s way of leadership was vastly different from the world’s form…and it still is! When a husband or wife is sick with Alzheimer’s or any other debilitating disease, servant leadership looks to the needs of that spouse, and meets them, regardless of their own needs, wants or desires. After all, Scripture says to, “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) This is leadership. This is love.
Is it justifiable for a person leave their spouse if they have Alzheimer’s? Surely not! Last week, Dr. Moore preached a sermon at Southwestern on Ephesians 5, where he states that this one flesh mentality “points to Christ and His Church.” Christ and the Church’s relationship isn’t a picture of marriage. Marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church. “Marriage is designed and created in order to be a picture,” Moore said. “An icon of the gospel that God has embedded in the creation from the very beginning of Christ and His Church and its permanent union.”
This is why when men like Pat Robertson, whether knowingly or unknowingly, malign the sanctity of marriage, they are doing much more than merely letting a person off the hook who wants to divorce their sick spouse; they are maligning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we must fight for our marriages, protect them, preserve their importance for there is more at stake than an accelerating statistic in the divorce rate among Christians. Moore said it correctly, “This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
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