September 16, 2011

Pat Robertson’s latest bit of ugliness: Alzheimer’s & divorce

By now, we should all be used to Pat Robertson saying crazy things — Wikipedia has a list of Robertson controversies in case you want to brush up — but his latest gaffe seems to have struck an especial nerve with people, even those who might traditionally be considered part of his base. On the September 13, 2011 episode of The 700 Club, Robertson discussed the situation of a man who had recently started seeing another woman because his wife had Alzheimer's disease and no longer recognized him. When asked what the man should do, here was Roberston’s response:

Not surprisingly, a number of people have spoken out against the ethical and theological wrongness of Robertson’s comments. My favorite so far has been Russell D. Moore’s article titled “Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson”. Moore forcefully and thoughtfully repudiates Robertson while explaining why it’s not a good idea — for Christians, at least — to simply dismiss Robertson’s comments:

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.

Moore calls out Robertson’s shady take on the Gospel — “He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross.” — and ends with a beautiful image of self-sacrifice:

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.

In their coverage of Robertson, Christianity Today mentions a real-world example of what that sort of sacrificial love looks like: Robertson McQuilkin, a former president of Columbia Bible College who quit his job in 1990 in order to care for his Alzheimer's-stricken wife Muriel until her death in 2003. In 2004, Christianity Today interviewed McQuilkin about his wife and living with Alzheimer's. When asked about the difficulties in caring for his wife, McQuilkin responded:

Some people sort of resent the imposition, but those thoughts never came to me. 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.

Below is a video of McQuilkin’s moving resignation speech.

May we all be a little more like McQuilkin, should we ever find ourselves in such a trying position.