Is Pat Robertson UnChristian?
Pat Robertson is the founder of numerous Christian organizations including the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
He also continues to contribute his commentary on “The 700 Club”, a platform that has allowed him to offend more than a few people on numerous occasions. In fact, I had a response to Pat’s loose commentary on the Haiti earthquake of 2010 published in the local newspaper last year.
Recently, a viewer of the “The 700 Club” presented this situation to Pat:
I have a friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t even recognize him anymore, and, as you can imagine, the marriage has been rough. My friend has gotten bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman. He says that he should be allowed to see other people because his wife as he knows her is gone … I’m not quite sure what to tell him.
… if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again.
That statement has caused some uproar.
Many have taken that soundbite out of it’s embedded context and interpreted it to mean that Pat was saying we should “divorce terminally ill people” and that “divorce is better than sticking with a sick (spouse)”.
After reading the transcript and watching the whole video clip, I DON’T THINK PAT WAS SPEAKING ABOUT HIS OWN OPINIONS; rather, he was SPEAKING VICARIOUSLY, assuming that this is what the husband was GOING TO DO. In other words, although ambiguous, Pat was trying to be proleptically descriptive rather than prescriptive.
Pat’s co-host then rebutted:
“But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone, that it’s for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer?”
Pat then replies to his co-host
Yeah, I know, if you respect that vow, but you say “till death do us part …”
Pat’s compassion stepped him into a dilemma. On one hand, he recognizes the that the advanced stage of Alzheimer’s rapes the mind, memory and personality. Yet, on the other hand, marriage is a “till death do us part” covenant.
As an attempt to “split the horns” of the dilemma, Pat continues by explaining
… but you say “till death do us part”, this is a kind of death. … And if he says in a sense she is gone, he’s right. It’s like a walking death.
“It’s like a walking death.”
And this is the clarification and prescription that Pat should have underscored: A walking death, maybe, but IT ISN’T DEATH!
Unfortunately, he neither clarified nor prescribed.
The danger in this logic is that one could assume that a person who is missing certain capacities isn’t worthy of belonging (in this case, belonging in marriage). The danger here is assuming that “in a sense she’s gone” is the same as “she doesn’t belong.”
Jean Vanier, a Christian who has started L’Arche communities that care for the mentally disabled and rejected of society, states:
I have discovered that even though a person may have severe brain damage, that is not the source of his or her greatest pain. The greatest pain is rejection, the feeling that nobody really wants you “like that.” The feeling that you are seen as ugly, dirty, a burden, of no value.
To reject somebody because of their sickness is wrong for almost anybody; but it’s especially wrong for the Christian.
God’s Kingdom bring’s belonging to the least … IT DOESN’T DIVORCE THE LEAST!
And although I don’t wish to downplay the damned awfulness of dementia and Alzheimer’s (where you might not even feel the pain of rejection), I do believe rejecting the rejected hits at the heart of what it means to be unChristian.
Vanier goes on to state, “A child that is loved is beautiful.” And the same can be said for the aged. And this is the heart of Jesus.
And we can agree with Vanier. But how many of us actually love the unloved?
I’m sure Pat Robertson agrees with Vanier. In fact, I know he does. Most Christians do. The problem isn’t with Christians agreeing that Jesus’ incarnation and death places infinite value on life; the problem is that in both our history and our present we often deny it by our actions.
The criticism that’s presently being directed towards Robertson is indirectly aimed at the rest of us who embrace the title “Christian” and speak against the devaluation of life but live like we don’t care.
Sure, we’ll speak against abortion, but how many of us will take in a broken pregnant teenage mother and help raise her and her child?
We’ll speak against euthanasia and then, after putting our elderly in nursing homes, we’ll hardly visit them.
We’ll say “honor marriage” and then divorce our spouses, cheat on them, and defile our covenant with porn.
And we’ll absolutely speak for the rights of the disabled but how many of us would adopt a disabled child?
Too many of us speak the kingdom but don’t act it. Orthodoxy over orthopraxy is how we live, but it should be the other way around.
Amazingly, though, Pat Robertson has DONE things … good things … sometimes great things. And as questionable as his words are, at least he acts.
And while it’s easy to judge an aging man who may lack better judgment for saying something seemingly unChristian, l’m not sure too many of us act any better than he speaks.