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.
My understanding of religious Truth is that He is a Person, not a set of dogma or ideas. The person of Christ is Truth. And he becomes a set of doctrine when we remove his characteristics from His Person.
Consequently, — with truth as Jesus — my understanding of “heresy” isn’t ultimately wrong belief, but wrong practice. In other words, when you don’t live like Christ, you’re committing the ultimate form of heresy.
I remember when Mother Teresa died. There were numerous positive news articles lauding her life, and a few articles that implied Mother Teresa was heretical because of some her Catholic beliefs.
I got a little upset.
This one particular critic of Mother Teresa had a Ph.D. and was a professor at respected Bible College.
And I started to think to myself about said critic, “I bet he’d rather read a book than talk to a person. I bet he’d rather talk theology than lead somebody to Christ. I bet he takes hours each day critiquing books, instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to critique his soul through prayer. I bet he doesn’t make it a consistent practice to weep for the lost and then dress their wounds like Mother Teresa did.”
And, yet, I must admit, I’m much more similar to the theologian than I am to Mother Teresa.
When the sheep and the goats are separated in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 parable, theology seems to be of little concern; rather, Jesus seems very concerned with “what you did for me”. Matthew writes, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
And in verse 45, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Granted, some of Mother Teresa’s beliefs were probably different than mine, but she was more like Christ than the mass majority of today’s believers…including me.
And I wonder: who’s the real heretic?
Many of us have the gift of moving through the grief process as we find a way — often after years of remaking — to put grief to rest.
Anne Lamott writes,
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
It only takes something small … maybe a smell, a scent that reminds us of our loved one; or a picture; an activity to cause an overflow of the deep well of tears to burst forth from the depths. Even after years, grief is always at the surface. Tears we had momentarily forgotten about, feelings we had buried with the everyday activities that we’ve used to help us move on, and then it happens. Our buried, bruised soul awakens.
Grief sleeps lightly; ready to be awoken by the slightest touch.
But, there is a grief that doesn’t sleep.
Most of us are able, in some way or another, to go through the necessary phases of grief, and come to a place of acceptance. It might take months, years or decades, but we find the time to wrestle, to express and to become the new, yet un-whole person we must become in the wake of death.
We become human by sharing our humanity with others, and so when those others leave, we lose part of ourselves, and so must rediscover ourselves as new people who are less than what we used to be. And that discovery of learning to leave and learning to become new is the grief process.
And yet, right now, there are Somali mothers and families who don’t have the luxury of grief.
Over the past three months, 30,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation and sickness as a result of a fatal mix of famine and disease that’s spreading in the refugee camps … camps that continue to increase with those who are fleeing their water parched lands to find refuge in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya.
And the United Nations predicts that a potential 600,000 more could die by the end of the year.
If this were in the United States, Europe or Asia, the world would be up in arms, extending hands of grace and finances to forestall any more death. But, this is in the harsh sands of Eastern Africa, where life isn’t given much hope and the lifeblood of death (grief) is a luxury that few are afforded the time to concern themselves with. It’s almost as if life is worth less in these parts … it’s as if these stories aren’t worth being told.
Imagine being a Somali mother.
Being displaced from your home.
Walking days or possibly weeks to the closest refugee camp.
And losing one child, maybe two or three, to starvation.
Imagine the complication of guilt that comes with losing a child to starvation.
You, the parent, couldn’t, didn’t provide for your child, who now lays lifeless.
A lifeless child that may not even be afforded the privilege of a proper burial.
The guilt that eats away at you.
Not to mention, your own starvation that’s literally eating away your body, clouding your mind, hindering you from thinking well, causing you to become less stable and more reactionary, more emotional and erratic; or possibly less emotional and more lifeless. More and more you feel like an animal.
And, surely, while your one child may have died (or maybe two have died), you may have one, two, three or four other children who are dying of starvation that you must tend to.
You don’t care about your own survival, but you know you must survive … or who will advocate for your children? If you die, who will care for those you leave behind … the other families who are also suffering just as much as you? As little as you care for your own well-being, you know that if you pass, there will be no hope for the dependent ones that you brought into the world, which you must make sure will not leave it.
Here, there isn’t time for grief.
All the energy is for the living.
This is the desert. This is the jungle.
And in this jungle, you are the prey.
The prey of Hunger, the prey of Death. If you’re body doesn’t eat itself, if your guilt doesn’t eat away your motivation and leave you lifeless, than surely your grief waits, ready to make you into something awful.
Here, surrounded by death, there is a grief that doesn’t sleep.
Also, I have never asked for any of my blog posts to be “shared”. But this one is different. If you could please help your friends gain some exposure to this crisis by hitting the “like” button below, or sharing this on facebook or on twitter … I, and others, would greatly appreciate it.
10 a.m. Left my house and headed for Starbucks in West Grove.
10:20 a.m. I sit down to read “A Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Clark Pinnock for a class at seminary with a strawberry smoothie by my side.
11:15 a.m. Have the astute idea that it’s nicer outside than it is inside, so I move to the outdoors to enjoy the pleasant 78 degrees.
12 noon. Have another astute idea that my seat in my car is more comfortable than the metal chair I’m presently occupying.
12:45 p.m. Notice a random person emerging from the wooded area across the street. As the person comes closer, he crosses the street and sets himself down at the corner of the busiest red light on the strip.
1:00 p.m. Random person now rummaging through his backpack, pulls out a sign that reads “HOMELESS.” Random person now identified as “homeless.” Obviously looking for some free handouts.
1:15 p.m. A number of thoughts roll through my mind:
If he’s smart enough to stand at the busiest intersection, with a well-designed sign, he should be smart enough to hold a job?
Maybe he’s an ex-convict and can’t get a job.
I wonder how often he eats.
Everybody’s driving by him, nobody’s stopping, I wonder how that makes him feel?
Maybe he has a drug addiction and can’t hold a job.
In a different life, that could be me.
Ohh … he’s sitting down … too tired to stand.
Maybe he’s too lazy to hold a job.
Better get back to my book … my report’s due on Friday.
Look at all those expensive cars. I bet all these people are strapped for cash. I mean, I NEVER carry cash.
I wonder if he has any idea the economy’s in a recession.
2:00 p.m. I’m starting to get tired, so I move out of my confortable driver seat and back to the metal chair, just in time to redeem my “after 2 p.m., any iced drink just $2” coupon.
2:30 p.m. Realize that I don’t like iced mochas.
3:45 p.m. I finish the Pinnock book, pack up my stuff, head to my car and notice the homeless man holding his position at the corner of the red light. I decide to buy him some food … since I don’t have any cash.
3:50 p.m. Walk up to the cashier, not sure what the homeless man would enjoy. I remind myself that I’m on a tight budget since the whole adoption process has us strapped. Can’t *afford* the freakin five dollar sandwich, so I settle on a scone.
“I’ll have the blueberry scone” I tell the cashier. That’s what I’d want if I were homeless, I think to myself.
“We’re all out of the blueberry.”
“Okay, what’s that kind?”
“Cinnamon and cranberry.”
“Okay, I’ll have that.”
“$2.75. Do you want your receipt?”
4:00 p.m. I drive up to the red light that’s currently green with some jerk hole on my tail, and quickly hand the scone off to the homeless guy like a baton in relay race. I say, “It’s a scone.” He says, “Thanks, brother. God bless.” I drive away, thinking to myself, “A scone isn’t very healthy … should have got him some fruit.”
Why’s it so hard to do something good?
This is how the story should be told:
1:00 p.m.: Random person now rummaging through his backpack, pulls out a sign that reads “HOMELESS.” Random person now identified as “homeless.”
1:05 p.m.: I get out of my car, walk to the homeless person, introducing myself to him. He introduces himself as “___Insert name I would have known had I actually approached him______”. I invite him to share lunch with me at Starbucks ….
But, I’m afraid, the rest of that story can’t be told — as exciting as it might have been — because I was too involved in looking/judging at the man while I was reading “A Wideness in God’s Mercy” for my seminary class.
I was so intent on learning about Jesus that I forgot to act like him. Or, maybe it’s just easier to learn about Him than it is to act like Him. Maybe orthodoxy is just easier than orthopraxy.