Is It Ever Right to Divorce a Spouse With Alzheimer's?
When Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson told a caller on his TV show that a married man dating another woman because his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s “should divorce and start all over,” it caused a predictable reaction. Even his co-host reminded Robertson that couples vow to remain together “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer.” But Robertson did not back off: “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.” Alzheimer’s, he said, “is a kind of death.” And he said he would not put a “guilt trip on someone who divorced for such a reason.”
What to make of this? Conservative Christian leaders were swift to condemn Robertson’s remarks. But as the New York Times reported, many doctors and patient advocates had a more complex response – some suggesting that he had broached an important subject, how spouses and other family members of dying patients can prevent their lives from being engulfed and start to move on.
How do we reconcile the practical and moral conflicts in Robertson’s advice?
Here’s this week’s question: Is it ever right to divorce a spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s? What is the morally acceptable thing for people who develop new relationships while caring for a spouse in the last stages of Alzheimer’s?
The New Testament prescribes two justifications for divorce: adultery (Matthew 5:31-32) and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15). I believe that abuse constitutes a third reason for divorce, as life must be protected (Exodus 20:13).
Clearly, a spouse in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s is incapable of adultery, abandoning the marriage, or initiating abuse. Pat Robertson apparently views such a person as functionally or relationally dead, so that the healthy spouse is essentially a widow or widower and is free to marry again.
I understand this logic, but must ask two questions. First, short of physical death, when is a person “relationally dead”? Who makes this determination? Does this approach allow us to abandon ill spouses whenever they are unable to meet our needs?
Second, does Robertson’s position change the way we view the marriage relationship? We live in a contractual culture, where relationships are conditionally based on meeting expectations and can be ended as we wish. A covenant, by contrast, is unconditional. Marriage has traditionally been viewed by the Christian faith as an eternal covenant sanctified by God. To end this covenant short of physical death is to treat it as a contract we can void when the partner no longer fulfills his or her obligations.
Does this view sentence the healthy spouse to years of unrequited toil and pain? I believe that God redeems all he allows. As a pastor I watched spouses in the very situation we’re discussing this week. Those who remained faithful to their afflicted husband or wife inevitably grew stronger in their faith, character, and witness.
Robertson is right: Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease. But I believe God gives us grace to love even those who can no longer love us in return. When death finally comes, we will have grief but not guilt. And grief is the price of love.
- Pete HouptThen call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory. (NLT) -Psalm 50:15
Who do you run to when you are in trouble? Perhaps your spouse, parents, or a good friend? The problem with these people is they are human and can't always rescue you or know what is best for you. God says he will rescue you... not maybe, not perhaps, but He WILL rescue you. How comforting it is to know God has your back. It's only fitting we respond with thankfulness and give God the honor He deserves. Are you in trouble? Then call on the Lord, He will be there.
- George BullardFree TCP eBook July 23rd Only! Leaving, Staying, and Becoming Well Following a Lose/Leave Conflict in Your Congregation http://astore.amazon.com/tcpresourcesstore-20/detail/B00BO0L8SS
- George BullardJuly 23rd: Transform Congregations By Asking One Another the Right Questions #365SSIFTC http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal_microblog/2014/07/july-23rd-transform-congregations-by-asking-one-another-the-right-questions-365ssiftc.html
- Kayla Bentz uploaded a photo
- Kayla Bentz created a new gallery
- Mitzi Smith published the blogpost 10 BEST Back to School Movies for Family Fun Night.
- Ashley Howland published the blogpost George W. Bush’s knee surgery highlights fast joint replacement options.
- Ron Edmondson published the blogpost 10 Things I’d Do Differently if I Weren’t a Pastor Today.
- Kayla Bentz just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Children 12 And Under Are Fastest Growing Group Of Unaccompanied Minors At U.S. Border.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Flashback: 15 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to Beyond Facebook.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Why Seven Hours of Sleep Might Be Better Than Eight.
- Brad Hambrick published the blogpost Help for Couples Recovering from Adultery or Pornography: Video Tandem 8 of 9.
- Adam Smith published the blogpost 52 Great Questions to Ask Your Direct Reports – Glenn Brooke.
- Jody Martin just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- George Krickl published the blogpost Poor in Spirit: Moses – The Circumstance Driven Leader.
- John Bucher published the blogpost MY LATEST on HBO’s SITE at WATCHINGTHELEFTOVERS.COM.
- Joni Foto just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- John Rutledge published the article Obama’s LGBT Federal Hiring Order Leaves Bush-era Religious Exemption in Place.
- Debbie Harris published the blogpost Because of Jesus Christ, There Is Always Joyous Hope by Debbie Harris.
- Kelley Mathews published the video Watch Hope Unfold in the Lives of Four Extraordinary People.
- Kelley Mathews published the video The Best Yes Small Group Bible Study | Lysa TerKeurst.
- Lindsey Wickman uploaded a photo
- Lindsey Wickman created a new gallery
- Lindsey Wickman just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Jim McNeely published the blogpost Is Christianity harder than than we pretend it is?.
- Michael Ernest published the blogpost Tallest man in Canada stars as Goliath in upcoming ‘David and Goliath’ film.
- Melissa Morris uploaded a photo
- Melissa Morris created a new gallery
- Jed Davis published the blogpost Rejection Is Coming, Deal With It In Two Simple Steps.
- Ashley Howland published the blogpost For many patients, life after intensive care includes trauma, nightmares.
- Melissa Morris just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Brittany Moore just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- John Bucher published the blogpost Six Sightings of a Yet Unseen Force at Work in THE LEFTOVERS.
- sean forte will be attending Community Life Team // Prayer and Info Bulletin Board.