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September 19th, 2011
12:05 PM ET

Squaring Pat Robertson's Alzheimer's remarks with the Bible

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN)– Televangelist Pat Robertson's comments last week advising a husband to divorce his Alzheimer's-stricken wife drew criticism from Robertson's usual theological allies.

"This is more than an embarrassment," wrote Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Many Christians in the Twitterverse and in other online spaces also expressed disapproval of Robertson's comments, which came in response to a viewer of his "700 Club" TV show asking about a friend who started dating another women after his wife developed Alzheimer's disease.

"He says that he should be allowed to see other people, because his wife as he knows her is gone," the viewer asked. "I’m not sure what to tell him. Please help."

Robertson acknowledged the situation is a "terribly hard thing" but said the viewer's friend is right. "I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody (is) looking after her."

When his co-anchor pushed back against that advice, Robertson acknowledged the marriage vow of "Till death do us part" but said that Alzheimer's is "a kind of death."

Criticism from the medical community seems to be less harsh than that from Christians but has nonetheless been forthcoming.

Here's Eric J. Hall, founding president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America:

There is no doubt that this heartbreaking disease robs people of their memories and other intellectual functions, but to liken Alzheimer’s disease to, as Mr. Robertson said, ‘a kind of death’ fosters an insensitivity that feeds misperceptions about the disease. It fails to take into account that people with Alzheimer’s disease, although impaired, deserve optimal care and dignity. Love and compassion are the greatest gifts for every human being until their very last breath.

In a Facebook post Thursday, Robertson's show, "The 700 Club," acknowledged the criticism without taking anything back:

Thank you for sharing your concern about Pat Robertson's response to a BringIt On Question about a friend's wife in the late stages of Alzheimer's.

Having had many close friends struggle through Alzheimer's, Pat has seen the devastating impact that it has on not only the spouse with the disease, but especially the caregiver whose quality of life also becomes completely debilitated by it.

- CNN's Elizabeth Landau contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Ethics • Leaders

soundoff (225 Responses)
  1. To have and to hold..

    to have and to hold from this day forward
    for better or for worse,
    for richer for poorer,
    in sickness and in health,
    to love and to cherish till death do us part.

    September 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Scientisto

      Mr Pat-Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism

      To define death any other way and to make excuses would be a sham.

      September 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  2. Awkward Situations

    Wow, a lot of 'No' votes!? Dealing with a spouse with Alzheimer's disease is nothing like the movie 'The Notebook'. I think people who practice religion have this notion that people have "souls". Guess what? They don't. People are made of organic and inorganic matter, nothing supernatural. A person with Alzheimer's disease has a DEGENERATIVE brain disease. You will see them become nothing but a shell of what they were like before the disease.

    It's devastating. What's even more devastating are the loved ones who wait around until they are dead in order to continue living their lives. Don't get me wrong, it's not a nice thing to bow out right when the diagnosis is made. However, the disease will get progressively worse and they will have to go into a facility that takes care of people with this sort of condition. Obviously, I voted 'Yes', it is morally justified to divorce somebody with Alzheimer's disease. This goes for all brain-eating diseases that are progressive and terminal.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • MG

      That is a terrible way to look at it. By abandoning someone at the absolute worst part of their lives when you have vowed to bevwith them until death is wrong no matter how you justify it. Would it be ok to divorce your spouse if they had terminal cancer? They are just going to continue to degenerate until they die and their loved ones will be forced to wait around until they finally die. This is not a case of what life and death are. This is a question of how to treat someone you have shared your life with and who needs love and support more now than ever before. I don't know how you could live with yourself if you abandoned someone you loved just because they were difficult to deal with. The same thing goes for parents who have this terrible disease. Convenience is not a reason to abandon a person and doing so is nothing short of selfish and wrong.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • J.W

      I agree with MG on that one. You cannot say that you love someone and then abandon them when they need you most.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • R

      First of all...human beings do have souls. Alzheimer's is a terrible DISEASE, you don't throw someone away just because they get sick. MANY Alzheimer's patients are taken care of in their homes by family members, often with the aid of home health care nurses. They don't have to be put in a "facility". It is not an easy road by any means to care for someone with Alzheimer's, but life at all stages is precious and we learn a lot about ourselves when suffering comes our way or the way of our loved ones. We can't and shouldn't walk away from a suffering individual just because their disease makes us uncomfortable. That person should still be valued. Whether it's a parent or a spouse or God forbid a child, that person still needs love and compassion.

      September 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      Who said anything about abandonment? I would put them in a facility that takes care of Alzheimer's patients. They can feed them dress them and entertain them. I would visit often and check to make sure they are being being taken care of.

      Have you people actually been around patients with this disease and especially their families? I would venture to guess that you would vote differently if you have. I would still have love and feelings for the person that I once loved and I would make sure that they are living a happy life without me crying about them constantly trying to "remind" them of who they once were. I would move on with my life and I'm pretty sure that's what my disease-stricken spouse would want as well. Think about it – if you had Alzheimer's, would you want your spouse to be coming to you everyday trying to unsuccessfully remind you of who you were and see you lose not only all cognitive functions but physically deteriorate as well? I don't think so. I would love them enough to let them live the rest of their life with their disease as comfortably as possible and love myself enough to move on.

      September 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  3. ReasonOverFaith

    This is a great example of twisting interpretations to justify whatever you want.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  4. Nurse Lisa

    Does he realize his stance is an attack on marriage vows? Sure I'll stick by you in health, but sickness...not so much. Love honor and cherish vs. throwaway when you become a burden. Till death do us part vs. close enough.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • J.W

      Maybe he was confusing Alzheimer's with hom.ose.xual

      September 20, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  5. William Demuth

    Taken in context, This guy makes me laugh.

    Then I realize some people actually believe he has divine insight.

    We are a stupid lot aren't we?

    September 20, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Mathilda

      William, none believes he has a divine insight. It's just you.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  6. Woody

    Pat Robertson strikes again. What a surprise!!! The only time this loony tune opens his mouth is to change feet. People actually send this village idiot money? PT Barnum was absolutely correct..

    September 20, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  7. Just me

    This old man is a fool a fake christian!

    September 20, 2011 at 6:34 am |
    • Jimtanker

      As opposed to a real xtian that is a fool?

      September 20, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  8. Paul Kaminski

    Wow, birds of a feather flock together, this reminds me of Newt Gingrich, when he dumped his wife while she was suffering from cancer in a hospital. Watch out, this guy doesn't sound like a Christian to me, he could be a false prophet! Isn't he the one who also said Hugo Chavez should be assassinated and that Katrina was divine retribution on New Orleans residents. Nice guy 🙂

    September 20, 2011 at 6:13 am |
  9. Paul Kaminski

    Wow

    September 20, 2011 at 5:55 am |
  10. Information

    Many Evangelical Christians disagree with Mr. Robertson. CNN, please ask more Evangelical leaders on this issue, not just him.

    September 20, 2011 at 4:39 am |
    • Christian

      Why limit the question to Evangelicals??? The traditional wedding vows are clear (and made for a reason!): "...for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health..." (we'll skip the "til death do us part" considering the current divorce rate!!!). There is also the part about "forsaking all others"...which seems also to have been forgotten if you look at the number of adultery scandals, even (or should I say 'especially'?) among Evangelical pastors...and politicians of whatever ilk.

      September 20, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Jimtanker

      IF you got married in a xtian wedding cerimony that would be true. Not everyone is though.

      September 20, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  11. Mathilda

    Tallulah13, I love you and pray for you. Actually I think we can be good friends though you dislike me. I wish you could tell me more why you left Christianity. I like EvolvedDNA and Tom the Piper's Son as well but they don't reply me – I don't see their comments anymore.

    September 20, 2011 at 3:21 am |
    • tallulah13

      Matilda, I am not a christian because once I started learning about the origins and structure of the universe and the Earth, I could no longer find the place that needed god. I simply no longer believed in god. I neither want heaven nor fear hell, and am satisfied that I will live this one life then cease to exist. I try to be a good person and treat others as I would be treated.

      The bible offers nothing that I want but much that I don't want. So many, like the Westboro group, use the bible as a weapon of hatred. The bible has been used to excuse many atrocities. You deny this, but history stands. The bible does not create unity and peace, but division and hatred. How many christians have been killed by other christians because they didn't interpret the bible in the same way?

      Learn history, Matilda, even the stuff that makes you uncomfortable. Understand the truth of what has gone on before, because that is the force that shapes the future.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • J.W

      I think we should get rid of the Old Testament. If we had done that before many of the atrocities would not have happened.

      September 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Souris

      Yes Mathilda, *SO MUCH* love do you have that you call her a liar and a thief on no evidence whatsoever, (these lies of yours don't count, I suppose?) but are willing to overlook the most horrific sins and abuses as long as the one who commits it says he's a Christian. Does it ever occur to you that you chase away more people from that you will ever convert with your morally bankrupt "interpretation" of Christianity?

      September 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  12. tallulah13

    It certainly points to the less than stellar character of Mr. Robertson. I may be an atheist, but if I make a promise, I keep it, even it is painful to me. It's called personal integrity, and Mr. Robertson would be well served to consider it.

    September 20, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • Mathilda

      Atheists are liers and thieves. They ignore the Maker and Owner of this planet and ransack it all they want, killing unborn babies and believers and say, "We are good humans." Atheists are insane especially the American ones.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • Jimtanker

      As insane as thinking that you can talk to your magic sky daddy and he talks back to you?

      September 20, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • Mathilda

      Jim, He does. Stop blaspheming. Your nation will burn because of you.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • Tallulah13

      Do you ever grow weary of spewing malicious lies, Matilda? Have you ever considered following the words of Christ instead of pretending that you ARE Christ.

      September 20, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Tall-, yes, stop pretending. You just want Christians to be silent because you hate truth. Tallulah13, when you write to me, say something with substance. Don't waste my time. I felt it from the beginning that you just express your own feelings on other people's comments just like "Tom, Tom, Piper's Son" does but nothing worth to read. Likes of you make us women look bad, you know. Stop it. If you disagree with anything, point that out with some concrete materials.

      September 20, 2011 at 3:10 am |
    • Jimtanker

      Ever notice that when a xtian says the word "truth", ususally capitalized, that what they are really saying is "my opinion on what the bible says"?

      September 20, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Jim, no. Christians' "Truth" means Jesus or revelation from the Bible or both.

      September 20, 2011 at 4:33 am |
    • Jimtanker

      Which is the same as saying, "your opinion".

      The old testament is just a written down verson of older oral tradition. Nothing more, no devine inpiration.

      The new testament is a work of fiction created by an emporer in order to hold together his empire. There is NO evidence that your god exists let along anyone named Jesus who supposedly had superpowers.

      September 20, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • Mathilda

      Jim, you never read the Bible or understood it. Honest humans don't talk about the subject they never learned about. Atheists are dishonest and oppressive.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • LogicFirst

      @Matilda, say what you want. Your religion will fade, just like all others over millenia.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Observer

      Mathilda,

      Speaking of being dishonest, a recent poll/test showed that the average atheist and average agnostic know more about the Bible than the average Christian and have higher educations. Ooops.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Fred1

      @Matilda: Here’s a little story about one of your Christian heroes

      Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, testifying in his own war crimes trial today, said that the American conservative evangelist Pat Robertson was awarded a Liberian gold-mining concession in 1999 and subsequently offered to lobby the Bush administration to support his government.
      The revelations came in the midst of a U.N.-backed trial of Taylor at The Hague on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's 1990s civil war. Taylor is accused of directing a Sierra Leone rebel group, the United Revolutionary Front (RUF), in a campaign aimed at securing access to the country's diamond mines. The rebel movement stands accused of committing mass atrocities in the late 1990s in the West African country, including the mutilation of thousands of civilians.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  13. dball93

    Alzheimers is a very tough thing to deal with when a loved one is suffering from it. For years I watched my Great- Grandmother struggle every day and for years it seemed to just get worse and worse. I also however got to witness the unending love and support from her husband my Great Grandfather. He never left her side or ever put her in a home. He took care of her in every way and it was more than an obligation, it was obvious that he loved her so much. As each year went by she lost more and more of her memory and forgot who everyone in our family was however she never forgot who her husband was. It was only when he spoke to her was she able to carry a conversation and to some extent appear "normal". My Great grandfather took his vows seriously and never gave up on her.
    I disagree on Robertson's statement of it being "like a death." Death is death and Jesus even worked miracles for those who were dead. He by all means can do the same for someone with a disease that affects their brain and all of their cognitive functions. My Great grandfather understood that sometimes God's blessing is delayed. Delayed in the sense that to us, God's blessings sometimes don't quite fit with "our" time. Take the story of the woman who reached out to touch Jesus for healing. Jesus was on his way to Jairus's house where Jairus's daughter was dying. Jairus was imploring that Jesus would heal his daughter. When Jesus agreed and he and the crowd headed to Jairus's house, Jairus must have been so relieved and anxious. Jesus was on his way to save his daughter. Can you imagine how Jairus must have felt when Jesus stopped to give his attention to a woman who "touched him" in a large crowd full of people touching him? What in the world is he doing my daughter is dying!! I can't help but think those were Jairus's thoughts. After Jesus had healed the woman who touched him the word was out that Jairus's daughter had died and he was told not to bother with Jesus anymore. Jesus despite this went to the house and raised her from the dead. God is always in control and can do anything, even if it makes absolutely no sense and there is no hope in sight. Have faith and pray with out ceasing, it's not over till it's over.

    September 20, 2011 at 2:06 am |
  14. Sophie

    To use Alzheimer's as an excuse to leave your wife? How disgusting!
    Even more disturbing is anyone agreeing with that decision. Yes, Alzheimer's is a crippling disease, that slowly steals the memories, and in some ways the "self" of a person, but it is in no way "a kind of death." Despite being an agnostic, I believe in the human soul. Alzheimer's may steal much, both from the person afflicted with it, and from their family and friends.. but it does not take a person's soul. To advocate breaking what technically is a sacred vow (or at least, intended to be) because of a debilitating illness? To abandon your loved one when they are desperately trying to cling to their connections to friends, family, normal life? Some people are lower than trash..

    September 20, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  15. Suggestion to Christians

    Loneliness is a bitter crucifixion, but please take the suffering as joy in Jesus, as the Bible tell us. In the blackest darkness of sorrow, as you continue to look to Jesus, we really see the light and unspeakable heavenly visions. It is real. Those who go through the "crucifixion" all testify the same thing. God never lets us down for long. He does provides the unthinkably good. Read Psalms. Never compromise.

    September 20, 2011 at 1:46 am |
    • Jimtanker

      Unthinkably good? Like cancer, ebola, and smallpox?

      September 20, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Mathilda

      Jim, diseases are a result of your sins.

      September 20, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • Jimtanker

      Well, since I dont believe in sins then, by your reasoning, I cant ever get sick. Yay!

      September 20, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • Mathilda

      Jim, truth is objective. You are to be blamed for diseases whether you believe it or not.

      September 20, 2011 at 4:30 am |
  16. A Christian Answer

    It's always the best and the most biblical to stay single if your spouse has ever become inaccessible such as imprisoned for life while maintaining innocence. But people's strength are different. Christians should pray seeking God's guidance and His help. Those who seek God's will and those who are willing to obey Him receive super-natural strength to do what is right. Christians should not jump into claiming rights or exercising common sense. Wait on God, pray and wait more. Jesus reveals Himself to be the Answer. We find ourselves in Him in the very midst of severe sadness and loneliness. Tis' the glory of God.

    September 20, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Jimtanker

      Prayer does nothing and your god doesn't exist. Live a good life, that's all there is.

      You can be good without god.

      September 20, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • Mathilda

      Jim, we talk with God in prayers, not to gain anything. I'm sorry God is not your Father because you reject Him.

      September 20, 2011 at 1:47 am |
    • Jimtanker

      My father's name is Ira and I haven't rejected him. You must be thinking of someone else.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:48 am |
    • *SIGH*

      So Matilda, your prayers caused 9/11? You should be behind bars!

      September 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  17. The Pope

    What a dilwad.

    September 20, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  18. b4bigbang

    @Observer & atheists: After reading many posts over time, it just occurred to me that one of the most common remarks made by atheists is the attempt at "dissing" "god" (and by extension his followers) by pointing out his (and his followers) militancy. Has anyone surveyed atheists to find out if most of you are pacifists? How about the atheists reading this? Care to weigh in on your personal military leanings? Is it a crime against humanity to kill for religion? How about for oil? how about for land, political ideology, etc? Are any wars just in your opinion?

    September 20, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Jimtanker

      A real atheist wouldn't "diss" your god. Why would I make fun of something that doesn't exist? I do make fun of people who are too weak minded to think rationally and believe in a god though.

      September 20, 2011 at 1:38 am |
    • fred

      Jimtanker
      You think belief in God reflects weakness in the believer so you pick on believers. That would make you a bully. Without the understanding of the "God" side of life you are unbalanced. Christians at least see the atheist side and Gods view. Two points of reference always allows for greater understanding. Perhaps you bully Christians because you are ashamed you lack this ability of greater understanding. Bullies have a fear they do not know and picking on the weak gives a false sense of security.
      Weak Christians recognize their weakness and rely on God. I think knowing your weakness is better than hiding behind it.

      September 20, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • tallulah13

      Strange. I see plenty of atheists simply pointing out the fallacies of christianity. I also have been called bad names and have been consigned to eternal suffering by christians because I dare to ask for proof. I think you need to start looking at people as individuals, instead of trying to as.sign them specific roles.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • Observer

      b4bigbang,

      I hate war as much as anyone else, but my feelings are irrelevent. Atheists and agnostics don't have a book that they claim speak for all of them. There's too much divergence of opinions there anyway. The Bible is full of commands directly from God to kill people for being unruly children, blasphemers, adulterers, fortune tellers, and working on the Sabbath. That is the subject here.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • Jimtanker

      @ Fred

      I dont bully xtians, I pitty them.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      A survey of the number of militant atheists wouldn't mean anything. Here's why:

      An atheist can be a militant nut job and it doesn't reflect on atheism in general because there is no handbook that tells atheists how to live. Unlike Christians, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, etc, who claim to have a book of unifying principles to follow, therefore militance that arises in their ranks is a direct reflection on the militaristic tendencies of their behavioral handbook. Atheists are *loosely* identified by one general constant: lack of belief in God. One can not believe and still be a lawful, upstanding citizen; one can kill thousands and still refrain from professing belief. In the absence of such a unifying text, there is no logical correlation between lack of belief in God and militant tendencies.

      Try again.

      September 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  19. rsjacksonus

    So...what part about the husband seeing another woman did people forget about? The case comes down to really about the husband CHEATING on his Alzheimer's stricken wife. Since he is cheating on his wife...then yes, divorce, because he is being adulterous. I would say this no matter what disease she may have. You shouldn't cheat on your wife who has Alzheimer's just because her mental capacities are diminishing.

    If it was just because she has Alzheimer's then NO divorce. That is pure laziness if that was the reason. Its cruel to that person, to abandon them like that.

    However, in the end, the husband is already cheating. He's already crossed the line for divorce. He probably had the affair to further justify it. Makes you wonder why they even were married.

    September 20, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Jimtanker

      People get a divorce for much more petty reasons than this. Who cares? He didn't want to be with her any more.

      September 20, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Observer

      rsjacksonus,

      You didn't read the story. He started seeing another woman AFTER his wife got the disease. If you had any experience with Alzheimer's patients you would realize that the person you knew is no longer there in the physical body. You are dealing with a person that may not even know who you are anymore. It's not such a simple situation as you mistakenly think it is.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  20. Reality

    Just another nail in Christianity's coffin cover.

    To wit:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.
    ==========================================================================================

    September 19, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • .........

      spam alert hit report abuse to all reality posts

      September 20, 2011 at 4:55 am |
    • Just Me

      .......,

      I always click, "Report Abuse" on YOUR stupid whiny ....... "spam" posts. When you post under your real name, however, I let them stay so everyone can 'enjoy' your nonsense.

      September 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Just Me

      I have never, ever used the report abuse button. Even if a person is attacking me personally. Even if the person's argument is ludicrous.

      Who made you the "decider"? That was G.W.'s job. The blog already has a Moral Compass. That is Mark from Middle River's job.

      You have no right to remove anyone's comment.

      Cheers!

      September 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.