Saturday, November 19, 2011

Divorce an ailing spouse? That’s sick

Pat Robertson, host of the popular show “The 700 Club,” drew flak for advising a viewer to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease. Robertson maintains his comment was “misinterpreted.” He says he did not mean to give general advise but rather his statement was for this specific situation — the viewer was already committing adultery.

Still, Robertson’s remarks were especially shocking coming from a Christian leader.

Jesus taught that marriage was ordained by God, saying “the two shall become one flesh … therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ideally only death should dissolve marriage. The Bible does teach that divorce is permitted in the case of adultery or desertion by a non-Christian spouse. In both these scenarios, the divorce is initiated by the betrayed and not the offending spouse.

However, sickness is never scripturally cited as a reason for divorce.

No one would argue that Alzheimer’s is a difficult illness — not just for the patient but also for family members. It is hard to watch a loved ones waste away as they lose intellectual, social, emotional and physical ability. It is especially difficult when patients no longer recognize friends and family. Caregivers can feel as if they have lost all that they cherished about a loved one.

In a traditional Christian wedding ceremony, couples vow to be faithful in sickness and health, for better or worse, until death. Patients — even if nonresponsive — need their spouse’s love and care.

Instead of encouraging divorce, Robertson should have addressed the need for caregivers to find a support system or even professional help. If the patient’s spouse is contemplating divorce or committing adultery, it may be because he or she is unable to handle the overwhelming demands of being a caregiver.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul defines the characteristics of love in a chapter that is often recited at weddings: “Love is patient … it is not self-seeking … it always protects … always hopes, always perseveres.”

We should not cast judgment on the person who can no longer handle the pressure of caring for a sick spouse, but a Christian leader should never promote abandonment. The challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s are enormous. It is normal to want to give in, but God promises to provide comfort and strength — to care for the caregiver.

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