Till Alzheimers Do Us Part

“…In sickness and in health, for better or for worse…”  These are a part of the marriage vows that most couples recite during their marriage ceremony.  Whether these vows are recited or not, they are implicit truths concerning the nature of the relationship they are entering.  However, in one of Pat Roberston’s recent television programs, he was asked whether a man who has a wife suffering from Alzheimers could divorce her so he could move on with his life and with another woman.  To most people’s surprise, Robertson said, “Yes.”

Robertson’s answer disturbs me for a number of reasons.

  1. Because his answer flagrantly disregards the teaching of Jesus on the matter.  Read what Jesus said in Matthew 19:9 and compare it to the answer Robertson gave to this inquirer.
  2. Because of the implications of his answer.  Robertson argued that Alzheimers was a “form of death,” thus freeing the man to act as though she was dead.  Now, just how far is one willing to take that?  Is she alive or is she dead? You can’t be both.  If dead, just how much debilitation does it take to make one dead, and who gets to decide?  If dead, thus allowing one to walk away from his marital obligations, then why can one not walk away from his health care obligations?  You don’t continue to feed dead people do you?  Talk about Pandora’s box!  This impacts the sanctity of life and end life decisions.
  3. Because it’s an insult to countless people who have faithfully ministered to their suffering spouses and parents.  Robertson suggested that one ought to consult a better ethicist than himself for answers to this question.  While I would agree that people ought to look elsewhere for guidance, I would suggest that most people wouldn’t have to consult an ethicist to know what is right and what is wrong in such a situation.  Christian and non-Christian alike are appalled by the calloused suggestion that one may walk away from one’s spouse at the spouses greatest time of need.

Alzheimers is a terrible disease.  I’ve witnessed it with loved ones in my family.  I’ve watched as my mom and dad gave round the clock care to both of my grandmothers who suffered from this disease.  Some of the most vivid pictures of Jesus that I have ever seen are from godly children and spouses who have selflessly and tirelessly ministered to loved ones who were suffering from Alzheimers.  To suggest we can simply “walk away” robs the world of an opportunity to see the love and compassion of Jesus lived out in his disciples, and it robs God of the glory that results from such sacrificial service.

No, the vows don’t say “till Alzheimers do us part,” or “till stroke do us part,” or “till paralysis do is part” or a host of other debilitating situations.  The person who desires to honor God, honor one’s spouse, and honor his vows will understand that it is “till death do us part.”

(BTW, the video above was posted to YouTube by People for the American Way.  My use of this video clip is not intended to be an Endorsement of this organization).

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Comments 6

  • Brother Steve,
    I could not agree with you more. You are absolutely correct in all that you have written both in word and tone.
    I spend quite a bit of time at our local Nursing facility. Sometimes people forget that a Nursing Home is just that, a place where palliative, caring and supportive care is provided. It is not a place where the anticipated outcome is discharge to the patient’s prior state of health and lifestyle. People enter these facilities at the very time in their lives where they need care and comfort the most. Primary to that level of comfort is the continuation of “normalcy” as much as is possible, and a large contributor to that is the spouse.
    As ministers and caregivers for our flock, we must remember and care for the most vulnerable and needy amongst us. We must also educate and foster the attitudes and actions of our Savior in all of our charges. The man, who found himself in such an awful, even untenable situation with his wife did not need permission to do the wrong thing, but rather support and help in continuing to do the Right Thing. As ministers, THAT is our best contribution to the health of the flock.
    There is the old illustration of the elderly gentleman who went everyday to the Nursing Home to see his wife of 50 years. Everyday at lunch time he would be there. He would help clean her, dress her and feed her. He would carry on conversations and even on occasion bring flowers. When it was time for the afternoon nap, he would kiss her goodbye and thank the staff. One day a staff member asked him why he did this. “You know she has no idea who you are anymore, why are you so dedicated?” “Young Lady” he replied, “ She may not know who I am anymore, but I still know who SHE is.”

    Phil Adams
    minister, Jamestown Church of Christ

  • Thanks, Steve, for responding to this arrogant and unbiblical position by Robertson. Isn’t it amazing how far people will go in the name of religion when they do not recognize the authority of the Bible to begin with?

  • Phil, thanks for your comments and your excellent illustration at the end!

  • Steve, having lost my mother, grandmother, and several aunts to Alzheimer’s, I was astounded and angered at the unchristian response Robertson gave to the question of whether one should stay married to a spouse who suffers from this terrible disease. Thankfully I observed my father devote himself to 8 years of loving and tender care of my mother. It would have been incomprehensable to him (as well as other family members) to walk away from a woman who had devoted her entire life to seeing that her loved ones were well cared for, in sickness and in health. We as christians are to be loving, caring and compassionate people to our loved ones whether the situation is “rough” or not. Thank you to you and Phil Adams for shining light on what should be the TRUE biblical response.

  • I thank God for our minister who truly knows the word of God. Steve a great biblical rebut.

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