A lot of people are very upset about what televangelist Pat Robertson said earlier this month. The 700 Club’s leading man was answering a viewer’s question: a friend experiencing difficulty in his marriage as a result of Alzheimer’s wanted to know if it was okay to continue seeing another woman since “his wife as he knows her is gone.”
Listen to Robertson’s response in the clip below, starting around the 50-second mark:
Of course, social media alarms were sounded immediately, sparking a firestorm of position statements from any and every Alzheimer-related organization out there, along with scathing remarks and passionate diatribes from individuals around the world who took great offense to Robertson’s words.
Each of these groups and individuals have the right to strongly disagree with his assessment of Alzheimer’s as “a kind of death”, thereby excusing well spouses from their marital vows. And while I completely agree with most of the groups and organizations that rallied against his answer, which was misleading, insensitive, and incorrect (in terms of the person with the disease being, essentially, dead), Robertson does have the right to his opinion too.
I am not advocating divorce or infidelity in the case of a marriage impacted by Alzheimer’s. However, it is a complex issue all-around, and those of us who are not experiencing a relationship tested by this disease have no right to judge another’s decision, even if they choose divorce.
If you ask me, the most unfortunate outcome here is that a person of Robertson’s influence has both perpetuated a myth (people with Alzheimer’s are “not there”) and in essence given the green light to those spouses/partners who trust his stance on moral issues to disregard the “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse” clause they agreed to when they wed.
It also saddens me to know that still so many people in our country are ill-informed about Alzheimer’s disease, that it’s still a generally-held assumption that those with Alzheimer’s are not aware of the losses at work, that they aren’t more terrified than their concerned family members about being trapped in their own bodies.
No matter how much science and data is out there, I strongly believe that we can never assume that people with Alzheimer’s are oblivious to what is happening to them. They may not be able to communicate as they did before, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to, that they don’t have something to say, that they are just a shell with no emotions or feelings or comprehension. In fact, these “sixth” senses may be sharpened intensely as a result. Do you think that spouse whose husband is dating again won’t sense that something is different about her husband, even if she can’t say something about it?
Let’s hope that this can of worms Robertson opened can still work for good, opening up needed discussions and dialogues in homes, churches, neighborhoods, Twitter chats, and other online/ community forums across the country, generating greater awareness (especially among those in positions of leadership) of the true effects of and challenges presented by Alzheimer’s.
And instead of lashing out at Robertson (counter-productive, really), how about reaching out to someone you know who is struggling with this very issue in their marriage? Knowing someone cares just might make a bigger difference than the televangelist’s off-base comment.