Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told his viewers that it is okay for a man to divorce his wife if she has Alzheimer’s disease….Yet with his latest offense, Robertson may have given evangelicals and Americans reason to hope that our belief in marriage’s permanence and sacredness is not dead yet.
As is by now well known, Robertson suggested on his show that a husband could divorce his wife and "start all over again" if she had Alzheimer’s. Robertson, in fairness, walked back an inch from his remarks, suggesting that they needed to get a professional ethicist to answer the question while underscoring his empathy for persons in that situation and wrestling with the difficulty of the problem.
Yet the reaction to Robertson’s remarks was surprisingly unified: the condemnation was swift, strong, and universal–especially among the demographic that Robertson purportedly speaks for, evangelicals.
Evangelicals, of course, have the most reason to reject Robertson’s views, and to do so in the loudest and strongest possible terms. Robertson has become a lightning rod for controversy, offering inflammatory remarks and responses that have continued to draw media attention and scorn.
Yet evangelicals weren’t the only one’s outraged. While much of the ire was rightly directed at Robertson’s characterization of Alzheimer’s as "walking death," various observers also reacted against the hypocrisy of Robertson’s selective affirmation of divorce. Sounding a note that was echoed throughout the blogs, John Thorpe described Robertson’s view of marriage this way: "In it, you vow to be together until death…or inconvenience?"
While it might seem somewhat paradoxical, the uproar is an encouraging sign for those who want marriage to be a vibrant and healthy institution in American society. The widespread recognition that such a divorce would be rooted in a desire for personal convenience suggests we have not yet forgotten that the sacrifice necessary to make marriage work is a heroic sacrifice that often returns nothing–at least not immediately–to those who make it. The sacredness of marriage exists precisely in the opportunity to keep our word, regardless of the personal cost. And the vow exists to guide us and remind us of those possibilities precisely when the cost seems the highest.
(Anderson, "Pat Robertson forgets: Marriage is about sacrifice, too," On Faith, Washington Post, 09/16/2011)