Evangelical Christian leaders are condemning the recent quotes by Christian Broadcasting Network chairman Pat Robertson who told viewers Tuesday that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's disease is justifiable.
"I'm just flabbergasted," Joel Hunter, pastor of the 15,000-member Northland Church in Orlando, Fla., told ABC News. "I just don't know how anyone who is reading Scripture or is even familiar with the traditional wedding vows can come out with a statement like that."
Hunter continued, "Obviously, we can all rationalize the legitimacy for our own comfort that would somehow make it OK to divorce our spouse if circumstances become very different or inconvenient. ... That's almost universal, but there's just no way you can get out of what Jesus says about marriage."
Robertson said on Tuesday's “700 Club” program, "I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things because, here is a loved one, this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly, that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone."
The former televangelist added that Alzheimer's "is a kind of death."
"It's not death, and so we can't start describing things as death that are really not death, and we have to stop trying to mischaracterize what Scripture says for our own convenience," Hunter countered.
ABC News also spoke with Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
According to Anderson, marriage is a lifelong and faithful commitment between a man and a woman that calls for the couple to endure good times and bad.
Anderson referred to the book of Corinthians when he spoke with ABC News, saying, "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. You can't quit your own body with Alzheimer's, so you shouldn't quit your husband's or wife's body either."
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reacted to Robertson's comments on Twitter, writing, "This is what happens when you abandon Scripture and do theology and morality by your gizzard. Let's call it what it is."
John Piper, of Desiring God Ministries, also commented on Twitter, writing, "Pat Robertson's view of how Christ loves the church and gives himself for her. Leave her for another."
Robertson, without citing any Scriptural support, said that a man with a wife suffering from Alzheimer's "should divorce and start all over."
Co-host Terry Meeuwsen appeared alarmed by Robertson's comments. She interjected, noting that couples vow to remain together "for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer."
Robertson responded that if people respect those vows they will also keep in mind the part that says "until death do us part," which is when he added that Alzheimer's "is a kind of death."
The controversial "700 Club" host also said he would not put a "guilt trip" on someone who divorced for such a reason.
However, before deserting your spouse with a debilitating disease, make sure they have "custodial care" and someone to look after them, Robertson said.
Robertson's comments were in response to the following question submitted by a "700 Club" viewer:
I have a friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer's. She doesn't even recognize him anymore, and, as you can imagine, the marriage has been rough. My friend has gotten bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he's started seeing another woman. He says that he should be allowed to see other people, because his wife as he knows her is gone… I'm not quite sure what to tell him. Please help.
After expressing his viewpoint, the former televangelist offered this disclaimer to the viewer who submitted the question, "Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer."
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks, according to the National Institute on Aging.