Pat Robertson says his comments about divorce and Alzheimer’s disease were “misinterpreted.” The problem is, his clarification doesn’t clarify.
According to Sarah Pulliam Bailey in Christianity Today, Robertson addressed the controversy over his advice to a questioner to his 700 Club television program by telling the man he could divorce his wife in order to date another woman. Robertson said he was merely “saying, adultery is not a good thing, and you might as well straighten your life out, and the only way to do it is to kind of get your affair with your wife in order.”
This is nonsense.
Robertson did not, in fact, say that. He said, “I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again.”
Robertson now says he would never advise anyone to leave a sick spouse, but he doesn’t repent of the previous statement. He simply says he was focusing on the “specific case” and not advice for “the whole world.” He said he envied a Catholic priest because the priest’s confessional counsel is “all kept secret” whereas when he has “somebody asking me for advice, it spreads worldwide and it’s misunderstood.”
First of all, Robertson’s advice didn’t “spread worldwide.” No one was tapping his phone or hacking his email account. It was broadcast. Robertson is a broadcaster with a television program using satellite technology to see to it that his advice gets carried across the world. That’s the problem.
More problematic, though, was Robertson’s flippant response to the abhorrent theology behind the whole issue.
“And remember, they come to me asking for specific advice and I give them specific advice about their condition, not for the world. I’m not giving a theological (defense); I’m not John Calvin giving the Institutes of the Christian Religion.”
To tell a man to stay with his sick wife, that to divorce her or leave her because of her illness, is, in every situation, wrong, is not some abstract point of doctrine. No one was asking Robertson to, on his feet, explain the Molinist account of providence or to answer a tricky ethical dilemma about lying to save the lives of others. This question was about the most basic sign of the gospel, the union between Christ and his church. One doesn’t even need to know any Scripture beyond John 3:16 to intuit the spirit of antichrist in the notion of abandoning a suffering spouse.
If one can’t answer a question that basic to the Christian faith, with clarity and conviction, one shouldn’t teach first-grade Sunday School, much less broadcast one’s spiritual guidance to the whole world.
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.