Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Worldview: Pat Robertson and Alzheimer's

I rarely get red-faced with anger. But when a staff member reported that Pat Robertson (TBN founder and 700 Club host) effectively affirmed a guy cheating on his wife with Alzheimer's disease, I could feel the heat building in my cheeks. I watched the whole interview myself. It is simply unbelievable. I was still seething Sunday when I mentioned it, but feel the need to blog about it since it’s been a week and there’s been no retraction, and because of the errors his words propagate. Perhaps now Robertson, who is well known for making imprudent statements, will finally be sidelined as "unreasonable" and discredited. What an embarrassment to Christ and his followers!

You can read a blog that puts Robertson's words (original video included) in perspective by Randy Alcorn here. It is a must-read. In it are quotes from McQuilkin and Joni Eareckson Tada that show the TRUE Christian response to those afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

Pat Robertson is a Charismatic, borderline health/wealth/prosperity doctrine leader, who is often quoted by the mainstream media as a spokesman for Christians and evangelicals. Among charismatics, he has a cult following. Quite frankly, I'm ready for him to retire into obscurity. I first became familiar with Robertson during his presidential campaign in 1988. It was the first election in which I was old enough to vote and Robertson was vying for support as the “Christian” candidate. Even at age 18, I sensed that although he was attractive in some ways on the surface, there were some things about him that caused uneasiness. That’s the deceptive thing about these guys; they deliver a mixture of truth and lies. I remember watching the 700 Club where he frequently made weird claims that God was speaking directly to him. He would claim to know of viewers “out there” who were suffering from different specific diseases and conditions, and he would proclaim healing for them in very specific ways. Since then he has made several specific predictions publically (that he claimed were from God) that have not come to pass. Have you ever read what the Old Testament says about “prophets” like Robertson?

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.' And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (Deut. 18:20-22).

While I do not recommend capital punishment(!), I do encourage great caution to anyone who hears him. In the New Testament, Peter writes:
...There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies...And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Peter 2:1, 3).

Peter says their motivation is greed. Robertson has apparently fared well in peddling his mixture of truth and falsehood. He is reportedly worth between $200 million and $1 billion and has set his son up as the heir of his media empire (which smacks of nepotism).

While gleefully impugned by liberals in the media with regularity, Robertson’s comments on leaving a spouse with Alzheimer’s have found him some new defenders among them. William Saletan wrote that Robertson is thinking “how a liberal thinks. He faces the reality of human experience in all its contours and contradictions. And he's willing to let that experience complicate his principles.” Hmmm. Problem is, they’re not Pat’s principles. They’re Christ’s. And they’re not complicated. Jesus:
“A man...fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. [Two religious leaders] passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan...saw him, he had compassion. He...bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise" (Luke 10:30-37).

Plenty of Christian leaders have denounced Robertson’s words. But I've not read any discussion about the doctrinal implications of his view of marriage. What does it indicate about his worldview? I’ll try to be brief...

It is hedonistic: Robertson’s advice indicates that his most important guiding principle of life is that self is happy. This is essentially a form of hedonism. Whenever self is not happy, lesser things are expendable and are subject to change—or even discarded—in order to serve the greater. Things like the person with whom you once fell in love, with whom you shared life and bore children. Things like a vow before God that promised “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” With hedonism, love of self is the supreme ethical factor, not love of God or love of others. Think of a world where this belief is practiced wholesale. There would be no soldiers or firefighters to put their lives in danger for the sake of others—to do so would be considered foolish rather than heroic. And think of how much the crime rate would skyrocket. After all, if the ultimate judge of good is what is pleasurable for me, anything anyone else has is fair game. It is better for me to have it, by any means. Conversely, it would be sinful to do anything to take from me that which brings me pleasure. It would be a violation of my rights! It sounds very much like the opposite of the great commandment of Christ: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is idolatrous: A person’s situation (or the interpretation of one’s situation) trumps God’s commandments. Fear of God is subservient to love of self. God has been effectively usurped and replaced by a new, false god: self. This, of course is THE original sin—which resulted in the fall of Lucifer as well as the fall of humankind and gave us the curse. Pride—love of self—is the singular target of the Ten Commandments: No gods before God. No idols. No misuse of God’s name. Remember Sabbath. Honor parents. Don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet. Bottom line: when we dethrone God and replace him with self, we commit idolatry. Pat Robertson’s advice is especially treacherous because he proclaims the spouse as “gone” and having died “a kind of death” before God has taken her life, because she could not recognize her husband. Think of the implications for abortion, euthanasia, treatment of the handicapped and elderly, and a host of other ethical issues! We subvert God’s order and supplant God’s decree with our own selfish agenda.

It disregards God’s purpose: The man whose wife has Alzheimer’s was said to have “gotten bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition.” Instead of understanding suffering as an existential reminder of our fallen world causing him to desire God and heaven, this man evidently understands suffering as evidence of God’s injustice causing him to commit further injustice (cheating on his infirmed wife). That’s tragic enough. But more tragic is Robertson’s confirmation of this distorted view. Robertson’s replies, “I hate Alzheimer’s,” and “I can’t fault him for wanting some kind of companionship, and if he says ‘she is gone’ he’s right” seem natural enough and perhaps even compassionate. But is that the best reply for a Christian leader? Is God unjust? Or is there something (some things) he wants to reveal in trial and suffering?

I am thankful that God didn’t say “they’re gone, they’re gone, they are gone!” regarding our hopelessly diseased, rebellious, and sinful state. I’m glad he didn’t simply “divorce” us in order to find companionship elsewhere. He would have been completely justified to do just that, for unlike the Alzheimer’s victim, we are responsible for our spiritual handicap. No, instead “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And...he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death...on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). This supreme act of selflessness resulted in our salvation. Think of the difficulty! The Transcendent God did not cling to this glorified state. Instead, Holy Christ lowered himself, put on fragile flesh, and moved into our sinful world. God stooped to share in our helpless, pitiful, diseased existence—simply in order to save us.

Is it possible that “sharing in Christ’s suffering” may include lowering ourselves to serve the helpless ones we love? I think it does. We can learn much. We can teach much to others about God. We can understand and long for our salvation and ultimate freedom from our “body of sin.” And we will be rewarded by God. On the other hand, if we do not show compassion to those who need us in the time of their greatest destitution, what does it say of us? What does it say of our own experience of God’s grace? Is it possible that we have not understood our helplessness and his great mercy? Because if we have, we would gladly give mercy to others—particularly those with whom we have covenanted our lives to become one flesh.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:1-11)

Contrast that with Matthew 7:15-23
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Your fruit is not good, Pat. I pray that you will change or that you would please retire and get out of the spotlight.

The persecuted early Christians were impugned by the Romans because we cared about the “least of these” to the extent of giving proper burial to the dead among the pagans because all individuals were made in the image of God, and raising little Roman girls who, not wanted by their fathers, were left in the streets. Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate lamented:
[Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.

God, grant that we regain this reputation today!