In Sickness and in Health… Unless You Get Sick

Posted on January 17, 2012 by


The Washington Post recently ran a story about one of its reporters, Robert Melton, suffering a stroke that left him “irrevocably changed”. His wife, who stood by him steadfastly for 5 years following the life-changing event, found love with an old high school chum and has decided to remarry so long as her new husband understands that she will be forever committed to caring for the medical needs of her first husband. She believes strongly in her vows you see, and she intends to stand by Robert in sickness and in health just as she promised.

While I don’t believe this wife’s actions meet the standard imposed when couples take the vow, “in sickness and in health”-after all the vows also say we will “keep only unto him/her”- I have come to expect that we live in a time where sacrificing our needs and desires for the sake of our spouse is out of fashion. In fact, she is doing more than most people would do for their mate under such circumstances. I have been called foolish for sacrificing far less.

So what surprises me isn’t the idea that people divorce their mates when the going gets rough. That’s par for the course and there’s nothing new about it. What I question is an apparent trend of clergymen advising husbands and wives that it’s acceptable to skip out on your vows if an irreversible injury or illness befalls your spouse. First we have the curmudgeonly Pat Robertson, evangelical superstar, telling a husband last year that it’s perfectly alright to divorce his Alzheimer’s stricken wife to find someone new:

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his “700 Club” viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s is justifiable because the disease is “a kind of death.”

During the portion of the show where the one-time Republican presidential candidate takes questions from viewers, Robertson was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the incurable neurological disorder.

“I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her,” Robertson said.

The chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which airs the “700 Club,” said he wouldn’t “put a guilt trip” on anyone who divorces a spouse who suffers from the illness, but added, “Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer.”

Most Christian denominations at least discourage divorce, citing Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark that equate divorce and remarriage with adultery.

And in the case of the Washington Post reporter who suffered a stroke, again we have a minister advising an overwhelmed and confused  spouse to move ahead to the next relationship so long as the current spouse is ensured proper care and support:

Page tiptoed into the subject of dating with Robert, telling him that she and Allan were beginning to be more than just friends, and asking if he understood and was comfortable with that. Robert told her it was fine. “He’s a really nice guy,” Page says he told her.

Allan started visiting every other weekend. He and Page would cook together and go for runs. They would take the girls hiking or on day trips. Allan put up a swing in the back yard and played soccer with the girls.

Page felt 30 again but was racked with guilt. “I believed my vows so strongly that they just kept ringing in my ears.”

She consulted her minister, who told her that by continuing to take care of Robert, she was still honoring those vows.

But is she really? What is up with this? Why aren’t modern clergy calling the faithful to the higher and yes harder road of service and sacrifice instead of preaching that we can have our cake and eat it too?

(h/t: Thinking Housewife on the WP article)

Posted in: Relationships