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The Rev. Chris Thomas The Rev. Chris Thomas

The Rev. Chris Thomas serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Williams, Jacksonville, Alabama

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'Til Death (or Alzheimer's?) Do Us Part

September 20, 2011

In case you haven't heard, Pat Robertson has done it again. No, he didn't blame a recent natural disaster or terrorist attack on pro-choice politicians, homosexuals, or deals with the devil. Rather, in what I hope was perhaps an attempt at providing genuine counsel, Robertson responded to a 700 Club viewer's question about a friend who had decided it is alright to see other people since his wife has Alzheimer's and no longer recognizes him. Robertson went on to answer the viewer's inquiry by suggesting that the man divorce his wife, after having secured her care, because she has experienced a "kind of death."

Now there have been all sorts of responses to Pat Robertson's words over the past few days, many criticizing his response and some coming to his defense. I, however, can't help but think about what kind of testimony these sorts of "controversies" make to those outside of the Christian faith. Sure, those of us on the more progressive side of Christianity are quick to dismiss such remarks (from Robertson and the like) as we would the awkward jokes from a strange family member at Thanksgiving, but what about those outside of the faith, those who cannot understand the complexity and diversity present in the Body of Christ? Can we present such diversity without sounding fractured, disjointed, and contradictory? Perhaps a short parable would help.

There were two brothers who loved each other very much. They loved each other despite their respective faults. At times, one brother would be embarrassed by the words or actions of the other, yet their love for one another was strong. Then, one day the older brother was struck with an awful ailment that caused him to forget where he was, and he would frequently say strange things that made little or no sense, things that embarrassed his family. The younger brother would often have to speak up on behalf of his family, on behalf of himself, when his brother would say such things, but still he loved his brother. It came to pass that the older brother's condition did not improve and the younger brother was faced with a choice: either disown the older brother and therefore save the family's reputation, or continue to love the brother and endure the occasional embarrassment and discomfort that would come from his misguided ramblings. What should the brother do?

In the family of the Christian faith we have many brothers and sisters who are struck with the ailments of fame, greed, ambition, etc., and many of them say incredibly embarrassing things from time to time. I suppose one could even make the argument that they have experienced a "kind of [spiritual] death." But do we disown them for the sake of our family's reputation? Do we divorce ourselves from them so that we may live more comfortably in light of the world around us? Or, regardless of how often we have to, do we speak up on behalf of our family, the Church, and make sure the world knows there is more to the Christ we follow than misguided opinions and over-analyzed sound bites? What should the brothers and sisters do?

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