Quite a number of years ago I went through a very difficult time when I discovered that a respected Christian leader, and trusted personal mentor, was less than honest about certain dealings. My youthful mind and broken heart vowed never to get too close to any of my heroes again in the future. This is the kind of devastation we face when we learn of the egregious foibles and significant moral failings of our Christian heroes. Ravi Zacharias, the world-renowned Christian apologist and evangelist, who died in May 2020, was also a personal hero of mine.
My youthful mind and broken heart vowed never to get too close to any of my heroes again
Ravi is one of five individuals who have most shaped my mind and heart with regards to Christian ministry. I know I’m not alone. But recent evidence indicates that Ravi Zacharias was not only caught up in serious private sin; he was also the perpetrator of sexual harassment and even abuse.
The Scandal Of Ravi Zacharias’ Sexual Misconduct
Months after his passing, three women who worked at two day-spas co-owned by Ravi accused the deceased Christian hero of sexual harassment. These accusations have now been confirmed by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).
The news was devastating, not just for me but for hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of Christians who had benefitted from Ravi’s ministry. It turns out, Ravi’s powerful and life-transforming words have not been consistent with the life he lived in private. In fact, a RZIM former staffer went further, calling one of the greatest apologists who ever lived the “greatest fraud.” Ouch!
It is important for African Christians and leaders to reflect on how to deal with such a discomforting issue
Four Ways To Respond
Ravi was not only influential in the West, where he lived, nor the East where he was born and raised. His influence is felt through Africa, where he had many ties. Therefore it is important for African Christians and leaders to reflect on how to deal with such a discomforting issue.
And to that end I want to humbly point out four things we can do. We are to condemn serious sin, mourn the inconsistency and hypocrisy, be in awe at God’s mysterious grace, and embrace personal accountability.
1. Condemn Sin Seriously
When it comes to sexual harassment, or sexual abuse of any kind, Christians must be at the forefront of reacting with the strongest condemnation. We cannot equivocate. All sin is an offence to God. But not all sins are equally offensive.
What is particularly grotesque about sexual harassment and abuse is that it treats as profane what God has made sacred—the human body and sexuality (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Furthermore, the impact is never only immediate or physical; these incidents create a living nightmare for victims.
Christians must always seriously condemn sexual harassment and abuse – no matter who is found guilty of it.
The Abuse of Trust Is Devastating
In 2 Samuel 13, Tamar was raped by her half-brother Amnon, after he schemed with their cousin Jonadab (2 Samuel 13:5-6). Tamar was lured into an unsuspecting situation by people she trusted, her own family! Similarly, those ladies never thought they were in danger when Ravi Zacharias came for a massage. For he was much more than an investor in the business. Ravi was a celebrated and respected Christian leader. He had vastly impacted lives around the world.
This is the reason many, who have not read the details of these incidents, have rushed to his defence. The trust invested in such individuals makes it hard for us to accept they are capable of such things, unless you’re a victim. This is precisely what makes the abuse of that trust a wicked thing.
Keeping Victims Silent Is Wrong
But the aftermath is often just as damaging—if not worse. Rather than fight for justice through the right channels for his sister, Absalom becomes embittered in hatred for his half-brother (2 Samuel 13:22). He keeps Tamar quiet, ridiculously asking her to not “take this thing to heart” (2 Samuel 13:20), hatching a plan to murder Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). David, Israel’s greatest king, “a man after God’s own heart” was also a lousy father. Despite his fury at the situation, he exhibited remarkable cowardice by doing nothing (2 Samuel 13:21).
When Christian charisma, influence, and power combine to cover up outrageous sinful behaviour the use of the word ‘diabolical’ isn’t an exaggeration.
Though this may have been motivated by the fear of tearing his family apart, it remains inexcusable. Amnon was overwhelmed by his evil desires. Absalom gave in to vengeful rage. David worried about his family. But who cared for Tamar? Who did anything for the victim?
From a number of reports, it appears that Ravi Zacharias did everything within his power to keep these ladies silent. When Christian charisma, influence, and power combine to cover up outrageous sinful behaviour the use of the word ‘diabolical’ isn’t an exaggeration. Ravi’s actions were not only evil, they were destructive and have now left a ton of human carnage in their wake. The plight of his victims mirrors that of Tamar, which was painfully described as one of disgrace (2 Samuel 13:13) and desolation (2 Samuel 13:20).
This Trauma Is Spiritual, Emotional & Psychological
As a pastor who has spoken to a quite a number of sexually abused congregants, I can tell you that the trauma is spiritual, emotional, and psychological. There are often social consequences. Sadly, one of Ravi’s alleged victims said it took seven years of therapy to accept that what happened to her was not her fault. The betrayal of trust, the profanity of the event, and the lasting damage it inflicts on the victims are all reasons Christians must always seriously condemn sexual harassment and abuse no matter who is found guilty of it. Our God expects no less.
2. Mourn The Inconsistency
It wasn’t long after I got introduced to the field of Christian Apologetics and its usefulness in evangelism that I became aware of Ravi Zacharias. His style attracted me. Not only because of his use of prose and poetry, nor just for his ability to be rational while simultaneously stirring the imagination, nor even simply for his gift of seamlessly shifting between humour and downright seriousness; it was because in the midst of many ultra-rational apologists out there who simply wanted to ‘destroy’ their atheist opponents, Ravi emphasised not ‘winning the argument and losing the listener’. He explained that 1 Peter 3:15 asks us to give a defence for our faith with gentleness and respect.
Ravi Zacharias’ Apologetics Style Was Attractive
In other words, our arguments will go only as far as how reasonably consistent they are with our character shaped by reverence for Christ.
Mourn the inconsistency and hypocrisy. Mourn the deceit and duplicity
As one well aware—both then and now—of my character deficiencies, I became convicted and convinced about the role of character in apologetics. And in Ravi I found one who spoke humbly and respectfully with those he disagreed. And I concluded that he must have been the same person in private that he was in public. But once these allegations came out we had to ask: “How is it possible that someone who uttered those words was not only secretly harbouring such dark thoughts in his heart, but repeatedly acted on them over a number of years?”
A Time To Mourn
It still hurts to think about it. And perhaps this emotion (hurt) rather than intellectual perplexity is the immediate one that requires our attention. Perhaps, rather than an explanation, what we need to do is mourn. Mourn the inconsistency and hypocrisy. Mourn the deceit and duplicity. And, after we’re done, we will do very well to mourn every manifestation of the same duplicity in our own lives.
We will do very well to mourn every manifestation of the same duplicity in our own lives
It may not rise to the level of this sin. But if the same seeds of what has led the posthumous downfall of Ravi Zacharias’ reputation also dwells in our hearts, we cannot condemn him from a moral high ground. Rather we must mourn the inconsistency—both in him and ourselves.
3. Wonder At God’s Grace
If you believe, as I do, in a sovereign God who providentially rules this universe to fulfil his redemptive purposes, then surely you must wonder why—despite seeing Ravi’s flaws—God decided to use him? I do. But in the next moment I wonder why—despite my flaws and my many dark thoughts—God uses me. You should too. The truth is that God only ever has flawed people in his service. This is a mystery to wonder at.
The truth is that God only ever has flawed people in his service
All Fall Short of The Glory of God
God used Israel’s final judge, Samson, to battle Israel’s enemies. He was a man as deeply as flawed as they come. God used David, an adulterer and murderer, to be Israel’s greatest king. Noah was a drunkard; Abraham a liar; Jacob a crook; Joseph a self-centred jerk; Elijah a self-centred crank; Jonah a nationalist; and Matthew a tax collector. We could go on with the list until it arrives at you and me. God only ever has flawed people to do his work. Some are admittedly and criminally more flawed than others. But we are all flawed, nonetheless. All fall short of the glory of God.
The wonder isn’t so much that God uses some awful people to communicate his truth. It’s that he will use any of us at all.
We must therefore remember, that while this aspect of Ravi’s life was absolutely against everything God permits, whatever Ravi Zacharias preached and taught in line with Scripture was true. They were true, not because they were his truths, but because they were God’s truths. And they were effective because of God’s Spirit.
God cares for this world so much that he will communicate his truths via whatever vessel he chooses. This must be the case since all but one among those men and women was without sin—the Lord Jesus Christ. The wonder isn’t so much that God uses some awful people to communicate his truth. It’s that he will use any one of us at all.
4. Embrace Accountability
Finally, Ravi’s story highlights the need for proper accountability in the life of every Christian. One of the things that bothered me about his ministry, and this is true about many itinerant preachers, was how long he spent on the road. He often spoke about being away over 200 days of the year. That’s over half the year not attending his local church.
With that many days away, it is hard to be truly accountable to anyone in the local church. What therefore ends up happening with many travelling parachurch ministers is their parachurch organisation morphs into a sort of pseudo-church. The hierarchical organisational structure inevitably becomes their primary form Christian accountability. But this does not square with the New Testament model.
Who Really Held Ravi Zacharias Accountable?
Furthermore, this has troubling implication for those on the higher or highest rungs of any organisation. How realistic is to expect that those with the ability to hire and fire can truly be held accountable by their subordinates? This organisational failure within RZIM (also existing within many Christian organisations) has led to calls from staff members of RZIM for the leadership to take responsibility. For they feel as though Ravi Zacharias was not adequately held responsible. This is right. There’s a place for Christian organisations, close friends, and ministry colleagues to hold parachurch leaders accountable.
Christian organisations in particular have to look once again at the proper role of a healthy, godly board in keeping the top leaders accountable. This will involve reconsidering how board member selection is carried out. But board members must also be empowered to properly play their roles. The culture around many organisations must move towards openness, allowing staff members to voice misgivings without fear of repercussions. Christian organisations, churches too, must work against developing undue reverence for any leader.
Christian organisations, churches too, must work against developing undue reverence for any leader.
With all of that being said, however, Scripture teaches that it is primarily the responsibility of the local church, with a healthy governance structure, to hold its members and leaders accountable. Therefore it should be an absolute requirement for parachurch leaders to be submissive and functioning members of their local churches. While this doesn’t guarantee that leaders won’t fall and fail, it will definitely prevent more than it would enable.
We Need Jesus, Not Ravi, For Salvation
Sadly, the flawed life of Ravi Zacharias, like the lives of all of God’s flawed servants, in the Bible and throughout Christian history, reminds us that we cannot ultimately be dependent on them for our salvation.
It is in Jesus’ name that we are saved, not Ravi’s.
We need a servant of God in whose mouth is no deceit (Isaiah 53:9), in whose life there was no sin (Hebrews 4:15). Only Jesus can lay claim to such a feat. This is why it is in Jesus’ name, not Ravi’s, that we are saved (Acts 4:11-12).
While Ravi’s truths accurately pointed us to Jesus, his inconsistent life and serious moral failings point us to the great need for Jesus—our Saviour.