Ravi Zacharias was widely considered the greatest Christian apologist of the past generation. Zacharias died in May at the age of 74 after a brief battle with cancer. In recent months, accounts of a scandal which arose during his lifetime have again resurfaced.
In December of 2017, Christianity Today ran an article where Zacharias was interviewed regarding a lawsuit settlement with a Canadian woman whom Zacharias had claimed sent her unsolicited and sexually explicit photos of herself. Zacharias had claimed that the couple had attempted to extort money from Zacharias.
This summer, there were also new reports of multiple episodes of sexual misconduct from massage therapists at spas co-owned by Zacharias. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), an evangelistic organization founded by the late Zacharias announced an external investigation into his conduct. While the investigation is still ongoing, RZIM issued an update yesterday.
In the statement, RZIM said:
The interim investigation update indicates this assessment of Ravi’s behavior to be true—that he did indeed engage in sexual misconduct. This misconduct is deeply troubling and wholly inconsistent with the man Ravi Zacharias presented both publicly and privately to so many over more than four decades of public ministry. We are heartbroken at learning this but feel it necessary to be transparent and to inform our staff, donors, and supporters at this time, even while the investigation continues. We will speak more comprehensively to all concerned after the completion of the investigation.
There can be a lot of responses for people who were fans and supporters of Ravi. For some, anger. For some, disbelief. But one thing that people should not feel is pity for Ravi. I know it can be tempting to think “he doesn’t have a chance to defend himself.” That’s not true. I think to Ravi’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations made during his lifetime. He was the one who got ahead of that story and made himself out to be the victim.
There are actual victims of this misconduct, and even though Ravi is deceased, the truth still matters. There’s a popular and successful ministry that bears his name, and the misconduct of its founder matters.
I loved the ministry and teachings of Ravi Zacharias. It was a great joy to be able to meet him when he visited my seminary. The fact that people like him went to Trinity influenced why I chose that seminary. I take no joy in these claims be substantiated. But when Christian leaders fall, it should be Christians who also lead the charge for what is right.
I do think that we should appreciate RZIM acknowledging his misconduct. They also commissioned the investigation which found the wrongdoing. We don’t know if there were people in the ministry who may have known more about his misconduct and did nothing. But the organization is doing the right thing now and admitting to claims which could have a catastrophic impact on the livelihood of the ministry.
How should people who loved Ravi’s ministry respond?
If you’re someone like me who benefited from the teaching of Ravi Zacharias, what do you do? Do you burn any of his books you have? Do you ignore the accusations and assume he was righteous?
We all do sin and fall short of the glory of God. And that includes our teachers. They too are imperfect. But when a scandal comes to light, that doesn’t mean that everything they ever taught or believed was wrong. There are certainly no shortage of Biblical figures who fell into major areas of sin. David comes to mind and the affair he had with Bathsheba. We still read the Psalms.
David repented during his lifetime. For people who lead churches, Christian universities, and powerful ministries, there is often so much institutional effort to save face and to keep money coming in that there’s always a temptation to want to ignore or bury sin and scandal.
But here’s a key difference. If the allegations against Ravi are true, not only did he never publicly repent nor acknowledge his sexual misconduct, he actually worked to control and obfuscate the narrative.
And the desire to turn a blind eye to sin is the same attitude which allows these people to continue to to real harm a they become powerful figures within ministries.
Truth matters and truth is worth knowing. We shouldn’t make excuses for people. But as Christians, within churches, we must hold leaders accountable. But Ravi wasn’t a pastor! We must also have expectations for those who influence our thinking and theology, of those who write the songs we listen to and the books we read. Of those who we recommend to others, who’s YouTube videos we watch, and who we reference in conversations.
So how should Christians and people who loved Ravi respond? I think we appreciate the impact that they had in our lives. You can’t just forget everything a great teacher ever taught you. And I’m not suggesting that everything he ever said or taught is now bad. But I also don’t think we should look to people who led double lives and never owned up to their sins in their lifetime for our Spiritual nourishment. There are too many other Godly teachers.
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