I’ll never forget the first time I heard Ravi Zaccharias speak. As a college student grappling with various challenges to my faith and I stumbled across a video series of his (this was before Youtube) and over several days binged watched it. His words cut like a sword, but with a winsome and humble tone that I rarely heard from Christian apologists. Since then I have listened to many of his sermons and read most of his books. Speaking at top universities across the globe, meeting with world leaders, and writing prolifically, Ravi was one of the most visible and well known Christian apologists of the past 50 years.
Ravi passed away last May. His funeral was a mix of grief over a life taken too soon by cancer and a celebration over a long legacy of Christian ministry. I posted a tribute to him and the impact he had made on my life. Little did I know what was about to happen. In August several women came forward with allegations of being coerced into sexual acts by Ravi Zacharias. What they were alleging was shocking and grotesque. In response, the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries commissioned an independent third party investigation into these allegations. Last week the final report from this investigation was released. As a pastor, I felt it was important to read through the report in its entirety. The findings and the details were horrific and chilling. Not only were the original women’s stories found to be true, but even more victims were discovered. The investigation only went back to 2014, so who knows for how long his sin was taking place and the real number of his victims. My stomach turned as I read the report, especially the parts where Ravi used and twisted Scripture to justify his sin and coerce women to keep silent about his abuse.
It is one thing when a Christian leader falls who has pretty obvious flaws in both his theology and personal conduct. But when you see someone like Ravi Zacharias-who on the public stage appeared to be committed to the Lord in mind, heart, and soul- commit such heinous acts, it can feel devastating. It is true that we do not put our confidence in a person and only the Lord is perfect. However, it is also true that we should want to trust and follow godly leaders. So when a leader, who appeared to be godly, is exposed it really is a grievous thing.
If like me you have appreciated Ravi’s ministry, here are two things that I think we should do in response.
First, we should pray for the victims of Ravi’s abuse. We should pray that the women would be surrounded by loving, gospel saturated community that would give them the support they need in their suffering. Wounds like these don’t heal easily and there is much love, care, support, therapy and grace that will be needed. Let’s pray that they would receive all those things in Jesus name. Let’s also pray for Ravi’s family as they also are victims of his sinful choices. In my work with abuse survivors I have found that people will often rally around the survivor, but the family of the perpetrator is shunned and shamed for things of which they had no part. I can’t imagine what Ravi’s wife and children must be feeling. This must be like a second death of Ravi to them, only worse, because this has no comfort of celebration. May God minister HIs grace to them as well and also surround them with a community of support.
Second, while I can’t imagine how Ravi could preach and teach like he did, and then pursue such grievous sin , the Bible tells us that “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1Co 10:12 ESV) And so, a wise response to this situation would be to consider some things that led Ravi down this path. I’m sure there are many nuances and complexities that led to the searing of Ravi’s conscious and subsequent justification of his heinous behavior. Broadly speaking though, after reading the report, here are two things errors in Ravi that stood out to me. I don’t mention these to be self righteous, but rather to help us all be self reflective.
One, there was a clear lack of local church accountability in his life. Ravi Zacharias was a ministry unto himself. He travelled the world and did many great things. But where was his spiritual covering? Who were his pastors? There is no mention of them whatsoever as Ravi seemed to think he was above needing such things. But the Scriptures tell us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Heb 13:17 ESV) We need people to keep watch over our souls. We all need this. I’m the “lead pastor” of our church, but I’m submitted to our pastoral team and they watch over my soul. No one is above the structure for care that God has put in place. Not only do we need pastoral covering, but we need the spiritual covering of the church as a whole. There are over 31 commands that the Bible gives about what we are to be for “one another” in our local churches. As Christians, we cannot survive and thrive by ourselves. We need one another. Ravi had employees asking him questions about his behavior, but a work relationship can only go so far. I think that Ravi’s story is a significant word of caution to the Christian who thinks they can live the Christian life by themselves.
Two, Ravi had a pattern of not fleeing his sin. The report reveals that many of his sinful choices happened when he was getting massages. If getting a massage was a source of temptation for him, then the Bible is clear about what he should have done, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Mat 5:30 ESV). Where there is temptation to sin, we are to do whatever we can to flee that sin. However, Ravi owned massage parlors. He had masseuses travel with him. Instead of fleeing his sin, he was constantly surrounding himself with it. Proverbs tells us, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Pro 6:27-28 ESV) Ravi’s story is a cautionary tale of how entertaining sin always catches up to us.
So may we grieve for the victims and learn from lessons as we are sorrowful and sobered by seeing this downfall. And may we continue to heed the words of Hebrews 12:1-3.
Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb 12:1-3 ESV)
Grace and peace,