Ravi Zacharias and Christian Integrity

Jesus Among Secular Gods, by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. One of Ravi Zacharias’ wonderful books….(just, please, do not call him “Doctor”)

I have been an enthusiast for the apologetics ministry of Ravi Zacharias for several years. So, I feel compelled to respond to recent allegations of impropriety, as reported in ChristianityToday magazine.

Ravi Zacharias, his radio program Let My People Think, and his ministry, RZIM.org, have blessed the church with excellent materials in Christian apologetics. Our church was edified when Ravi came as a guest speaker several years ago, and I personally have taught several Adult Bible Classes, using Ravi’s material. Long-time Veracity readers will observe that we link to RZIM resources multiple times. I am still encouraged by the quality of Ravi’s work and ministry, for the sake of the Gospel.

I am therefore disappointed to learn of the recent allegations, that Ravi has misrepresented his academic credentials, over the years. I knew that Ravi had a Master of Divinity degree, but that he never has pursued an academic doctoral program, of any sort. However, he has received “Honorary Doctorates”. What I did not realize, is that this has led a number of Christians to mistakenly refer to Mr. Ravi Zacharias as “Dr.” Ravi Zacharias.

RZIM has responded that it has been customary, in certain cultures, where Ravi goes, that they refer to him as “Doctor,” out of a sign of respect for elders. This is evidently so. But it is inappropriate to go by the status of “Doctor,” in all cultural contexts. This may not be a big deal for some people, but I would disagree.

Truth matters, folks.

In an American context, calling someone “Doctor” gives the mistaken impression that the individual has earned an academic degree, when it was actually only an honorary degree. The two are not equivalent. If someone practicing medicine claims to be a “Doctor,” but has not an earned degree, this would be misleading. The same standard ought to apply to Christians who pursue academic work, to further a ministry. So, it is disturbing to learn that RZIM itself did not immediately and thoroughly self-correct this issue, when it was first raised two years ago, in 2015.

There are a few other issues, brought out below, in the video by the Steve Baugham, who describes himself as the “Friendly Banjo Atheist.” You can read RZIM.org’s response to some of the allegations (noted also in the Christianity Today article), Christian blogger Warren Throckmorton’s research, and Mr. Baugham’s video and other materials, and make your own assessments. As to the allegations with respect to the Canadian couple, there is just something weird going on there, that I can not fully grasp. I find there are several lessons to be learned from this most unfortunate situation:

  • First, Christian leaders should stop the continued practice of accepting the title of “Doctor,” when it is only honorary degrees that have been conferred, and not PhDs.  This practice is misleading, and Christian leaders should act in a manner that is above reproach. Politely demurring is good, but insufficient. Public, academic records should be set straight.
  • Secondly, as the Scriptures teach (Romans 3:23), all of us have failed at different points in our lives. Ravi Zacharias is no exception. Neither am I. Neither are you.
  • Thirdly, Christians should be on the forefront of telling the truth. Waiting for critics, like the “Friendly Banjo Atheist”, to point out our faults, is not good enough. Waiting two years before fully addressing problems with claims of misrepresentation and fact-checking issues, even if it was inadvertent, is not good enough. As apologist Randal Rauser writes, “When it comes to effective apologetics, it is important to have clear, concise, and logically valid arguments with plausible premises. It’s also important to have good rhetoric, a touch of humor, savvy cultural awareness, and a dollop of self-deprecation….While that is all important, the most important aspect of any effective apologetic is credibility. Credibility depends on demonstrable integrity. And integrity depends on conduct that is absolutely above reproach.”  An apologetics ministry, no matter how good it is, that raises questions regarding personal trust, actually undermines itself.
  • Fourthly, the whole business of admirers calling Ravi “Doctor,” has been completely unnecessary. The effectiveness of Ravi’s ministry stands on the quality of his arguments, reasoning, and rhetoric, not by misleading claims of holding certain academic credentials, that he never did. Ravi has his own issues, yes. But I find it disturbing that a radio listening and book reading Christian audience lacks the basic skills of spiritual discernment, that should insist on fact-checking sources and upholding standards of accountability.

I had the privilege of meeting Ravi Zacharias, when he visited Williamsburg, and our church, those few years ago. I found him to be a most gracious, genuine, and caring man. He is on the “front-lines” for the Gospel, so it comes as no surprise that he would have critics.

Steve Baugham may have an axe to grind, but nevertheless, the grist for the mill has at least some substance. The current crisis Ravi Zacharias is experiencing is surely painful, and those who have benefited from his work should earnestly pray for him, and the rest of the RZIM ministry team. This is not an unrecoverable situation. Contrary to Baugham’s conclusion, at the end of his video, I personally believe that this is an opportunity for RZIM to make something right out of this. Let us pray that Ravi, and those who work with him, will learn these painful lessons and do the right thing.

UPDATE: December 7, 2017. RZIM’s public statement on the federal lawsuit.

ANOTHER UPDATE: December 7, 2017

Also, if you check the Wayback machine, for June 26,2016, for the Oxford Centre, an Christian study center in Oxford, England, you will see that under endorsements, it lists “Dr. Ravi Zacharias” and  “Revd Professor Alister McGrath.” This is altogether strange, as Ravi has no PhD, and Alister McGrath has several. RZIM helped to start the Oxford Centre. Why would Ravi be listed as “Dr.,” but not Alister McGrath? Thankfully, the Oxford Centre has since fixed the issue. But it leaves open the question as to why the folks at RZIM, who probably were the ones who put up the website, let this error go unnoticed and uncorrected, for so long? Ah… this is frustrating!

A BETTER UPDATE: December 8, 2017

I made contact with someone at RZIM (Vince Vitale) to discuss the academic credential issue. I report on this really good conversation, as an addendum, to a related post, published earlier this year.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

14 responses to “Ravi Zacharias and Christian Integrity

  • Fred Nice

    Sad and disturbing

    Liked by 1 person

  • For Those Living in a “Post-Truth” Society: A New Book Co-Authored by Ravi Zacharias | Veracity

    […] UPDATE: December 7, 2017. I am sorry to say that I did not adequately review the video below, before posting. For if I did, I would have caught the fact that Vince Vitale introduces his fellow co-auther as “Dr. Ravi Zacharias.” This is most unfortunate, as I knew that Ravi Zacharias, though clearly a gifted speaker and writer, and a most intelligent, Christ-loving man, has never earned the doctoral equivalent of a PhD, in any field. Ravi has received Honorary Doctorates, but this does not qualify anyone to be called a “Doctor,” especially when one’s ministry field is to students and professors in higher education. I would hope that this was simply an oversight, an honest mistake, on both Dr. Vince Vitale’s (who truly is a “Doctor”) and Mr. Ravi Zacharias’ part. I still have not read the book, but given what I have read before from Ravi, I still think it would be most helpful. Nevertheless, I regret the error on my part. For more information, please read this more recent blog article about this issue. […]

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  • John Paine

    Ravi Zacharias, by his own admission, made two errors in judgment. I sincerely hope people will read the Christianity Today article and carefully discern the details. He did not have an affair or meet alone with the woman who, along with her husband and lawyer, tried to extort money from him. He did not try to cover up the fact that his multiple doctorates were all honorary.

    He did correspond with the woman (but was quick to cut off that correspondence when it turned inappropriate), and he did not object when people referred to him as ‘Doctor’ Zacharias.

    On balance, these are not major lapses in judgment, though they can have major consequences. Both situations are unfortunate, but neither makes me think any less of this tremendous witness and tireless worker for the Kingdom.

    Your point is well taken, Clarke–truth matters. Now, in an age of viral electronic communication and 140-character-or-less attention spans, more than ever. There are many reasons this blog is called Veracity. It’s a one-word summation of the Gospel message, of Jesus Christ, and of the entirety of the Bible. It is also an ethic.

    I pray that everyone who shares the Gospel of Christ will learn from Ravi Zacharias’ example and conduct themselves accordingly. I will also pray for him personally, for his family, for the ministry that bears his name, and for everyone who might want to throw stones at him.

    Thanks, again, for a compelling and thought-provoking post.

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    • Steve Baughman

      John, what you call “errors in judgment” appear to actually be systematic deceptions that Zacharias has been engaging in for nearly 40 years. Please google Ravi Zacharias credentials for info on this.

      Ravi has a very fancy PR firm working to savage his reputation. Their strategy is to get us to focus on the trivial stuff. “Errors in judgment.”

      For Ravi’s suicide threat email please see my http://www.RaviWatch.com

      Thank for caring about integrity.

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  • Tom Lunal

    I think the “Dr” issue is important but there are additional issues that are of a more serious nature.

    My concern with Ravi is are, the academic credential issue and the emails:

    The academic issues are as follows:

    1. Ravi failing to disclose on his website that his doctorates were honorary. The website said “Ravi has been conferred with 8 doctoral degrees.”

    2. Ravi claiming to be a “visiting scholar at Cambridge University” when he was on sabbatical for 3 months at Ridley Hall (a Church of England training center) in the city of Cambridge. Cambridge University has explicitly denied that they ever invited him as a visiting scholar.

    3. Ravi saying that he is a lecturer at Oxford University when the university has also denied in an official letter that he was never a lecturer or a professor there at any time.

    4. Ravi repeatedly saying (you can check various youtube videos) that he studied “Quantum Physics” under John Polkinghorne at Cambridge University in 1990 when Dr. Polkinghorne stopped teaching Physics in 1979. Additionally, Ravi was never a student or visiting scholar at Cambridge University to begin with. He was at Ridley Hall for 3 months, as mentioned earlier.

    5. Ravi declaring that he lectures at universities like Harvard and Yale when all these events were organized by Christian groups and local churches which would rent an auditorium on the university campus to hold the meetings. For instance, one of the organizers for the Harvard event was the Chinese Holy Ghost Fellowship.

    6. Ravi saying that he was the Chair of a Department that did not exist at the institution where he taught in the 80’s.

    7. Ravi says that his first book was based on lectures delivered at the Bell Labs in New Jersey but they have no record of him. He probably spoke to a Christian group or fellowship on the Bell Labs campus.

    The email issues boil down to the following:

    1. Why did Ravi threaten suicide if this was just an extortion case?

    2. Why does he accuse Lori of betraying him in the email?

    3. Why does Ravi ask Lori if she was going to reveal his name to her husband?

    4. Why did he not report to the RZIM board when he started receiving the nude picture from Lori? Why did he continue to engage Lori for quite sometime (almost 2 years and he himself admits) till the demand for 5 million?

    5. Why did Ravi settle out of court if this was indeed a case of extortion?

    6. Why has neither he nor RZIM denied anything from the emails? (guess it must be because its true).

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Tom: As indicated by my post, I have been deeply bothered by the whole affair. Yes, I have been concerned about Ravi, but more so, I have had concerns about RZIM as a whole, as it has been my view that the matters concerning Ravi’s academic credentials should have been cleared up long ago, with an internal audit within the ministry.

      But I would recommend that you (or anyone else) contact RZIM directly, if you have further concerns. They were quite generous when I talked with them. I got the sense that RZIM has learned a valuable lesson here.

      As to the sexting allegations, I did not talk with RZIM about this. The problem with such legal matters,is that it is unlikely to get much more information, when both sides agree to a non-disclosure statement. Unless something is changed with the non-disclosure agreement, these questions will probably remain unanswered by both sides.

      Thank you for stopping by Veracity.
      Clarke

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  • Tom Lunal

    Dear Clarke,

    Thanks for your gracious reply. The first point is that they did not clear up the academic credential issues internally, as you mention. However, secondly and more importantly, even after being called out on what is obvious misrepresentation and manipulation (We have the letters from Oxford/Cambridge universities as well as notes from Ridley Hall as evidence), Ravi and RZIM have decided to downplay the immensity of the what has transpired. This can also be seen with the online affair. We have the suicide note and in addition, Ravi did not deny it in the original papers filed in court when it was mentioned by Lori Anne’s legal team.

    The problem is that the board at RZIM is useless for all practical purposes. His wife, and both daughters are on the board along with him. Together, they get paid almost $700,000.00. I think that accountability would probably not be a priority on their list.

    What this really shows is that with enough celebrity status, monetary advantages and a good legal team, even those in ministry can replicate what is done in politics.

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    • Steve Baughman

      RZIM does not provide straight answers. They are in damage control mode. Their Dec 3 press release failed to address the serious Oxford or Cambridge issues. Their stately is to get us to focus on minor “errors in judgment.”

      I have lost much respect for RZIM by dealing with them for the last two years. They are dishonest (I have documented deceptions on their part.) Big business is no different just because it is big Religious business. Sad.

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  • Steve Baughman

    For nearly four decades Ravi Zacharias has systematically lied about his qualifications. http://www.RaviWatch.com and see also the Christian watchdog group, Ministry Watch, investigative report at https://www.ministrywatch.com/articles/rzim.php

    Please google Ravi Zacharias suicide threat to see about his written threat to kill himself if Lori Anne Thompson told her husband about their affair. Ravi’s email is posted at http://www.RaviWatch.com and HE HAS NOT DENIED sending this suicide threat.

    Sadly, this man has been pulling to wool over our eyes for decades.

    Please do your homework and urge him to come clean. rakzach@gmail.com and pr@rzim.org

    Thanks for caring about integrity in business.

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  • Steve Baughman

    Hi. If you email me I can send you the Zacharias suicide emails. His discussion with Lori Anne Thompson about their online affair. I wonder if Vince Vitale has seen them. Would you want to see them?
    steve@lawbw.com
    Thanks for caring about integrity in business.

    Like

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