We are learning more about the accusations against Ravi Zacharias, since I posted about the newer developments a few weeks ago.
Ravi’s relationships with some female employees at a spa he owned, that Christianity Today reported, has triggered Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) to hire a legal firm to investigate the claims. Ravi’s denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, also announced that they would open yet a second investigation of Ravi, since the one that they conducted several years ago. To complicate matters, the woman who was involved in a sexting controversy with Ravi several years ago, and her husband, have come forward to tell their side of the story, despite the fact that both parties had signed an NDA. The couple have done so claiming that Ravi and RZIM had already violated their side of the NDA, through a previous published Christianity Today article (which was updated this past week). The couple has hired Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer and grandson of Billy Graham, as their legal adviser.
I do not see a need to rehearse the specifics of the accusations. You can follow the links above to learn more.
What I want to do here in this post is to analyze some of the responses on social media, regarding how these accusations about Ravi have been received by Christians, and the general public. Vice President Michael Pence, at Ravi’s memorial service, called Ravi “the greatest Christian Apologist of this [the 21st] century.” There is no doubt that Ravi Zacharias has been one of the most well-known Christian celebrities in the contemporary era.
Many, like me, are grieved about these accusations. As someone who has taught Ravi Zacharias material in adult Bible classes, and who has appreciated a few of his books, I have looked up to Ravi, just as others have done. Ravi’s ministry has benefited my life and the lives of others that I know, and students I have taught. So, I would naturally want to defend Ravi’s reputation here.
At the same time, truth must prevail above all else. Some who have stepped forward with their accusations have been hurt very deeply by all of this, and have seen their reputations tarnished (rightly or wrongly). Others have remained anonymous, due partly to the embarrassing nature of the accusations. Such voices need to be heard, and taken seriously. An independent analysis of the evidence needs to be made, and so it is troubling that a journalist like Julie Roys is skeptical that the investigation sponsored by RZIM will truly be independent. I sincerely hope Julie is wrong about this, and that the truth will come out. Regardless of what happens, we should not be fearful of the truth, recognizing even that if Ravi is shown to have been clearly in the wrong, that this only demonstrates that all of us are sinners, who stand in need of the grace of God to set us free from our sin. YouTube apologist Whaddo You Meme?? has the right perspective here.
But not everyone responds this way. The double-downing effect that some have, in defense of Ravi, is expected to a certain degree. We are called to uphold the reputation of Christian leaders. “A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume” (Ecclesiastes 7:1 NLT).
Sadly however, some who have rallied to Ravi’s defense have done so in a manner that is greatly troubling, that takes the teaching of Scripture and turns it on its head, completely upside down. Here are some examples that are disturbing:
- Some have defended Ravi by questioning why such accusations have only emerged after Ravi died, this past May, thus raising suspicion. But in cases of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, it is very rare for victims to come forward right away, out of fear of repercussion against them. Trauma from abuse can take years and years to overcome.
- Some have defended Ravi by assaulting the character of the accusers, claiming that the accusers are “in it for the money,” for example. True, there are cases where false accusations are made, in order to cause great harm on Christian leaders, etc. Nevertheless, everyone needs to be fairly heard. The problem with the Christian celebrity syndrome is that we are typically more inclined to trust the famous and powerful celebrity and dismiss the less well known, and less powerful person.
- Some have made some completely outlandish claims, that Christian journalists at Christianity Today have adopted a compromising, liberal attitude towards evangelical faith, and therefore, they have used that liberal distrust to attack a good man. I then wonder what such folks think when other Christian news outlets, like WORLD News Group, ChurchLeaders.com, and the Roys Report, also report the same story, and even bring out new points of data. Is every Christian journalist out there who investigates a Christian celebrity simply a tool for the “far left,” “liberal” biased media?? Really??
While I am surely grieved about the accusations against Ravi, I am probably more grieved by supposed defenders of Ravi who are willing to risk tarnishing other people as merely “pawns of Satan” in an effort to make an idol out of a Christian celebrity. Christians sometimes overuse the language of “tools of Satan” and the “demonic” to attack other people, and avoid the hard work of listening. Yes, Satan is at work to tear down what God is building. But when we attribute “Satan” wrongly to the pursuit of truth, no matter how painful it is, we only do tremendous harm. Any sort of ad hominem attack against a person is no substitute for an honest look at the evidence. Instead, we are called to worship Jesus, and not any fallen man.
Granted, most people have neither the time nor the energy to do full blown investigations themselves. When it comes right down to it, we all have to trust other people to a certain degree. Most of the time, we simply have to defer to trusting in some other authority, believing that such authority is speaking truth and willing to do the hard work of investigation, sorting fact from fiction, on behalf of others occupied with the many other aspects of life.
It interesting to observe how when trust is broken that it is almost impossible to rebuild that trust. For example, there are Christians who have already prejudged Ravi to be completely at fault, simply on the basis of believing that Ravi had long been a false teacher. Some still have not forgiven Ravi for having spoken at the Mormon Tabernacle, the first high-profile evangelical preacher to have done so since Dwight L. Moody was invited to speak there, over a century ago. Such Christian critics of Ravi contend that by preaching at the Mormon Tabernacle he was giving tacit approval of Mormonism. So, for such critics, who believe that Joseph Smith was an unrepentant adulterer, they have already concluded that it is no surprise to them that Ravi Zacharias fell into the same kind of sin.
On the other side, many critics of the Christian faith conclude now that Ravi Zacharias is just another in a long line of hypocrites: Just another reason why the Christian faith should be rejected. For many of such critics, if you dig deeper, it comes down to broken trust. Why trust what a Christian says about the Gospel when they speak lies about other matters?
But the Gospel tells us that we need not be fearful of the truth, as even with hypocrites, Jesus had them among even his “elite” group of followers: Peter promised to defend Jesus to the uttermost, but he denied Christ three times, did he not?
Hopefully, Christians will be known as truth-seekers, even when certitude on certain things remain elusive. My confidence in Christ is strengthened, but not entirely built on, the testimony of others, including Christian leaders like Ravi Zacharias. The argument for the truth of Christianity is based on an aggregation of different evidences, of which the personal life and testimony of others is but one component of a much larger mosaic of realities, that point to Jesus. If one component is shown to be unreliable, or at least somewhat shaky, it need not cause us to reject the whole.
According to this Julie Roys’ podcast, it was Ravi Zacharias’ teachings about prophecy fulfillment in the Book of Daniel that first drew skeptic Steve Baughman to consider Ravi’s arguments in defense of the faith. But Baughman was not entirely impressed with Ravi’s treatment of Daniel, which led him to look more closely at Ravi’s ministry, which eventually led to the disclosure of how RZIM did not properly represent Ravi’s academic credentials, in RZIM’s promotional materials. As it turns out, RZIM’s failure to address the academic credentials issue in a more timely manner was but the first in what has now become a series of far more damaging allegations. Why it took an “outsider,” like Steve Baughman, to force RZIM to begin to address these matters in the first place, instead of some hard looks within RZIM itself, still boggles my mind.
I am not sure if Steve Baughman will ever read this, but if he does, I hope he knows that there are still some Christians who value truth above celebrity-Christianity.
It is quite possible that we may never know the full story here, this side of eternity. Ravi Zacharias is no longer here to defend himself. To repeat, I do hope for the best outcome for Ravi’s reputation from the impending investigations. If such is not the case, for which the mounting evidence points more and more towards, then it would be good for Christian parachurch organizations, like RZIM, and the local churches that care for Christian celebrities, like Ravi Zacharias, to do some serious soul-searching. If all, or even some, of the accusations do turn out to be true, it looks like we are dealing with a man who had immense pressure placed on him to perform in a such a way, that he himself could never achieve. His way of relieving the pressure placed upon him, and his own depression and doubts, sadly impacted the lives of others in a hurtful way (listen to the WORLD News Group broadcast on October 15, 2020, starting about at the 27 minute mark to the 30 minute mark for more). Ravi’s own testimony indicated that he wrestled with suicidal thoughts on at least one occasion, as part of his conversion experience as a young man.
Was Ravi really healed from these suicidal thoughts after his conversion? Was there sufficient accountability at RZIM? What was really going on at the RZIM board? Was there sufficient accountability at Ravi Zacharias’ local church? These are difficult questions that probably deserve concentrated attention.
All in all, even if Ravi Zacharias is exonerated, I stand by my original plea from several weeks ago: For the sake of those fine apologists who have risen to take the baton from Ravi, to uphold the message of Jesus Christ for a new generation, RZIM should change the name of their organization, in order to more properly reflect the purpose and vision of the ministry, instead of clinging to a legacy of a man. Let us encourage the Vince Vintale’s, the Abdu Murray’s, the Amy Orr-Ewing’s, the Sam Allberry’s, and many other fine apologists at RZIM to flourish in their ministry efforts, without having some dark cloud hanging over them, resulting from any possible reproach, driven by controversies surrounding Ravi, that might impede their work for the Gospel. Let us encourage this new generation of apologists to be set free to boldly spread the love and truth of Jesus across our world today!!