In the Christian media in recent months there has been something of a back-story about Ravi Zacharias detailing accounts of the sexual exploitation and abuse of women. That back-story came to the front in early February when the Board of Ravi Zacharias' International Ministries released, in full, an independent report into Ravi’s exploitative and abusive activities.
There can be little doubt that what Ravi is stated to have done over the course of many years is true, and that a number of women who sought to bring this into the open were silenced, ignored and/or bought off.
I am disturbed by this story at a number of levels:
- That this man used his position, authority and charisma to seek sexual gratification in the ways he did.
- That he could so easily dishonour and sin against God in direct opposition to what he professes to believe.
- That he could so easily dishonour his wife and marriage.
- That he could use his ministry and platform knowing it would be trashed when the truth came out.
- That he engaged in systemic, systematic and wilful sinful behaviour over a period of years and sought to do so behind a wall of deceit.
- That the board of RZIM would think it appropriate to release the full report rather than a statement summarising the findings.
- That the claims made several years earlier by Lori Anne Thompson were not able to be investigated as part of this investigation.
- That a man some of whose talks my wife and I have listened to and enjoyed in the past year could lead such a double life.
Many of the facts are not in dispute. The released report is readily available on the RZIM website. Let me make some comments on the whole situation.
Firstly, we all sin, we are all fallible. But the difference here is that Ravi set about constructing a network of lies and deceit with plausible deniability behind which to undertake his activities. There is a difference between unintentional sin/sins and wilful sin. I can recall hearing Derek Prince say on one occasion that he doesn’t commit wilful sin, but does sin unintentionally. I appreciated the distinction and don’t think what he said was from any position of pride, but an observation of how he seeks to conduct his life. Ravi Zacharias was the opposite - setting up a structure behind which he could wilfully sin.
Secondly, we need to be careful who we listen to and how much credence and access to our hearts and minds we give them. I have a few favourite speakers/authors who I have listened to over the years - Derek Prince, David Pawson, Woodrow Kroll, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Les Feldick. Whilst I appreciate and value what these speakers tell me, I don’t blindly accept everything they say as gospel. The gospel (God’s word) is the only thing I accept as gospel. What Luke has to tell us about the believers in Berea in Acts 17:10-11 is sage advice for all:
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. NASB®1
Thirdly, I think RZIM should be closed down and the proceeds on disposal be used to fund recompense to all of the abused women and their families, to set up some fund for any future claims, and the rest given away to help the poor. I think the name and ministry of Ravi is permanently tainted and damaged and little good can come from the name as an apologetics and discipleship ministry from this point on.
Fourthly, Ravi has been instrumental in bringing countless lives to the Lordship of Jesus. We can be grateful for that, but still abhor what went on in the background. But now knowing what went on in the background, the ministry needs to cease.
Fifthly, I don’t think it was wise that the RZIM board released the full report. I don’t think it adds to the ‘conversation’ but only serves to cause pain to Ravi’s family. Releasing the report was also a significant misstep if the board believes they can continue as they were before having thrown a guilty dead man under the bus. Their behaviour through the Lori Anne Thompson revelations means they need to go, too.
Sixthly and most importantly, I have no idea how God will deal with Ravi for eternity. His sexual sin, whilst abhorrent, is put in the same class as the liar and the greedy in Scripture. We have some scale of sin where we are happy (or at least vaguely content) to draw the line on perceived seriousness. Some sins are constituted as sufficiently serious to see someone tossed out of the ministry whereas other ‘less serious’ sins can be overcome through confession and counselling. Scripture doesn’t work that way because God doesn’t work that way.
Finally, I pray that Ravi’s victims and family will find relief and forgiveness in the future. I pray that the board of RZIM will deal appropriately with Ravi’s legacy and ministry. I pray that we all find truth in the words of the Lord and in the person of Jesus Christ and not in the charisma and authority of others. When we hear someone speak, chew and swallow the meat, but spit out the bones.2