By Christal Benjamin
In our last issue, we highlighted some hard questions which have arisen due to recent and past occurrences of violent criminal acts against women in Trinidad and Tobago. When unregenerated criminals commit atrocious acts, it causes a great measure of pain to the family and friends of the victims and to society as a whole. However, when Christian leaders who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ are named as the perpetrators of abuse, manipulation and deception it elicits widespread feelings of betrayal, hurt, anger and despair. Such is the case with the posthumous report of sexual misconduct by world renowned Christian Apologist, Ravi Zacharias.
Who Was Ravi Zacharias?
Ravi Zacharias was a world-famous apologist and evangelist. He was the founder and chairman of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), a global team of Christian speakers with offices throughout the world. He was a prolific writer who authored over thirty books including best-selling, ‘Can a Man Live Without God?’ Zacharias was born in 1946 in Chennai, India. He gave his life to Christ at the age of 17 after an unsuccessful attempt at suicide. He spent most of his life travelling around the world defending the Christian faith. In May 2020, he died at the age of 74, after a battle with cancer. He left behind his wife, Margaret Reynolds, three children and five grandchildren.
Allegations Against Ravi Zacharias
In August 2020, three months after his death, allegations of spiritual abuse and sexual misconduct were made against Ravi Zacharias. Former workers of spas which he had owned claimed that Zacharias would often visit the spas for massages. During these visits he invited these women to confide in him about their spiritual challenges. He then abused their trust by requesting and having sexual encounters with them. RZIM commissioned a law firm to conduct an independent investigation of these claims and they were found to be true. This revelation caused widespread shock, hurt, anger, shame and grief in the Christian community.
When tragedies like this occur, believers in Christ and unbelievers ask hard questions including:
How could someone preach so convincingly about the transformative power of Christ, while living an immoral life?
How could God move so powerfully in someone who was living a sinful life?
How was it possible for him to conceal these actions from his ministry team for all these years?
If a Christian apologist can be so entrapped in sin, is God real?
When faced with difficult questions such as these, it is important to remember what the word of God says.
The War Between the Flesh and Spirit
In Romans 7, Paul spoke about his struggle against sin, reminding us that as Christians we have a sinful nature which wages war against our spiritual nature. In 1 Peter 2:11 we are admonished, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” While someone may believe and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if this person does not actively resist temptation by submitting to the Holy Spirit, they will gratify the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
God is completely opposed to a Christian, especially one in a leadership position, living a life that is a double standard. However, God in His sovereignty, may allow this person to accomplish His purposes. In Philippians 1, Paul spoke about people who were preaching the gospel out of selfish ambition; notwithstanding this, he rejoiced that the gospel was being preached. God’s use of such people does not exempt them from the consequences of their sin. God has brought what was hidden in darkness into the light and Zacharias’ lifelong work and reputation has been seriously undermined by his actions. While this situation is extremely difficult to grapple with, God can work out His will and purpose in the midst of it.
Accountability, Transparency and Structure
One of the positive things which is coming out of this sad situation is a recognition of the need for more accountability, transparency and structure in Christian organisations. Ravi Zacharias was able to conceal his actions, because as admitted by the RZIM International Board, there were insufficient accountability structures in place within the organisation. There is a lesson to be learnt for all Christian organisations. No matter how much we admire our leaders, we must remember that the evil one is always seeking opportunities to deceive and destroy them. As such it is important for them to have spaces where they can openly share their struggles and receive prayer and encouragement. Furthermore, when leaders act inappropriately measures must be taken to discipline and restore them in love and respect. Calamity can be avoided if there are sufficient structures in place for leaders to account for how they use their time and resources while carrying out the work of the Lord.
Our Infallible God
Lastly, let us be reminded that while humans are fallible and subject to deception, the God whom we serve is infallible, unchangeable and able to use everything for His glory. This is why Paul encouraged the Corinthian believers to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 1:11). Ultimately, it is important for us to place our faith in God and not in fallible humans.
What should Our Response Be?
It is really important for us to grieve and pray about this devasting situation. However, as we grieve and pray, let us do so with hope. Hope that God will bring healing to the victims, Zacharias’ family, his friends and followers who are shattered by the unveiling of this situation. Hope that God will give RZIM the wisdom and strategy to move forward as an organisation which continues to proclaim His truth and hope that God will use this devastating situation for the glory of His name.