We have recently learned that the accusations of sexual misconduct against the deceased, iconic apologist Ravi Zacharias were in fact justified.
The board of RZIM issued a statement in which they acknowledged: “Our trust in Ravi’s denial of moral wrongdoing and in his deceptive explanations of emails and other records that became public was severely misplaced, and our failures in 2017, including our failure to commission an independent investigation at that time, allowed tremendous pain to continue. . . .”
When I was a teen, I was deeply searching for a father figure, someone who would disciple me and help me become the man of God that I desired to be. For a few years, I was privileged to have such a man in my life.
Unfortunately, he was not able to remain in this role for long, because, as it turned out, he was struggling in his marriage. When I first learned that he was having trouble with his marriage, I was skeptical. After all, how could such a man of God be struggling?
I was at a religious service a number of years ago. During the worship, I happened to notice a man (yes, I am very ADD and easily distracted) who was deeply engaged in the worship. He was much older than me. He was a pastor. He was someone I held in high esteem. I just watched him worship.
I admired him for his spirituality, his maturity, and in that moment, for his ability to worship.
I knew his wife and his kids. He had a great family.
I remember speaking to him later than evening and telling him that I was enriched just by watching him worship.
It wasn’t more than a year later that I learned that he had left his wife, his family, and his ministry to travel the world with his lover.
Several years ago, I was speaking at a conference in Wash DC. As people entered the room to be seated, I was honored to see that one of the highest-ranking members of the Catholic church was coming to hear me speak.
Upon completing my presentation, a number of people remained behind to continue the conversation, including this man. Before we left, a good friend of mine and I were privileged to have the opportunity to take a selfie with him.
It was not long after this event that I learned that he had been defrocked for sexual misconduct.
In 2019, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met in Birmingham, Alabama. During the convention, a report was presented that noted that over the past 20 years more than 700 persons were victims of abuse by leaders of SBC churches.
A Christianity Today article reported that, “allegations [have been made] against 380 church leaders (a majority of whom were convicted or took plea deals).”
The article in CT, however, also noted, “Even worse, ‘at least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades.’”
That’s right. Many of these leaders were able to find work in other churches. This was such a problem that the SBC passed a resolution at the convention that condemned sexual abuse and established a special committee to investigate sexual abuse in order to make it easier to expel churches that failed to remove pastors who had committed such acts or were hiring pastors who had been convicted of wrongdoing in their previous churches.
The church has been rocked by scandals for centuries.
I have been in ministry long enough to know that this is a lot bigger problem than the occasional unveiling of scandals makes it out to be.
Should we be surprised? “No.”
Should we be appalled? “Yes.”
Should we be grieved? “Yes.”
Can we learn from this?
The bigger and more important question is: Can we learn from this? The answer must be “Yes.”
To do so we must:
- Learn to listen better.
When victims of abuse come forward, we must learn to take a posture of listening better. Sure, not every accusation is well-founded. Sure, we have Paul’s admonition to not receive an accusation against an elder too quickly (1 Tim 5:19).
But we have too many situations in which those who have truly been abused have been silenced. As it is, victims of abuse are often too afraid to speak up because they fear they will not be heard.
- Be careful about elevating those in ministry and leadership to a point of infallibility
One of the reasons why we fail to hear the cries of the victims is because we are convinced that the leader in question is above such acts. Maybe they are. But we must not assume so.
Be careful about idolizing your leaders. It is good to respect them. It is good to admire their faithfulness and their apparent godliness.
But we have to realize that they are human. They are not above sin.
They can be easily tempted by their success and by your admiration of them.
- Make sure those in leadership are in greater positions of accountability
One of the cardinal beliefs of Christian theology is the conviction that all are sinners. Yet, we too easily allow our leaders to be in situations in which they can fall into such behavior. Now, I recognize that we will not be able to always stop such acts from happening. But we can always try to intervene sooner.
- Act more quickly
We need to act at the first sign that someone is in danger of failing. Immediate intervention is needed for the sake of the victims and for the sake of the abuser.
- Create better systems of accountability
I know of too many church boards that do not adequately oversee their leaders.
I know of too many instances in which the lead pastor is the chairman of the board.
I also know of too many church boards in which many of the board members are the paid staff. (Meaning if they speak up, they fear that their job could be in jeopardy).
This is dangerous.
- Be more careful about restoring fallen leaders to positions in ministry
Because of our esteem for those in leadership, many churches too readily accept their repentance as a sign that they are worthy to be restored to positions of leadership. Maybe they are. But should we not take the safer path and assume they aren’t? If not for their sakes, then perhaps for the sake of the victims!
The fact that so many convicted leaders in the SBC have taken jobs elsewhere is a tragedy. I seriously doubt that the SBC is the only denomination having such issues.
- We must pray
Pray for those who have suffered such abuse. Pray that they may be made well.
Pray for our leaders. They are under more attack by the evil one more than the rest of us. Pastors make good headlines.