Many years ago, when I was a new Christian, I picked up a copy of Ravi Zacharias’ book A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism. I loved it! Zacharias wrote with such elegance, insight, and conviction. He had a great conversion story too, a former Hindu becomes a Christian. If you watched any of his videos, he was also a powerful speaker. I knew many people who attended RZIM events, booked Zacharias to speak at their church or conference, and raved about his books. Like many, I grieved his death last year as the end of an illustrious apologetic career. I was certainly very concerned over allegations of sexual misconduct by him, however, there was a cone of silence that was difficult to penetrate and Zacharias soon died.
However, it is now clear that we had all been deceived. The RZIM organisation has released a 12 page report based on an investigation by the law firm Miller & Martin showing that Zacharias was in fact a sleazy sexual predator who preyed largely on young, ethnic, massage therapists (read about it in CT):
The RZIM board released a statement expressing remorse and accepting partial responsibility:
Ravi engaged in a series of extensive measures to conceal his behavior from his family, colleagues, and friends. However, we also recognize that in situations of prolonged abuse, there often exist significant structural, policy, and cultural problems. … We were trusted by our staff, our donors, and the public to mentor, oversee, and ensure the accountability of Ravi Zacharias, and in this we have failed.
My first thought is, naturally, “How could this happen? How could he get away with it for so long? Why did people turn a blind eye, protect him, and allow him to make victims sign an NDA?”
Well, he was charismatic, a skilled manipulator, played people for fools, curated a cult of loyalty, and was deviously skilled at concealing his activities. This isn’t a case of well, if he was embedded in a local church, or if he followed the Billy Graham rule, or if he had more manly men on his board then they would have stopped this. Let’s not be naive, it happened because people allowed it to happen.
What is more, this happened – this keeps happening – because of (1) Evangelical celebrity culture; (2) Big platforms with big donors and a fear of it all disappearing; (3) A lack of oversight and accountability; and (4) A refusal to take women’s accusations seriously.
So what is to be done?
# 1. For men involved in ministry, don’t be a sleaze bag. Don’t become the very thing that you should have learned to fear becoming and despise when you encountered it. Remember, it is always easier to sin the second time. Whether that’s looking at porn on a computer screen or thinking about how to manipulate a vulnerable woman. Your sins will always find you out and the sin is never worth it. Oh, and read some 1 Corinthians 3 to put the fear of God into you!
# 2. Para-church ministries need independent boards not sycophants. What is more, boards need genuine gender balance and people from outside the circle of the leader’s influence.
# 3. The only place for a prima donna is the New York Ballet. Seriously, if your “star” speaker/pastor starts to get a god-complex, better to commit deicide now than stand in front of a camera later explaining why you never spoke up.
# 4. Take all allegations seriously, investigate all allegations independently, and release all findings publicly.
# 5. Do not allow your church, college, institute, ministry to become a place where predators feel safe and victims feel afraid to speak up. If anything, heed the exhortation of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Otherwise, a few reading recommendations. First, check out Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, A Church Called Tov which touches on the Willow Creek-Bill Hybells story and Mary DeMuth, We Too about how churches can respond to sexual abuse crises.
I strongly recommend also that people listen to the podcast by Devi Abraham and Jessica Van Der Wyngaard called Where Do We Go From Here? (@wheredowegopod) which is about evangelical churches, purity culture, and sex scandals. They spoke about allegations surrounding Zacharias and were raising the alarm long before it was fashionable. They are on the money and worth a subscription!