Hi and welcome back! Happy Chocolate Day! We are still snowbound here at Casa Cas. At least this weather lends itself to introspection. Indeed, I’ve had something on my mind for a bit now: the weird manipulation tactic Ravi Zacharias used on his victims, according to the official sexual misconduct report his ministry commissioned. It twigged my memory — and made me realize I’ve actually heard this tactic many, many times over the years. Today, let me show you how Christian predators like Ravi Zacharias manipulate victims by weaponizing both their fear of Hell and their compassion for others.
Ravi Zacharias: “Millions of Souls.”
As I read the February 9, 2021 report about the sexual misconduct accusations against Ravi Zacharias, I found myself pulled up absolutely short by one part of it. One of the victims related the various ways that the evangelist manipulated her into silence. Among other things, he weaponized her faith. But he did it in a way that stunned me:
She said he warned her not ever to speak out against him or she would be responsible for the “millions of souls” whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged.
I’m not joking or exaggerating. I suddenly experienced a PTSD-style flashback to an old and painful memory of my Evil Ex, Biff, doing the same thing to me under similar circumstances. I felt so awful for Zacharias’ victim. In a lot of ways, I had a feeling I knew what she’d felt when he used that tactic.
But in another way, I was galvanized into wondering:
How how how how HOW was something this predatory still going on in Christianity?!?
Long Ago, in a Galaxy Far Away.
Back in the early 1990s, I was a very fervent fundagelical lass. I married a bombastic, charming fundagelical guy named Biff.* Biff was a stone-cold pathological liar — and a really bad one at that. Everyone who knew him knew this, but he’d charmed all of us into seeing-but-not-seeing the truth of who and what he was. (Very few social creatures like to acknowledge that someone in the group is acting in completely bad faith.)
One night, our pastor let Biff give his testimony from the pulpit during a big revival meeting. During his presentation, Biff talked excitedly about his nefarious, demon-drenched past as a drug-dealing high priest in the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). His testimony blended into a sermon. He was on fire that night, as fundies say. The church roared approval at his preaching.
Really, he hit every single box of a classic Satanic Panic testimony.
He considered this speaking engagement a complete success.
However, his testimony was completely false. It was nothing but lies from start to finish. Not one element of it was true. And he spouted all these lies with me sitting right there watching him!
(* Biff is not his real name. Also, I wrote a lot more about this incident in “A Cult of ‘Before’ Stories“.)
Biff: “It’ll Be ALL YOUR FAULT.”
As you can likely imagine, I was beyond mortified and furious on the way home. It felt just surreal.
I told Biff then that if he ever lied like that around me again, I’d immediately reveal the truth.
Oh, he tried to sweet-talk me and argue his way out of the situation, but this time I held firm. He was like a leaf fluttering against the utterly implacable mountain of my anger and humiliation.
But in his twisting and turning, he played one card that shocked me bloodless:
If I ever revealed the truth about his testimony, then it would cause people to lose faith in Christianity. Thus, they would go to Hell, and their fates would be my fault.
It was completely beyond-the-pale. I sensed that only the worst of all fungal rainsocks would ever do anything like this. But for years and years I didn’t completely understand why it hurt so much. In the end, I filed it under “if anybody ever does this to me, ever, it means they are in fact a fungal rainsock and should be rejected immediately and with all the force I can muster.” (My mental filing-folder labels are the stuff of legend, yes.)
As for Biff, I stomped on that manipulation attempt as hard as I could. He realized I was serious, and so he never offered a dishonest testimony around me again that I can remember.
Of course, Biff was my
lord and master husband, not my employer. I was our breadwinner at the time. He was also relatively powerless in our church hierarchy, rather than its absolute lord and master leader. I won our power struggle, probably only because our power dynamics were so much less unequal than the one Ravi Zacharias’ victims faced.
All the same, the similarities in the two situations hit me hard.
The Surprisingly Common Christian Manipulation Tactic That Nobody Talks About, Ever.
Soon, I learned that Biff wasn’t the only Christian to feel the way he did. After our confrontation in the car that night, Biff tried to strong-arm me by getting friends to agree with him over me. And our friends agreed with him. They criticized me for my strong stance on testimonial lies. They thought if I ratted Biff out, then it’d shake our marks’ confidence in our product, like revealing Biff’s lies would make actual recruits second-guess their decision to join up.
When I see blog posts like this one, I can sorta understand why they thought that way. I’d reckon that most Christians get upset, and understandably so, when they discover that someone lied to them in a Christian context (evangelism, pastoring, etc). But would they rather not know at all? And if they’d rather not know, what does that say about their faith and their claims?
And considering how many Christians distort, embellish, and outright fabricate their stories at all levels of the religion, isn’t it kinda weird that they don’t talk more about how to handle lies told in Christian contexts? I found Focus on the
Bigotry Family covering a situation that sounds a little bit like the one I faced (with advice that doesn’t seem like it’ll help that pastor’s wife at all). However, I found nothing anywhere on any Christian sites handling the threat we’re talking about today, the one Christian liars and predators deploy to keep their marks manipulated:
Keep quiet, or else people will go to Hell and it will be your fault for revealing the truth about me.
I dunno, maybe my Google game is just weak today.
Or maybe this threat is just something Christians don’t recognize as a problem.
This Threat is Straight-Up Abusive In and Of Itself.
In a 2017 handbook called Straight Talk About Child Sexual Abuse, the writers devote an entire section to this kind of threat (p. 13). They describe these threats as a form of grooming that ensures silence from victims of abuse — which certainly fits what Christian predators use it for. They list a number of different groups and people that predators can use to force compliance from victims. Here’s a few:
- “Don’t tell your mom or I’ll leave and she won’t be able to make rent.” (fosters guilt)
- “Your family will be deported.” (threatens family’s well-being)
- “If you tell, then all [LGBTQIA] people will be blamed and it’ll be your fault” (fosters guilt,
- “Your dad will be angry, disgusted, stop loving you.” (manipulates victim into blaming
Notice what these threats do to victims? Predators threaten victims with ostracism and harm coming to people the victim loves. And they manipulate victims into blaming themselves for their own abuse.
Victims know that what’s happening to them isn’t right, but they’re scared to speak up because they don’t want to bring hurt to others.
It’s like predators weaponize love itself, compassion itself, to work their wickedness upon the innocent. And it works so often because their victims actually have love and compassion, unlike their abusers.
The Extra Whammy Christian Predators Count On.
In quite a few flavors of Christianity, adherents get indoctrinated to believe that they are responsible for the scare-quotes “salvation” of everyone around them — especially their loved ones. Me, I spent my late teens panicking about the fates of my family. Christian leaders in these flavors lean very hard on this threat to get their flocks whipped up into a lather for evangelism.
So yes: the idea that every Christian could, personally, be absolutely responsible for sending someone to Hell is a very real and serious threat. I may joke about those Christians who literally pray before deciding which fast-food outlet they should visit for lunch that day, but the truth is this: some of those Christians are worried sick that if they go to the wrong place to eat that day, they could miss a gospel conversation that could save someone from their grotesque godling’s wrath.
They are the Christians who take their indoctrinations a bit more seriously. However, the predators circling around them do not take it seriously at all.
Christian predators are simply willing to use that indoctrination to their own benefit. They’re bad-faith griefers running amok in the Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game that Christians play together. Y’all, you can’t mix good-faith and bad-faith players together. The bad-faith players will always wreck the game for the good-faith people.
Ravi Zacharias and Biff didn’t take their religion seriously enough to actually follow its rules. But they did know that others took it that seriously. And so they used it to gain power over their victims.
(Authoritarians think that all forms of power should be at the disposal of the powerful. If they don’t use it, someone else will — and will turn it against them.)
“So Grace May Abound” — for Predators.
It’s taken me damned near 30 years to figure out exactly why Biff’s manipulation attempt bugged me so much. But I got there in the end. And now, I hope my mental struggle has helped someone else.
The real truth is not enough to sell Christianity to most people on its own merits. It has never been enough. That’s why fake miracle claims and doctored-up testimonies have been part of Christianity since before it was even called “Christianity.”
Little wonder good-faith Christians worry so much about messing up what they perceive as the already-precarious eternal fates of their loved ones!
The last thing those predators want their victims to realize is this:
Any fallout from wrongdoing is on the wrongdoers. Not their victims. Ever. And it really tells me a lot about Christianity that the threat that Biff and Ravi Zacharias used gets so little attention, and yet it gets used from the pews to the pulpit, from the little churches to the vast ministries, and it’s been in circulation at least since I was a Christian myself.
Not only has Jesus not stopped any of it, but Christians themselves have not.
Once again, it’s Christians’ own behavior that tells us exactly how valid their ideology really is.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then: The fallout of the Ravi Zacharias scandal (probably won’t fool anyone but evangelicals), maybe a little dash of the ongoing fallout from the Carl Lentz (et al) scandal if we have time. See you tomorrow!
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(Last thoughts: I found this Christian advice blog regarding how to handle a habitually-dishonest spouse. It is seriously bad — the absolute worst advice imaginable. A spouse that dishonest for that long (1) can’t engage meaningfully with others, (2) doesn’t care about the spouse’s feelings, (3) will not honor any agreements made, (4) won’t change, and (5) refuses to honor any demands for accountability. Add to the mix the pastor job, and you’ve got someone who is an expert in the busy-work that passes for real emotional work in evangelicalism. However, this was still one of the very few places I found even discussing Christian dishonesty.)