Back in May, we had a bittersweet moment in the church due to the passing of famed preacher and apologist Ravi Zacharias. It was sad to lose such an amazing figure in the Christian community. However, his death was somewhat expected and became a time to reflect on the good he had done. Less than a year later, that bittersweetness became much more bitter than we could have predicted. After his passing, several allegations of sexual misconduct were brought forth. Following several months of investigation by a neutral 3rd party, it looks like the allegations are credible. Ultimately, he is God’s to judge now, but I think this is a serious enough issue that warrants further discussion. It’s not a post I ever thought I’d write, but here are 3 reflections on Ravi’s fall.
1. Care for the Victims
My initial reaction to the news was to distance myself and not get emotionally invested. All my questions were about what this means for Christians and apologists discussing Ravi and his legacy. I had to be reminded that this is not an entirely academic discussion. Real people have had to suffer through this story for years now. Being a victim of sexual harassment is terrible enough. Having it come from someone that almost everyone believes to be an honorable and respectable Christian leader adds many extra complications. How do you ever trust a Christian leader again after enduring this situation? Please pray for these people and everyone personally impacted by this situation. There never are victimless crimes when it comes to sin, but don’t make my mistake and turn your empathy off.
2. Check Your Pride, Apologists
One of the most dangerous pitfalls for any Christian apologist is getting caught up in pride. We need to keep that in mind as we observe this situation. There’s been no shortage of Christian leaders caught in sexual sin. It always stings, but this one more than most. There are a few reasons for that, but I think one of the big reasons is that it’s closer to home. In a weird tribalistic sense, Ravi is one of our own. He was a smart and thinking Christian who used reason and evidence to make the case for Christianity. When someone like Carl Lentz is caught in scandal, we apologists get to stick our noses up. How silly those megachurches are with their smoke machines and idolized celebrity pastors. We would never let something like that happen to us.
Sometimes we need a reality check. Apologist or megachurch pastor, Catholic or Protestant, Christian or non-Christian, we all share the same broken human heart. We all share the same enemy who wants nothing more than to see us crumble under the pressure and temptations. Those with greater influence have just that much greater of a target on their back. It’s a big responsibility, and measures must be taken to ensure this situation is not possible.
3. How Do We Talk About Ravi Now?
I think the big question on many people’s minds is what now? I don’t think we can live in denial of this and pretend everything is fine. One of the complications with this situation is that all of this came out posthumously. Had this story come out while Ravi was alive, we could have seen his reaction and whether he would genuinely repent.
At least one allegation did come out while he was alive and was denied and contested. Perhaps that particular story was fake, but it looks worse in hindsight. As a result, we’re left somewhat having to assume the worst, that this was intentionally swept under the rug and lied about for years. I think how we talk about Ravi going forward may have to depend somewhat on our audience. Not because we have something to hide, but because we want to be cautious with how our message is understood.
Discussing Ravi’s Fall within the Church
Many people have made comparisons of Ravi’s fall to King David and his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba. It’s a good comparison, but with a significant distinction. David, when confronted with his sin, repented. Although we may never know what went on behind closed doors, by all accounts right now Ravi hoped to take this secret to his grave, even after being publicly accused. It’s not a good look, and I think it should be considered before we excessively praise or quote the man. It especially needs to be considered when discussing with people outside the church.
Christians should be able to understand that even a broken man like Sampson, Saul, or David can still play a significant part in God’s story. We ought never to be surprised at human’s capability for evil. Ravi was still an incredibly gifted speaker who reached countless people with the gospel. At least with some time the shock of all of this will become less raw. Perhaps then we can include Ravi among the long list of broken sinners who did extraordinary things for the kingdom of God.
Outside the Church
With people outside the church, I would recommend great caution. The last thing we want is to have people misunderstand and think that Christians don’t care about sexual misconduct. If we continue to paint a man as a perfect saint to a world that knows he did terrible things, it gives the church at best the reputation of being blind, and at worst hypocritically ignoring sin. I’m not in favor of “cancelling” Ravi. But we should be careful what kind of pedestal we put his name upon as well.
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