Is Ravi Zacharias the latest Christian celebrity to fall? David Robertson looks at the accusations
He is one of the best-known Christian evangelists in the world.
He speaks before kings, political and cultural leaders and large student gatherings. He is a superb communicator, a gifted thinker and a good writer.
The unwisely named Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) is an organisation that is not all about Ravi. They have an incredibly gifted team of speakers who are based all over the world – including Michael Ramsden, Os Guinness, Amy Orr-Ewing, Sam Alberry, Stuart McAllister and Andy Bannister. They are also responsible for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.
But now Ravi Zacharias is the latest in a line of Christian leaders who have been accused of wrongdoing. When I first heard the accusations my heart sank.
Not just because I, as a member of the body of Christ, am wounded whenever any part of that body is hurt, but because I have met and benefited from Ravi. He has preached in my church, and shared a meal in my home. His weekly podcast is one I listen to with great profit.
I love the ministry of people like Michael Ramsden, Amy Orr-Ewing and other RZIM speakers. We regard them so highly that we even appointed their Canadian team leader, Andy Bannister to come and run Solas. So little wonder my heart sank – either a brother I love had fallen or was under a vicious attack or some combination of the two.
The accusations were two fold – firstly that Ravi and his organisation had lied about his academic credentials. Secondly that he had been involved in a sexting scandal which he had settled out of court.
RZIM admit the first accusation, at least to the extent that they have been guilty of giving a misleading impression, but deny the second.
I have no right to act as counsel for the prosecution or the defence. Ravi has issued his own statement. But it is essential that those of us who profess to be Christians follow biblical principles in how we handle and deal with these difficult situations:
1. Don’t judge
It’s a straightforward, if often misunderstood and misused command from Christ: "Do not judge or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1).
I have been in many situations where I am asked "do you think he/she is guilty?" The answer is always "I don’t know". Do I think he/she could be guilty? Of course. Because I believe the Bible when it tells us that we are all sinners – and I know my own heart! If Moses, David, Paul and Peter could fail and fall – I know that anyone can.
But that is vastly different from stating that someone is guilty. The bottom line is that we do not know. We may have some knowledge. "There were e-mails" – but e-mails can be faked. "Why would someone make this up?" – there could be lots of reasons, (Ravi's lawyers have claimed those making the accusations have tried to extort money from a Canadian church leader in the past). There are so many variables and we just don’t know. We think we see the big picture when we only have a couple of pixels.
Some might then say "I have a feeling". Well so do I, and my feelings have often been wrong! My conscience is not the judge of others.
It is important not to 'read between the lines'. There will be those who read this and think 'since you have not put forward a robust defence of Ravi you must really think he is guilty!' No, no and thrice no! I am not in a position to judge.
This is actually a really difficult command because the minute we hear something about someone we make a judgement about what we hear and inadvertently we make a judgement about them. Which brings us on to the second principle.
2. Don’t gossip
"Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness." (Exodus 23:1). "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts" (Proverbs 18:8)
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29).
Gossip is a deadly poison. Especially when it is sugarcoated under the guise of prayerful concern. Whatever the truth, and whatever happens, there will be many for whom Ravi Zacharias is now regarded as tainted. Anyone who has been in Christian ministry – especially an effective one – will know why the Psalmist asks so often to be kept from the deadly arrows of false and vindictive words….and he didn’t have to deal with social media!
I expect atheist and secularist groups to dig for dirt but what has astonished me is that there are professedly 'Christian' groups whose sole purpose seems to be to wallow in the muck. One of the groups gleefully publishing anything they can about Ravi while writing sanctimonious, self-righteous essays even put out a request in public for people to find any ‘information’ (gossip/dirt) they could about me!
But isn’t this in effect seeking to cover up? Is it not seeking to silence those fearless Christian (and atheist) keyboard warriors who are exposing injustice and wrongdoing? Not at all. This is where we come to the third biblical principle:
3. We all need good biblical church discipline
It’s not a popular concept and often comes with misunderstanding and tales of abuse – but discipline is essential in the Church.
Matthew 18:15-17 gives us the basic method. Go to the person concerned and if they don’t listen tell the church. The elders of the church are to investigate and act appropriately. “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19).
One of the problems in today’s church is that we have far too many Christians (and sadly Christian ministries) who are not subject to church discipline. We all need to be part of a biblical church community where proper biblical discipline is exercised.
A 'board' or 'council' is not biblical church discipline. If anyone has a complaint against me I just tell them to take it to the elders of the church. It’s a great protection for the individual, for the church and for the whole community when that system is in place.
What's wrong with the Church
Let's be honest. We don’t follow these basic principles. We don’t trust the Judge of all the earth to do right and so we think he needs our help. We act as though we don’t believe in an all knowing, all seeing, all-powerful God, or the Judgement Day.
We have a false theology that enables us to make false idols. We build up people and idolize them, only to demonise them when we suspect they have feet of clay.
In the age of social media we have Christian vigilantes and keyboard warriors who in the name of biblical faithfulness ignore what the Bible says about church discipline and set themselves up as judge and jury. God have mercy on us!
All I can do in this situation is weep and pray and trust the Lord. I love Ravi Zacharias and pray the Lord’s blessing upon him, his family and the work that he does. I am so thankful I am not his judge and until it is proven otherwise I will not believe evil of a brother.
I know my own heart and therefore I think I have enough to do in repenting for myself without judging and repenting for others! I can simply determine to follow and trust Jesus – as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15). And I rest assured in the words of Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church (Matthew 16:18).
Unbelievable? presenter Justin Brierley blogs on all things theology, apologetics and ethics.