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26.02.2021

Ravi – What Else to Say?

‘There are few obstacles to faith as serious as expounding the unlived life … The sceptic is not slow to notice when there is a disparity, and because of that, may question the whole gospel in its supernatural claim.’ – Ravi Zacharias, ‘The Apologetic of the Apologist’ (2008)

Famous for proclaiming ‘man cannot live without God’, everyone’s wondering how Ravi could live with himself – proclaiming a gospel which transforms, yet hiding decades of abhorrent abuse, grooming, gaslighting, and even rape.

Of course, hypocrisy is sadly nothing new. But this downfall headlined media globally. ‘God’s name is blasphemed’ among our neighbours because of Ravi (Romans 2:24). So when people on our frontlines ask in disbelief, ‘how can you present Christianity as good news?’, what to say?

No apologetic can suffice. We must face tough questions on the charisma cult, wilful blindness to narcissistic leadership, lack of accountability, and defensive posturing making people deaf to those who spoke truth. Reparations must be made, where care and some sort of ‘justice’ for survivors is first priority. And yet, words must be said. So how about three: sorry; sick; saviour.

Sorry. Courageous women calling out horrors should have been heard. Sin must be exposed. Concern for reputational damage, while effectively sheltering a predator and silencing victims, is evil. It’s diametrically opposed to what we preach, and rightly condemned. God detests these crimes, and acts swiftly when the oppressed cry. So must we.

Sick. Ravi was a ferocious wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15–23). Crying ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t I write dozens of books and witness to millions in your name’ counts for nothing. Maybe it’s worse than anyone realises. Rape is the bitter fruit of unchecked lust in one’s base motives. True, few enact these devilish schemes. We’re different. But there’s something sick and beyond cure in all our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9–10). Evil desire must be cut out, lest it cancerously spread.

Saviour. Ravi has no defence. Nor does his church. Nor does humanity. We are hypocrites, one and all. Self-rescue is a myth. We need a Saviour to perform heart surgery. Merely talking about God is cheap and didn’t reorient Mr. Zacharias’s desires. There’s no evidence of deep repentance, rethinking his way. Expounding this unlived life was toxic. And yet, Jesus still saves. He alone loved rightly and lived beyond reproach. He covers the victims. Judges the wicked. Forgives the humble. And the only hope for wretches like Ravi – indeed, ashamed humanity as a whole – is Christ.

Ravi’s Board failed to check his abuse and protect the vulnerable. All that remains is their closing confession: ‘Jesus is fully committed to truth and to justice, and he unqualifiedly stands with victims.’ Sorry. Sick. Saviour. Say no more.

Dr Dave Benson
Director of Culture & Discipleship, LICC

 

Comments

  1. Great piece on Ravi very punchy and to the point and highlighting we all need a Saviour – like the 3 words sorry, sick and Saviour may God impact those who read your piece as it has me thanks Dave

    By Steve Prescott - 26 Feb 2021
  2. Thanks to Dave for insights.

    For anyone who might be interested , there’s a thought-provoking article by Tanya Marlow (Thorns and Gold) regarding this (also referencing a former ‘hero’ of mine, Jean Vanier), warning of excuses we sometimes make for bad behaviour and challenging us to be careful about this. Not sure if this will work as a direct link but if anyone’s interested you can copy and paste the address.

    https://tanyamarlow.com/5-stupid-things-christians-say-sexual-abusers/

    By Kate - 26 Feb 2021
  3. It took me two days to read through the report. My heart couldn’t take it. I felt the anger his family must feel at finding this out post death- where the person is not even there for you to be mad at physically.

    I felt it because my Father, a minister himself has lived clean and were i to find out post death, that it was a all a farce, that deception would be too hard a pill to swallow.

    This made me also shine a light on my life- and asking the Holy Spirit to use his searchlight on the recesses of my heart. I asked myself if the details on my phone would match the faith I profess were someone to look in.

    For me, it’s a call to look inward and a general reminder that you never really know a person.
    It’s a call to remember that the things we don’t confess to God privately and deal with may one day be blown from the rooftops.

    I find the tone of the article a little hard- but perhaps it’s the surgery we must undergo for God’s name to not be dragged in the mud, alongside our failures. Perhaps.

    By Ugonna - 26 Feb 2021
  4. Thanks Dave – very thoughtful. The best thing I read on this awful subject was by Tanya Marlow. I commend it to all.

    https://tanyamarlow.com/5-stupid-things-christians-say-sexual-abusers/

    By David Pickering - 26 Feb 2021
  5. This is an excellent, well balanced presentation. Thank you.

    By Tony Coffey - 26 Feb 2021
  6. Thanks all for your comments thus far – a friend also recommended Tanya Marlow’s excellent piece, which I read in preparation. It’s tricky finding the right tone, as you observed … for we must avoid both ‘moral equivocation’ – seeming to excuse Ravi’s sins which in turn adds pain to victims and lessens his accountability, by indicating ‘he’s human and sinful, as are we all, and but for the grace of God there go I’ – and yet also hold to the empirical fact and constant biblical refrain (it’s the central logic of Romans 1-3) that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ … that all our hearts, to varying degrees and in different ways, are deceitful and wicked beyond all hope apart from God’s grace. None have an excuse.

    Jesus seems to have lived and proclaimed both truths, full force, simultaneously.

    We see this in Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17). John doesn’t want to baptise the Messiah, for how could he be the Messiah if identifying with our rotten sins in the murky Jordan’s waters. What was there to wash away? Standing alongside us sinners would seem to taint Christ himself with this toxic failure, making him unfit to intervene. And yet, unless the sinless Messiah identifies with us all – even tax collectors, prostitutes, Zacchaeus’s and Mr. Zacharias’s alike, as a friend to lepers alike yet staunch opponent of abuse – he couldn’t be an agent of reconciliation and save anyone. Thus: ‘Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.’

    Begging your indulgence for where this article falls short, tonally and in substance, of both the outright challenge to abuse, and the identification with sinners alike. May we be a community that follows our Messiah into the waters, for we have sinned and truly need to refresh our baptismal vows daily. And may we live and share both truths simultaneously, for nothing less than this is sufficient to save.

    +++
    One other note – were I allowed a footnote (!), I would have qualified after my point on ‘Sorry’ that Glenn Peoples (http://www.rightreason.org/2021/on-ravi-zacharias/) among others including Tanya Marlow, have wisely argued that, on behalf of victims, ‘sorry’ is all we should say right now. Every apologetic is person-centred, so discretion is necessary on how much to say, when to say it, and with whom to share.

    Blessings, Dave (LICC).

    By Dave Benson - 26 Feb 2021
  7. Powerful, thanks

    By Bruce Gulland - 26 Feb 2021
  8. Excellent presentation by Dave and Tanya Marlow. As a Zoology graduate may I add an additional thought. In simple terms, Testosterone is what defines maleness/masculinity in humans (and most vertebrates). In addition to its many effects on the male body it is also designed to act on the brain/mind to create a desire to engage in sexual activity especially with fertile/young females )to ensure continuity of the species).
    For ALL Christian men it is absolutely essential to manage this God-given sex drive through honest accountability to their wife (if married) and close friends etc. and do everything possible to avoid any situation where temptation might occur (as implied in the Lord’s Prayer, it’s much better to avoid temptation than try to resist it.). Tragically Ravi CHOSE not to build up these close accountability relationships and to practice temptation avoidance and was therefore ill-equipped to manage the effects of his Testosterone. This must serve as a vital lesson for all men.

    By Peter Riley - 26 Feb 2021
    • Thanks Peter, appreciate your comment and angle. Some (wrongly) may see your reference to biology as undermining responsibility – as in, my genes made me do it. But it’s precisely this failure to integrate theology with other disciplinary perspectives like biology that leads us to ‘shock’ when people sexually sin, for we haven’t grappled with just how ‘weak’ our flesh is. Whatever happens without moral judgement in the animal kingdom, humans as ‘dependent, rational animals’ (in philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s famous phrase, titling his book) have genuine agency, choice, responsibility. But unless we understand how these primal forces and hormones work, we’ll continue to misguidedly spiritualise the problem and not take necessary action to stay out of harm’s way, where desire if coddled gives birth to death. … Suspect I’ve added nothing to what you’ve said, other than to say *thank you* for bringing in this dimension as part of wisdom, helping make sense of what went wrong lest we follow likewise.

      ‘When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.’ (James 1:13-16)

      By Dave Benson - 26 Feb 2021
  9. I just feel sick about this. I have to admit that each year we uncover a story not unlike this. It makes me wonder whether there is an inevitability about this when we allow Christian leaders to become celebrities.

    By Colin Gillies - 26 Feb 2021
    • I share your feelings, Colin. Without in any sense undermining Ravi’s responsibility for his own actions, many have rightly called for attention to the wider dynamics of celebrity culture and the charisma cult, particularly seen in evangelical circles (associated with populism). Worth reflecting on more, in the nature of our gatherings, and what accountability structures are necessary to not be blinded by the seeming authority of ‘the man’. A less personality driven, collegial and mission driven focus helps, over always thrusting the same person into the limelight. Mind you, that kind of empowerment was there within the RZIM team as a whole, with many fine people and speakers offering an incredibly valuable gospel service to the wider church. Tragic to see all of this fall apart as a result of this horrible abuse.

      By Dave Benson - 26 Feb 2021
  10. Whilst in no way wishing to condone Ravi’s abusive and sickening behaviour, I do think we need to be careful that we don’t just fall into the trap of flexing our stone-throwing muscles. None of us are without sexual sin. Even though we may not have done what Ravi has done, our own thought and fantasy lives are rarely whiter than white.

    As Jesus said, we are all a strange amalgam of good and evil….”If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children….”

    Personally, I struggle to accept that the whole of Ravi’s life and ministry have now been consigned to the dustbin. What about the truth he spoke, the people he loved and all those who came to know the Lord through his ministry? Surely that can’t be undone can it, even though it is now obviously tainted?

    By George Irving - 26 Feb 2021
    • Hi George, thanks for your thoughts in sharing this. You raise important questions. It’s hard to say all of this in 400 words, but certainly in my own facebook thread have explored a range of these angles. Appreciate your time taken to express your concerns.

      By Dave Benson - 26 Feb 2021
  11. Thank you for this article. It is well balanced. Can’t have been easy to write. As someone who is walking alongside someone previously in this ministry I can tell you the fallout is devastatingly painful. ‘Sorry’ is the very best of words to offer all at this time and resignations would also affirm the truth of apology and go a long way for those abused. Christ’s actions always fulfilled His Word.

    A season for everything …. right now it’s
    time to lament.

    By Yazz - 27 Feb 2021
    • Thanks Yazz, means a lot. I’m in the same boat, walking alongside. We often forget that the ‘secondary victims’ include present and former employees, and family. Praying …

      By Dave Benson - 27 Feb 2021
  12. Regarding Point 10. I am concerned that the burden of keeping cover on these ongoing abuses must impact the tone, integrity and insight of the man’s teaching.. especially on sexuality and power. I saw his online video on homosexuality and considered it, at the time, judgmental, arrogant and harsh. I think such works should be either taken down or a corollary added to say that this man has been found to have had a long-standing personal struggle with sexuality and power. I don’t know about other presentations still available, but this seems like an important response, more helpful to the wider discourse than more general articles..

    What do you think, Dave?

    By Naomi - 16 Mar 2021
    • Hi Naomi, great to hear from you. You raise a really important question regarding both what to do with Ravi’s materials/books/talks, and the epistemology of how our sin impacts our thinking. Interestingly, the latest statement (March 2021) from the RZIM board has announced they’re removing *all* Ravi’s materials from their website, and rebadging (https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/rzimmedia.rzim.org/assets/downloads/Update_March_FINAL.pdf). Still, it’s worth thinking this through. Some draw parallels at this point to David’s writing of the Psalms, seeing hypocrisy that these remain our church song book, while we’re distancing ourselves from Ravi’s writing. So, we do need to press in further.

      A good friend of mine wrote wisely on this at https://philosophicalapologist.com/2021/02/17/should-we-throw-away-ravi-zachariass-books/. I’ll speak to the materials, and then epistemology.

      First, time is a factor. Both time for victims to heal, and to not grow profits that further one’s estate. The commercial aspect, which wasn’t there for King David, is a factor (unless he was selling his Psalms!). But we also need time to discern the ongoing worth of his works, given that his life betrayed the message. Perhaps his own sin warped the angle he took on his apologetic – technically, the ‘noetic’ effects of sin – more apparent in the light of his failures. Yes, I share some concerns about the tone, and argumentation, on questions of sexuality, evident in some of Ravi’s later stage talks and interviews. In David’s case, over time it was recognised that God had inspired his words, deemed part of the canon of Scripture. I don’t think anyone would elevate Ravi’s words to Scripture. Indeed, many even before these scandals recognised that Ravi was essentially repackaging/translating genuine apologetic scholarship with communication that moved everyday believers, as much by polemic and rhetorical force as by quality of argumentation and biblical fidelity. So, everything he said in his books has been said by others who aren’t tainted with the same failure which may have distorted their works. I guess the point is that while we’re free to read his works, and there is logos (logic) and pathos (persuasive power) in his writing, his terrible ethos (ethical character giving authority to speak) means that we can’t really share these books with those outside the church (they’ll likely be counterproductive when they discover the story of the author), and we have other sources serving the purpose just as well if not better. Each person will ultimately make up their own mind on this, but Harper Collins and others have already taken this stance as a wider witness, like you suggested (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/february/ravi-zacharias-books-harper-collins-lee-strobel-rzim-report.html).

      Again, thanks for raising these important questions.

      By Dave Benson - 17 Mar 2021

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