How should Christians respond when one of their most renowned leaders is revealed to have led a disturbing double life? It is a question that many followers of Christ have wrestled with since the inception of the Christian church, and it is one that I am struggling with after learning of the revelations regarding Ravi Zacharias, a world-renowned author, speaker, and leading voice on apologetics.
Every weekend I used to listen to episodes of “Let My People Think” and “Just A Thought,” which featured the lectures, sermons, and teachings of Ravi Zacharias. His recordings were some of my favorites as a Christian who was, and still is, fascinated with biblical theology and apologetics in particular.
His insights were instrumental in the building of my faith and my understanding of Christianity. I would devour his commentary on Christianity and western society. He was one of the few leaders I actually admired for his intellect, wit, and vast knowledge. The list of people who I look up to is short, but he was one of those that I strove to be like when it came to teaching, leading, and understanding my faith.
When he passed away last year, I was heartbroken. But I was comforted by my belief that he was a leader who carried out his calling and exemplified the sentiments that the Apostle Paul expressed in 2 Timothy 4:7 when he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
But many of us had a rude awakening that would be realized only months later.
In September 2020, Christianity Today (CT) published a report detailing the allegations of three women who accused the now-deceased founder of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). These women, who worked as massage therapists at a spa the evangelist owned, stated that he acted inappropriately with them while receiving massage treatments.
From Christianity Today:
Three women who worked at the businesses, located in a strip mall in the Atlanta suburbs, told Christianity Today that Ravi Zacharias touched them inappropriately, exposed himself, and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of about five years. His business partner said he regrets not stopping Zacharias and sent an apology text to one of the victims this month.
“He would expose himself every time, and he would touch himself every time,” one of the women said in an interview with CT. “It was where he went to get what he wanted sexually.”
The report noted that “Zacharias masturbated in front of one of the women more than 50 times, according to her recollection. He told her he was burdened by the demands of the ministry, and he needed this ‘therapy.’ He also asked her to have sex with him twice, she said, and requested explicit photos of her.”
At the time, RZIM denied the claims, insisting that the allegations of sexual misconduct “do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades.” Still, the organization hired a law firm “with experience investigating such matters” to look into the accusations.
According to a subsequent Christianity Today article published on Feb 11, it appears the investigation revealed that Zacharias’ sexually inappropriate activities extended far beyond the three women who came forward last year. The article explained that the four-month investigation found that Zacharias “leveraged his reputation as a world-famous Christian apologist to abuse massage therapists in the United States and abroad over more than a decade while the ministry led by his family member and loyal allies failed to hold him accountable.”
RZIM released a 12-page report confirming that the apologist abused multiple women at spas he owned in the U.S. and “evidence of sexual abuse in Thailand, India, and Malaysia,” according to Christianity Today. A review of Zacharias’ old devices revealed “more than 200 massage therapists in the US and Asia and hundreds of images of young women, including some that showed the women naked.”
One of the women told investigators that “after he arranged for the ministry to provide her with financial support, he required sex from her.”
When the reports about Zacharias’ predatory conduct surfaced, it shook me to my core. To be clear, it did not affect my faith in Christ in the slightest. Indeed, one of the reasons why I don’t generally look up to Christian leaders is because I expect very little of them. When scandals involving famous preachers arise, I am rarely surprised because I view these individuals as flawed humans even though they are called to a higher standard.
But never in a million years would I have expected to be writing an article about Ravi Zacharias engaging in sexual assault.
And now, I am struggling to come to terms with how I should react. Do his misdeeds somehow abrogate the validity of Zacharias’ sermons and teaching? Of course not.
The Apostle Paul, by all accounts, was a bigoted mass murderer of Christians before he found Christ, and he wrote two thirds of the New Testament. However, it is worth noting that he repented, unlike Zacharias who was still receiving nude pictures of young women only months before his death.
But what is difficult in this regard is that I don’t think I could ever listen to his teachings ever again despite the fact that they are sound. As a father of two girls, it would be too difficult to push aside my knowledge of his actions to digest the wisdom of his words.
My rational mind says that this is a failure on my part, an inability to separate the flawed man from the gift of teaching that he clearly possessed. But then I remember what the Bible says about people in leadership: “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
I believe the Apostle James gave us that admonishment because of moments like these. It is one thing if a leader falls and has a momentary lapse in judgment. It is quite another when one leads a life of evil behavior ostensibly without repentance. When this happens, it is natural that people would find it difficult to benefit from their teachings. This is why it is important for those who God has placed in authority to be above reproach.
I have come to the conclusion that I cannot continue to listen to Zacharias’ sermons, and that is okay. This is why the Lord provides us with numerous teachers to give us biblical insights. After all, there are plenty of other brilliant apologists to learn form, aren’t there?
In the end, people like myself can take a lesson from this story. A leader’s transgressions should not be an impediment to the quest for a deeper faith and a more intimate understanding of the Gospel for those who are serious about pursuing both. An authentic relationship with Christ is not easily severed by the actions of one who purports to be a leader. Still, this situation demonstrates the need for greater accountability in our ministries.
Zacharias’ actions may have shaken the faith of many, especially the women he victimized. But if Christian organizations are diligent about enacting mechanisms designed to promote accountability among the Body of Christ, the Enemy will find it harder to subvert its good work. Additionally, when more of us follow Jesus’ advice to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:16) perhaps it can outshine the darkness that exists in culture of Christianity.