The final report released by the independent investigators concerning the accusations of sexual misconduct levelled against late Ravi Zacharias just came out on the 11th of February 2021 and the revelations are very disturbing and disappointing. Personally, I was heart-broken. When the news first came out in 2017 about how Ravi Zacharias groomed a woman named Lori Anna Thompson online, almost nobody believed the woman. The lame explanation given by Ravi Zacharias was swallowed hook line and sinker by the senior leadership of RZIM and by most of us who followed the ministry. I remember in April 2020 when Christianity Today wrote a tribute after his death and elaborated the accusation, I was among those that were not happy with the author and questioned the motive behind elaborating on an accusation which Ravi had denied and the couple have settled with him out of court. But with everything that has come out from this report, I was dead wrong. I really apologize for making negative comments concerning the writer’s efforts to dig out the truth. I now understand that keeping records, truthful records, is one of the duties of a faithful scribe.
In September 2020, Christianity Today ran a follow up story on the confessions of three women who worked as Massage Therapists or otherwise at a Spa co-owned by Ravi Zacharias. With the testimonies of these women, I began to sense that something was seriously flawed in the narrative given to us by Ravi and the Ministry Leadership. I eagerly awaited the result of the investigations. However, all my hopes were shattered when the interim report came out in December 2020 and suggested that valid evidence was found confirming some of the accusations. The final report details the testimonies of the victims, the methods used by Ravi to gain the trust of his victims and eventually abuse them, and the enabling toxic environment within the RZIM ministry which ensured that Ravi was not confronted with his sins, and dissenting voices who were asking difficult questions were labelled and marginalized. He was found to be guilty of “Sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse and rape”. The RZIM Board has released an open apology to all the affected victims and repented of their ineptitude in the whole affairs and is taking several steps to right all the identified wrongs. Also, they are praying to know which direction the ministry will take going forward which may include changing the name of the ministry.
Now one may ask, why all the attention being paid to spilt milk? Why not let the sleeping dog lie, especially since the accused is dead and is not here to defend himself? The truth is that God does not work that way as long as it has to do with His work. While I was meditating on the whole thing, God, I believe, began to expound in my mind the importance of being faithful in keeping records, the work of faithful scribes. It re-dawned on me that many of the biblical writers were faithful scribes. If they picked and selected the stories they wrote about, we would not have the Bible the way it is today. I learnt once again that records matter even for the next generation. It is not about Ravi or any of the journalists who are doing their jobs. It is about keeping truthful records. Christianity Today has a statement on this. Ravi had the opportunity to respond when Lori Anne Thomas accused him, and he denied all wrong doing, sued the woman and the husband, accusing them of racketeering and extortion. He played the victim while the woman was painted as the person with a criminal intent. You can only be moved to tears when you listen to the woman’s testimony. She lost almost everything because of the power and influence Ravi wielded while alive. How else can these women be healed if not when the truth comes out? Again, how else can the living learn if not when the truth of the whole matter comes out?
There are also Christians who are hurting secretly because of this scandal and the only way they can move forward is when all the perspectives are made clear, especially by Christians who will give the whole discourse a biblical approach. As I wrote in my tribute when he died in April 2020, I came in contact with Ravi’s messages at a point in my life when I had crises of belief, even as a Christian leader. Apologetics is not common in my part of the world. Biblical truths are declared but not explained, hence those in troubles, especially lingering ones, never have the opportunity of having explanations. It’s rare to see any church in Nigeria having Q&A sessions to answer questions. When I listened to Ravi, God used his teachings to resolve my confusions. I enrolled and did the Core Module Course and have also downloaded and bought many of his books. I have quoted his works in most of my researches and presentations and introduced many people close to me to his works. One pastor friend, who got to know Ravi's works through me, called some days ago asking to know the truth about what he was reading on the internet about Ravi. I think I will be doing a disservice to them if I keep quiet as if nothing happened. I am disappointed but not devastated because it’s been long God taught me not to put my trust in any man, no matter how greatly the person has been used of God. God has taught me that all the earthly power that we wield, whether spiritual or political or otherwise, is transient and may not count to our advantage when we stand before Him. The treasure is in breakable, weak, earthen vessels of clay. (2 Cor.4:7). All of us are vulnerable and can fall, even to our own surprises. Our regalia and powerful positions do not insulate us from temptations, but can only ensnare us. What can we learn from this scandal both as individuals and as Churches and ministries? I want to lend my voice to many others who have kick-started the discussion. That is my focus in this write up.
As an individual,
- I have been having serious personal introspection. It has come clear once again to me that I have to watch my conscience to ensure I maintain a clear conscience. 1 Tim.1:19-20. As noted by Michael Brown, any one of us can lead a double life.
- I have to live transparently as much as I can because whatever I cover now cannot be covered forever. Luke 12:2-3. If you control the narrative when you are alive, what happens when you die?
- Living in secret sin and laboring in the ministry is like building on sand. It is obvious that Ravi Zacharias built a magnificent great edifice on quick sand. Everything is crumbling and collapsing. Many of the partners all over the world are severing themselves from RZIM. Some publishers have pulled his books from their shelves. There is suggestion that RZIM may consider changing the name of the ministry entirely and downsizing the workforce to barest minimum. Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), the Denomination that ordained him has revoked his ordination. The church is suffering, the family is suffering and everyone of us is suffering and we all need prayers.
- I have to open myself up to accountability, especially to my wife who is my closest friend and partner even when it is difficult and painful.
- I don’t have to be afraid when I try to respectfully hold a loved one accountable, especially those in positions, yet watching my own heart. If I suffer as a result, that is ok.
- Don’t easily dismiss the complain of the weak against someone in a position of power.
As a church,
- For the good health of the church and the ministers, boards and councils that have oversight functions should as much as possible be composed, not by family members and friends who are emotionally attached to the minister but members whose qualifications should be their Christian maturity. You are already in a big snare if you are surrounded by men and women who cannot look you in the face and ask you difficult questions at anytime and insist that you give adequate answers.
- No assumptions, every suspicious behavior, must be queried and cleared. Why should you set up an office internet network but your own computers and devices are using a different plan? Though we have to be careful not to create an atmosphere of suspicion, the truth is that we have to be our brother's keeper.
- The Board must be active and be holding review meetings. Most Ministry Boards do not have annual meetings until there are problems. The best many do is ritualistic just to praise the man of God for the great work he is doing, without asking personal questions. Many of these great men of God are lonely and are looking for trusted relationships they can open up to. If I am not allowed to ask questions, for example, after a financial accounts presentation, then I will better resign, because the reason for my being on the board is already defeated.
- We must desist from the cult of human worship. No other man deserves our worship. Once a man is deified, he is exalted and separated to a place that is above criticism. When we do this, we ensnare both the minister and the followers, everybody is endangered; unfortunately, we do it a lot.
- Quickly repent of any sin once it is noticed. Sin, especially sexual sins thrive in the secret. If it is not exposed and confessed, you will likely do it again and again. The worst in this category are the sexual sins that do not involve the second person, I mean masturbation, pornography, and all private sexual pervasions. The reasons they are dangerous is that men around you may never notice it as you can still put-up a spiritual outlook and live in this pretense for years. They lead to the public sexual scandals and are very difficult to stop. The lid has to be opened for the pressure to be killed.
- As a minister, create time for accountability discussions with leaders who are spiritually sound. Churches, ministries, para-church groups have to insist on this and include it as part of the schedule of every leader, maybe annually or otherwise. Leaders need encouragement. They need shoulders to cry on and need others to listen as they share their personal struggles too.
Finally, God is bigger than all of us. He is bigger than our failures and weaknesses. He is not afraid of the failings of humans and those failings do not threaten Him or His work. We finish, we expire, no matter what He has used us to do, but His work continues. In a meeting a few days ago, a minister shared with us how God encouraged him to move on and run his own race and finish well when some years back he was grieving for another close pastor who had a similar sexual scandal. God told him that He has experienced human disappointments right from Adam and it grieves. But He emphasized on him minding his own race and ensuring that he finishes strong.
So beloved, run your own race, finish well. The Lord Jesus said, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Matt.16:18.