When Ravi Zacharias died in May, there was an outpouring of grief in the Christian community, including in our church, with many sharing how much his ministry had helped and influenced their faith. This news, then, may be devastating for many: the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) board says initial investigations show that allegations of sexual misconduct against their founder are true.
The investigators say they have found "significant, credible evidence that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual misconduct over the course of many years", adding that some of the conduct uncovered goes beyond what has been reported in the news, and that the investigation is ongoing. I would add that, to me, the actions described sound like criminal sexual abuse, not just misconduct.
I've been reading through some of the reporting and the responses on social media this morning, and it's sad and sobering. I just wanted to sort through my feelings, put down some of my initial thoughts and I want to emphasise this is only my personal and immediate response.
To start with, I do think it's important to acknowledge this news, not sweep it under the carpet. On Twitter, I see a lot of people saying the man is dead, so why are we raking up all this now. To me, the first reason it needs to be talked about is because the people he hurt -- directly and indirectly -- through his actions are very much alive.
There are the women whom he abused over many years. I don't have the words right now to adequately think through their traumatic experience, though some of them have talked about it. I pray that they have people round them to cry with them, and love them, and that the Lord himself gives them his inexpressible comfort and peace in ways the world may not even understand. I am so grateful for the courage they were given to speak up, some in the face of widespread scorn from many Christians.
Thinking about this also spurs me to pray for others who have and are experiencing abuse, that God will deliver them, and cocoon them with his love, and will bring their oppressors to justice. I pray that the church will be a safe space for those who face abuse, and that the people of God will share his heart for justice.
While it does not compare to the hurt faced by these women, I do think many others also feel heartbroken and betrayed -- especially the Zacharias family and friends, and those blessed by RZIM's ministry. I have dear friends and family who have worked for RZIM. Some friends first believed in Jesus after listening to Zacharias. He is a spiritual hero to many. I'm reminded of how I felt a few months ago when reporting on allegations against Scripture Union staff -- when Christian leaders fall, it feels personal in a way that headlines about politicians or movie stars don't. Again, I pray for all who have been hurt, and feel betrayed. I lament and pray for those who may be disillusioned enough to turn away from Jesus because of this.
My instinctive reaction is shock -- how could someone who preached God's word so well behave in such a way? It's the hypocrisy, the cover-up, the hidden sins that appal us. To me, this has been a good reminder that exposure to light disinfects. It has helped me to reflect on Ephesians 5:1-17; and as a Christian journalist seeking to expose injustice, verse 11 has become something of a motto: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them."
I also take a moment to separate the true message from the tarnished messenger, and remind myself that the gospel which Ravi Zacharias preached is not made any less true by his failure to live up to it. God is still good, just, holy, pure. His grace and mercy remain unchanged. The anchor of my hope is Jesus, the only infallible One. The words of the old hymn are true:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Saviour's love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
A less known stanza of the same hymn seems especially pertinent:
Not earth, nor hell, my soul can move;
I rest upon unchanging Love.
I trust His righteous character,
His counsel, promise, and His pow’r.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
This is not at all what I want to be thinking about on Christmas Eve. I've been writing this with carols playing in the background, in between sharing a festive meal with family. My toddler nephew keeps running up to me for hugs and cuddles, and the contrast between his innocent smile and the sordid nature of the words on my laptop screen feels discordant.
But Christmas has always been about light in the midst of darkness. This is the good news, as the angel told Joseph: "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)
It is because I am sinful that I have need of a Saviour. My sin, and the sins of others, is the very reason Jesus had to come be born as the babe of Bethlehem. Recognising the darkness of sin -- in my own heart, and in the world around me -- helps me to celebrate the coming of the Light which overcomes it.
As a wider Christian community in India, which often feted Ravi Zacharias as one of our own, a reckoning is due. Apart from this particular instance of one leader's sin, we need to take a hard look at the culture and systems of our churches and para-church organisations. Are we a safe space for victims of abuse, offering Jesus' love and comfort to them, or do we gaslight and blame them? Do we encourage accountability, are we willing to bring offenders to justice? Or do we prefer to hide, defend or enable sinners, dismissing them as the occasional bad apple, letting them move to another organisation without facing the consequences for their crimes? Or maybe it's just more comfortable to close our eyes to what happens and live in convenient ignorance.
Let's remember the words of Isaiah so often read at Christmas:
"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given...He will reign on David’s throneand over his kingdom,establishing and upholding itwith justice and righteousnessfrom that time on and forever.The zeal of the Lord Almightywill accomplish this."