By Elizabeth Prata**
In 2016 I wrote an essay looking into Ravi Zacharias and his ministry for discernment purposes. I titled it, “On Discerning Ravi Zacharias: It’s time to say what needs to be said“. I phrased it that way because even though the Bible calls us all to be Bereans (Acts 17:11) and search for truth and confirmation, and that doing so is ‘noble’, looking into the doctrine or integrity of a popular and globally known Bible teacher/apologist/evangelist is often called divisive. As if the more famous people like Billy Graham or Beth Moore or Ravi get a pass.
If enough bubbles percolate up and if a discernment person presents some evidence of doctrinal or behavioral issue at variance with the standards the Bible sets, it’s incumbent upon people to whom the gift of discernment has been given to do their diligence.
I’ve done so in non-famous ministries, and one or two extremely local. I’ve done so with celebrity ministries too such as Graham, Moore, Jentezen, IF:Gathering, not because they’re famous, but because their fame was drawing local women, my friends!, into their sphere- to their spiritual detriment.
So 4 years ago I’d accumulated enough disquiet about Ravi for me to go ahead and look into whether my disquiet was legitimate or not. Hence my initial essay. My conclusions were negative, that’s why the title ‘It’s time to say what needs to be said’ indicates my sad reluctance. When a teacher isn’t solid, it needs to be said, no matter who they are.
I wrote a follow-up six months later, focusing on Mr Zacharias’ remarks in advance of preaching at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and Ravi’s lauding of Warren. In 2019 I posted an essay containing clip from Too Wretched for Radio with a discussion between Phil Johnson of Grace To You and Todd Friel of Wretched about Ravi, here.
Part of discernment ministry is chronicling a teacher’s growing pile of sins or consistently reminding ladies of their questionable doctrine. Readers clue in at different stages, depending on their no-go points and spiritual maturity.
Along the way, I occasionally received emails from concerned and sometimes anonymous citizens charging Mr Zacharias with sexual misconduct. I ignored those. Not due to a lack of concern, but because I could not confirm or debunk the charges, especially if they are made anonymously. I was not about to spread rumors or disseminate what could be slander. I do not look into things based on anonymous allegations. Whisper campaigns are deadly to reputations. So, while comparing a public Bible teacher’s life and behavior to the Bible is legitimate and warranted, (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:2-9; 1 Timothy 3), publishing unfounded accusations or even publicly looking into them is not.
As the tip of the iceberg regarding these allegations floated higher and higher out of the water, the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) employed an independent investigative team to search for the truth. I give RZIM great credit in doing this, especially since Mr Zacharias had recently died and it certainly would have been easier to sweep the issue under the rug, rationalizing that the man was dead and could not defend himself. But they didn’t.
The investigation has been half completed, but the results were so distressing to RZIM, that they made a statement this week regarding the ghastly interim results. I give them even greater credit for this, which had to have been heartbreaking for the RZIM workers, peers, and friends of the now-departed Mr Zacharias. Facing the truth is hard when it concerns dreadful sin, but love of Jesus and His spotless name must come first. RZIM is credited for adhering to that. Their statement is here. The Ministry said in the introduction to the interim report in part,
“This misconduct is deeply troubling and wholly inconsistent with the man Ravi Zacharias presented both publicly and privately to so many over more than four decades of public ministry. We are heartbroken at learning this but feel it necessary to be transparent and to inform our staff, donors, and supporters at this time, even while the investigation continues. We will speak more comprehensively to all concerned after the completion of the investigation.”
In a separate essay tomorrow looking at discernment as a process, I’ll come back to RZIM’s statement about the gap between public persona and private sinner. The Ministry linked to a statement from the Investigative Company Miller & Martin PLLC, here, which says in part-
“Some of that misconduct is consistent with and corroborative of that which is reported in the news recently, and some of the conduct we have uncovered is more serious.” [underline mine]
I am troubled in the extreme to learn that the allegations of sexual misconduct are not only founded, but that worse has been uncovered. There is not a lot that is worse than adultery and employer sexual misconduct.
I know how upsetting it is to learn that a beloved public teacher, a friend, an elder has fallen below reproach. We’ve had a lot of that in recent times. I don’t have enough fingers on both hands to count the number. We seem to frequently discover that a famous (or not so famous person) alleging to love Jesus has been presenting a false persona at odds with his private conduct. Some are easy to spot early on, (Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian,) others take longer to be unmasked and had fooled many in the meantime (Francis Chan, Kevin Hite). Either way, it’s a heartbreak.
Discernment people for the most part don’t relish this side of our ministry. We love to employ the gift in ways that lift up, affirm, and encourage. Though Paul was speaking to Timothy as a pastor in this verse, what Paul told Timothy to do can easily be applied to Bible teachers, discernment people, and really, any one of us.
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, (aka encourage) with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2).
It gives no pleasure to report that the name of Jesus has been muddied again, that a ministry that is supposed to help others has become an object of disappointment, scorn, or public condemnation. Of course we’d rather only encourage, and we do at all times possible. But reproving (aka expose) IS part of the process of purification. Holiness is the goal, and allowing impurity by remaining silent is a line that should not be crossed. (1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 11:32). Sometimes the Lord disciplines (2 Timothy 4:14), sometimes the Spirit prompts brethren to do it (1 Corinthians 5:12). Either way, sin must be outed. Otherwise it spreads like gangrene.
All this discernment work is so that the Lord will vindicate His good NAME. It is not so that individuals can boast of their own gold standard. It is not so that individuals can pack slander onto others with little or no basis – but with much vigor and glee. It is solely so that we can employ the good gift the Sprit has given, and in concert with others who are employing their various gifts, persevere in working out our salvation with fear and trembling for the sake of the kingdom.
My heart goes out to people who are devastated by this news of Ravi Zacharias. My heart also goes out to his ministry partners, and especially to his victims. All this should induce in us a vigor to check that these things are so, from your own pastor, to me & other bloggers, to more well known people. Sin is always crouching at the door, but constant vigor means we don’t have to let it in. It should also make us long for the Day when only purity will be the status, in us, in the world. What a day that will be!
*UPDATE: A RZIM employee who had heard of the initial allegation and had refused to believe it, now openly apologizes and repents for his part in unknowingly covering it up:
My Apology to Brad and Lori Ann Thompson, by Carson Weitnauer
Alisa Childers: What do You Do When Your Lifeboat Springs a Leak? (When you’ve relied on a leader for crucial help or answers, but then he falls). 8-min video