In response to the Ravi Zacharias scandal, particularly as it began to unfold in the summer of 2020, what troubled me most was how evangelicals were responding. The world saw Christians on social media attacking the women who had courageously come forward despite Zacharias’ clout (and Zacharias’ staunch supporters). After Ravi Zacharias Ministries (RZIM) admitted that they were wrong, many continued to defend Zacharias, throwing RZIM itself under the bus. I understand that many Christians were grieving, and many also were in denial since many believers seemed to have benefited from the ministry of Ravi Zacharias. That being said, Jesus himself was not about building a bigger and better brand, and Jesus was definitely not a fan of self-preservation. On the contrary, Jesus most valued humans and human dignity, and especially humans at the bottom who suffered at the hands of those on top. How many Christians responded to the Zacharias scandal reveals the Pharisaical instinct alive and well within evangelicalism which defends its heroes at all costs (even in the face of strong evidence).
Another thing that baffled me was reading how many Christians were rushing to find quick fixes. Some blamed complementarian theology (those in egalitarian circles might be the first to tell you that abuse exists there as well), while others insisted that men need to be even more stringent with the Billy Graham rule which states, though shalt not be alone with a woman ever, even in an elevator or car. (For an insightful interview related to this church abuse and the Billy Graham rule, see my interview with Laura Barringer, co-author of A Church Called Tov.)
These quick-fixes are just that–a mere Band-Aid on a deep wound–which doesn’t address the bigger issue of the broken culture ingrained within much of evangelicalism. This broken culture is far too quick to defend perpetrators and slow to act toward the defense of victims and the abused. These quick fixes don’t address our love of celebrity leaders who can get themselves out of sticky situations simply because of status, or because they have a way with words. They often can sway concerned staff members without hardly trying, as well as intimidate merely by their presence.
John Stackhouse commented recently on this scandal, raising excellent points about how within evangelicalism, inflating one’s credentials has actually become the unfortunate norm. To Stackhouse, our tendency to put leaders on a pedestal is rooted in the very nature of the evangelical movement. Stackhouse says, “Evangelicalism is at its heart a populist movement. We will keep generating heroic leaders whose claim to leadership is simply…popular support.”
Another way evangelicals have been responding poorly to Ravi’s “fall” (or leap/jump) is to excuse and downplay his sins behind such statements: “the patriarchs themselves were imperfect,” or “king David also had his faults.” In response, Tremper Longman has answered some questions about comparing Ravi to David, as well as comparing Trump to David:
I was fortunate to have two conversation with Steve Baughman, a musician and lawyer who saw something fishy with Ravi a number of years ago and proceeded to investigate him. In our first conversation, Steve unpacks some red flags that he picked up on, namely Zacharias’ blatantly lying about his credentials.
To Baughman, it was frustrating that for five years, Christians didn’t want to hear (or talk about) Ravi’s credential fraud, and simply gave Ravi the benefit of the doubt when it came to the lawsuit regarding Lorri Anne Thompson. Christians seemed bent on keeping it under the rug up until spa allegations arose. According to Baughman,
“The Christian world didn’t care. Ravi was too big to fail. He was important to the brand. He was important to God’s kingdom.” Steve Baughman on trying to alert Christians to Zacharias’ duplicityTweet
“People sold their souls to keep Ravi looking clean. And that’s really the big story here.” Steve Baughman on the Ravi Zacharias scandal.Tweet
In our second conversation, Baughman notes that evangelicals knew for a long time about Zacharias’ dishonesty regarding his credential fraud and yet no one who had a platform was willing to comment. Baughman notes how Ravi “would be on his way to sainthood right now” if a victim of Zacharias had not contacted Steve. “We came scary-close to never knowing anything about Ravi’s sexual perversions” and about how he used ministry money to pay off women.
For a great interview conducted by Glen Schrivener, see below.