A confession: I am probably too angry to be writing about the Ravi Zacharias scandal. The report from the outside investigator, as reported by Christianity Today, regarding the abuse of multiple women by the apologist, demonstrates that the pattern here was worse than what even those expecting the very worst could have imagined. This report pictures not a mere “moral failure,” but a pattern of predation that can only be described as criminal, sociopathic, and, indeed, satanic.
My friend David French has published an extensive account over at The Dispatch, which looks at the report—and other information we had not yet seen—in extensive, and gut-wrenching, detail.
In some ways, perhaps I am especially angry about what we learn in this report because of the personal aspect. Two of those treated reprehensibly when raising what turned out to be completely accurate lines of questioning on this—Sam Allberry and Ruth Malhotra—are friends of mine, and I resent the way that they were lied to and dismissed with gaslighting. And part of it is that I, to an order-of-magnitude less seriously, was lied to myself.
In planning the MLK50 conference for April 2018, mapped out years before, we had invited Ravi Zacharias to speak on the implications of racial injustice for Christian apologetics. When the first reports of the allegations about correspondence between Zacharias and a woman in Canada surfaced, I was alarmed not just by the allegations but by Zacharias’ response to them. He told me that he was falsely accused, and that these allegations were false—in general terms.
But I said to him and to his team that I failed to see how, if that were so, he could not definitively state that he had not had any sexual conversations in this way with a woman not his wife, and that he had never, as reports suggested, pleaded with her not to tell her husband or that he would kill himself. We canceled Zacharias from speaking at the event.
He was angered by that and made that very clear. He then had mutual friends call to seek to get me to change my mind. I said no. They assured me that time would show that Ravi was innocent of these charges—and I said that certainly could be true, and that I hoped it would be, but that I would not share a stage with him with what seemed to me to be evasive responses to very serious allegations. As time went on, of course, we along with the whole world saw that the allegations were far more than just what had been reported in the media. We also learned about payments and non-disclosure agreements. Every time more came out, the worse it was. And now this report reveals even worse than what we could have imagined. This is enraging at every level. How could charges like this have happened without those responsible looking at his electronic devices (which ultimately revealed the truth)?
But what enrages me the most is what the report reveals about the way that Zacharias allegedly went about preying on his victims: by using the name of Jesus Christ to do so. One woman reports that after she experienced what she described as rape that Zacharias had her pray with him, thanking God for “the opportunity.” Such an action would be unspeakable—an act of blasphemy to empower predatory violence.
According to this report, Zacharias also justified his behavior on the basis of how special he was as a renowned apologist, and that the women would be sacrificing the gospel going out to millions if they did not allow him his way. He also reportedly compared his predation to Old Testament patriarchs with multiple wives. Anyone who has worked for anytime at all on church sexual abuse will recognize these awful tropes immediately.
It’s a bit surreal to be angry at a dead man, but many of us are—as well as at those who empowered him. We have seen so often this pattern, with lives destroyed all along the way. But it’s not enough to be angry. We should ask why this continues to happen. We should not be surprised that there would be people who would use the authority of Christ to prey on the sheep from within. Jesus and his apostles warned us about this (Jn. 10:8-13; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 2:1-22). What should shock us is that we continue to fall for it again and again.
Often sexual abuse survivors in church circles—especially behind closed doors— are vilified as “Jezebels” or “Potiphar’s wife.” Sexual abuse survivors have had their reputations destroyed by people in power speaking of the assaults against them as “sexual immorality” or “marital infidelity”—as though they are to be blamed for what happened to them. I have even heard sexual abuse survivors tell me of organizations seeking to justify their own behavior hiring private investigators to search out the victims’ sexual history, to prove that the victims were “promiscuous.” This is antichrist to the core.
Is it any wonder that evangelicalism faces a credibility crisis among our own young? To see where all this leads, simply look at Pew and other surveys about religious disaffiliation—and compare these with Stephen Bullivant’s study Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America Since Vatican II (Oxford University Press). The church is bleeding out the next generation, not because “the culture” is so opposed to the church’s fidelity to the truth, but just the reverse. The culture often does not reject us because they don’t believe the church’s doctrinal and moral teachings, but because they have evidence that the church doesn’t believe its own doctrinal and moral teachings. They suspect that Jesus is just a means to an end—to some political agenda, to a market for selling merchandise, or for the predatory appetites of some maniacal narcissist.
The witness of the church is at stake. More importantly, the lives of those made in the image of God, those for whom Jesus died, are at stake. This awful report—coming on the heels of so many other situations detailed before—should rouse the conscience to ask not just how sadists can get into places of Christian leadership, but whether we have created a situation where the very presence of a conscience is an impediment to advancement in the Machiavellian and sometimes Caligula-like world of some sectors of American Christianity.
Anger is not the ultimate answer. But it’s a start.
A version of this article originally ran as part of my weekly newsletter, Moore to the Point. You can subscribe here to receive the newsletter in your inbox each week.