What do we do with Ravi?

Processing sin in the leaders we look up to.

by Karl Faase

[4 minute read]

The global evangelical church is grappling with this significant question, what do we now do with Ravi? The organisation he founded, RZIM, had grown to be an international ministry, with around 100 staff and pulled $35million in support last year. At the time of his death in May 2020, thousands of people across the world sent heartfelt thanks for his ministry and influence.

Rumours of his misconduct have swirled for a couple of years but since his death a number of allegations emerged from massage parlours of which he was a part owner. This led to an independent review which has released in the past week. The outcome of that report has been devastating.

While this is not the place to review all the outcomes, it is clear from the report that Zacharias sexually harassed and abused multiple women, many of which were spiritually manipulated and were powerless in the face of a global Christian identity. The report also concludes Zacharias misused money from an RZIM humanitarian fund to pay for support of women leading to further abuse and he hid his communication from the RZIM leadership, lying continually about his behaviour.

The organisational outcome is that UK RZIM has now split away from RZIM International and RZIM Canada will close down. But what about the rest of us, what do we do with Ravi?

There have been many responses written and spoken that have been helpful. It seems to me that what is most unhelpful is to suggest that all leaders are human and fallen (as we are), with an inference to reduce the culpability of Ravi. Equally unhelpful is to suggest that, due to all the good done by Ravi and RZIM, this is somehow acceptable or his legacy is redeemable.

The clear response is to be absolutely appalled by this behaviour. We should first be concerned for the women from across the world who have been used and abused by Zacharias. People have reasonably reflected on and recognised the pain that his family must be dealing with and yet, to exclusively focus there, is to reduce the impact on the many women he abused.

It seems to me that his books have limited, if any, currency, not because there isn’t good material in the pages but because the reputation of the author is now so irreparably tarnished that these books can’t be used with any credibility. While there is an argument that we can separate the behaviour of a writer from the content of a book, in this case the behaviour is so abhorrent that this disqualifies these books from having any authentic contribution to those wanting to follow the ways of Jesus.

It would be very easy as Christian leaders to look at this set of disappointing circumstances and shake our heads in remorse and indignation. However, we would be remis in our call from God if we didn’t process this also by re-evaluating ourselves and our organisations because, as people of influence, we are just as susceptible to this kind of fall as those with international notoriety that have been revealed over the past years - Ravi Zaccharias, Carl Lentz, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll and probably other leaders about whom we do not know.

So, in response to this tragic set of circumstances let’s take a minute (or a few minutes) to  re-evaluate ourselves and our organisations…

Questions we must ask are…

  • Where am I acting in a way the is at odds with what I say or write?
  • How am I treating the female employees, volunteers or associates of the ministry that I lead?
  • Am I honest in all my interactions with my ministry, with my family and with those I lead?
  • Am I acting with integrity when I use the funds given to our church or ministry for kingdom activity?
  • What are the accountability structures of our organisation?
  • Am I willing to question the actions and behaviours of the people who lead our ministry or organisation?

Reducing Ravi’s behaviour to a leadership lesson is still missing the key issue here, which is the abuse of these women. While I think that is a fair point, I do believe that failing to learn something from this tragedy would be to miss an important opportunity for growth in the global church.

You could very well conclude the last couple of years have been awful for the global Christian church. Names like Ravi Zacharias, Carl Lentz and Jean Vanier are no longer famous but infamous. I pray that each of us given the privilege of Christian leadership, whether in a small church or in a national role, will act with integrity in every part of our lives. Jesus had some harsh things to say about those who cause the people we are responsible for to stumble or fall (Matthew 18:6-9) - let’s ensure you and I do not fall into that category.