The Great Betrayal: An Open Letter To Christian Friends On Ravi Zacharias

For over 30 years Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) has met millions of questioners with thoughtful answers concerning faith and God. Sadly, the same cannot be said of recent answers to mounting questions concerning the sexual misconduct of RZIM’s namesake, the late Ravi Zacharias. Leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of truth has immense ramifications.

Ravi had a significant impact on my life. I spent over a decade absorbing his written and recorded materials.

After a four-month independent investigation, RZIM has publicly released a 12-page report[1] documenting sordid details of sexual and spiritual abuse damning to both Ravi and the integrity of the organisation founded on his name.

The irony stinks, and the stink stings. ‘Integrity’? It was the one thing businessman D.D. Davis had asked of Ravi before financially backing him into the ministry.[2]

Ravi had a significant impact on my life, as he did countless others around the world. I spent over a decade absorbing his written and recorded materials. I had the opportunity of meeting him, eating with him, and talking with him on a handful of different occasions over the years. Despite our 40+ year age gap, Ravi and I were both educated under the same professor, the late Norman L. Geisler. More recently I was privileged to have studied at the OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, which is run by the Zacharias Trust (an independent board of RZIM based in the UK). I even had the opportunity to write a chapter in a book which has the name ‘Ravi Zacharias’ printed across the front cover (he wrote the forward).

Despite these encounters, I cannot say I ever really knew Ravi (though I suppose those who did, are now wondering the same thing). Nevertheless, I found myself struck, time and again, by Ravi’s kind and gentle demeanour. I looked up to him. I wanted to be like him. He seemed like the ‘real deal’ both on stage and off. He seemed so… genuine.

The ‘greatest apologist’ has been heralded ‘the greatest fraud’ in a catastrophic betrayal.

Genuine?! Less than a year ago Ravi was eulogised as ‘the greatest Christian apologist of this century’[3] by the Vice President of the United States. Today, the ‘greatest apologist’ has been heralded ‘the greatest fraud’ in a catastrophic betrayal.[4] Today, some nine months after his death, it is tragically clear that ‘genuine’ is simply not the right adjective to reference Ravi’s character.

Moral failures within the church are to be expected. After all, Christians are united by the belief that all human beings fall short of the glory of God. With these things in mind, I had imagined the worst and braced myself for what I would read as I opened the final report by Miller & Martin PLLC. I was devastated. Ravi’s sins were far worse than ‘the worst’ I had anticipated. It was like hearing of his death a second time. First his body, now the memory of the man I—we all—thought we knew. I cannot fathom what his wife, children and grandchildren must be going through. Pray for them as you pray for the many, many victims who have suffered at his hand.

And pray for the Church.

Empty Platitudes

Friends, I am weary from reading and listening to Christians responding to this report with non-Scriptural ‘Christianese’ and empty platitudes like ‘sin is sin,’ ‘Christians shouldn’t judge,’ ‘look how Jesus dealt with the woman at the well,’ and ‘no one is perfect, just look at King David!’

First—‘sin is sin.’ This is a nonsense tautology empty of meaning. And as it concerns the consequences of sin, it is simply false. God help anyone who thinks the sin of stealing a packet of gum is the same as the sin of rape.

We cannot condemn without judging, but we can judge without condemning. We must.

Second—‘Christians shouldn’t judge.’ Not only is this self-defeating in its pronouncement, which is itself a judgment, it is not a biblical teaching. The Bible calls Christians to ‘seek justice,’ ‘bring justice,’ and ‘do justice’ (Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:8). How do you do that without judging rightly? We cannot condemn without judging, but we can judge without condemning. We must. Judgment and discipline for the sake of holiness and Godly gain is loving (cf. Hebrews 12:4-11).

Third—‘look how Jesus dealt with the woman at the well.’ A more appropriate case for reflection would be to look at how Jesus dealt with the Pharisees, because they, like Ravi, were the leaders of God’s people at the time. The woman at the well was not. Jesus directed some of his harshest words towards the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and that’s the issue here as it concerns Ravi. A basic expectation of New Testament believers is obedience born out of a desire to honour our Saviour King for who he is and what he has done.

Leaders in particular are called to live above reproach.

Leaders in particular are called to live above reproach, meaning the stakes are higher and full and public exposition and repentance is necessary when failures are realised. Church leaders must be held to account for what has been entrusted to them (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-16; Titus 1:5-9; James 3:1f, etc.). Nothing about our doctrine of grace is soft on sin.

Fourth—‘no one is perfect, just look at King David.’ Yes, there are points of similarity between the sins of David and the sins of Ravi, but they are outweighed by some significant differences. For one, David’s crime was local, opportunistic, and compounded; Ravi’s was global, calculated, guarded, organised, predatory, and enduringly cruel. ‘Blasphemy’—the carrying of God’s name for ungodly ends—is the summary word that came to mind when I finished reading the report. And for another, when Nathan confronted David and charged ‘Thou art the man!’ David crumbled in brokenness and repented before the Lord. Why? Because he ‘knew his transgressions and his sin was always before him’ (Psalm 51:3). Ravi was confronted multiple times and we have no evidence that he ever repented and multiple instances where he doubled down and went on the offensive. The RICO lawsuit against Lori Anne Thompson is a case in point. Just three weeks after filing, Ravi received explicit photos, and just one day after his public statement on the settlement,[5] he received more photos. Add to all of this the fact that Ravi himself preached on the moral failures of David,[6] and we have to ask the question: what degree of cognitive dissonance are we talking about here?

The Curse of Celebrity

I wish I never found myself in a position like this, writing about The Great Betrayal of one of my ‘heroes.’ But therein lies part of the problem. One of the reasons Ravi’s fall has hit us so hard is because he was placed so high.[7] The higher the perch, the greater the impact of the fall. We have a tendency in the Church to look up to the Ravi’s and the David’s, relatable ‘mortal greats,’ and in the process we celebratise them. Friends, the notion of a ‘Christian celebrity’ is an oxymoron. Our culture cries for equality and at the foot of the cross we have it in our common need for Jesus. Do not look to David—look to Christ!

What I am about to say, I do not say lightly or tritely. For over a decade I have recommended Ravi’s teachings, books and videos to family, friend’s seekers and skeptics, but I cannot and I will not do so any longer. The truth and wisdom contained in Ravi’s books are still there, but in the light of recent revelations, something new has become ‘attached’ to Ravi’s works that was not there before; something very dark that clouds over everything with his name on it. For many around the world waking up to this news, the name ‘Ravi Zacharias’ has become another reason to not believe in Jesus Christ. The move from ‘the greatest apologist’ to ‘the greatest fraud’ is now a driving force against our evangelistic efforts.[8]

Please understand that I am writing with such conviction, not because Ravi was a sinner—and certainly not because I suppose myself immune to sins of the flesh. I am writing in the manner I am because of the scale, scope, breadth, depth, persistence, and complexity of Ravi’s sin. I do not think it’s an exaggeration to say that Ravi’s fall is perhaps unprecedented in evangelical history.

Time to Think Again

The ministry will go on, it must go on. A lesson from the life of Ravi is not ‘if’ churches and colleges should be raising up and sending out evangelists and apologists, but ‘how’ they go about the task. Questions of methodology, itinerancy, travel, time away from family and the home base of a local church are just a sampling of what the Church must reconsider in the light of recent events.

If the Church of tomorrow is going to be an effective witness in this world it must be a place of practical grace. No one is beyond sin and therefore no one is beyond accountability. Church leaders must be willing to be vulnerable about their struggles and open to speaking from personal experience within their local contexts about the victories of Christ in their lives that they, and we, might all say with Paul, ‘by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.’ (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Some of the most gifted Christian thinkers and communicators I know of are a part of the (former) Zacharias Trust, and they should not be held to account for the sins of Ravi.

Finally, I feel it’s important to say that RZIM is much more than the man behind its name. This has been demonstrated over the past several months by brave employees and affiliates who made their concerns known either directly or indirectly to the organisation and broader general public. The unanimous decision of the Zacharias Trust (the former UK board of RZIM)[9] to sever ties completely with the US board of RZIM following in light of the final report, is another example of this. It brings me joy that they are looking for ways to continue their work. Some of the most gifted Christian thinkers and communicators I know of are a part of the (former) Zacharias Trust, and they should not be held to account for the sins of Ravi.

The good news of the Gospel we preach is that we are not bound by the names we give ourselves. We are given a new name, a new identity, ‘in Christ’ (Ephesians 2:1f). ‘Being in Christ’ means that a victim of abuse need not be defined by the pain and horror of their experiences, and reciprocally, the one who has committed the abuse need not be defined by their sins. However great the grievance, however great the fall, the reach of God’s grace in Jesus is greater still. Look to Him, love Him, and make Him known in the manner He has made Himself known to you—in truth and love.

‘Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.’ (Philippians 1:15-18).

[1] Miller & Martin PLLC, “Report of Independent Investigation into Sexual Misconduct of Ravi Zacharias,” https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/rzimmedia.rzim.org/assets/downloads/Report-of-Investigation.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3q-YFrCt9zzdhBGHPtamQzHTDMPO6a4JOncDMKzNW9T_WZFx6EXJ_QNxc

[2] Ravi Zacharias, Walking From East To West, 217.

[3] RZIM, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBZxZG9nkC0

[4] Carson Weitnauer, “A Catastrophic Betrayal,” https://reasonsforgod.org/a-catastrophic-betrayal/

[5] Ravi Zacharias, “Statement on my Federal Lawsuit,” https://www.rzim.org/read/rzim-global/ravizacharias-statement-on-my-federal-lawsuit

[6] Ravi Zacharias, “Divided Heart, Divided Mind,” https://soundcloud.com/rzim/divided-heart-divided-home-ep1

[7] As Ravi’s own daughter, and CEO of RZIM, candidly admitted: “we forgot he was just a man, because he seemed like such an exceptional one.” Sarah Davis, in Christianity Today, “Inside RZIM, Staff Push Leaders to Take Responsibility for Scandal,” https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/january/rzim-ravi-zacharias-turmoil-spa-allegations-investigation.html

[8] I applaud the initiatives of HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Thomas Nelson and Zondervann), as well as Koorong bookstore, in their decisions to no longer provide a platform for distributing Ravi’s work.

[9] https://www.zachariastrust.org/news