I wrote in this blog honouring Ravi Zacharias for having been fundamental in shaping my theology, philosophy and apologetics. Ravi Zacharias was a revered Christian apologist and speaker. He was the founder of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), the biggest Christian apologetics ministry in the world with amazing speakers all over the world. He died in March 2020 and was honoured across the world for his evangelism and defence of the gospel.
His name trended worldwide on twitter on the day that he passed on. People all over the world paid tributes to Ravi using the #ThankYouRavi. I wasn’t left behind. The man had been instrumental in my life and I was moved to record my tribute.
In August 2020, a few months after his death, an article came out on Christianity Today (CT) reporting sexual allegations against Ravi. It featured massage therapists who worked in the spas he frequented in Atlanta, due to his well-known long-term back problem.
Following the CT article in 2020, RZIM board initially denied the allegations against its founder but then decided to hire a private investigative firm to probe the allegations. The RZIM board gave them ‘wide latitude to go wherever their investigation might lead them’. The interim report of the investigation was released in late December 2020 and it found ‘significant, credible evidence that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual misconduct over the course of many years’,
Personally, I was, and I am still heartbroken, and I know that I am not alone. It has taken me more than a month to write this article. It’s not easy for me to share this, but I need to. It took me about 2 weeks to actually go through the interim report which left no hope that the events were innocent or isolated. The final full nature of the sexual misconduct has since been released in the final report of the investigation that came out about a week ago (February 2021) and yes, it is worse than anyone could imagine.
I heard Ravi very well, in one of his Q&As on YouTube when answering a question about sexual sin, saying that he travels with a male companion for among other reasons accountability, to keep himself in check. Now we know that he must have found a way to outwit that hurdle.
And so, where does that leave me when my hero in the faith falters like that? What should I think? Where should I go from here? What should my response be when reverenced faith leaders fail?
Leaders have and will fail
The truth is that leaders have and will fall short. Ravi is not the first and will not be the last. It’s not because they are more prone to sin but simply because they are human like the rest of us. One of the things that has bothered me for a long time is the elevation of bishops, pastors, leaders of ministries to almost demi-god levels. There is normal respect for office and authority, and it should be duly given but elevation beyond humanity is amiss.
We see this a lot in Africa, a pastor becomes so big in the eyes of his/her followers that they almost worship him or her. It is not God that they see but the God that the ‘man of God’ presents. The words of the preacher become law even when they are just personal opinions.
A fact: No preacher stands on the pulpit and preaches the word of God 100%. Part of the preaching is their human learning and experience; another part is their cultural/societal influences, and another is just their worldview (which could be a blend of many things). Understanding this makes it easy for us to decipher what is from God and what is from the ‘man of God’, like the good Bereans.
If Paul failed, it would not have shaken the Berean believers, because they had their roots in the right place. Ravi’s failure should not shake my faith because it is anchored in a surer foundation.
We should always be aware of the humanness of those in spiritual authority and potential to failure. Then their failure (private or public)shall not have disastrous effects to our faith.
In Jeremiah 17:5 when the bible says that ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man…’ it includes trusting in spiritual leaders because they are also human.
When I almost met Ravi
In 2013, when finishing up my studies in Russia, I was accepted to the RZIM Summer school at Oxford. I was over the moon; it was to be a major highlight in life. In a week, I was to be taught face to face by Michael Ramsden, John Lennox among other great speakers, and on the final day Ravi Zacharias himself was to crown it all. It was also 50 years since C.S. Lewis’s death and there was a significant celebration planned for that.
The U.K. government burst my bubble when they deemed that I wasn’t good enough for their visa.
Earlier on as I was preparing my application letter, I passed it through Manyo, a Nigerian friend. He came close to rebuking me because the letter was awash with fanaticism. It sounded like I was more eager to meet Ravi than to be taught apologetics at the summer school. The letter had to be edited and I learnt my lesson.
You see, it’s very possible to have a celebrity like attraction and attachment to a preacher. You can listen to them so much that you even feel that you know them. When they err you feel the need to defend them. When people talk bad of them you are up in arms. You are ready to go to war for them.
There are people who defend Ravi vehemently, they couldn’t entertain any slander of their quintessential hero. Some of them could be depressed now that the truth is bare for all to see.
That should not be us.
God worked through him
I still respect Ravi and nothing that has happened takes away from his impact in my life. What I mean is that what God imparted through him to me is not affected. God used him to bring many to the light and that remains that. The gifts of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Of course, my personal view of him has changed and I will definitely quote him less often (lest I cause others to stumble).
What Ravi hid from almost everyone is very disappointing, but it is not unique. I have and will fail in different ways. Maybe the only reason we know about this is because of Ravi’s stature and leadership. Some of our sins might be more private and inconspicuous because of our standing in society.
This is a great reminder that Christ and only Christ remains the author and finisher of our faith and that we should never put our trust on man.
It is also a call for us to pray for church and ministry leaders for them not only for them to uphold their commitment to the faith in speech and deed but also to have a consistent testimony, in private and in the glare of cameras.
No one is infallible. We are all sinners being renewed and sanctified by our Lord.
As a student of Ravi, I am not aware of any admittance of wrongdoing or repentance from his side, but I pray that he had personal moment with God before meeting him.
I hope the forgiveness that he preached was available to him on this side of glory, and more importantly that he took it.
8 thoughts on “When Spiritual Leaders Fail”
Great read. There is more to a man than his mistakes. Take the good and learn from the bad. Life is about learning to take the bitter with the sweetness.
Wow great article and a realization that we are flowers quickly fading and we are saved through Grace and this is not our own.I too got to know Dr Ravi through an interview he had with a gospel artist ,Da truth, and some of the revelations he had I still use to this day.May God keep us all from falling.
I was one of the people who learned of Ravi towards the end. This piece is written with great humility and open-mindedness. Kudos for that. I had a chat about what we christ followers can handle the situation. With your permission, I am happy to share the link as a reply to this comment. It helped to give perspective.
You are free to share this Medrine, glad it helps.
I looked up to Ravi so much. He was the man through whom I learned about apologetics and loved it. When I heard all these allegations, I was in denial for sometime but again I thought to myself, none of us, none, is immune to falling. I have found myself falling too many times, yet the great love of God, our Father, has relentlessly kept pursuing me. Ravi was a great teacher and he served his purpose and I believe he had made peace with Christ. His story, if anything, is a stark reminder to all believers that we need to die daily, crucify our flesh and follow Christ. Not easy, but Christ is our strength that we won’t falter. Thanks for sharing.
You are welcome Mercy.
Scintillating read. Never wager your faith on a mere mortal because it will all ultimately end in disappointment due to fallibility of the flesh. This message is poignant in Kenya today as even our media outlets are awash with gut-wrenching tales of me & women who gave their whole life savings to an ostensible ‘man of the cloth’ thinking this will obfuscate their guilt for past aberrations and secure them a path to eternal glory but Lo & Alas, it will all end in premium tears.
True relationship with God brings liberty, it is not coerced but moved by faith!