By Slaveck Moraru
As a new Christian during my teen years, I found so much comfort in listening to the radio program Let My People Think with Ravi Zacharias. It seemed like the perfect combination of encouragement- with just the right words and a smooth linguistic accent. It was just a matter of time until I started to imitate him and aspire to make a difference in the world, as Ravi seemed to be making.
In 2009 some friends and I planted a church. The church was quick to grow, and by the year 2012, in what seemed like a divine miracle, we were able to book a world-class speaker for one of our conferences. It happened to be Ravi. When I received the text message of the news, needless to say, I was ecstatic and enthusiastically begged our pastors to allow me to have the opportunity to meet Ravi and spend some time with him to get to know him. However, later I found out that the booking was for the year 2014 and that I would have to wait close to two years to meet Ravi in person.
Still, time flew quickly, and the moment came where Ravi made it to our church. I got the chance to be his driver for the event. I asked a lot of questions and was star-struck at his kindness, character, and intellect. In the years to follow, I have always held him in high regard, and when I found out about his cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing away, I was heartbroken.
I think most of us would agree that 2020 was an extremely difficult year that resulted in many of us losing faith in a lot of the things, systems, and people we once trusted. However, I was shocked and devastated to hear the allegations against Ravi and subsequent confirmation of a lot of them in 2021. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Ravi was credibly accused of lying, misusing funds, manipulation, sexual abuse, and even rape. The ministry that bears his name, RZIM, hired an independent firm to look into these allegations and the investigation results confirmed that most of the allegations are true.
See the full report here:
To learn that my faith hero, whom I held in high regard because of his superior intellect, was, in reality, a fraud who exaggerated his credentials. To understand that the compassionate preacher I thought I knew, was actually a manipulative sexual predator who abused women. This was a shock to me and so many ministers who entered the ministry to bring about healing and hope, not hurt and disappointment.
Over the last few months, involuntarily, I experienced all five stages of grief. I denied that Ravi would ever do what he is accused of doing. Then I was and still am angry, then I tried to negotiate, thinking maybe he has been framed. Then the weight of the sadness to know it all accurately hit me like a pile of bricks. Finally, accepting that my hero was a villain who hid behind his reputation the true nature of who he was. As a result:
We need to be honest about the things that he did.
We need to speak up and condemn what he did.
However, I deliberately chose to wait before speaking publicly about this for a couple of reasons. First, because I wanted to be able to confirm the allegations and second because I needed time to mourn the fact that the person whom I thought Ravi to be, was a lie.
Psalm 146:3 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
So what's the point in speaking about a person who passed away. Shouldn't we just let it go and leave him alone after all; he is not here to defend himself? He may not be here, but his victims are. They are forever traumatized by Ravi's actions and behavior.
Psychologist Diane Langberg, PhD says this in regards to trauma:
"Trauma is a wound to personhood, to the self—a deep wound with a profound impact. Trauma shapes us. We have been created in the image of a God who speaks, relates, and has power. Trauma silences, isolates, and renders powerless." and "A person is altered and shaped by chronic, complex trauma & oppression. The impact is mistrust, hopelessness, shame, & inferiority, with no sense of ability or choice. "
I can never accept the idea that Ravi did not know what he was doing. He deliberately manipulated, lied, and abused people around him, causing trauma to his victims, who will have to live with the memory of this their whole lives. So yes, we have to talk about what Ravi did. We have to rebuke him publicly because we endorsed him publicly. We are to love kindness, walk humbly, and also do justice. Speaking publicly about this is to seek justice for so many silenced victims.
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God...
This is also a lesson to any minister now or in the future. God cares about the means, not just the ends. Nobody should ever justify abusing others and feel entitled to do so because they are doing "God's work." One of the most disturbing parts of the report is this part right here:
"According to this witness, Mr. Zacharias used religious expressions to gain compliance, as she was raised to be a person of faith. She reported that he made her pray with him to thank God for the "opportunity" they both received. She said he called her his "reward" for living a life of service to God, and he referenced the "godly men" in the Bible with more than one wife. She said he warned her not ever to speak out against him or she would be responsible for the "millions of souls" whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged."
I have spent so many days thinking of this scandal. Just how can someone who spoke to so many people about the justice and the love of God, engage in this kind of behavior for years?
I can understand that every person has their vices and temptations, but this is not some struggle in the dark of a preacher. Rather a constant premeditated behavior where Ravi used ministry funds, influence, and levers of a powerful organization to manipulate, abuse, and destroy people's lives for his pleasure. Evidence that we are born again is that we have daily repentance. When a man keeps going years without turning around and repenting of his sin; I would have to question if that person has true saving faith.
I would venture to say that Ravi did not get there overnight. I would say he got there through a constant slow fade where he compromised little by little. Furthermore, the people around him seemingly turned a blind eye because the "man of God" cannot be questioned. In writing this, I also carry the responsibility of being a person who was impressed by appearances yet not discerning the actual condition of a man's heart. Yet I can't possibly imagine the pain and anguish of the many genuine people at RZIM and in Ravi's family who were impressed by Ravi's shown hand and were blind to the trick of his hidden one.
Let it be a lesson to us all and a warning to all ministry organizations that by treating people in service to God as celebrities, we are not doing them a favor. They may soon begin to believe that they are exceptional and then "pride goes before destruction" (Proverbs 16:18). Soon they may claim they are entitled to certain benefits, and at times those benefits are incredibly sinful and abusive.
So how do we put an end to the celebrity culture in the church? How do we have accountability for those we entrust with influence, resources, power, and finances? Well, we first need to be willing to see what's so often right in front of us—patterns of behavior that have hints of what's to come.
Costi Hinn, in a Twitter thread, details this:
"I've been on both sides of "Christian celebrity" culture, and while it's easy to finger point at prosperity preachers, conservatives have diva pastors too. It seems less about camps and more about culture. When allowed to thrive, a celebrity culture always will.
Leaders & people nurture it (celebrity culture) when we:
1. Cut others down to elevate "our guy"
2. Let leaders act like kings and treat people like peasants
3. Channel resources, people, praise, and special treatment to one leader above the rest
4. Surround a leader with "yes" men
5. Treat the gifts in the body as secondary to senior leaders
6. Covertly punish people for asking accountability questions
7. Reduce financial reporting
8. Let people fuel our own ego with false flattery while remaining silent
9. Use others in ministry, then take the credit
10. Use money to manipulate people
11. Declare our church the "best church"
12. Declare our leader the "best leader"
13. Treat staff like second-class citizens
14. Silence critics with threats
15. Believe we are irreplaceable
16. Undercut anyone we view as a "competitor."
The church needs to be a place of integrity and honesty. The church needs to be a place where broken people find healing and restoration.
When we turn a blind eye to abuse in the church, we enable abusers to continue the abuse. We are abdicating our responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable. To ignore and not take responsibility is a great evil. We are to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before our God.
Pray for all the victims affected by this tragedy.