You may or may not know who Ravi Zacharias was.
Ravi was a prominent Christian apologist for over 40 years. He founded RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministry) and authored more than 30 books.
As his death seemed imminent last year, I posted the following words on Instagram:
“[Ravi Zacharias] has changed my life more than once.”
I went on to credit Ravi with planting the seeds of my own life’s work when I first encountered him at a conference back in 1993 (see full post here).
He died from cancer 8 days after I posted that.
It’s safe to say that thousands upon thousands of people are following Jesus today as a direct result of Ravi’s words and work.
What has also become clear is that Ravi sexually victimized several women.
I hate writing that.
I hate discovering what this powerful man did to precious people.
I hate any association this has created between Jesus and sexual abuse. It’s reprehensible.
Understandably, this has enraged so many. It’s created confusion, discouragement, and doubts for people who esteemed him. Sadly, for others who were skeptical of faith, it serves as confirmation that Christianity does more harm than good.
Is Ravi the first leader I’ve admired who traumatized people? Not at all.
Will he be last? Regrettably, no.
So, why write this now?
There are several reasons I’m prompted to do so. Among them…
I publicly endorsed him, and I feel integrity demands I am consistent in-kind.
Ravi’s reach was broader than some others and this may help many in my radius process through it.
I see a chance for all of us to revisit the nearly God-sized reliance we’ve given to “impressive” humans.
I am a leader. I don’t say that, nor do I take that, lightly.
But, as a leader, I must urge us all to remember that no leader should be immune from the scrutiny of character. It shouldn’t matter if we believe what they believe or not, voted for them or not, applauded them or not. It shouldn’t matter how successful or publicly adored a leader is.
We must continue to care about the character of our leaders.
Too much hangs in the balance.
People don’t trust perfect (because it must be hiding something). People trust real.
I've gleaned so much direction for life from the Bible and healthy evaluation and inquiry are encouraged throughout the Jewish Scriptures, the biographies of Jesus and the correspondence of the first churches.
As successful as King David was—and as much as his life and writings have contributed to people’s faith—God compelled Nathan to confront David about his adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12).
As brave as Peter was—and as much as his leadership formed the earliest expressions of church after Jesus resurrected—Paul had to confront Peter about his hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-21).
Paul wasn’t immune! It seems he didn’t want to be. He publicly applauded a group of Christians in Berea for double-checking his messages with Scripture (Acts 17:11).
I believe everyone with influence would do well to heed the teachings of Scripture, but these principles are essential for people who lead in the name of Jesus.
Leaders should have public and private character that others aim to have (1 Timothy 3:2)
Leaders should be very careful about what they say and claim (Proverbs 21:23)
Leaders should model confident humility (Numbers 12:3)
Leaders will have more to answer for in eternity (James 3:1)
So, while I think it’s become de rigueur for people to distrust all leaders all the time (not helpful or accurate), I want us to embrace the fact that some of the leaders we would hope live above reproach have not.
As a Christian leader, I need to address the platform I'm privileged to share. There are several very powerful reasons we must hold Christian leaders (among others) to high standards and hold them accountable when they don’t.
We must constantly display that our deepest allegiance isn’t to a pastor, speaker, author, or influencer. That burden is one only Jesus can carry.
We must make sure victims know the best place they can be real and find healing is in a church (sadly, this is not always true and certainly not widely assumed)
When we confront a lack of character in our leaders, our credibility does the opposite of what we fear—it increases. People don’t trust perfect (because it must be hiding something). People trust real.
I am saddened that a man I admired was broken and caused so much harm.
I’m thankful that nothing has stopped God’s love and his power to restore.