What I have learned from Ravi Zacharias and RZIM, Part 1

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted… are we?

Two facts are now a matter of widespread, public knowledge:

First, that Ravi Zacharias was a charming, manipulative, and hardened sexual predator. He wore the clothing of a sheep but was in truth a ravenous wolf. 

Second, that Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) failed to provide accountability to Ravi Zacharias. Instead, the ministry offered him resources, reputation, credibility, alibis, and access to vulnerable women.

Imagine if he had been successfully caught and disqualified from ministry many years or even decades ago…

As I have prayerfully reflected on this catastrophe and scandal, I feel that I have learned a few lessons that I would like to share with you in the coming days. 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

Psalm 34:18 reads, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

The women who survived Ravi’s abuse are numbered by the dozens if not the hundreds. 

As Ravi constantly travelled, further investigation needs to be done into his predatory practices in the US, Canada, Thailand, and many other countries. 

Shirley Steward and Lori Anne Thompson have bravely provided to us the undeserved gift of their stories in great detail. In reading them, it is clear they have paid a staggeringly high price. 

I continue to feel heavy-hearted by the assaults documented in the Miller & Martin report. One woman I particularly pray for is the one who was not only raped by Ravi, but the manner in which he also forced her to pray with him and used spiritual language to intimidate her into silence. 

These women surely count among the brokenhearted.

And God has authoritatively revealed to us that he is close to the brokenhearted. 

We see this truth most vividly portrayed in Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion.

As Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah in chapter 53:

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

…are we?

The Gospel

Because the Lord is close to the broken-hearted, I believe that we are to seek the same proximity to those who are suffering.

For instance, in 1 John 3:16-18 we are instructed:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

If you are considering the need of these women, yet you close your heart to their pain, the Bible has a question: Does God’s love abide in you?

A desire to be close to the broken-hearted, and to serve them, is the natural impulse of anyone who knows that Jesus has laid down his life for us. 

In this tragedy, how is the gospel at work in your heart?

To Heal the Damage

Because Ravi pretended to be a Christian authority, his sexual abuse was also simultaneously spiritual abuse. 

Accordingly, my experience is that many survivors of clergy spiritual abuse are looking to see if other Christian authorities understand this suffering and care about their pain. They are carrying both the long-lasting harm of their sexual abuse and how this trauma has damaged their ability to trust or love God. 

A number of survivors have emailed me to say that no one believed them when they came forward. Actually, they were bullied into silence and felt their only choice was to leave the organization where they were abused. Can you imagine the pain? They experienced two betrayals: the abuser’s betrayal and the betrayal from everyone who protected and defended their abuser.

Whether you like it or not, if Ravi endorsed your books, or you endorsed his books, or you ministered with Ravi, or quoted him favorably, or distributed his books, or posted pictures of yourself with Ravi, or you worked at RZIM, and so on, I think many survivors of sexual abuse are watching to see what you do now. 

According to RAINN,

  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

These women and men — and their families and friends — matter to God.

In Luke 6:45, Jesus said, “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

In your heart, is there an abundance of care for the survivors of sexual abuse? 

Are you following this story because of your affinity for Ravi and RZIM?

Has the suffering of these women moved your heart? If there is, why not let these women — and other survivors — hear how much they mean to you? Is there any downside to doing so? 

If you want survivors of sexual abuse to believe that you and your Christian organization are safe environments for them and their families, this is a relevant time to raise your voice. 

To Send A Signal

Are any of the employees, volunteers, or members of your church committing sexual abuse behind closed doors? If not, could such a person join your community, pretend to be a respectable, God-fearing individual, and become a trusted leader? Would your church be naively trusting of such a person, especially if they were a gifted and reliable contributor? 

There’s a great deal of hard work to be done to prepare your church or Christian ministry to be vigilant against sexual predators. Clearly, the qualifications to work at a global apologetics organization like RZIM are different than the training and preparation needed to prevent sexual abuse. I suspect that unless you have dedicated intentional and sustained effort into this issue, the same gap in awareness, training, policies, and culture currently exist in your organization. Changing this will take hard work over a sustained period of time. 

In the meantime, will you send a signal to your community that you are close to the brokenhearted? 

Your major concern shouldn’t be that you will become the next Ravi Zacharias. 

(If it is, please seek help from the relevant authorities).

No. What should concern you is that your organization might become the next RZIM. 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted… are we?