Should We Cancel Ravi Zacharias?

I did not know Ravi Zacharias, but I esteemed his worldwide ministry and have been impressed by the organization he founded and led. He was a winsome and eloquent advocate for Christianity, especially in public lectures. My appreciation only grew when I recently read a chapter about his life and ministry in a reference work called The History of Apologetics. Ravi was a consummate evangelist who employed apologetics to trouble “happy pagans” with truth and to bring Christianity to cultural influencers around the world. He said that “Apologetics is the seasoning; evangelism is the meal.” I agree. I prayed for his recovery from cancer and was saddened by his passing. Now I am concerned about his legacy.

I fear that Evangelicals may follow unwise cultural trends in light of the new allegations of serious sexual impropriety made against both apologist and evangelist, Ravi Zacharias, and allegations about how Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) may have handled these and other financial matters. If these are substantiated (or even if they aren’t), some may be tempted to cancel Ravi and his ministry. Many today want to cancel—meaning destroy or dismiss—aspects of American history they reject. Yes, there is much about America that needs to be repented of and replaced by something better. But the cancelation spirit is dangerous when its zeal for absolute purity leads it to ignore the good that is so often mixed with the bad in a fallen world. We don’t burn down the house to disinfect the shower, and we should not cancel Ravi. Nor should we cancel or ignore any women whom he may have hurt. If there are victims, they need love, support, and perhaps compensation. Nothing I will write minimizes the significance of the charges made or the consequences that might follow if the charges are substantiated against Ravi or against RZIM.

However, we should not make irresponsible accusations, as seems to have been done by some in the #MeToo movement. We should not commit false witness against Ravi or anyone else (Exodus 20:16). It is better to apply Paul’s counsel about evaluating prophecies to this scandal: “Test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NIV). Or as Jesus commanded, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24. NIV).

Canceling Ravi Zacharias could mean that publishers take his books out of print, that readers no longer read them, that contributors withdraw their support from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and that Christians generally disparage or disregard his half century of apologetics and evangelistic ministry. Before going that far, let’s think things through.

I am not taking sides or casting stones. I hope and pray the truth will emerge and that right actions be taken by the right people at the right time. But however things shake down, prurient interests should not be satisfied, since it “is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12, NIV). RZIM is investigating the charges against their founder through a law firm. Zacharias’s denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, is looking into matters as well. I have no association with these investigations and no relationship to RZIM. Rather, as a journeyman Christian philosopher and apologist, I write to issue a warning. Before that, we should review biblical ethics concerning ministry, since any scandal is a cautionary tale.

Paul admonished Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV). True doctrine and godly living are equally necessary for ministry. Paul further stipulated that an overseer must be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6-7, ESV). That applies to all Christian leaders.

Those with high callings need high standards, lest the messenger discredit the message and the messenger lose integrity. Christians continue to sin, but no Christian should be controlled by sin (1 John 1:8-10; 3:6). High profile leaders fall hard when they fall and often drag down many others with them. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, KJV).

Since we are vulnerable to immorality, we should heed Jesus’ words: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NIV). Paul paid close attention to his own integrity. “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NIV). Christian ministers should fear being disqualified and take radical measures to defend themselves against it. We do so by guarding our hearts and being accountable to wise friends, counselors, and leaders (Proverbs 1:7; 4:23-27; 27:17; Matthew 5:27-32).

When Christian leaders fall and are exposed, they can repent and be restored—or they can run or dissemble. This scandal has surfaced after Ravi’s death, so that is impossible. He has faced his Master, who knows all things and judges righteously. We only know in part and often judge wrongly. How might we discern the matter as it stands?

First, whatever the verdict on Ravi, nothing should discredit the value of his apologetics or the fruit of his ministry, which brought many thousands to Christ and encouraged many others to do apologetics (1 Peter 3:15). Paul rejoiced when the true Gospel was preached even out of false motives, since the gospel will have its effect (Philippians 1:15-18; see also Romans 1:16-17). I have no evidence that Ravi had bad motives in ministry. However, Paul’s point stands: Irrespective of the faults of the preacher (or apologist or evangelist), the gospel will do its work, and for that we should rejoice. Ravi’s ethos may be tarnished, but his logosshould not be. 

Second, arguments are good or bad apart from the character of the arguer. To think otherwise, is to commit the ad hominem fallacy. Ravi’s apologetic method, called “The 3.4.5 Grid,” was sound. In a nutshell, this grid tests a worldview logically (Is it consistent?), factually (Is it empirically adequate?), and existentially (Is it livable and meaningful for life and death?). This agrees with my apologetic method I articulate in Christian Apologetics. Ravi used the 3.4.5 grid to great and global effect. We dare not discount that.

Third, without excusing sin, we might remember “the weakness of God’s servants,” as Francis Schaeffer wrote in No Little People. Moses, “the man of God,” murdered an Egyptian. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba’s and had her husband killed. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times. No one is sinless except Jesus. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV).

Fourth, when a high-profile leader is accused of wrongdoing, it raises concerns about ministry culture. Is every ministry leader held accountable to his or her organization? Will the organization fairly investigate charges? Are prestigious leaders held to a lower standard because of their significance in an organization? If wrongdoing is found, will organizations repent and clean house? It’s time to examine ourselves and our ministries. “The Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9).

In 1983, Ravi Zacharias prayed for $50,000 to start a ministry aimed at the thinking skeptic. He told no one. Not long after, a stranger gave the $50,000 that marked the beginning of RZIM. When Ravi asked the man what he would like in return, he said, “All I want is your integrity.” That is what God wanted from Ravi and is what God wants from us.

15 thoughts on “Should We Cancel Ravi Zacharias?

  1. Several years ago, similar accusations were brought against the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder after his death. After investigation, those allegations were demonstrated to be essentially true and Yoder’s publishers and the schools where he taught and lectured face similar quandaries. Their responses I think struck the right balance. Those who were theologically influenced by Yoder continued to recognize the validity of much of the work he did during his life, while at the same time recognizing the great harm that he had done to several individuals and the resulting shame that his actions brought on the institutions who supported him and his work. His publishers continue to publish his important works like “The Politics of Jesus” ((1972) and others. They did add a publisher’s note to his works indicating their awareness of the seriousness of Yoder’s sin and reminding readers that while his books are still important, they must be set in a larger context that makes clear the gravity of his sin. My hope is that something similar will happen with Ravi Zacharias and the works he has published.

  2. I will be charitable to Dr. Groothuis and simply say that this is an extraordinarily naïve piece.

    No, the scandals did not just emerge after Ravi died.

    The following is undisputed.

    In 2015 it was revealed that Ravi been dishonest about his academic credentials. He claimed to be “a professor at Oxford “ to be “Cambridge educated“ and to have studied “quantum physics“ at the Cambridge. (And much more.)

    Each of these claims was not just false, but was outrageously false. This was willful deception, pure and simple. (Ravi’s response was not boldly to step up to the plate and confess to fans and donors. No, in August of 2018 he very quietly admitted these deceptions in a single email to an obscure Christian blogger. He had never been a professor at Oxford and had never in enrolled at Cambridge. To my knowledge he never apologized for these false claims anywhere else.)

    As an academics Dr. Groothuis well understands the seriousness of such false claims.

    In 2017 Ravi was accused of sexually grooming a married woman. He threatened suicide in writing to pressure her not to confess to her husband. He then sued her in federal court and paid her for a nondisclosure agreement.

    Ravi privately admitted making the suicide threat but when Christianity Today magazine asked him about it he refused to comment.

    None of the above is disputed.

    Groothuis is correct that the spa scandals did not come to light until after Ravi died. But there’s no dispute that he owned two massage spas where he had massages alone in small rooms with women. This by itself makes his loud proclamation of adherence to the Billy Graham rule a deception.

    Now three women who were contacted by the Christian press after Ravi died have shared their personal observations. Ravi Zacharias was an out of control sexual predator.

    I interviewed two of these women. I also interviewed Ravi’s then business partner, Mr. Anurag Sharma, who told me in no uncertain terms that one of the reasons the spa had to be closed was because of Ravi’s treatment of the women.

    The evidence is absolutely clear and it is disappointing that Groothuis downplays it.

    Please google “Ravi Zacharias spa” for extensive Christian investigative reporting on Ravi’s misconduct in the spas and elsewhere.

    I invite Dr. Groothuis to contact me to set up a phone call where we may discuss the evidence. It is important that the apologetics business world raise its ethical standards and this would be as good a place as any to start.

    Frankly, in my secular world the false claim to being “a professor at Oxford“ would be enough to get someone canceled. But we have higher standards than the Christian Apologetics business world does. It would be nice to see greater parity. In this regard, Ravi has given you an opportunity. I hope you seize it.

    Steve@lawbw.com

    • Thank you, Steve. Well explained. Much of the abuse by RZ became public during his life, Douglas. The existence of the NDA is evidence of that.

  3. Deeply saddened if the accusations against Ravi prove to be true. Your counsel for caution, humility and graciousness are well taken. A recognition that the failure of our leaders points to our failure to faithfully pray for them should humble us all. Well spoken Doug.

  4. While I believe Steve Baughman meant well in his comment above, I believe Steve missed the point of the article. The article does not set out to defend or condemn Ravi. The article is about whether we should “cancel” Ravi in light of the allegations and actions. I believe Steve’s comments are a side effect of the very issue Dr. Groothius laments – outrage coupled with closed ears/minds. The outrage in Steve’s work is evident from the first sentence and proceeds throughout, but the closed ears aspect is evident by him addressing something that is relatively off-topic – Ravi’s guilt. Ravi did good work and he sinned badly. The question is not whether he did it or not, but whether we should add him to a rapidly growing list of black-balled personalities that did not live up to our expectations. I hope anyone else who reads the article will read it for what it is and not get stuck in the culture quagmire of outrage that ensnared Steve. Should we cancel Ravi? If any one of us is without sin, let them be the first to throw a stone.

    • Dave. Well said. And you got me thinking. So I went back and re-read Groothuis’ piece.

      It would be hard not to see a misleading pro-Ravi agenda in Groothuis telling us that he “hopes and prays that the truth will emerge.” (As though it hasn’t!)

      Indeed, one could read his piece and have no idea that there is compelling evidence of systematic career-long credential fraud by the “consummate evangelist” who “brought many thousands to Christ and encouraged many others to do apologetics.”

      Nor does Groothuis offer even a hint of the now undisputed fact that Mr. Zacharias threatened suicide to cover up his online sexual misconduct and then actually paid for the woman’s silence (after a vicious lawsuit that now appears to have been full of falsehoods.)

      Does all of this not matter to Groothuis? If it does, why does he direct our attention only to the current financial issue and the spa abuse allegations, with a note that they are still under investigation (by Ravi’s own people.)

      No, Groothuis is not just urging Christians to be biblical. (He could have invoked Ephesians 5:11, but skipped it and began at verse 12.) Nor is it just about Christians avoiding hasty overreactions.

      Matthew 7:3 is the favorite evasive tool of Christians who find their gurus under fire, with King David a close second. It would be naïve to think that Groothuis employs both of these in his article with no awareness of their diversionary powers.

  5. Guess what? Ravi is dead now so why don’t we leave the judging to God. Is the world a Christian’s judge? I doubt it. So he blew his witness. The world is still not Ravi’s judge. He will give an accounting to God. He’s no longer accountable to the world. Don’t let the people like Gandhi who said I love your Christ but not you Christians fool you. They should have believed on Christ’s witness not on Christ’s followers’. Yes, a Christian should have a good witness but who except the actual person and a few of his close acquaintances and God really know how much he changed. We’re suppose to love everybody. Merge some grace with truth and realize we’re not all that right ourselves.
    A Christian will always have his detractors. The world rejected Jesus for pete’s sake. So let go of the perfectionist standards that hurt you inwardly and make it harder to follow Jesus…we Christians never claim to be finished works in this life do we? So stop hyperfixating on sin. Ravi is dead and God already budgeted for all his sins before he was born. We’re human and have limitations and maybe that’s what is engaging to God that He sees us in all our limitations responding to His exhortation to be like Jesus in spite of it all.
    World work on yourself. Let Ravi rest in peace. He’s dead.

  6. Susan. Would you like to cancel the whole field of history? (It is, after all, about researching dead people.)

    Also, Ravi Victim‘s live on, as do his enabler‘s and those making big money by keeping his dirt in the closet.

    Do we leave all that alone?

    • Hi Steve, I wrote my reply before reading the wiki bio of Zacharias and before reading your reply. It’s likely you are correct. Christians are to judge other Christians as per 1 Cor. 5 but we are not to judge unbelievers. I had pointed out to me recently on another Christian blog that sometimes when we judge in that moment we suspend love and help and we could lose some humility ourselves.
      All of the psycho-spiritual aspects are a deep mystery to me. I truly do feel I am learning to judge with righteous judgment but the more important thing to do is to learn to love more. God is easy to love. He’s perfect but people are not that easy. Was Ravi a predator? Sounds like it. Maybe in the constant need to be right in the apologetics light he lost himself. It’s hard to say. I did apologetics for quite a while but now believe evangelism and the simple truth is the better way. I tried mastering theology outside of theology school and came to find out most of unified theology’s core doctrines are wrong and nobody is teaching the salvation of all though 1 Tim 4:9-11 says to do so.
      Jesus and his apostles didn’t engage in systematic theology. We allow unbelievers to cast false burdens of proof in apologetics because we’re so darn busy arguing like Greek philosophers when God never told us to prove to anyone what He already proved through Jesus and in Romans 1. All we really have to do is tell the Gospel truth and stand on it. The truth saves people. Arguments do not though maybe a few will think more deeply. Love keeps the most. Sorry, for the tangent Steve. I applied to a Ravi program some years ago but thankfully was not accepted because I am more evangelist than apologist and evangelism is offense with the Sword of the Spirit while apologetics expects you to dabble a lot in worldly arguments trying to win.
      But God didn’t say to win arguments. He told some to be His disciples and spread the truth and everybody else to seek. What if by playing the lazy skeptics’ game with the skeptics we keep them too lazy to seek? They do so love to cast evidence burdens on us that God already answered. They really have attitude not evidence problems any way as shown by the insincere way most of the skeptics view the evidence. So don’t argue. Exhort these unbelievers to take responsibility for their own souls and seek. God doesn’t reward arguers. He rewards seekers.
      And go light on Ravi. We’re judged by our own measure. He’s got God to answer to now. What if he gets striped or loses his reward? The book of Luke says a believer can be striped. And Christ might say he never knew him. Wiill he make it to the blessed and holy first resurrection? The strange thing is both goats and sheep are clean animals.

      1 Timothy 4:9-11
      King James Version
      9 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.

      10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

      11 These things command and teach.

      God bless, Steve. I see your point but still learning to judge with mercy and grace. Justice is not co-equal with mercy in God’s mind. Mercy guides God’s judgments. The false Roman perspective of the scriptures liked to make justice co-equal with mercy. Probably came from the Roman emperors influence on Christianity. The emperors had an empire to rule so they exalted justice and came up with a new state religion. God’s perspective is Hebrew and Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world. So why do Christians act like they should judge and rule others. That’s putting the cart before the horse. Save the people first. How do you judge or rule someone without the same value system? Cf. 1 Cor. 5.

  7. Thank you for your article. I have grieved over this more than usual.. I think I see how flawed, Fallen and fractured we are. God uses all kinds of people (sinners) if the accusations are Somewhat true, restitution must be made. But I agree with you. Don’t burn down house! I am 87 and I still have to fight and mortify lust. I was hoping I would outgrow it. But alas No so. The Christian life is still a battle with flesh and it’s still all up hill…. God bless you, sir N Mayfield

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Wonderful honesty Norman but you can put your mind over matter and do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

      Proverbs 16:32
      Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

      Any issues then act like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife and remove yourself from temptation fast!
      God bless!

  8. I am commenting only on your use of II Corinthians 4:7. We can see from reading the several verses both before and after this one, that the “jars of clay” are not fallen humanity’s sinfulness, but ordinary human limitations and the unbeautiful appearances of Christian suffering. Moses and King David were punished for their sins, Peter had to repent of his sins, and this passage by Paul doesn’t address that. It is not relevant to your third point of how should we discern what to do about RZIM.

  9. Unfortunately, the apologetics community has long been silent about immorality and greed among their own ranks and attacked anyone who attempted to call out their hypocrisy. I mean, where was the outcry when F. Graham and R. Jefress endorsed Paula White’s book and her position as Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor? Or when the SBC was called out by Beth Moore about endorsing Trump and not addressing the rampant sexual abuse cases happening (last time I looked there was 700 leaders legitimately accused with strong evidence by the cover up other leaders did for them). What was the apologetics and academics response? To go after Beth Moore on the grounds women should not be preaching from the pulpit or teaching men. Sounds like cancel culture to me it just happens to align with your sinful nature as opposed to a **Gasp** progressives.

    Or when supposed men of God who make their living proclaiming God’s word and call themselves Pastors and teachers of the flock start having for profit businesses and getting heavily into politics. especially in not so up and up businesses (I mean day spa? Why not open a chiropractic clinic and go the actual medical route and have male as well as female masseuses, and you only see the male ones in a clinical setting. Any of these steps would have avoided the appearance of evil.) look at Jerry Falwell Jr. it wasn’t that he was investing in real estate, it was who he was investing with, in very questionable real estate ventures and with whose money was it being purchased. Then we find out about the sexual immorality.

    Greed is very deceptive and allows us as, Tim Keller has said, to serve our true idols. It is quite clear Ravi’s ministry had become his true idol. He used its “burdens” that it put on him as justification for his need for sexual immorality. Idols are task masters. God is not. God does not drive us like cattle, he leads us like sheep. If you are feeling driven and burdened that is not God, that is your flesh and the devil. May we all repent of our idols of self importance and Glory stealing before we too have to stand before our God and we will either hear well done or I never knew you.

    I pray for my own repentance so I will not hear the latter, that I realize I do not have to be anywhere or ever make a sound for God to save someone. It is a privilege and a blessing that we are allowed to be used at all. The only way to being allowed to be used by God is in constant prayer and repentance. As teachers and preachers, we need to understand our message is as much for us as it is for the hearer. We are simultaneously in the pulpit and the pew. Giving and receiving all at the same time. Sometimes the message comes from struggle in the past or is indicating what God is about to have you wrestle with. When you stop receiving the message yourself and put yourself above it you are in trouble.

    • I agree with you a lot, Tammi. There is a greed factor today. You can’t even give to a charity without them sharing your name with other non-profits without your consent. They are on donation auto pilot request and you are their ATM.
      Apologetics has been all involved in all sorts of worldliness for a while now borrowing from Greek philosophy and mixing Protestant apologetics with Catholic apologetics indiscriminately. Did you know that futurism and preterism in eschatology were started by Jesuits named Ribera and de Alcazar to counter the Reformation then shelved. A few centuries later the Protestant John Nelson Darby came across it and popularized futurism and the rapture. Almost no apologists will point that out. But all the Reformation leaders followed the historicist view. The Protestant apologists don’t even separate themselves from the Catholic crimes and Inquisition. Why would a Presbyterian like Tim Keller feel he has to apologize for Inquisition crimes?
      “Come out from among them and touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you.”
      It’s all man pleasing mainstream organized traditional religion. You can’t even show most teachers and preachers and apologists the error of their doctrine. Many of them think they know everything but lack the teachable spirit but Satan deceives the whole world and judgment starts with the House of God. People have bought bad ideas all over Christianity hook, line and sinker! People don’t even realize God qualifies those He calls not a seminary education. The ordination is from God but then men are deceived by appearances a lot.
      Have a good day!

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