Yesterday Ravi Zacharias International Ministries released a report that “confirms abuse by Zacharias at day spas he owned in Atlanta and uncovers five additional victims in the US, as well as evidence of sexual abuse in Thailand, India, and Malaysia” (Christianity Today).
The details of the report are staggering and sickening, but, in sum: “he lur[ed] victims by building trust through spiritual conversations and offering funds straight from his ministry.” Investigators found that Zacharias had also been soliciting and storing sexual photographs of women up until days before his death, sometimes on multiple phones/lines in an attempt to hide his behavior, all while both he and RZIM attacked, defamed, and shamed his accusers.
The particular gut-punch of the Christianity Today article for me, however, rests in this particular passage:
“Those of you who have seen me in public have no idea what I’m like in private,” Zacharias told his supporters in a talk he gave about a year before he died, in a recording shared with CT. “God does. God does. And I encourage you today to make that commitment and say, ‘I’m going to be the man in private who will receive the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”
Lord, have mercy.
Zacharias’ wrongs are his own to bear. But, at best, RZIM chose to remain willfully blind to his behaviors. When accusers came to RZIM ‘s leadership they were mocked, derided, and met with rapt descriptions of Zacharias’ virtue as a man of God. Rather than listen or consider that there might be merit to such claims—rather than question Zacharias’ own accounts of events—the organization implicitly enabled the continuance of such behavior until a reckoning was no longer possible to avoid.
For that reason, the Zacharias/RZIM story is also a badly-needed reminder to the faithful of what can happen when we forget to reflect critically on our own sin. When we forget to acknowledge that we are, every single one of us, capable of such sin. When we forget to engage in the behaviors, such as time in Scripture and prayer, and accountability with other believers, that allow and encourage us to reflect critically on our own sin.
We are living in an age of both secular and spiritual judgment. It has become easy, especially with the advent of social media, to point a finger at sinners who aren’t us. Believers take to Twitter to condemn the behavior and beliefs of this so-called believer and that so-called believer and to castigate them and destroy their credibility without ever turning such a critical eye on themselves.
In Matthew 7:5 Jesus points out this profound hypocrisy and warns against it. Fr. James Martin in Between Heaven and Mirth argues that the image Jesus uses here is meant to be hyperbolic, almost absurd: the listener is meant to envision an accuser with a plank embedded in his eye, turning this way and that to condemn others who are only blinking away sawdust. And that is what I am witnessing, more and more, in much of the modern church.
But truth is truth, some believers will say. Are you asking me to lie? Should I not call out sin when I see it?
Call out sin wherever you like. But in the same measure and with the same intensity, call out your own.
To do less is to do a disservice to the body, to believers, and to non-believers. If RZIM had dismantled their own pride and defensiveness enough to consider what even a ‘good Christian man’ might be capable of, they might have been able to consider or at least investigate, with a thoughtful and clear approach, whether the accusations had any merit. And had they done so, Zacharias might have been brought to account much earlier—something that would have saved the women he victimized much pain, would have not devastated many who looked up to Zacharias as a spiritual role model and an entry point into the faith, and might also have spared his own soul and spiritual walk incalculable damage.
Now, what remains is a ministry in shambles, a man’s legacy marked by his appalling and sinful behavior, and the sorrow of the victims. I can only pray that moving forward we take an important lesson from this.
We must acknowledge our own sins and our capacity to sin. We must hold ourselves to account first and foremost. And before we judge others for their sin, we might at least consider if we have judged ourselves as harshly and considered where we might be wanting. We must never forget who we are, and why Christ had to die to save us.
In Matthew 7:2, Christ says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I have always found that verse deeply disconcerting. Knowing what I know now about Zacharias and RZIM and how they treated those who turned out to be speaking truth, I consider it and tremble. Lord, turn our eyes to our own sin and sinful nature. Teach us how to walk with you in a way that encourages us, always, to reflect on where we have fallen short and how we might grow with you. Teach us the path that leads to life.
The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.