The sexual scandal of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has brought to the fore many discussions and questions concerning how Christian ministries and churches should react in the face of such embarrassing revelations. A scandal of a similar nature was publicized by the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
There is a school of thought which believes that such exposure, while well-intentioned, may destroy the faith of millions who had put the offending ministers on an elevated moral pedestal. I mean, what do you do when a person you held up us the quintessential exemplar of Christian morality proves to be false, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
It is also not to be doubted that these type of falls not only shake the faith of many believers but also makes unbelievers to blaspheme.
Indeed, when the Prophet Nathan confronted King David about his unconscionable deed, David had remorsefully replied, “I have sinned against the Lord.” To this heartfelt confession, Nathan replied: “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”
Now listen to the next verse:
“Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” (2 Sam 12:14-KJV)
Yes, such acts of bold transgression sadly embolden unbelievers and make them mock the Christian faith.
In the face of this fact, churches and ministries may be tempted, motivated by good intentions, to cover these sordid tales in the hope that they are protecting the reputation of the gospel and forestalling a greater fall-out. They may reason that they are looking at the bigger picture.
Some of these decisions are admittedly difficult and require much care and careful reasoning. There are no easy solutions. There may be a desire to redeem the fallen if they seem to exhibit remorse for their actions. There is the desire to do justice to the victims. There is also the need to prevent the offender from harming others in the future. Then there is the issue of image—how will this appear in the critical eyes of a watching world?
Balancing all these concerns is not an easy task.
Ravi Zacharias seems to have intentionally exploited this type of conundrum to his advantage allowing him to continue to operate as an apologist and victimize women across the globe.
One woman told the investigators that after Ravi Zacharias arranged for his ministry to provide her with financial support, Ravi required sex from her.
Then Ravi ostensibly made her pray with him to thank God for the “opportunity” they both received and called her his “reward” for living a life of service to God. Then Ravi warned the woman—a fellow believer—if she ever spoke out against him, she would be responsible for millions of souls lost when his reputation was damaged. The level of manipulation, spiritual abuse, exhibited by Ravi were unconscionable.
Though some may object to my characterization of Zacharias since “we only have one side of the story” with the now-deceased Zacharias unable to answer for himself, the number of women that have come forward, and the conclusions of an investigation confirms the depth and deprivation to which Ravi had sunk into. He was exploiting the gospel for his own depraved ends.
While there are passionate debates about how to approach these kinds of issues, my argument is that sunlight is still the best disinfectant.
Granted, the faith of many may truly be shaken, yet there is still a silver lining: Believers will learn to put their trust in no man but Christ. Like the Bible says, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.” (Jer 17: 5-KJV)
This is why I argue that these scandals could actually be providential. God could be providentially exposing these false shepherds in order to bring them to justice as well as wean believers from human dependence and restoring dependence on Himself. Like St. Augustine would say, “God would not have to be hushed what He has willed to be written.”
Secondly, while some may argue that exposure can drive the guilty to despair and hopelessness, I truly believe that exposure is not antithetical to genuine repentance. It was an exposed sin that gifted us Psalm 51!
But what about the fact that these scandals irreparably harm the image of the church?
Yes, they do. Regrettably so.
Yet, I still believe that these scandals should be exposed and dealt with promptly. We all know that an untreated wound, unexposed to the surgeon’s scalpel, will fester and eventually bring death. It is short-sighted to simply cover up an infected wound instead of attempting to heal it. If we have a long-term view of the matter, we will be persuaded to deal with problems such as these as soon as they show up.
Winston Churchill was one of those who spearheaded the formation of the United Nations in the aftermath of the Second World War. It was the perfect opportunity for this, and he urged world leaders against letting “a good crisis go to waste”.
When such scandals like this occur, we should ask ourselves deeper questions. In the words of Churchill, and at the risk of sounding flippant, we should never let these scandals go to waste. In the wake of scandal is the second-best time to shine the spotlight on spiritual abuse, fornication, and gross immorality perpetrated by trusted leaders. (The best time would be to shine a light on these issues in order to prevent them from occurring). We should re-evaluate what kind of sin we are dealing with and recognize it for what it is, spiritual abuse and gross immorality.
I have come to the conclusion that if there is a “perfect” sin, it is predatorial fornication.
First, the warning against the sin of adultery (which would include any type of sexual immorality) is captured in the seventh commandment. I believe that God did not arbitrarily order the Ten Commandments. God is never arbitrary or random. I may be on the fringes of speculation, but I think I am not mistaken. If the number seven means perfection, then the sin of adultery may just be the “perfect” sin.
I am not lessening the gravity of the other sin categories. Ultimately, there is no right way of sinning and there is no sin that has any vestige of honor.
We know sin as missing the mark, described in the Bible as coming “short of God’s glory”. But a more consequential definition of sin is that sin is the transgression of God’s law. (1st John 3: 4-KJV). The Bible’s definition of sin as transgression has connotations of rebellion. You know what is expected of you but you knowingly rebel against it. Granted, the sin of adultery is sometimes engaged suddenly and with no premeditation. However, in most cases, the offender has meticulously planned for it and relentlessly pursued his or her object of desire. He or she has carefully evaluated the action and even justified it beforehand;—It is the ultimate rebellion!
Thirdly, the Bible says that the “wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life.” If there was ever a sin that we practically work for, it is the sin of adultery! Unlike other sins, adultery makes us literally expend our resources in time, money, physical strength, and effort. It is here that we more perfectly pay the bill.
Again, sin is described as sweet. Of Moses, it is written that he chose “to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” (Hebrews 11: 25-KJV). This sweetness; this pleasure, answers more perfectly to the sin of adultery. I mean, hate and disobedience to parents are seldom pleasurable organically.
Also, the first mention of the word “sin” in the Bible is in Genesis 4:7 where God says to Cain: “If you do well, shall you not be accepted? and if you do not well, sin lies at the door. And unto you shall be his desire, and you shall rule over him.” It is my suggestion that the one sin above all that lies at the door of the human heart is sexual sin;—and the one desire above all others that we should strive to control is sexual desire. In fact, the unregenerate man is almost always identified in Scripture as a carnal man, which the 1828 Noah Webster’s dictionary equates to the “sensual”.
Also, the commandments of God can be summarized in one word;—love. “Love is the fulfilling of the law”. (Romans 13: 10-KJV) This love is broad and deep but the “perfect” corruption of love is lust, found in the warning contained in the seventh commandment.
Also, in the wisdom of God, Bible writers decided to choose the figure of an adulterer/fornicator; not the figure of a thief or a murderer to symbolize Babylon. Shouldn’t this be instructive as well?
Finally, we are commanded to “resist” sin [the devil]; to stand and confront it (James4:7). The Bible promises that sin [the devil] will flee from us. Not so with adultery. Here, we are told to stand or confront it but to “flee” (See 1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22). As we near the end of time, we should be particularly on our guard. The apostasy at Baal-Peor; at the borders of Canaan was sexual in nature, and was both a type and a prophecy of what would happen in the last days.
Listen to this:
“Near the close of this earth’s history Satan will work with all his powers in the same manner and with the same temptations wherewith he tempted ancient Israel just before their entering the land of promise. He will lay snares for those who claim to keep the commandments of God, and who are almost on the borders of the heavenly Canaan. He will use his powers to their utmost in order to entrap souls, and to take God’s professed people upon their weakest points….” (Ellen White, Adventist Home 321.1)
We are told that experience is the best teacher. We are also told that the wise do not learn from their own experience but from the experience of others.
May God help us!