The ministry of Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020) was globally renown and impactful. He was rightly celebrated. Unfortunately, after his death in May 2020, reports came forth of serious sexual abuse from numerous. The veracity of these reports was verified by an independent legal investigation.
Such unwelcome news has an adverse affect on the person, family, ministry, and the church at large. The televangelist scandals of the late 1980s caused churches worldwide, including in Australia, to face scrutiny, change names, and see donations and offerings drop off. No doubt, the same thing is happening today.
Last time, we looked at the role of two factors that greatly aid in fostering personal scandal:
- Accountability: The lack of proper and enforced accountability. It is a fact that the possibility of scandal is greatly reduced when such structures are in place. Remember, accountability is an insurance policy for your integrity.
- Double life: The hypocritical, double-standard, double-life phenomena, while not new, is increasing due to a low view of truth. The antidote to a ‘double-life’ include the key points listed below.
Having listed to key factors that incubate scandal, let’s explore some answers:
- Fear of the Lord: This is the beginning of wisdom and the best way to scandal-proof your life. The ‘fear of the Lord’ means to hear, obey, worship and serve the living God. See Hebrews 12:28-29. Knowing that God is watching your actions (2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 5:21), attitudes and thoughts, and that someday you will have to answer to him (Matthew 12:36-37; Romans 14:12), can bring out the best. Yet, to lack this quality can lead to sin. One fallen minister, after his restoration, was asked when did he ‘stop loving Jesus’ and thus commit his transgression. His reply: ‘I never stopped loving Jesus … but I did stop fearing the Lord.’ Proverbs 16:6 shows the way forward: By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. The fear of the Lord will motivate you to stay on the straight and narrow pathway more than anything else.
- Gift of God: Without questions, Ravi Zacharias was a gifted man and people benefited from that gift. Yet, let’s understand the nature of God’s gifts. The gifted person did not earn the gift – if they did, it would not be a gift. Gifts can be developed but still remain a gift. Neither are gifts based on character and integrity, though these things are very important for upholding the gift. Yet, look at the famous Israelite judge Samson in Judges 14-16. He was a gifted and anointed man, but that did not stop him from doing the wrong thing, more than once. His poor judgement and unwise relationships with heathen women nearly destroyed him. He paid a very, very high price for his folly. Also remember that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable – Romans 11:29. Samson was still gifted, even when he was carnal.
- Look to God: It is important that we know and understand the difference between respecting and honouring a gifted minister versus putting them on a pedestal for worship. This is becoming even more common with our image-driven, celebrity obsessed culture, often making objects of adoration those who lack character, talent, or decency. Even the most spiritually mature among us can say and do things that are wrong. People get scandalised when it happens but it need not. Your focus of worship and service must be to God and God alone. Remember the humanity, limitations, and vulnerability of our spiritual leaders. As the adage says, ‘We all are a work in progress.’ When you keep your eyes on Jesus, you will stay above the waters. When your focus is on people, you will sink.
- Embrace integrity: This is a wonderful thing because it is becoming increasingly rare. The dictionary describes it as being sincere, honest, and morally upright. The Biblical definition goes much further: it means to the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world.’ People of integrity are faithful, honourable, trustworthy and accountable. You can depend on them to do the right thing. Before you partner with someone, see how they score on the integrity scales. If they are seriously deficient, then look elsewhere.
- Victims of Sexual Abuse: They need to be heard and respected but due process should always be implemented, for everyone’s sake. The guilty need to face justice and the innocent protected. Forsaking proper investigation, presumption of innocence, credible testimony, witnesses, and general rule of law, etc. endangers everyone and is an open invitation to tyranny. Let’s never forget the maxim that there are two sides to every story; it is as relevant today as it has always been.
In short, let’s remember that grace is wonderful but can be used and abused; sin stinks, and we to be discerning but not judgemental. The goal should be restoration, not revenge.
Put these things into place and it will rebound to the glory of God.