One Asian Woman's Perspective on the Investigation into the Sexual Misconduct of Ravi Zacharias
Like countless Christians who have heard Ravi Zacharias (RZ) speak, read his books, quoted his words, I too was taken by surprise at the scandal that ensued after his death. I was surprised by the deception that surrounded RZ than by the fall from the grace of God especially when I have heard that he travelled only with male staff to his international meetings. Let us face this - we all step out of God's grace once awhile, sometimes more than necessary. His love and forgiveness draws us back to Him. The investigation report makes it clear of RZ's many quiet moments where sexual misconduct could have happened.
Coming from a military background, my ears have been assaulted by curse-words and with sentences punctuated by expletives often enough. In my uniform, I would stand and take such expressions coming from mostly male soldiers of different ranks as "normal". I learnt at an early age that men enjoyed the beauty of women, fantasized about them and spoke foul or vulgar language as a show of their aggression, just being one of the guys and just because they do not have better words to use in their language. You learn to let it slide. You never confront such behaviour because you want to be accepted as 'cool', you 'get it' or you are just afraid to confront your superior in rank. Technically, I would classify this as sexual harassment - my ears were harassed. But, you learn to let it slide. I had no hesitation in confronting a soldier who was not my superior in rank about his colourful speech, though. Then again, he would not dare because respect of an authority of higher rank is crucial in the military and any deviance is a chargeable offence. No soldier would want be charged in a military court! (In all honesty, one soldier did exhibit bad behaviour and I had no choice but to charge him with the offence, after being patient long enough to see any kind of change. And then, I visited him at the military detention facility to care about his well-being as his superior officer.)
I am not a lawyer and have no real knowledge of any legal terms, so please keep this in mind as you keep reading. Also, this is neither a defence or support of what RZ or Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM) did or did not do. This is how God allowed me to process the report and help me to come to a closure for myself.
As I read the investigation report, I remained objective. No, I did not get emotional about it - for RZ or for the name-less women. In fact, I thought that this report lacked information and I questioned its integrity and transparency. It was clear from the report that RZ did engage in sexual misconduct but still, as a woman, I had so many questions about some aspects in the report.
Note that sexual misconduct can take place in the mind of a person and many men and women have fallen into this temptation. There is always a struggle between the flesh and the spirit (Romans 8:6). The Apostle Paul exhorts us in Galatians 5:16
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
I will not belabour on the evidences made in the report but I ask questions about certain references in the report that seem to paint a larger picture of this scandal than necessary. In addition, I want to emphasise that we should not judge if RZ repented of his misconduct or not. I have read/heard people state that RZ had time to repent even in his last days but he did not. My personal view is that one can confess their sins and repent even at their last breath. Only God knows.
A female friend of mine thought out loudly with me and wondered why RZ did not delete the email correspondences with two specific women on his electronic devices since he knew that he was dying. Could it be that RZ, deep in his heart, wanted the world to know who he really was - a sinner, just like you and me who needed so desperately the grace and forgiveness of God?
The report indicated that no evidence was found that "anyone within RZIM or on its Board knew that Mr Zacharias had engaged in sexual conduct" (p.2) and it is a valid reason why there needed to be an investigation. The methodology and limitations were laid out clearly in the report and RZIM allowed the Muller Group International to practice confidentiality of witnesses.
Photos of women, 'statements' by name-less female massage therapists were included as evidence of sexual misconduct by RZ. What bothered me as a woman is how easy it was to cry 'rape' (p.4) and base it on the reason of 'obligation' towards the financial help provided by RZIM and that RZ requested for sex. The report does not say in any sentence that this female victim actually declined RZ's advances, if what she said is true. How do you expect me to believe some of these quoted incidents, and the "she said" statements when these names of female victims are not revealed?
Call it what you will - sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, molestation, rape - from what I know, they are all punishable offences in the United States of America. As long as a woman does not decline the advances of any man, she has willingly consented to that specific sexual union. Looking at this incident objectively, the report does not show evidence that rape had occurred. Plus, if it was really rape which is a crime, why not report this when the man was alive?? This sounds doubt-able to me.
Further in the report, there is mention of RZ's apartments in Bangkok and that one housed his therapist - what has this got to do with sexual misconduct? So what if he or RZIM owns any apartment anywhere else in the world? There is no evidence here but such inclusions in the report raises unwarranted questions in the minds of readers and this is unhealthy.
The only woman whose name was mentioned in the report is Canadian Lori Anne Thompson. But the cleverly-worded section in the report about her indicates that the Thompsons demanded $5,000,000 from RZ "in exchange for a release on claims against him and his ministry" (p.7). Instead, RZ sued them for extortion. Why would he do this if he knew that the Thompsons had evidences against him? Apparently, everything was settled confidentially but the report clearly does not state who settled what! It gives the impression that RZ settled some amount in some way. What if it was the other way round?
While RZIM management may have stated their remorse, apologies and taken responsibility for not investigating allegations sooner and admitted this private investigation report to the public for, perhaps, our learning experience, is commendable, it is unfortunate that this report lacks in transparency and clarity and dare I add, integrity. Incidents that were reported were about what "she said" and one does not even know the name of these 'witnesses'.
As a woman, if I am ready to accuse someone, I would also need the courage to include my name to that accusation. Not doing so is being cowardly and does not carry much weight to the accusations. In fact, I would consider myself as lacking integrity too.
Do hear me clearly, there are some evidences to RZ's sexual misconduct and these are found in his electronic mails to certain correspondents. Of course, the public is not privy to these evidences; it is only what we read in the report. They might constitute about one or two huge paragraph(s) in the report. In everything else, I asked the questions "So what?", "What has keeping translations of certain phrases or sentences have to do with sexual misconduct?" and concluded that they were references and not evidences.
One big red flag was the marginalisation of RZIM staff who confronted RZ about allegations of sexual impropriety. This, I think, needs the benefit of doubt. I put myself in RZ's shoes and wondered how I might have reacted if my team confronted me. The truth is that if I was guilty, I would have been angry and if I were not guilty, I might have still showed anger because I would have been disappointed in my staff for not trusting me. RZ is not alive to defend himself and we really do not know his reasons but this we know that if the staff was suspicious, they needed to bring this matter to the management. If management was diligent, they would have conducted a thorough inquiry then.
We often enable others to think and do great things or to think and do great sins. Many who have written and spoken about the RZ scandal mention that accountability is crucial for leaders. I absolutely agree with them and will not discuss much here. You can read some really good thoughts here from professors of theology, apologetics and a personal friend of RZ respectively:
We tend to think that leaders with public ministries must be accountable to other Christian leaders. This is true and must be so. However, ministry leaders who are married need to be accountable to their spouse too, accountability to God being first and foremost. We look at RZ as a minister and tie his accountability at that level. But he was first and foremost a husband and a father. What breaks my heart most is thinking about how his family must have felt when reading this report which poses more questions due to the references. We pray for RZ's family to be comforted by God and to learn how to move forward in God's grace for His glory. May RZ Rest in Peace.
My Personal Thoughts and Lessons I Learnt through the RZ Scandal
1. Need to have a Conversation in the Church
You know, they say that women have very strong intuitions about their relationships. They seem to know something about someone even without getting to know the person. Yes, it sounds dangerous but this is the way we are. God has given us the gift of intuition and it can be pretty strong. I do think that every wife must be given the permission to question her husband of anything and everything. She must be the first earthly accountability partner. Unfortunately, in some cultures, this may not be exercised or welcomed. In fact, the wife is to be quiet and the husband's explanations are to be taken without any questions. This does not just happen in the family, it can also happen between the pastor and church member. This is not just a socio-cultural issue but also a patriarchal-cultural issue in the kingdom of God. Women need to be able to confront, speak up on struggles in the family, in the church without any judgement and stigmatisation. This becomes real, especially, for wives of prominent male ministry leaders and pastors. The church is an extension of godly, healthy families rooted in Christ and is highly responsible in ensuring that there is a safe space for 'wives' to air their doubts, grievances and champion their husband's causes without losing themselves in their husband's ministry, in other words, being mere shadows.
The thought that women can only relate to women about their problems, to me, is old-school. The usual biblical verses of submission and prayers are quoted and the women with the problems return to their 'shell'. What really needs to happen is an open conversation between men and women on every matter. Some cultures think that talking about sexual intimacy, sexual challenges, sexual abuses are taboo topics. In God's kingdom, it is never taboo; in fact, God inspired his servants to write about how men and women fail in this area through various books in the Bible, and also how to value this God-given gift of sex. This conversation needs to happen in the body of Christ; not just reading, writing about such topics via articles or listening to podcasts or even watching videos. This conversation needs to happen among the long-term marrieds, the short-term marrieds, the newly-marrieds, the courting couples, the singles. This conversation needs to happen together and not in gender-specific groups.
I remember discussing this 'taboo' topic among Ghanaian pastors and Christian workers a few years ago - a class of about 20 pastors with only two females present, marrieds and singles - and it was extremely eye-opening for them. Repentance followed. The male pastors appreciated such a frank and open discussion. One evangelist repented of incest! Friends, sexual struggles are a real issue and we need to deal with it.
2. Despise False Submission
In my team, my team-mates know very well that I hate false submission of any kind. They also know that they can express and clarify their individual views about any ministry-related matters. I am conscious not to shun my team-mate for thinking differently from me. Plus, it gives me an opportunity to share why I think or act in a certain way. We all have our individual challenges and the only way to overcome this, we have discovered, is through prayer and intentional actions to change our fleshly ways to godly ways.
3. Do Not be Quick to Cancel
What I have observed during this RZ scandal is how quick Christians are to conclude by reading a report at face-value. And how quick we can be to cancel each other if we disagree with each other's conclusions. Cancel culture does exist in the kingdom of God; do not be surprised by this and do avoid your baptism in this culture as it is shameful.
4. Never Forget God
I also believe that RZ fell into temptation (so have I) and sinned (so have I) and in that moment, he forgot about Gethsemane, the cross of Christ (so have I). I am thankful that one of my best friends, who was also troubled by this report, pointed out to me about "forgetting Gethsemane" in the moment of sinning. RZ himself said it best:
I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.
5. Fear Only God
I also concluded that this report has set a precedent to accuse any Christian leader of anything by not naming the witnesses. If this can happen to a very public leader, it definitely can happen to you and me; yes, even after our death. We learn not to fear men but to fear only God.
Finally, I want to encourage especially pastors and ministry leaders, both men and women, to:
1. Ensure that you have a team of accountability partners with explicit permission to check on your well-being.
2. Ensure that your spouse is your first earthly accountability partner if you are married.
3. Be instrumental in having intentional frank conversations about earthly intimacies in godly relationships, sexual purity and the real challenges at different age groups among men and women.
4. Be warned: pornographic addiction, according to statistics, is real. Get out of this immediately.
5. Be committed to Christ. If you have sinned or are in sexual sin, now is a good time to repent, receive God's forgiveness and ask for help in the powerful Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. God is amazingly gracious and will forgive you. Move forward in His restoration and allow the Holy Spirit to take control over your fleshly desires.
Friends, we are all sinners saved by grace and if you do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior yet, then you can be saved by God's grace too. God loves you more than you think.
Abundant blessings in Christ,