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Column

Johnathon Smith

Sometimes I read something that causes me to stop everything I am doing and take a closer look. That happened last fall when I read a headline from Christianity Today reporting several allegations against Ravi Zacharias, a well-known Christian evangelist who had recently passed away.

I felt my stomach clench as I read the piece. Some of his messages had been used in Sunday school at a church I attended when I was growing up, and I knew people who had been impacted by his teaching. What was I supposed to make of this?

In December 2020 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries admitted to the world that the allegations of misconduct were true. The organization released a full report this February which detailed evidence supporting the sexual misconduct claims. In the fallout after the report was released, the ministry announced plans to drop Zacharias’ name from the organization and shift their focus from fielding a team of apologists to funding evangelism and sexual abuse prevention.

This incident is part of a growing trend among evangelical circles today. Christian leaders who have been placed on pedestals as model biblical leaders have been exposed as hypocrites who cover up their faults. Although dwelling on this issue was uncomfortable for me, God has used it to teach me several important lessons.

First, as Christians, we should never conceal sin. Sadly, recent allegations in evangelical circles sometimes include leadership ignoring or even hiding the reports of misconduct for long periods of time.

In this case, Zacharias used intimidation to keep the accusations from coming to light for at least a decade. According to his victims, Zacharias threatened them into silence by warning if they reported his misconduct fewer people would be converted through his ministry. The organization’s board members ignored misconduct allegations in 2017 after Zacharias convinced them he was being extorted by his accuser.

Prioritizing reputation over doing right has serious consequences. God never calls us to hide sin to salvage our status. Instead, God tells us to acknowledge and turn from our sin. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (Prov. 28:13) Ironically, in trying to preserve an organization’s reputation by not reporting sin, people often destroy that reputation irrevocably when the truth is known.

If we publicly excuse wrongdoing done by people in power, what credibility do we have when we present the Gospel? Who are we to criticize others’ actions if we openly celebrate people who show no remorse for their sin?

Second, we have a responsibility to care for those who are hurting, including the victims of abuse. “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” (Prov. 31:8-9) Caring for them may look like listening to and believing someone who is hurting, or it could involve reporting what happened. But it never means excusing an abuser’s actions.

Most importantly, we should not put our hope in a single leader because people will inevitably disappoint us. The pastors, evangelists and teachers we lionize may turn out to be practicing serious sins or may renounce the faith altogether. If our faith is placed in people, we will be sorely disappointed and confused when they fail us.

The same principle applies to other areas of life. Idolizing anyone, whether a family member, boyfriend or girlfriend, politician or religious leader, is dangerous. Not only can it lead to disappointment, but it also may dethrone God from His rightful place as our top priority, something the Bible clearly warns against (Matt. 6:24).

Instead, our confidence should be in the Lord, the only one who will never fail us. When a respected Christian leader is disgraced, when a relationship falls apart or when nothing in our lives is going well, God is there for us. Jesus said, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20) No matter who falters here on earth, God is always faithful.

Only God can keep us from faltering, whether we are a respected Christian leader or an ordinary disciple. If we turn to Him, God will give us the power to resist temptation. (James 4:7)

The next time I read something that makes me shake my head and wonder what good can come from it, I will remember I serve a God who works through even the worst situations. (Rom. 8:28)