Last Thursday was a very sad day for the evangelical church. The long-awaited report on the sexual misconduct of Ravi Zacharias was released confirming the worst sort of duplicity and moral failure. For years, Ravi, a well-known international Christian apologist, led a double life. While he presented himself as a pious, Christ-loving disciple, he was really a sexual deviant. I won’t rehearse his failings. They are now well-known, and the details are difficult to read. For many of us, we should avoid reading about them all together. The Scripture exhorts us to think on what is good and decent (Php 4:8), not what is corrupt and wicked. So, why even write about this story at all?
My goal this week is to offer to the men whom God has given me the joy and privilege to help train for ministry and with whom I travel that journey a reminder yet again of the importance of walking a circumspect life when it comes to our personal moral integrity. Let him who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). All of us are one step away from utter destruction. Sin takes us further than we ever intended to go. It keeps us longer than we ever intended to stay; and it costs us more than we ever intended to pay. We need to remind ourselves and each other of the high cost of unholy living.
I have never been a follower of Ravi, although I have heard him on a number of occasions, and he did have a gift for communication. Giftedness without godliness—what a tragedy! My youngest son liked Ravi and read his books. When news of these revelations came to light last year, he was saddened as was I. I wonder why God allowed Ravi to die before his sin was known publicly. Ravi died in May 2020 but the serious disclosures about his extensive misdeeds didn’t begin to emerge until October, although rumors began to surface as far back as 2017. The evangelical church has been rightly castigated for failing to consider seriously these allegations back then. Hero worship keeps abusers in power. We’ve seen it again and again. I won’t dwell on the details, but I do want to offer a series of remedies to keep my brothers and I from following in his footsteps. As ministers, we must be ever vigilant lest we plunge headlong into sin and ruin our lives and hurt so many around us.
Keep your wife close and be accountable to her. There should be no secrets between you and your wife. No hidden files, rooms, boxes, or places where you can retreat to get away from it all. She should have unfettered access to your computer and be fully in the loop of your schedule and meetings. She is your greatest friend and asset in your war against the flesh. She will also be one of your greatest losses if you fail, so keep her close. Be transparent with your wife. (Prov. 5:18)
Be transparent and open. Be accountable. You not only have to do right, but you have to appear to do right. Find an accountability partner in ministry who will hold your feet to the fire. Pray with him or them and for him or them. There is safety in numbers. Get someone with courage to ask you the hard questions, to probe for clarity and admonish you if something seems amiss. A timid accountability partner does you no good. This may also include software like Covenant Eyes. It monitors your internet activity and sends the details to someone who can hold you accountable. If you fail, admit your sins and repent.
Don’t go it alone. Do not visit alone and do not counsel alone, ever! Am I speaking hyperbolically? Perhaps. You can visit a man alone and no one will care. But you must take precautions against being in a situation where you will be alone with a woman not related to you. Put a window in your office door so that what you are doing can be seen by others. As a pastor of a small church, I was often at the building alone. Occasionally a woman would stop to see me, a practice I never encouraged. If I saw one drive in the driveway, I would call my wife and ask her to come to the church immediately. She knew the reason. Do everything you can do to protect yourself.
Avoid physical contact. There are some people who are touchy-feely people. They love to embrace and may give you a hug at the drop of a hat. Discourage this. I once had a woman in my church give me a hug on the way out the door one Sunday, unexpectedly. My response when it happened was to stand stiff. She said, “You don’t hug much, do you?” I really didn’t. Sometimes I may give someone a gentle side hug in the presence of my wife, but I try to avoid physical contact, with women and with girls. Yes, even with girls.
Remind yourself periodically of this important issue. I was alerted to the report on Ravi last Friday when I read a very good essay by Randy Alcorn who has spoken out about ministerial failure before. Randy’s stuff on ministerial integrity/failure is some of the best I know of. I am always glad to read it myself and point others to it. We in ministry can never remind each other often enough of our need for careful living. Finishing well should be the goal for all, but sadly, some do not end their journeys well. Ravi certainly didn’t and this should be a warning to us all. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! Read what others have to say, such as John Armstrong, Can Fallen Pastors Be Restored? or Stan Grenz, Betrayal of Trust or Richard H. Swartley, A Wolf in the Pulpit. Also Porn and the Pastor, ed. Jeff Robinson and Garrett Kell. Keep warning yourself of the need to walk circumspectly as Paul reminded us in Eph 5:15–16. Remember, God knows your life and judgment will come!
Keep a warning list. I have periodically written on ministerial moral faithfulness. In the essay, I mentioned a list I keep of acquaintances I have known over the years of ministry whose ministries have been lost because of their personal moral failures. The list is neither for discussion with others nor is it for public view. It is a reminder to me of just how easy it is to “stray” from the path and end up in utter disaster. Stray is really the wrong word here. No one takes a wrong turn accidently. Someone deliberately ignores a warning sign and heads toward ruin, perhaps thinking “I am just curious, I won’t linger long.” But then they are ensnared, and chaos ensues. You cannot go down the wrong path if you never start on it. Beware!
Over the years, I have interacted with men who struggle. With the advent of the internet, this struggle was made easier. When I was young, you had to go somewhere to find ungodly material. Now it is a click away in the privacy of your home or office. Once addicted, it becomes difficult to escape. I had a parishioner, in the early days of the internet, who was an IT guy. He called me one night full of anxiety. He couldn’t sleep. He feared he would have a stroke. I knew that his son had been expelled from a Christian college for porn on his computer. I knew this man spent a lot of time on the computer for work. So, I asked him, “Are you having trouble on the internet?” “Everyday, at lunch” came the reply. Sadly, the man never got victory in this area of his life. He went from one sin to the next until today he is involved in the most vile forms of depravity.
In the same way, Ravi started down a path that led him into a world of twisted thinking and sexual depravity. The great tragedy is that he was an international figure with a global ministry. Going forward, he will be a global example of the ravages of sin and deceit. Because his personal life was a fraud, many will think that his message of divine grace was also false! May God grant us the grace to walk circumspectly, the courage to repent when we need to and the wisdom to seek help if we are ensnared. No matter how bad things are it is never too late to do the right thing. May God strengthen us to do so.
An Afterword: This essay focuses on ministry men and the dangers of moral failure. Another essay should be written on the damage that ministerial failure produces in the lives of those with whom the man sins or, in many cases, abuses—significant, life-altering, personal and spiritual damage. The law of unintended consequences comes into play in the aftermath of our moral turpitude. He that has ears to hear, let him hear!