3 Truths To Remember When Spiritual Leaders Are Abusive

Ravi Zacharias was arguably one of the greatest Christian apologists of our time, and that’s why so many have been deeply impacted by his death. For weeks, my feed was filled with posts and tributes to the late Ravi Zacharias. Christians all around the world saw him as a mentor, a spiritual leader, a teacher, and someone they could rely on to ask the hard questions of our world and of the Christian faith. He was a true pillar in the Christian community.

Then we read the report

My stomach was in knots as I read about the women Zacharias abused and coerced into satisfying his sexual pleasures. It’s absolutely disgusting that anyone would wield their power in such a way to prey on others for their sinful gain. His victims even revealed that he would make them pray with him for the opportunity they received, and that these women were his reward for living a life of sacrifice to God.

I’m still processing and in shock over what I read. I’m angry and heartbroken for all of his victims and what they’ve suffered at the hands of a man who proclaimed the good news of Jesus.

Ravi Zacharias is not the first spiritual leader to use his authority to prey on the vulnerable and weak. I wish I could say he would be the last. But I know that’s simply not true. 

Nevertheless, I do think there are ways to respond to this moment and whenever a spiritual leader uses their power to prey on others. There’s a way for you and I to respond that will move us forward in seeing less of these kinds of reports.

Here are 3 truths to remember when spiritual leaders are abusive.

1. Grace doesn’t negate the practical effects of sin.

I must admit that I’ve been disappointed and outraged by the response of my fellow Christians to the reports about Ravi Zacharias. I’ve seen many react to the situation with phrases like, “we all sin” or “who are we to judge.” 

In many ways, these responses seem as if they are trying to maintain the dignity and legacy of the predator rather than support and redeem the victim. It suggests that his sin was simply a mistake that we don’t have to deal with.

Certainly, it’s true that we all sin. But our common experience of sin doesn’t remove the damage and weight of it. Instead of protecting, honoring, and valuing these women, Ravi left them afraid, abused, and traumatized. We simply can’t sweep this under the rug by using the grace of God as a reason not to act. 

“For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil can dwell with you.” (Psalm 5:4)

God is more than strongly against sin. He can’t be in its presence. Sin is so toxic, destructive, and repulsive that it will literally send you to hell apart from Jesus. We can’t forget the weight of sin and the damage it does even if someone is a Christian. 

Yes, the sin of any Christian, regardless of how vile, is covered under the blood of Christ. But that doesn’t make the condition of their sin acceptable or even palatable.

In our desire to extend grace as Jesus has, we must keep sin in its rightful place. We must caution ourselves against condoning or normalizing heinous acts of sinfulness. We simply can not and must not make excuses for a person being sinned against.

Whenever a spiritual leader preys upon others, we must take steps to restore and care for the victims. That means keeping sin in its rightful place and never giving it a pass.

Whenever a spiritual leader preys upon others, we must take steps to restore and care for the victims. That means keeping sin in its rightful place and never giving it a pass. Click To Tweet

2. Accountability for all spiritual leaders.

When it comes to figuring out how and why Ravi Zacharias preyed on so many women, all signs point to lack of accountability. The Ravi Zacharias International Ministry board of directors has apologized for their responsibility in not keeping him accountable. He became above the rules and the safeguards established within the ministry. 

“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” (Titus 1:7)

Spiritual leaders of all kinds are called to live in accountability. There should be systems and people placed in their lives to help guide them in the ways of Jesus. As they teach and disciple others their lives need to be free of hidden or public sin that will cause them to be untrustworthy.

A staff member was reportedly rebuked for questioning Ravi’s need to travel with a masseuse. It’s always going to be a red flag when a spiritual leader evades or skirts around accountability. 

As Christians, we must hold our spiritual leaders accountable, if for nothing else, as measures of protecting potential victims and to bring justice when such situations occur.

Wise spiritual leaders will welcome accountability, because they know they aren’t above temptation. Their desire to remain above reproach should remain a high priority, regardless of the cost to their privacy.

We must expect and demand spiritual leaders to be held accountable. This is how we care for our spiritual leaders well, as we desire to prevent them from carrying out the most wicked intentions of their flesh.

Wise spiritual leaders will welcome accountability, because they know they aren't above temptation. Click To Tweet

3. Our faith is built on Jesus.

One of my greatest fears is that the sin of Ravi Zacharias and other spiritual leaders will shake the faith of a believer.

There’s no denying that the church and leaders of the church are flawed. But Jesus is not. That’s why we can’t place our faith in spiritual leaders. Our faith can only be placed in Jesus. He will never fail you or fall short. He will always be true to who he says he is and that’s not dependent upon man’s ability to accurately represent him.

He’s the one who provides victory and freedom in your life. No actions of man can provide or take that away.

Spiritual leaders are not without responsibility for their actions. And as the body of Christ, we should be part of the healing and redeeming process not only for the victims but even for predators as well. But as we desire to prevent and recover from the failings of our spiritual leaders, we must secure our faith in Jesus and not man.

One of my greatest fears is that the sin of Ravi Zacharias and other spiritual leaders will shake the faith of a believer. Click To Tweet

Your Role In All This

You might think you’re in no position to weigh the sin of a spiritual leader or keep them accountable because you don’t know them. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. You can choose how you respond to the reports of spiritual leaders like Ravi Zacharias. 

Choose not to sweep his sin under the rug in conversations both publicly and digitally. Keep spiritual leaders accountable by how you support them and their reputation. When something becomes suspicious, choose to listen to the victim and give them a voice as you draw conclusions and opinions. And guard yourself against idolizing or thinking a spiritual leader is incapable of committing such a sin. 

Firm up your faith in Jesus and allow your faith in man to remain checked.

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