Abusers, Hucksters and the Protection of Wronged Parties

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)

Lot and His Daughters by Artemisia Gentileschi

Lot and His Daughters (1635-1638) by Artemisia Gentileschi, first female painter to become an accepted member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are already well aware of the impressive number of sexual predators who have been exposed recently as a result of the #MeToo movement; plenty of long-overdue reckonings are now being played out in the public eye. Of itself, this is nothing new. What is new is that our culture seems to have awoken to its need to “stop doing business as usual;” careers are being thoroughly destroyed, corporations are stepping away from otherwise-lucrative deals and the predators themselves are experiencing “consequences with teeth,” many of them for the first time.

All well and good, I say…so long as clearly-deserving targets are being snared and taken down. Nothing could destroy this new interest in public accountability more than a few highly-publicized examples of entrapment. As a means of preserving our newfound accountability, perhaps the #MeToo movement might do well to more publicly engage at least some of its energy in the renunciation of anyone seeking to profit by bringing false charges…and undermine credibility.

Ravi Zacharias is 71 years old. He has been faithfully – and by all accounts happily – married for over 45 years to Margaret “Margie” (nee Reynolds). The author of dozens of books, Zacharias was once referred to by the late evangelical leader Chuck Colson as “the great apologist of our time.” Uniformly known around the world as one of the kindest, most compassionate men one is ever likely to meet in this lifetime, he routinely receives invitations to speak about his Christian faith in venues no one else would dare address. In short, the enduring witness of his lifetime of service and ministry is unimpeachable. Or at least it was.

As Zacharias himself explains – with a link prominently displayed on the home page of the RZIM.org website – he became the victim of what looks like a get-rich-quick scheme devised by a Canadian couple intent on defrauding his worldwide ministry of millions of dollars. The error in judgment on his part, though slight, became an unwitting avenue by which another person sought to do the greatest possible damage to his reputation. Simply by living out his Christian convictions, the blackmail attempt largely failed, but Zacharias, always the gentleman, comes nowhere near gloating; he instead chose to move immediately toward humility:

I have learned a difficult and painful lesson through this ordeal. As a husband, father, grandfather, and leader of a Christian ministry I should not have engaged in ongoing communication with a woman other than my wife. I failed to exercise wise caution and to protect myself from even the appearance of impropriety, and for that I am profoundly sorry. I have acknowledged this to my Lord, my wife, my children, our ministry board, and my colleagues.
Ravi Zacharias: Statement on My Federal Lawsuit

For a period of about four or five years, well after my conversion in July of 1997, I was struggling with the real-world application of my Christian faith to issues ranging from anger and remorse to drug use and sexuality. What little of the Bible I had read up to that point in my life made almost no sense to me; I was not securely grounded such that my faith could stand on its own two legs.

In short, my personal road to faith in Christ was pretty ugly. Most of that ugliness – though certainly not all – came from within. As a young man, I voiced all kinds of “intellectual objections” to the faith as it has been handed down over the centuries. Mind you, I had not bothered to read the Bible in its entirety as a way of addressing any of my objections; motivated by a none-too-subtle desire to continue living out sinful patterns of behavior, I was instead content to carry around a lot of arrogant assumptions about how backward, gullible and outdated its authors were. It suited my purpose not to answer any of the questions I had about Christianity.

It seems a lot of people are much like I was during that era; we seem to be entirely comfortable asserting strong opinions about a specific, historic faith tradition of which we have precious little knowledge. Armed as I was with the non-truth that a ragtag bunch of ancient near-eastern farmers and fishermen couldn’t possibly have anything meaningful to say to someone who came of age in the late 1970s, I fell headlong into a lifestyle that included sex, drugs and whatever else I fancied. Long story short: “It didn’t go well.”

And then, several years after coming to faith, I “met” Ravi Zacharias through his blogs, audio recordings and books. Over the course of several years, I devoured his lectures, attended RZIM events in nearby cities and interacted both with him and members of his staff through the mail. I honestly don’t think it would be any exaggeration to say that had I not been exposed to the ongoing, consistent witness of this man’s life, I might not have stayed the course. His ministry played a significant role in my desire to pursue a seminary degree in the fall of 2009. God used Ravi Zacharias to light a flame in my heart that burns to this day, undiminished.

It was Zacharias himself who taught me that while what we hear from the pulpit is very important, the true witness to what we say we believe is seen in how we conduct our lives. We might be the world’s most highly-sought speaker, our books might be flying off the retailer’s shelves, but if we treat our spouses, children and associates with contempt then we truly have nothing of substance to offer the world. Zacharias often speaks of one encounter with a militant atheist which ended with the atheist agreeing to consider the claims of Christ, perhaps for the very first time, but then later asking the penultimate question: “I wonder what he is like in his home life?”

Personally, I hope that sexual criminals continue to be held accountable for their behavior, and that they suffer appropriate losses. As one writer has so memorably stated, “The cost of being Harvey Weinstein is not getting to be Harvey Weinstein anymore.” To that I would simply add the caution that as we begin to bring light to the hidden sins of the many, may we also make sure that those (few) who have been entrapped or wrongly accused enjoy full, public and ongoing exoneration as a means of preserving our collective credibility.

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2 Comments

  1. Judy Sheppard said:

    This word is overused, but this blog is AWESOME. Judy Sheppard

  2. Sara Jimenez said:

    https://www.ministrywatch.com/articles/rzim.php

    Ministry Watch provides a very detailed summary of the situation with Ravi Zacharias, which is far more complex than what is discussed in this blog post. It certainly seems like there is more to it than a case of an innocent individual entrapped. It is disappointing that the response of this writer to the #MeToo movement is that more time should be spent working to exonerate anyone who may have been wrongly accused. In discussing Zacharias’s importance to your own story, it seems that your argument is that an individual, particularly a minister, with a long and successful career and marriage should be automatically given more consideration. It implies that if a person’s reputation is clean enough, powerful enough, successful enough, that an allegation should not even be considered. It is essentially an argument for the return to the previous status quo, prior to the #MeToo movement. When prominent voices in the church take this stance, it can have a chilling effect on victims. The Zacharias suit was closed with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) so we will never fully know what occurred. NDAs have long been used by the powerful to silence accusers and protect the business assets and reputations of the powerful (see the aforementioned Weinstein). Instead of hectoring the #MeToo movement, it might be worth taking a moment to consider #ChurchToo.

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