Sadly, the Ravi Zacharias story doesn’t even surprise me.
He misused his reputation as a minister, as a famous Christian, to abuse women all over the world. He diverted money – tens of thousands of dollars! – from his ministry to financially support women in exchange for sex. He amassed naked photographs of women from all over the world. He had contact information for at least 200 massage therapists – women he routinely abused. He co-owned day spas in Georgia with the express purpose of sexually abusing the female employees, many of whom were brought from other countries – which definitely put them in a very vulnerable position.
And, unfortunately, this isn’t even the worst of it. He wrapped all of the sexual abuse up with evil spiritual manipulation. One woman, a Christian, says that Zacharias warned her that if she told on him, she would destroy his ministry and be responsible for millions of souls going to Hell. After using ministry funds to provide financial support for her to live, he forced her to have sex with him and made her pray with him thanking God for the “opportunity” they both received — meaning her basic living expenses and his free sex!
But not surprising. Because this story has become too common.
Evangelical, fundamentalist Christian culture makes it too easy for men to become abusers. And the culture makes it too easy for the abuse to stay hidden for too long.
In this culture, men are given great authority over women. And women are taught to submit, to be quiet, to trust the men in charge and do what they say without questioning it. Women who question are vilified for “stirring up dissension” or for spreading gossip or for being unsubmissive.
Because of the way purity and sex are typically taught in conservative Christian circles, sex is automatically a very shame-filled topic. This shameful, hushed tone of discussing sex makes it easier to victimize women and children. Shame encourages secrecy and hidden behaviors. Shame is an important tool in the hands of an abuser.
Ministers, missionaries, Christian celebrities are given so much power. They’re put on pedestals, practically worshipped. They often have authority without accountability. The notion that God has called them, appointed them, anointed them dangerously gives predators protection from accountability and the opportunity to abuse their position and harm others.
Though it’s a narcissistic, prideful perspective, the idea that speaking up about an abuser will destroy an entire ministry or all of God’s work, that speaking up will thwart God’s plan to bring people to Himself is all too common. If you’ve read the stories of abuse in Christian organizations, this is nearly always an element of the story. The powerful abuser threatens the victim that speaking up will destroy God’s work and cause people to go to Hell. And then when the inner circle of ministry leaders discover abuse, they too often hide it because they say the scandal will destroy the ministry. It’s as if they haven’t even read the Bible they claim to teach or met the Jesus they claim to represent!
Until we change the culture of the Church and evangelical Christianity, abuse scandals like that of Ravi Zacharias will remain common. Until we change the culture of the Church and evangellical Christianity, abusers will feel safe while the vulnerable remain victimized.
It’s time for the Church to repent and to tear down the power structures that open the way for this sort of abuse.