Why was I reluctant to read the full Miller & Martin report about Ravi Zacharias? Was it because I could not bear to face the pain? In the past two decades I have seen too many of my evangelical and Pentecostal heroes falling by the wayside one after another. Months back, when I first heard that an independent investigation about allegations of Ravi Zacharias’ sexual misconduct had been ordered by RZIM, the very organization he founded, I wasn’t too hopeful of the results.
I SAT IN MY CHAIR IMPALED
When the report was published, I was reluctant to read it. Partly, I did not want to read the sordid details. It would be too distressing. I wasn’t surprised that the report found that Ravi had fallen. Past failures of other heroes have conditioned me to expect the worst, not the best, in such cases. In Ravi’s case, I was not surprised he was guilty. When I finally was willing to read the report, I found it horrifying, staggering, and unsettling. After reading it one evening, I sat in my chair as one impaled by a sharp stake. “O Lord, Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus”.
I sat transfixed because it was much darker than I had expected. It was more than seductive texts, compromising conversations, and situations. It was more than having a moment or two of weakness and falling into sexual sin. It was an intentional lifestyle of adultery, fiduciary failure, deceptive cover-up, manipulation and abuse of the weak and powerless over a period of at least six years.
Let me explain. I was not a fan of Ravi, never have been. I never was enthusiastic about “Apologetics”. I came from a generation that had powerful, life-changing experiential encounters with God during the revivals of the 1970s. God is as real to me as the people I know. Personally, I never needed arguments for everything contradictory in the Bible, or for the existence of God, or to arm myself against the intellectual attacks of atheists. I rested on the solid ground of my experience of the Living and Written Word. If I deny God, I would have to deny my very own existence. I could live with seeming contradictions in the Bible and in life. I do not need answers to every question a sceptic asks. That was my story, that was my song. However, I had acquiesced to the younger pastoral staff’s opinions that young people needed to be armed with apologetics for themselves and to give answers to those outside the faith, and so I turned to RZIM Singapore for their expertise. But I was never a fan.
I did not feel disappointment, disillusionment nor compassion for Ravi. I felt more of anger, like the anger one feels towards a bully. I felt more of disbelief at the huge gap between what is seen in public, and what was his secret private life. I empathized with the wife and adult children that they have to pick up the broken pieces of what could have been a shining, lasting legacy of faith. I wished his sins were exposed earlier, and he had the chance to repent and be restored with God, family and ministry -a chance to write a redemptive final chapter of his life.
I have been reflecting on what happened and I have read a few of the reflections of others on social media. I liked what church statesman Rev Edmund Chan said about the posture and position to maintain in such circumstances HERE. I also liked Dr Michael L. Brown’s list of twelve responses HERE and Michael Han’s poignant response as one who was greatly helped by Ravi’s ministry HERE. We all view the same things but from different angles because of our different experiences and viewpoints. This variety can only add to the richness and depth of the conversation. Thus, I humbly submit my reflections and pray it would be of some help to some who read it.
HUMILITY IN COMMUNITY
My first takeaway is that we all need humility in community. God is triune and by nature communal and he has built that into us who were made in his image. I have been blessed to have trustworthy pastor friends from different traditions. For about two decades, we met regularly and shared what went on in our ministry and our soul. We became burden-bearers and prayer warriors for each other. I was privileged and blessed to have Rev Kenny Fam and Rev Vincent Hoon as my companions in the journey of life and pastoral ministry. My current community is another gracious gift from God. It comprises Dr Jimmy Tan, Seng Chor and myself.
Within that community, we need to exercise true humility – the willingness to let our friends know us as we really are. To be able to share about our failures and shadows so that they are brought into the light. We need openness and trust and truthfulness in that safe community. The double-life virus has no room to spread if exposed to the light. I thank God that in the two groups God has blessed me with, I have experienced openness and trust.
MORE ATTENTION TO SOUL CARE
We also need more attention to be given to soul care in all our churches. Call it transformation or sanctification. Call it holiness or the deeper life. Call it spiritual formation or discipleship. We need more attention to be given to the care of the soul, to the shaping of the soul in the likeness of Jesus in his intimacy with the Father and love for people.
The soul of the Church has been shaped too much by the consumerist culture around her. In more than one ways, there is no difference between the Church and the world. The world idolises its heroes, so do we. The world values image above substance, and performance and charisma above faithfulness and character. Is the Church any different? Let’s be honest: our churches have been structured for productivity and performance, not soul care and faithfulness.
Ravi had charisma and he could perform. His eloquent defence of the Christian faith was persuasive, effective and productive. Thousands were persuaded to follow Christ and as many were strengthened in their faith and equipped to be witnesses. His YouTube videos received thousands and millions of hits. His memorial service attracted vast numbers of viewers. He had a vast following. His fans sang his praises, quoted what he had said, and believed him without question. They supported his ministry generously and his organization expanded internationally. His popularity grew exponentially, the needs and invitations kept increasing, the pressure kept mounting. If the inner life was not sufficiently reinforced, the outward appearance will look great and grand, but the weak, rotting and unattended inner-life will disintegrate from within, and the grand and great tree will crash, damaging all others around it. More attention needs to be given to soul care among our pastors, leaders, and members.
It is easy to make our heroes into our golden calf. We sing their praises and share their videos, believe their every statement without checking with the Word; we say what they say; and defend them with pride and passion. Who doesn’t like celebrities? We make celebrities of pastors and evangelists and worship leaders who were not interested in the spotlight! Perhaps we unknowingly set them up for the fall. We even use them as “gold standard” and “best practices” to motivate our pastors and worship teams to try harder to be better. We are too sophisticated to berate our pastors directly, so we hint, we compare, we give books, we applaud, we even pray that our pastors will be more like them (we really do not know what we pray for!)
APPRECIATE LEADERS WHOM WE KNOW
We need to appreciate our local pastors and leaders whom we personally know, and stop idolising the heroes whose lives we do not know, and is likely impossible for us to know personally. The pastors and leaders you should trust are those who are faithful to live by the gospel, those who are humble and willing to let you know them as they really are.
It is not easy for pastors to let people know them as they are. And in a big church it is a big ask for the senior pastor to be known personally by every member. Perhaps from the pulpit the pastor can share more of himself or herself in slices that are honest and true, when it is relevant to the sermon preached. Over time more congregants will get to know him or her better.
I cannot help but think of Pastor Lawrence Khong and his many self-disclosures of his personal, marital and church struggles from the pulpit. I find he is safer to follow than those who keep their struggles secret. What you see is what you get. I know there is no foolproof way of knowing a person completely because secret sins can be kept locked unless the person or the Lord opens the safe. However, we should not be jaded about trusting leaders and following leaders ever again. It is better to follow those whose strengths as well as weaknesses we know than those whose strengths we exalt and have no clue about their weaknesses.
Lord, I wish for all pastors to have trusted friends with whom they can share openly and honestly about their life and ministry struggles and joys. I pray they will give more attention to their own soul care and those of their leaders and members. Most of all, I wish for them greater honour, following and appreciation from their members. Amen.
I am rambling and my opinions are not properly researched, organised and substantiated. Readers with different views can help complete the picture with their comments. Forgive me if I am too offensive or defensive in my replies to comments. For those who wish to read the full report, please click HERE.
Shalom and God’s peace be on his people in these trying days.