This isn’t going to be my normal Psalm post though I have included Psalm 4 in it. I called this blog “What’s on the Needles Today?” because it has a double meaning. It doesn’t just mean what I am knitting (though I am currently knitting an open sweater vest/cardigan in a dusty purple if you care), but also because something might be needling me that I just need to talk about. And that’s the case today. I am bothered today by the news about Ravi Zacharias. If you don’t know who that is, he was a Christian apologist who had an international ministry. He died in the spring of 2020. And last week, after an investigation it was revealed that there is substantial evidence that he was a sexual predator. The investigation doesn’t just say he had an affair. Rather it was ongoing. It was multiple women across the world. It was manipulative. It was a man in power versus vulnerable women. It was in one specific case, tied to monetary gifts that he used to get what he wanted. It appears that he used money from his ministry to pay women who he would then prey upon. He did it despite supposedly following the purity rules that are supposed to keep away appearance of sin, but apparently don’t keep away sin. In my actual personal circle, there is silence about this. Or an attitude of we are all sinners. Or his teachings were good so we should be able to overlook this heinous sin. Or he didn’t get a chance to repent. And I’m frustrated by this. Yes we are all sinners. But this goes beyond a consensual affair. And he had many chances to repent. Every day of the many years he kept behaving this way. But he didn’t. When a woman had the courage to stand up. Instead of repentance he made himself the victim and her the problem. Writing helps me process, and so today I am going to process some of that here. There is a lot I could say, but I’m going to try to limit myself by making a list of some of the things I am thinking about as it relates to this situation. Feel free to respond with what you are thinking. Conversation is good, and thinking through these things in community is better than individually.
- We minimize sin too easily. We say we are all sinners, and we are. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t awful. It doesn’t mean we should overlook it. It doesn’t mean we excuse it. And sometimes, “We are all sinners,” comes across as “We can’t judge that to be wrong.” Or “We can let it go because all of us sin.” That’s a wrong attitude. Yes we all need Jesus because we are all sinners. But we are not all living double lives. We are not all defending our sin by hiding it and refusing opportunities to repent. For that to be our first response in circumstances like this, sidelines and perhaps even blames, at least partially, the victims. Are the victims all sinners too in this situation? Or are they victims?
- What about his teachings and his books? When churches and ministries hire leaders, they legitimately look at character. That’s because character matters. (It appears to only not matter when it’s political and it’s Trump.) I have read statements from some who say maybe after the news fades that his books would be readable again. The reasoning is we study many theologians who lived messed up lives. But for now at least one publisher is pulling his books. And I can’t read them right now. I’m not sure there will be a time I can. My analogy would be if he were your pastor and you found out these things would you still let him preach? Isn’t that what his writings and his speeches do? Aren’t they preaching? Do we let him continue to do that?
- The response to the above is that he is dead and can’t repent and change. But he did have opportunities to do that over the course of his life though, and he didn’t. Would repentance allow him to stay behind the pulpit at your church if he was alive? Another thought I have about his teachings is when a person is living a life steeped in sin, which apparently he was, is he walking with God? And if he wasn’t, is what he taught and wrote of God? And if it wasn’t, how does that affect it’s value to us? Just questions I am thinking about. I don’t really have the answers today.
- “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) This is a verse that should scare pastors and leaders. It scares me. We should tremble at the responsibility we have as we lead others. Ravi presumed to be a teacher. He will be judged more strictly which makes his sin that much worse because it affects so many. And he recognized that. He told at least one of his victims that coming forward would endanger the salvation of millions. He understood and did it anyway. That makes me tremble for him too.
- We as people are deferential to our spiritual leaders. That isn’t necessarily bad. However, if a leader feels that no one is going to question him, gradually that can change his or her leadership. Power is a sneaky thing. So we need to be willing to speak up when we see things that aren’t right. I’m not saying complain about the worship anonymously like a jerk. But people should be willing to stand up and speak out when things don’t look right, when what is said from the pulpit isn’t quite right, when we see people mistreated. It might cost us something. Stand up for what is right. Speak for the vulnerable. We tell our kids that; maybe we should remind ourselves.
- Purity rules, Billy Graham rules, whatever you want to call them, don’t work just because you have them. Ravi didn’t travel alone. That’s true. But he also traveled with his masseuse as well as his “chaperone”. So what if he didn’t meet a women for coffee? He found a way to meet women anyway. It wasn’t meeting a co-worker in his office that caused the problem here. I’m not a fan of these “rules” that are there to protect the appearance of wrongdoing without actually preventing wrongdoing. What they often do is prevent women from doing their jobs as well as men can because they are prevented from meetings and such where business happens. This is true in churches as well as secular jobs when these rules are in place. And there are too many ways of getting around them. What’s needed is transparency. A leader’s schedule should be visible to at least their spouse and one other person. There shouldn’t be secrets. A leader’s technology shouldn’t be private. Yes there are particular conversations that can’t be made public, but their spouse and at least one other trusted person should be able to ask to see the technology and the schedule and be given immediate access.
- This isn’t new. These scandals of men using their power to abuse women aren’t going away. A Church Called Tov by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer is a good read. It analyzes how these situations happen and what we can do to create a culture of goodness in our churches. I recommend it for pastors and laypeople. It is understandable to all, not a big-word theology book. This is a step you can take if you, like me, are struggling and if you want to make your church a place with goodness at its core.
I don’t have answers to many of the above things. They are just some of the thoughts and issues that I am struggling with this week. As I said at the beginning, I would love to have a conversation about this. Email me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. So that brings us back to Psalm 4. I’ve talked about how the Psalms are a prayer book, and as I have studied Psalm 4 this week while processing all of the above and more, it suddenly occurred to me that this Psalm is really the prayer I have today. So in the tradition of many authors, let me pray Psalm 4 in my own words as it fits this situation today. And tomorrow maybe I’ll walk through some of the specifics of the actual Psalm.
I call upon you God. The only reason that I can be called righteous is because of your son Jesus, but that is what you call me. You have heard me in the past when I was distressed and you answered me. Hear my prayer again God.
How many more times will men in leadership who are called by your name, do things that reflect so badly on you and hurt so many? How long will they enjoy their vanity and their power and continue to lie to their congregations, their families and themselves?
But I know that you have set apart the godly, those who follow after you faithfully. You know who the godly are. You answer me when I call. I tremble that my actions and words could damage your reputation. I don’t want to sin against you. Search my heart. I will be still and listen to you. I will continue to serve you and put my trust in you despite how men have acted in your name.
Many are saying, “Who will show us some good?” We are looking in the wrong places and at the wrong people for that God. Look upon us Lord! Lift your face to us! You are the best source of joy; you are the source of all good things. Feasting is nice, but true joy is in you. And because I know that you protect me and are completely capable of defending your name today, I will lay down and sleep peacefully tonight.
In this article, she says a lot of good things that I happen to agree with if you want to read more. I am just processing on a blog here