The Ravi Zacharias Sex Scandal: My Thoughts
By: Deji Yesufu
Sam Shamoun is a Christian apologist that makes a case for the gospel mostly against Islam. With an ancestry from Iraq and having come to believe the Christian gospel, Shamoun has made it his life mission to reach out to Muslims. I have been watching a lot of videos by Shamoun, David Wood and a couple of other apologists to Muslims on YouTube but I decided to follow Shamoun on Facebook. A little over a week ago, Shamoun posted a blog detailing some sordid details around a sexting[i] scandal that revolved around the late Ravi Zacharias. I read the three part blog and the details were sordid indeed. The first part of this article has detailed much of what was contained in that blog.
My first reaction was that of shock. The reason is simple: if a sex scandal erupts around a Christian while he is alive, he has the opportunity to find repentance and peace with God. How does a person repent of something when he is dead and has long gone to God to give an account of his life work? What does one make of a sex scandal around one of the greatest Christian apologist that ever lived but who, a few months after his death, was discovered to have been involved in some messy sexting? But my greatest concern was not for Ravi but for myself. If Ravi Zacharias can be involved in a matter like this, none of us are immune to sex scandals. If we, as Christian ministers, live through life and never become involved in some sex scandal, it is because God has simply decided to show mercy to us. I also did some other practical things around my marriage which I cannot devolve here. Suffice to say though that Christian ministry is very slippery ground and our ministers need all the prayers and support to succeed in their calling.
I have tried to detail the issues around the sexting involving Ravi Zacharias and Lori Ann Thompson. I can summarize it thus: Lori’s husband, Brad, was informed of a sexting between Ravi and his wife, Lori Ann. Brad’s lawyers sent Ravi a counsel demanding $5 million from him for the distress he has caused his marriage and the signing of a non-disclosure agreement. Ravi takes the matter to court – stating that the couple was seeking to extort him. The matter is settled out of court and a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is signed between the two parties. No one knows the details of the agreement. A month after, Ravi publishes an article that indicts the couple but the couple are unable to respond because of the NDA. Some parties sympathetic to the couple decide to bring up the matter after Ravi’s death to exculpate them. The details that were published reveal that Zacharias was clearly culpable in the matter. One aspect of the whole drama that is worth examining is Ravi Zacharias statement of repentance. He wrote:
“I have learned a difficult and painful lesson through this ordeal. 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, our ministry board, and my colleagues.”
Even if we assume the worst of this situation and Ravi Zacharias indeed initiated the sexting with Lori Anne Thompson, if the statement he made above came from a heart of truth and repentance, we can accept that Zacharias made peace with God before his death and we need not worry about his eternal state at the moment. This fine Christian man fell into sin; he repented of it and was forgiven. The story however leaves a lot of lessons for the Christian world to learn from and I would try to enumerate a few in this article.
At this point we should examine the obscene liberties that one sees among Christian men and women. These days we see more and more of the healthy boundaries that our fathers used to exercise in their relations with the opposite sex waning terribly. The matter is made worse with the advent of phone technologies that allow for Christians to indulge in loose chats, long phone calls, unbridled emails and the likes with people of opposite sex. It is worrisome. What I even find more worrying is the fact that many Christian people no longer make it a matter of the conscience, things that pertain to interacting with their brother and sister’s spouses. Christian men see nothing wrong in calling another man’s wife and engaging in long hours of discussions – without the knowledge of the brother. Christian men invite other people’s wives for long hours of counselling without the permission of the husband. These are things that I have witnessed and I worry over it. The usual response you get from them is this: “… but nothing happened…” Then I ask them: do you not realize that there are circumstances we create that give room for things to happen between people of opposite sex? There is this liberty we take for granted in the church these days that is opening up our homes for the devil to assault. God forbid that one’s marriage is in a particularly low point and you have this opportunity to chat up a sister and begin to share your “challenges” with her. Before you know it boundaries are crossed; this person becomes a confidant; and then sexting begins. From sexting we then have the real situation of adultery resulting. There is an “appearance of impropriety” that every Christian man and woman must flee from. As a rule, we must recognize that another person’s wife belongs to that person. If we must contact that woman, we have the duty of relaying it through the husband or obtaining his permission first. Where so much liberties are allowed in this matter of relationship with the opposite sex, opens up the door to the devil to manifest. And the scripture tells us not to be unaware of schemes of the devil.
The great news about the Christian life is what Jesus Christ did for us in obtaining eternal salvation for the saint. When our Lord died and rose again, he obtained justification for those who place faith in him. This justification is an eternal thing: it means there is no sin that can condemn the saints. The concern of a true pastor is therefore whether or not each of his congregation has obtained this justification from God. If they have, there is no sin that they commit that can damn them. However, true justification comes with its fruit also. First, true justification produces a life of repentance. This is what I am hoping that I saw in the statement of Ravi Zacharias above. True justification will own up to one’s wrong and would never make attempt to cover one’s sins. Second, true justification never continues in sin. A lifestyle of falsehood and living in unrepentant sin is fruit of a life that has not met the risen Lord. This is the reason why even in this Ravi Zacharias situation, one has reasons to fear for his eternal state. Because some commentaries that have been emerging from the story gives the impression that Zacharias, while alive, sought to preserve his reputation more than exercising himself in repentance and restitution. If the Zacharias have truly owned up to God about their wrong in this matter, there is no reason why they should not make the details of the NDA known to the public and also free the Thompsons from it. When Art Azurdia fell, his repentance was obvious to all. He even went further than what many would have expected of him to do. I sincerely hope that Zacharias repentance was total. I really hope so.
Dr. John MacArthur, in his “A Course for Life” series, was talking about handling private sins. This series were a series of messages he delivered to students of the Masters’ Seminary; it is a collection of life lessons the good pastors has acquired over half a century of pastoring. He said that the best way to deal with sin is to handle it in the heart. There is no human being on earth that is not subject to temptation. The difference between the born again man and the person who is not, is that Christians have extra resources to deal with their sins. And we do not wait until we get into a net of sexting before we begin to call for sanctification; rather, we develop healthy boundaries right now. We possess personal rules and regulations especially in our dealings with the opposite sex. We ensure that certain things are never closed issues between us and our spouses. We are open. Christian couples must have unfettered access to each other’s phones and devices. I know one pastor who shares the same email with his wife – it is a healthy exercise in probity. Whatever message he receives, is seen by the wife. There can never be a sexting in such a situation. The list is endless but every one of us know where we are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the matter of sex and we ensure that that we place extra accountability in those areas. Or else we would regret it and spend the rest of our lives defending our reputation, when we ought to be defending the gospel before unbelievers.
The Ravi Zacharias sexting scandal is a very humbling matter. Many Christians would prefer we do not discuss these issues at all. But I think we should; it will offer opportunity for all of us to examine those healthy boundaries we ought to have. And where we are falling short of, we make double effort to reinforce probity in those areas. Even after death, this scandal is still swooning around the Ravi Zacharias Ministry. His wife, daughters and ministry associates are the ones left to make a defense for his reputation at the moment. All of these could have been avoided if certain basic things were done.
[i] “Sexting” is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images, primarily between mobile phones, of oneself to others. It may also include the use of a computer or any digital device.