the sheepfold beckons
Reading Time: 5 minutes (Ani Adigyozalyan.)
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Hi and welcome back! A couple of weeks ago, the ministry of Ravi Zacharias released a formal report on this famous evangelist’s predatory behavior. It not only confirmed the rumors about him, but also shed new light on a slew of other abuses he’d committed. Christians are starting to fret over the breadth of their hero’s abuses, as one might imagine. But they’re blaming the wrong forces here — as usual. Today, let me show you the ongoing fallout over Ravi Zacharias’ sex scandals — and why none of his fellow leaders stopped him.

the sheepfold beckons
(Ani Adigyozalyan.)

C&MA: Ravi Zacharias Defrocked.

Religion News Service (RNS) brought us this story recently. In the wake of the official report about the predatory and abusive behavior of Ravi Zacharias, his ordination was revoked by the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). Their official press release reads:

Mr. Zacharias’ actions were in direct violation of his obligation to demonstrate his commitment to serve Christ and His people through his devotion, character, lifestyle, and values. In recognition of this gross violation and its painful consequences to the victims and others who were impacted, the C&MA posthumously expels Mr. Zacharias from licensed ministry in our denomination. This comes with the automatic revocation of his ordination.

Granted, the dude’s dead. So this penalty might not mean much in real terms.

C&MA also mentions that when a serious accusation arose against Ravi Zacharias in 2018, they investigated it. This accusation may have been the one raised by Lori Anne Thompson in 2017. They say in their press release that nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) on both sides “hindered” them from finding the information they needed.

Lacking evidence, they stopped their investigation. Dang ol’ dirty NDAs!

David French: What a Friend Ravi Zacharias Had in Him!

Fundagelical journalist David French (who has a tag over at Right Wing Watch) also wrote about Ravi Zacharias and his scandals. After writing decently well about all the collusion and cooperation that Zacharias’ subordinates and ministry officials had engaged in to keep their idol afloat, French declares how “difficult” this post was for him to write:

I’ve had to confront my own negligence. I’m a Christian writer and journalist, and I paid insufficient attention to Thompson’s initial claims. I was only vaguely aware of her allegations at the time, and had I dug down into the story, it would have been obvious that Zacharias’s account had serious problems.

French tells us he personally deeply admired Ravi Zacharias and helped his ministry professionally. In addition, he was also friends with a lot of the major players involved here.

As expected, then, his brief suggestions are completely worthless. They serve only to make David French feel like He Has Totally DONE Something About This Awful Thing — Yes, YES He Has! (See endnote.)

Instead of being part of the explosive exposure of one of the worst hypocrites in evangelicalism lately, David French chose to be part of the twisted web of loyalties and allegiances that let that hypocrite frolic in the sheepfold.

RZIM: Ruthlessly Silencing Dissent.

Ruth Malhotra joined RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) in 2013 as a public relations (PR) person. She sent a letter on February 6 to the board’s chairman about what she’d seen going on in RZIM since about 2017.

It’s one hell of a letter.

In it, Malhotra details a campaign of ruthless and brutal silencing and suppression on the part of Ravi Zacharias’ officers. Anybody who raised any concerns about their Dear Leader’s behavior — as Malhotra seems to have done many times — was gaslighted into silence, shouted down, or simply sent away.

She pinpoints 2017 as the year that she began noticing that Ravi Zacharias’ interests had eclipsed RZIM’s stated goals. In addition, that’s about when she noticed Ravi Zacharias’ disturbing dishonesty.

In this letter, Malhotra describes a culture laser-focused on protecting Ravi Zacharias above all.

Ruth Malhotra portrays herself as someone seeking only truth, wanting the most Jesus-flavored solutions imaginable, and holding the highest moral standards. Her colleagues (like Julie Roys) think very highly of her.

And yet she still sat on these serious questions about Ravi Zacharias. In fact, she sat on them for at least three years. So did a host of other RZIM officers alongside her. None of them did what was right here.

Webs of Lies and Loyalties.

The people who covered up Ravi Zacharias’ predations and lies were deeply indoctrinated people. They really believed in RZIM’s stated goals. Thus, they saw the protection of Zacharias’ reputation as an important part of accomplishing those goals.

Worse, Ravi Zacharias seems to have built his ministry from the ground up to create opportunities for getting his jollies — and keeping his many victims and associates silent.

From starstruck hangers-on like David French to completely gaslighted employees like Ruth Malhotra, Ravi Zacharias crafted a support network that any secular C-suite corporate leader would envy. To gain that level of protection from that many people, though, one must turn to religion.

In her writeup of the Ruth Malhotra letter (relink), Julie Roys compares this scandal to all the similar scandals evangelicals have seen of late.

Yet this misplaced priority has wreaked havoc, not just at Moody, or RZIM. It’s been prevalent in almost every scandal the church has had of late—at Harvest Bible Chapel, Liberty University, Acts 29, Willow Creek Community Church, Hillsong, Grace Community Church, Cedarville, and now RZIM.

That “misplaced priority” thing refers to the way ministries tend to protect their leaders and reputation instead of their mission. So her solution, of course, is to tell evangelicals to stop doing that.

Ta da! Tra la! Problem fixed!

Except Not Really.

Evangelicals are authoritarians. They operate under the principles of power — not with an eye toward making Baby Jesus happy. Thus, they will always gravitate to very charismatic, blustering, power-maddened leaders. Once they attach themselves to one of these leaders, they will cling to the end. They see this attachment as their own path to power.

All that Jesus blahblah that Christian organizations do is just window-dressing. They plaster it all over in hopes of hiding the real principles that govern their groups.

And in recent years, I’ve begun thinking that the harder an organization leans on that window-dressing, the more they have to hide underneath it all.

The problem with all of these scandal-riddled Christian groups isn’t celebrity culture. Or a “misplaced priority.” It’s the pursuit of power within an authoritarian context. When shortcomings in accountability allow predators to run rampant, then that is exactly what they do. (No gurgling Baby Jesuses stop them, either.) Nobody can make authoritarian leaders care about the harm they do. And so they don’t. (No glorious, divine gods ever fling bolts of lightning from the heavens to stop them, either.)

That’s why it was an atheist blogger who exposed Ravi Zacharias and kept focus on his victims — when none of these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ could or did.

Authoritarian groups serve the interests of their leaders, not their members, so they’re far more likely to suffer such shortcomings and thus to attract leaders who’ll use that structure to their own advantage. It’s really that simple. 

I wonder how long it’ll be before evangelicals recognize these truths?

NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides! See you tomorrow.


About David French’s non-solutions: He wants evangelicals to learn to totally hold “rigorous, independent investigations.” To disallow big-name Christians from putting their own kids on their ministries’ boards. To end the practice of nondisclosure agreements to keep their wrongdoing under wraps. Most of all, to stop “trust[ing] instincts over evidence.”

If evangelicals could do literally ANY of that stuff, they wouldn’t be evangelicals. Predators gravitate to positions of power within evangelicalism precisely because evangelicals let them play and frolic freely in the sheepfold. (Back to the post!)

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...