By now we all know about the credible allegations against the late Ravi Zacharias. These are not small issues, from soliciting and storing inappropriate photos of women, to assaulting employees of massage centers, to the very real possibility of sex trafficking across continents. At this point, nothing will surprise me, but what does shock me is this strange argument I’ve heard from some: “Well, he’s no different than King David.”
In some ways this is true. In other ways, not at all.
How the two were similar:
They isolated themselves. King David, the King who typically waged war, decided one spring to stay back. In doing so, he removed himself from his group of mighty men. These men had been with him through everything, and they had credibility with him. As I researched this story, I was struck by the fact that during the entire time of his exploitation of Bathsheba, no one disobeyed the king’s orders. He alone could do as he pleased because there was no one left behind in the palace who would stand up to him.
David asked who this woman was. He summoned her. He took her. All these actions were witnessed, but not confronted by his servants and subordinates.
What I found fascinating: the only one who boldly defied the king’s wishes through this entire narrative was Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, one of his mighty men. He did this not once, but twice. When David stayed back in Jerusalem, he isolated himself from the only people who would call him on his sin, the only ones who felt comfortable doing so. David did not (in the moment) punish Uriah for his defiance. And because of Uriah’s honorable actions, David made the choice to eliminate him. (See 2 Samuel 11 for the whole story).
Ravi, too, kept accountability at bay by justifying his behavior to those who should have held him accountable, but in their powerlessness looked away or dismissed his behavior. His “power” meant that those who were subjected to him would not bring up such touchy subjects like his so-called constant need for massages. Like the servants who uncovered Bathsheba’s identity, then forced her to the palace, Ravi’s people chose not to confront–because they had no power to do so. (I would argue that this does not release them from accountability.)
They both preyed upon the vulnerable. Bathsheba would have no recourse. She could not scream or fight back against the king of the land. His will would prevail. She had no allies in the palace structure. He was royalty, she, his royal subject.
Ravi, similarly, preyed on those in his employ as well as others who displayed vulnerability and, in one case, experienced past sexual abuse. The massage therapists could not say no. And Lori Anne Thompson experienced extreme confusion over the requests Ravi made of her. Wasn’t he supposed to be a man of God? While King David was guilty of power manipulation, Ravi was guilty of emotional manipulation and spiritual coercion.
[One of Ravi’s massage therapists] said Zacharias “made her pray with him to thank God for the ‘opportunity’ they both received” and, as with other victims, “called her his ‘reward’ for living a life of service to God,” the report says. Zacharias warned the woman—a fellow believer—if she ever spoke out against him, she would be responsible for millions of souls lost when his reputation was damaged. (Source).
The situations between David and Ravi are also similar in that they both had the power to commit these crimes without initial pushback or consequence, and the victims of both had very little power to bring the crimes to light. In the case of Ravi, his reputation ultimately mattered more than the devastation of his victims. So many people cared about his reputation, but so few cared about the carnage of his actions.
How the two differed:
King David, when confronted by Nathan the Prophet in 2 Samuel 12, heard the words, “You are the man.” He did not deflect, did not blame his victim, did not reason away, did not gaslight Bathsheba, did not justify himself, nor did he say “if this gets out, my kingdom will fall, so be quiet.” No. He repented. King David displayed a holy fear, not only for how his sin affected him, his family, his legacy, and the subsequent fallout, but he mostly feared God. “I have sinned against the Lord,” (vs 13) David told Nathan. He grieved over his sin, then accepted the terrible consequences of it–even publicly.
However, Ravi had ample opportunity to repent prior to his passing. Faced with his imminent death from cancer, he knew he would soon be facing the God he skillfully argued for, but as far as we know, he did not acknowledge the things that had already been brought to light via online Nathans. Nefarious practices had been leaked and highlighted. Brave people tried to tell their stories, but Ravi’s organization either hushed them through legal means or dismissed the allegations as unwarranted or a smear campaign. Their double-downing empowered Ravi to live in the illusion he created. He was God’s anointed; therefore, he was above reproach. There were to be no Nathans. After all, if Ravi’s predatory behavior and crimes came to light, wouldn’t the cause of Christ be damaged? Best keep quiet and let the ministry funds keep flowing.
But King David never did this. He walked the more difficult road of truth, repentance, and consequence. The latter years of his legacy shrunk in comparison to his first years. Still, he so feared God that he was willing to let the fallout happen.
David owned his grievous sin. Ravi did not.
When David sinned, Nathan said, he “showed utter contempt for the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:14).
I would argue, when Ravi chose to continue creating elaborate structures in place that concealed his predatory behavior, when he secured secret phones, when he chose never to acknowledge the utter horror he enacted against women–he, too, showed utter contempt for the Lord he purported to love. As he neared death, this contempt continued.
I would argue, this is Ravi’s tainted legacy--not that he defended God against atheistic arguments, but that he gave those who are far from God a perfect argument to run as far away from Him as possible. This should grieve us all.
Ravi Zacharias was a clever wolf, one with strong, convincing logic but a weak moral constitution. He was a false prophet, defying the quiet cries of many Nathans. Jesus warned against people like him. “Watch out false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). False prophets appear to be one of the flock, but their actions (in devouring the most vulnerable in their flock) reveal their actual character. That Ravi preyed upon the vulnerable makes him a wolf who used rhetoric, power, and evangelical fame to satisfy his base desires.
My response to this egregious situation is grief. I am tired, so tired of this same narrative being played out in ministries and churches that are supposed to represent Jesus Christ. Instead, their downfall represents the kingdom of darkness, where deceit, humiliation, predation, and reputation management trump truth, compassion, humility, and repentance.
We must do better. Dear God, we must.