Yesterday, RZIM released its report following the investigations that have taken place into allegations of abuse by Ravi Zacharias, the Canadian-American Christian apologist that founded RZIM, and the Zacharias Trust which operates in Europe.
First of all, we want to acknowledge those who were subjected to this abuse and to recognise the courage it took to speak up in a world where victims are often overlooked or blamed. We stand with you and against abuse in all its forms.
But secondly, we hope that this situation is not just another in a long line of disappointing stories of fallen leaders. We need to learn some important lessons in order to move towards a world in which abuse cannot flourish and power is not wielded as a weapon.
- We need to recognise that abusers do not have horns - they frequently do not ‘match the man we know and work with’. If abusers exhibited their abusive behaviours all the time, they would never get away with the abuse, because people would see them coming a mile away. The lived experience of those who have been abused is the terrible isolation of being the only person experiencing it; the abuser showing a very different side to everyone else, making the hidden reality seem ‘unbelievable’.
- We need to stop calling abuse ‘sexual misconduct’. Let’s call it what it is - sexual harassment, assault and abuse. Let’s not cover it up because we put the leader on a pedestal and don’t really want to take them down.
- The Church, more than any other institution, must stop placing its leaders on pedestals, beyond reproach or scrutiny. We need to shift to a culture where no one is above accountability - where our leaders are not rock stars, but real people, working in community, being held accountable. We need to ask whether NDAs can ever be appropriate in a Church where transparency and truth should be an essential part of leadership.
- We need to question why we find it easier to believe that someone is making it up, or wants attention, or money, or somehow ‘asked for it’, than to believe our heroes are flawed.
- We need to listen to those who say they have been abused and we need to investigate properly. Some might suggest that we let sleeping dogs lie, that we shouldn’t look at accusations against a dead man, but the Bible demonstrates that actually, it’s vital that we understand our heroes, warts and all. Without ever demonising these leaders, the Bible never shies away from revealing their weaknesses and failings.
- Let’s give our attention to the right thing. It’s easy, even now, to focus on the man and not the women who spoke out. Still, his ‘fame’ catches our attention, when actually the focus needs to be on restoring those he abused. We need to shine a light into the darkness created by abusers so that those they have hurt no longer have to hide. Abuse is the shame of the abuser, not the abused.
We recognise that there will be much grief. Those who were abused are on a long journey to recovery. Those who knew and loved Ravi will be grieving and confused. His family, colleagues and followers will be bewildered and devastated to discover what has happened.
As a wider Church, we will be grieving, we feel betrayed, concerned that we didn’t notice, didn’t question, didn’t challenge. Too often, we have been blind to abuse happening in our churches. It sits heavily with us. Let us turn, then, to a God of justice and of hope, but let’s also own our part in this and resolve to speak up and do something, wherever we see injustice and abuse.
Loving God, would you meet us in this grief and transform it for good. Help us use our voices to speak out against abuse and against the structures that allow abuse to continue. Help us to be people that create safe spaces, who love the way you do and to challenge abuse wherever we see it. Out of a heartbreaking misuse of power, come and create a hunger for change in your Church.