Although the evangelical community prefers to think the late Ravi Zacharias sexual and financial scandal is an isolated incident it’s not so. It exposes a trend prevalent across the evangelical church today. The tragic revelation indicates that Christian Leaders are perfectly capable of manipulating their recognition and charisma to conceal their darkest and dirtiest secrets.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7 verse 15, our Lord warned us against False Prophets, likening them to ferocious wolves coming in sheep’s clothing. In other words, deceptive leadership in the body of Christ, Although not every Christian leader you will meet will not be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, there’s no guarantee you will never be the victim of one. After all, deception is a process. Men that are godly leaders today years down the road can end up being masters of deception.
So how do you know you are not following a deceiver or being deceived? There should be some guiding light to know when your leaders are not worth following anymore. Hence this blog post. Given below are five major characteristics of a deceptive leader as it became evident from the life of the man we knew as Ravi Zacharias. [Photo: Ravi Zacharias addressing the participants at “Younger Leaders’ Gathering” in the year 2016. Credit: lausannemovement]
Note: In posting this I don’t intend to attack Zacharias, his family, and friends, or RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) the organization he left behind. This post rather is a systematic presentation of facts as a warning to the Christian Community.
1. Ravi Zacharias resisted Confrontation
The Word of God has commanded us in the book of Psalm chapter 82 verse 3 to defend the weak, the fatherless; and uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. It is what Ruth Malhotra did when the reports of Ravi’s sexual and financial misconduct surfaced. RZIM on the other hand placed her on a sabbatical and eventually fired her as the spokeswoman for RZIM.
Malhotra had confronted her boss’s behaviour long before his demise. On February 11th, 2021, Christianity Today reported that Zacharias regularly travelled with a personal masseuse and criticized a fellow RZIM staff member who questioned the “appearance of impropriety” for doing so. This was in the year 2013 and the staff member was none other than Malhotra.
In the Old Testament times, the kings persecuted and silenced the prophets for exposing the deception and corruption in the administration. These kings, ultimately lead entire nations into permanent destruction. Beware when you spot leaders who resist, persecute and silence people with prophetic voices that confront wrong optics. Such behaviour is typical of deceptive leadership.
2. Zacharias made criticism his Scapegoat
Steve Baughman a lawyer and the author of the blog Ravi Watch was probably the biggest critique of Zacharias and RZIM. The man reminds me of God speaking through a Donkey when Balaam didn’t listen. When RZIM and its founder refused to listen to Malhotra God spoke through Baughman a modern-day Donkey. However, the late apologist and RZIM both categorically dismissed the criticism as hate speech.
In a letter dated February 6, 2021, to the Chairman of the RZIM Board of Directors, Malhotra has mentioned Zacharias’ unhealthy obsession with Baughman. She describes that Zacharias likened Baughman to a vulture with a hatred for the Lord waiting for an opportunity. In the letter, she further writes that the senior leadership of RZIM accepted these assertions despite their shallow nature.
Leadership always attracts criticism. Even our Lord was not immune from it. However, he faced his critiques head-on because he was straight as an arrow. Hence, beware when you see leaders who dismiss criticism as hate speech. Using it as a scapegoat to conceal their wrongdoings instead of coming out clean. Such behaviour is typical of deceptive leadership.
3. He demanded absolute Allegiance
Blind allegiance is not loyalty. It’s spiritual gullibility. The cost of working At Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) according to Malhotra was absolute allegiance. Nobody dared question Zacharias – not even the questionable behaviour and the practices he was known for when he was alive. (The ministry labelled Malhotra herself as disloyal when she went public with her concerns about the organization.)
A. In the year 2017 Zacharias paid $250,000 in “hush money” to Lori Anne Thompson and got her to sign an NDA. Nobody at RZIM has ever asked why? (why did he pay hush money if he was innocent?) Further according to Ruth Hutchins, the financial report for FY 2017, which was the year of Thompson’s sexting lawsuit is also missing.
B. Zacharias is said to have avoided using company technology and refused to utilize company email. He had adamantly refused to hand over his personal electronic equipment for investigation when Thompson’s claims against him were probed. Nobody at RZIM ever dared to confront him.
C. RZIM has not disclosed a “Form 990” since 2015; According to Malhotra it became exempt from filing after asking the IRS to reclassify it as “an association of churches.” Nobody at RZIM questioned this decision either.
D. Although Zacharias came under scrutiny for advertising fake academic qualifications, the fellow leaders at RZIM defended him citing various reasons.
Allegiance isn’t inherently bad, but blind allegiance at the expense of the truth is evil. Our Lord never asked anyone to follow him blindly. He willingly expressed the cost of following in his footsteps. He did not resist those who questioned his ways but always answered with credibility and without a flaw. Beware of leaders that demand blind allegiance. Such behavior is typical of deceptive leadership
4. RZIM leadership discredited the Victims
The justice systems in some nations are known for defending the culprits and discrediting the victims. Unfortunately, RZIM wasn’t different. In an interview with Dr. Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Abdu Murray apologized for defending Zacharias and discrediting the victims including Lori Anne Thompson and Shirley Steward. Although he said this wasn’t deliberate Malhotra in her letter has accused Murray of intentionally suppressing the truth about Zacharias.
Among, Murray’s efforts to discredit the victims was hiring private investigators to research the criminal backgrounds of the women who accused Zacharias of abuse. Later he said that RZIM carried out criminal background checks on five women associated with the spa. Also, Malhotra in her letter has accused him of suggesting to hire an ex-cop who was “rough around the edges” to discredit these women. (Murray however denies this allegation)
Our Lord defended even the sinful women caught in the act let alone discrediting innocent victims. This should be an example to every modern-day Christian leader. Therefore, beware of leaders who defend the culprit and discredit the victim. Such behaviour is typical of deceptive leadership.
5. Zacharias became a celebrity Leader
The Christian Community is to be blamed for Zacharias’ celebrity status than Zacharias or the RZIM themselves. HarperCollins one of Zacharias’ major publishers followed by the report corresponding to the independent investigation, removed all publications by the late apologist and stopped any that were in print also. Reminds me of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Earlier in this post, I mentioned Zacharias came under scrutiny for advertising fake academic credentials. Steve Baughman whom I mentioned before had noticed this and mentioned it on his blog “Ravi Watch”. However, HarperCollins at the contributor’s page of 2017 The Jesus Bible has listed him as “Ravi Zacharias, Ph.D.” His author bio at Penguin Random House says, “Zacharias holds three doctorate degrees.”
Then we have the local churches that hosted Zacharias despite the accusations of academic and sexual scandals. It is us that are responsible for his celebrity status because we made him one. Our Lord and apostles like Paul and Barnabas had plenty of opportunities to become celebrity figures which they declined because ministry is all about God not about us. Beware of celebrity leaders. Such attributes are typical of deceptive leadership.
While nearing the end of this post I came to know that Nathan Zacharias continues to defend his late father through Defending Ravi. In a nutshell, he maintains that his father is innocent, RZIM did not handle the situation in the best way possible, the report by Martin and Miller is unacceptable. I do not intend to argue his position concerning his father. In fact, I have linked back to his blog so that people can see what he has to say. However, I must note, this situation is not about Zacharias, his family friends, or the RZIM. It’s not even about the victims. It’s all about the Church, the Body of Christ.
Smietana, B., 2021. She wanted to help Ravi Zacharias save the world but ended up defending an abuser. [online] Religion News Service. Available at: <https://religionnews.com/2021/08/13/ruth-malhorta-wanted-to-help-save-the-world-instead-she-ended-up-defending-an-abuser-raavi-zacharias-alori-anne-thompson/> [Accessed 12 September 2021].
Silliman, D. and Shellnutt, K., 2021. Ravi Zacharias Hid Hundreds of Pictures of Women, Abuse During Massages, and a Rape Allegation. [online] News & Reporting. Available at: <https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/february/ravi-zacharias-rzim-investigation-sexual-abuse-sexting-rape.html> [Accessed 12 September 2021].
French, D., 2021. You Are One Step Away from Complete and Total Insanity. [online] The Dispatch. Available at: <https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/you-are-one-step-away-from-complete> [Accessed 13 September 2021].
The Hindu. 2021. Ministry roiled by late founder’s sexual misconduct scandal. [online] Available at: <https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/ministry-roiled-by-late-founders-sexual-misconduct-scandal/article33499131.ece> [Accessed 13 September 2021].
En.wikipedia.org. 2021. Ravi Zacharias – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravi_Zacharias> [Accessed 13 September 2021].
2021. Available at: <“Ravi Zacharias Abuse: Lessons Learned from Abdu Murray.” n.d. www.youtube.com. Accessed September 13, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLYjzPZK7gw&t=13s. > [Accessed 13 September 2021].
Manila, T., 2021. Leadership Lessons: Ravi Zacharias – When Great Christian Leaders FAIL – Tina in Manila. [online] Tina in Manila. Available at: <https://tinainmanila.com/2021/04/15/leadership-lessons-ravi-zacharias-when-charismatic-leaders-fail/> [Accessed 13 September 2021].