Ravi Zacharias sexually abused women. The accusations were reported last summer, the ministry organization (RZIM) started investigations last fall, and the confirmation of the sinful actions was admitted late last year. Two months later the story is being heard more widely.
The story is horrible. What Ravi did in life was a mixture of both righteous and wicked. Publicly he was righteous and spoke the Gospel. Secretly he was committing wicked acts against women. Recent attention has rightly been given to these wicked acts which have come to light. Responses have been written calling on Christians to live out the truth.
My sister recommended a blog about this from Phylicia Masonheimer. She writes that the work of Ravi has been tainted by his wickedness:
Knowing the hurt inflicted upon these women, particularly Lori Anne, makes his work – however orthodox or intellectually accurate – like a clanging gong (1 Cor. 13). Worse yet: bitter water, a poisoned well (James 3). - Phylicia Masonheimer
The Consequences of Sin are Grievous
I'm not convinced that we can never share any of the words from those who have acted without love. If that were so would we be forever confined to Scripture alone without ever turning to the Church Fathers, the examples of Saints throughout the ages, or even to fictional works that build up (such as Les Misérables)?
I put that question and all questions of degree aside for now. I want to focus on the point that sin is deadly. It has deadly consequences - even sometimes obscuring true words with the noise of clanging gongs.
This is why God hates sin. He hates death. He never wants his people to die.
Our sins not only lead to our own deaths but to the deaths of those around us. We must be vigilant in our effort to avoid sin and the resulting death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23
It is Wise to Avoid Occasions for Sin
In this effort to avoid sin we are wise to take steps to prevent ourselves from entering occasions for sin.
The classic example of this type of wisdom is a person who is addicted to alcohol avoiding bars and taverns. Why would they put themselves into a position where a fall into drunkenness is likely? Wisdom cries out for them to avoid this path.
Proverbs 7 describes how this wisdom is especially necessary to avoid the path of sexual immorality. The "adulteress" of that chapter is highlighted as particularly dangerous. The seductive power of sexual temptation is especially strong. (Which is why the word "seduction" is often defined with a note pointing to the particular association with sexual allure.)
Occasions for sexual sin are especially powerful draws. It is reasonable that our effort to avoid occasions for sexual sin will be particularly stringent.
These stringent standards may be seen in examples like the late Reverend Billy Graham who refused to be alone with any woman not his wife. This "Billy Graham Rule" was the focus of national attention as Vice President Pence's choice to follow the rule became a point of contention a few years ago.
This "Rule" is rightly understood to be self-imposed by men because they are aware of their own weak natures. Billy Graham and Vice President Pence chose to apply this rule to themselves in order to "give no opportunity to the flesh." (Romans 13:14) That is to say, they gave no opportunity to their own flesh to fulfill their own sinful sexual desires.
It is easy to see how this rule can be twisted away from an appropriate boundary against one's own desires. The rule can quickly be distorted into a view of all women as though they are universally the "adulteress" warned against in Proverbs 7. It's a small shift in focus to turn from guarding against your own sinfulness to guarding against the predations of those around you.
We must be cautious that our efforts at "prevention" do not morph into shifting blame away from our own sin natures and onto other people - especially women.
The excuse that "the woman made me do it" is tired and overused. Indeed, this is the first excuse offered by man in the face of his own sin. (Genesis 3:12)
Melissa Kruger at The Gospel Coalition warns against this shifting of blame. She writes that "Women Are Not the Problem."
In her article she shares her concerns that the continued fallout from Ravi Zacharias's sin (along with so many other sexually sinful men in Christian leadership) will hurt women more broadly. While she acknowledges that guardrails are proper to prevent sexual sin, there is a danger of overreacting and cutting off ministry to women.
She speaks to the particulars of pastoral ministry. She warns that pastors may overreact and withdraw from women altogether. What she says, while particularly true for leaders, is applicable to all Christians:
Withdrawing from women isn’t the solution. In fact, it’s part of the problem. - Melissa Kruger
It sounds nuts to think that any Christian would counsel someone to withdraw from an entire class of people. Avoiding the adulteress is wisdom, yes, but claiming that all women are adulteresses is crazy.
Yet this is not an uncommon recommendation from the Church.
I've heard this kind of counsel myself.
I have had a pastor explain to me that he isn't friends with any women.¹
I've had elders explain to me that they are not kind to women they find attractive.
They are shifting the blame away from their own wicked hearts and onto women.
The counsel they give isn't just about women.
This Is Used About Men, Too
I've had pastors and elders tell me that I shouldn't be friends with men.
"Because you're attracted to men," they reasoned, "it isn't safe for you to be friends with men."
Sometimes this counsel is couched in terms like "for now" or other limitations of a temporary nature. Yet it begs the question of who decides when guardrails can be taken down?
Other times the counsel is limited in terms of degree of closeness. "You just can't have a friendship like David and Jonathan had," one elder told me about my desire for intimate friendship.
I can see the wisdom in this if there was an "adulterous man" in my life who was trying to seduce me into sin. That would be a good time to cut off a relationship.
Yet the counsel isn't limited to the "adulterous man." The counsel is in broad and universal terms. (Of course there was the one time that I was encouraged to only have friendships with "ugly men." So I guess some exceptions may apply.)
The focus is external. Men (at least the attractive ones) are too dangerous for me so they must be avoided. Rather than focusing on my own sinful sexual desires I am told to focus externally. I'm blaming men. I'm told that I will not sin if I keep my distance from men.
This isn't the same as someone who is tempted by drunkenness avoiding bars and taverns. It's more equivalent to calling alcohol the "Devil's Drink" and imposing prohibition on every alcoholic drink for everyone everywhere. Rather than exercising self-control we just want the temptation eliminated.
This counsel is destructive and ruinous.
I myself have seen a number of friendships destroyed. My closest relationship with another Christian man was ruined because I followed this counsel.
If I could only go back in time and warn myself not to listen to what sounded like wisdom at the time. Alas, I cannot. I can only look forward.
Looking ahead I say that it is upon me to turn to the truth. My brothers-in-Christ are not responsible for my sin. I sin when my own heart conceives wicked desires. (James 1:14)
This Counsel is Also Completely Untrue
I don't avoid sin by avoiding men! I fall into sin more frequently and consistently when I am alone.
Cutting off godly friendships doesn't eliminate any temptation which might have been generated from that friendship. The temptation can remain long after the relationship is removed. (Not to be crass, but is there any relationship in pornography? We don't need relationships to sin sexually.)
So I have rejected this ruinous and false counsel.
Now I Give Myself (and all others) This Counsel:
Fleeing from sin is not the same as fleeing from image bearers of the Holy God. Sin comes from my own heart not from my brothers-in-Christ. Not all attractive men are "the adulterous man" which Proverbs 7 warns me to avoid.
Be careful not to use this truth as an excuse to enter occasions for sin. My heart is deceitful and wicked above all else and I do not know it. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.
Stay accountable to others around me. They may often see where I'm being led into occasions for sin where I am blind.
Yet do not be blind to the reality that there are foolish counselors. Check everything against the Word of God.
Draw near to God. He will draw near to me. Renewing my mind comes through the Word of God.
If this counsel from me is helpful to you, I am glad. The final word I would give in advice is to search the Scriptures to know how we ought to live. The Bible gives us all that is necessary for life and godliness. Sometimes there will be particular questions of application which are not clear. Lean on good counselors in those situations, but never be led by them to believe something contradictory to the eternal truths of the Word of God.
It isn't good for men to be alone. Our sinful desires are not solved by withdrawing from fellow image bearers of the Holy God.
Women are not the problem. Men aren't the problem, either.
¹ Note that this is not the same as never being alone in the same room as a woman not your wife. You can still be friends with someone and never be alone with them. Indeed, friendships are enriched by the community of many friends and can be stifled if they are isolated.