For decades, Ravi Zacharias (RZ) has been one of the most popular faces in the world of Christian apologetics. Not since C.S. Lewis has a public apologist made such an engaging case for Christianity. A very conservative, articulate, and bold speaker, RZ has been a reliable, popular source for conservative evangelicals interested in making a case for their faith and worldview.
Up until the last 18 months, RZ’s record has been sterling.
(On a personal note, I always thought he was a solid speaker, although I was put off by what appeared to be a lot of self-promotion. Personally, whenever a minister names his ministry after himself, it’s problematic to me, as it strikes me as narcissistic.)
But in late 2017, RZ ran into some serious trouble.
For one thing, while he has promoted himself as a “doctor”–which is legitimate for those with doctoral degrees–he has never earned a doctoral degree. He has an MDiv degree along with several honorary doctorate degrees, but no earned doctorates. And yes, there is a difference: representing yourself as a doctor, with only an honorary doctorate, will get you fired in every legitimate professional circle, as that is a violation of academic integrity.
Moreover, he claimed to have taught at Oxford University. In point of fact, he has never taught there: he once did a sabbatical at a Ridley Hall, which has a relationship with Cambridge. (Again, such inflation of one’s vitae is a firing offense in the professional world, and RZ knows it.)
On top of that, he had a sexting scandal. Without getting into the details–I’m going to tell you I believe he’s guilty, and I say that on the basis of HIS ACTIONS as well as the emails I saw (he threatened suicide toward his alleged victim). His settlement of the suit–with a non-disclosure agreement–gave him the mother of all “have your cake and eat it too” deals: he took to Christianity Today to deny any wrongdoing, while falling back on the NDA to avoid answering the hard questions.
But it gets worse.
Now, we have an account, provided by Julie Anne Smith of Spiritual Sounding Board, of a woman who, in 1973, was romantically involved with RZ’s brother (Ramesh) and got pregnant. RZ allegedly pressed her to have an abortion.
(Julie Anne, shortly before breaking her story, informed the Twittersphere that she had a big story coming on RZ. I knew it would be damaging, but this is far, far worse than I expected. And given my cynicism, that’s saying something!)
No, RZ will not face any criminal charges here, nor is he facing a lawsuit, as Steward, the alleged victim, is not seeking monetary damages.
The problem here: if true, this scandal, dating back to RZ’s early days in ministry, would–combined with his false representations of himself and his sexting scandal–show a pattern of conduct that has RZ showing callous disregard for other people as well as the truth.
He has a record of lying about his background–he has never earned a doctoral degree, and he has never taught at Oxford–so his credibility is problematic. His evasions regarding his sexting scandal are also damaging to his credibility. So far, I have not seen a response from him regarding the allegations from Shirley: no denial, no explanation, nothing.
And make no mistake: I do believe he owes the Body an explanation. And not just regarding the allegations from Shirley Steward. It’s long past time for him to cut the veneer and speak plainly for everyone.
For the record, I know Julie Anne. I’ve never met her personally, but we are friends in the Interwebz. She and I have differing viewpoints on theology and politics–I’m a conservative, knuckle-dragging Biblical Patriarch and she’s a moderate-liberal egalitarian.
Having said that, she’s a friend of mine. She is a fair reporter of facts. She knows what libel and slander are, and she is meticulous about avoiding them. She was sued before, and she won the suit. She’s careful about covering her tracks.
I believe Julie Anne is reporting factually, as I am convinced that she has the paper trail. I believe Shirley Steward.
I’m not saying this with any sort of happiness. In fact, I’m outraged. Not at Julie Anne or Shirley, but at RZ.
At this point, RZ is not “above reproach”. As I said, he has a lot of explaining to do. If the reporting is correct–and I believe it is–then he has a lot of apologizing to do, and I would suggest he isn’t fit to be a minister.
I wish I could say otherwise, but I believe Julie Anne and Shirley are being truthful. Can RZ produce facts that prove otherwise? The cynic in me says he’s in serious trouble, but I’m open-minded. I’m just not convinced–based on his recent conduct–that he has it.
The ball is in your court, RZ.