Last week, an investigation into the life of the late Ravi Zacharias, prominent Christian apologist, revealed patterns of sexual misconduct and spiritual abuse that spanned his life and his ministry.
Allegations had surfaced a number of years ago about his misconduct, but the accusers were silenced. Some staff members who attempted to question his character following the accusations were silenced and blamed for attempting to bring the ministry down, according to an article in Christianity Today.
Sadly, Zacharias is simply the next in a line of prominent Christians who has fallen to sexual immorality and lived an abusive lifestyle.
Many people wonder how and why pastors and spiritual leaders can so easily fall to sexual misconduct. Let me start by saying that most—if not all—enter the ministry with hearts that desire to walk in obedience. However, somewhere along the way, their hearts become hardened to the voice of God. It’s a subtle shift, one that occurs over the course of many small steps in the wrong direction.
What small steps cause these leaders to fall?
They live a life without accountability. We all need others. Scripture is clear that the Christian life was not meant to be lived alone but instead it is meant to be lived in community. How many times do we see the phrase “one another” in scripture? Doesn’t the book of Hebrews tell us not to forsake the assembling together? Have you personally found that community helps you move in the right direction?
These leaders are no different. They surround themselves with people who will love and support them. Unfortunately, many times these same people fail to be true friends—the type of friends who are willing to call out one another for making wrong choices. Or maybe they create an environment where it isn’t safe to call them out for sins. Either way, these leaders live lives that don’t have the accountability we as humans need.
Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. Proverbs 27:6
They fail to guard their hearts. When I think of a biblical character who lived his convictions, I often think of Joseph. When faced with a seductive woman, he fled. Sadly, the woman accused him of sexually assaulting her, but he lived a life of integrity (see Genesis 39).
He guarded his heart because he knew it was the wellspring of life.
Guarding our hearts has sadly become a thing of the past in many circles. As pornography becomes more readily accessible and has less of a stigma, more people have become addicted. What starts as a quick peek leads to more frequent use. Eventually, just looking at images is not enough to get the same “high,” and people find themselves needing to act out what they once only looked at.
When we as Christians fail to guard our hearts, we are destined for a life marred by moral failures.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23
They use their spiritual position and charisma to influence others. Most people only know the public persona of their pastor. They don’t know the private persona, and sometimes there is a vast chasm that exists between the two.
Let me give you a personal example: My pastor ex-husband had an affair with a woman in our church who perceived my husband as the spiritual leader she had always longed for. She saw a man who had an incredible ability to teach scripture, who had command of the entirety of the Word of God. What she didn’t see was the man who isolated himself from his family, made it clear he was the leader of the home, and expected our home to revolve around him and his desires. She didn’t see the angry, expletive-laced tirades that ensued when one of us would dare to challenge his authority in any way. She didn’t see the man who controlled his family through the use of fear tactics.
Spiritual leaders who fall to immorality often use their knowledge of scripture, their position, and their charisma to prey on women who can’t see past the public persona.
So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. 1 Timothy 3:2
When I think of a biblical character who falls into a similar trap, my mind immediately jumps to King David. He was a spiritual leader who was well-respected by all. Unfortunately, he failed to guard his heart and mind. When he chose not to go to war as was the custom for kings (2 Samuel 11:1), he fell into the trap of looking at Bathsheba. Instead of immediately recognizing his lust and turning from it, he chose to walk away from God and seduce Bathsheba.
After he realized his sin was going to be uncovered, David attempted to hide his sin. Ultimately, He was guilty of not just adultery but also murder. His moral failure was the result of one small step at a time.
Do you know what the difference is between King David and Ravi Zacharias?
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Psalm 51:1-3
You see, when King David was confronted with his sin, he fell to his knees before God. He confessed his sins and turned from them. He surrendered to God, and turned from his wicked ways. Sadly, Ravi Zacharias and so many others never had that Psalm 51 moment. They continued to hide their sins rather than letting God bring the truth into the light. And because their sins remained hidden, their lives and their legacies were forever marred. Because they did not guard their hearts, the course of their lives was forever altered.
What about you? Are you living your life in such a way that you are at risk of falling to immorality? Maybe it’s time we all take some time to examine our lives and see if we are focused on living a life set apart for holiness.
That, after all, is what we are called to do.