Her early morning text wasn't really a surprise.
Founder of a thriving ministry helping partners in recovery from sexual betrayal, my colleague is well-trained in sexual addiction and betrayal trauma. Her request was related to the February (2021) Ravi Zacharias International Board of Directors release of Miller & Martin PLLC's independent report citing multiple cases of Ravi's sexual abuse and misuse of power over an extended period of time. Because he was an internationally recognized Christian apologist/speaker, she knew many in the Christian community would experience disbelief, shock, confusion, and despair.
And now, based on a mutually respectful relationship with her church leaders, she hoped to bring her perspective to help guide the church's approach when responding to a church or ministry leader's abuse of power and sexual misconduct. Afterwards, she described feeling relief at being heard and her insights about the complexities of his actions/behaviors appreciated.
About those complexities
In ADOH we addressed why it's crucial for peer facilitators to understand the differences between sexual addiction or sexual integrity failure AND sexual abuse/predatory behaviors. We also noted the added trauma experienced by Ravi's victims (including family, staff, and those who revered him) because RZIM's board/leaders failed in their response to allegations. The far-reaching fallout of their failure heightened my commitment to fulfill my responsibilities as ADOH's founder and 'lead servant' as well as my C-SASI board member role.
Because guiding these conversations was outside the scope of my training and expertise, I turned to Dr. Barbara Steffens, who serves as the C-SASI's board adviser (and ADOH's). We discussed our mutual concerns about ensuring Christ-centered organizations like C-SASI and ADOH have practices and policies in place to, as Grace’s tagline states, "recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse."
Then, based on her expertise and heart and with my colleague's prayer request in mind, I asked Dr. Steffens if she would share her perspective about Ravi's behaviors with those in leadership roles in church and ministry organizations.
Dear Christian leaders
Many of you are struggling with the recent exposure of the sexual abuse and deception of yet another high-profile Christian leader. You may be a struggler yourself, in recovery from sexually compulsive behaviors or other sexual issues that are in conflict with the heart of God. You work hard to encourage others, stay in accountable relationships, pastor your flock, and examine what God is calling you to do or say. I’d like to offer some encouragement and some things to consider. Sexual integrity failure has many facets; what we see in the recent exposure of Ravi Zacharia's pervasive abusive and deception behaviors was not sexual addiction or compulsion; it was and is abuse.
Many in our faith and recovery communities may be identifying with Ravi’s “fall”. As I look at what I understand about Ravi’s behavior, I do not see what we commonly think of as sex addiction, but rather sexual abuse and predatory behaviors. I am concerned that sometimes we get it confused in our arena and thus may confuse those who don’t understand the differences between addiction and offender behaviors. His behaviors appear predatory. I am starting to believe he kept it all a secret not out of fear of what he would lose, but because he did not see anything wrong with what he was doing. That he felt entitled. Did he really have a “lifetime of admirable work” and was it truly “undone in an instant” at exposure? Or was it a planned and intentional preying upon his victims, using the cloak of being a Christian leader as his disguise? I suppose only Jesus knows the answer to that.
Christian systems should never give so much power and autonomy to a leader. All of us need accountability and honest relationships. We can deceive ourselves so easily. I also hope that Christian leaders of all sorts will look at their own levels of accountability and honesty. But I also hope the church can differentiate between a person with moral failures or addiction, and a person acting without morals. A person who is a hoax: a wolf. I’m believing Ravi was the latter. The church needs to protect the sheep from wolves.
Ravi had many victims; the women he abused, the people within the system he that deceived, and those who came to faith through his teaching who are likely now experiencing great pain, betrayal, and confusion. His actions were examples of sexual abuse, sexual offending, grooming, spiritual abuse, and financial abuse. These actions resulted in harm to others who were and are his victims. I hope to see more faith leaders speaking on behalf of these types of victims. Jesus certainly weeps for them and with them.
I’ve been encouraged by writers/speakers such as Dr. Diane Langberg who is prophetically speaking to the church about our need to protect the sheep. Her newest book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church is just what we need right now to help us see potential abusers in our midst. (By the way, Sheila Gregoire, author of the just released The Great Sex Rescue, is someone who is taking a lot of our so-called Biblical teachings about sexuality to task...worth a read for sure!)
(The video below, an interviews featuring Diane Langberg's expertise in understanding and responding to abuse of power and authority, is well worth your time.)
I encourage you to examine the differences between someone with sex addiction and those who truly are engaging in sexual offending behaviors. Sadly, I think Ravi and his behaviors reflect someone who was preying on others. I also want to bear witness to the victims who were preyed upon. Thanks for reading my thoughts here and I hope you receive them as positive and helpful. I do so appreciate the work you are doing as you seek to guard your own hearts and your flocks.
With great respect and care!
Barbara Steffens PhD LPCC
Founding President, APSATS (retired)
Adviser to the Board, C-SASI