When Leaders Fail: A Warning to Everyone

Updated: Mar 14



I wrote a piece for The Stream last year about Christianity Today which made a reference to Ravi Zacharias. Specifically, I said:


“Daniel Silliman mustered the energy to write eleven dull paragraphs, with two of those focused on allegations in long-ago settled controversies. That’s how he remembered a brilliant man who dedicated most of his life to defending the gospel and equipping other Christians to do the same. That obituary was shameful. The only reason I can think for why you would run such a cold piece is that Zacharias was so much more relevant to the Christian community than you. And you felt compelled to try to bring him down to your milquetoast level.”


Since RZIM recently concluded its investigation into various allegations against its late founder, a few people have asked me if I’m going to apologize and retract what I said. My answer is no, but I will modify my overall conclusion. I’ll explain why below.


A Tragic Revelation

I’ll begin by saying that I’m not skeptical of the general conclusion of the investigative report. It seems that there is more than enough evidence to conclude that Zacharias engaged in appalling, ongoing sin, and that he was able to hide it from his organization because of a glaring lack of oversight and accountability. It also seems evident that RZIM is being very sincere and transparent in its efforts to address years of negligence.


However, I feel no need to apologize for my previous statements about Zacharias since they were made with the evidence that was available to me at the time. Even the most recent report admits that the claims Christianity Today published in 2017 still lack what they would consider to be conclusive evidence, but that when considered alongside other, new evidence, that those allegations seem much more likely to be true.


Similarly, I don’t think anyone who previously admired Zacharias needs to feel shame or remorse. He was a man with many intellectual gifts who undeniably helped people reason through difficult questions, but apparently there was also very dark side of himself that he hid extremely well—even from those closest to him.


Choosing Sin Over Obedience

I will modify my statement about his relevance, though, now that I know more. Given the kinds of abuse Zacharias regularly engaged in, his relevance to the Christian community will not surpass the relevance of Christianity Today. Instead, both will likely go down in history as forces that began with good, God-glorifying intentions but ultimately squandered their influence on worldly things. For Christianity Today, that looks like the gradual embrace of popular, progressive lies about the nature of reality rather than standing boldly for the truth. For Ravi Zacharias, that looks like engaging in destructive, secret sins rather than walking in humility and obedience to God.


Both stories are warnings to us. Sin is crouching at the door, waiting to devour us, and we are certainly not immune to its consequences, no matter how much approval or influence we amass during our lifetimes, or how well we can hide. That is why Jesus warned us so severely about our most beloved sins.


“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30


Zacharias no doubt knew this verse, understood it, and could probably articulate it in a beautiful, compelling way, but it appears that his love for God did not exceed his love for his sin. Ironically, his actions seem to suggest that he privately embraced a much more liberal and permissive approach to lust and sex instead of the biblical one that he publicly espoused.


It's Not About Fame

I’ll end by clarifying that I don’t believe the issue ultimately lies within one specific political ideology, or even within the “evangelical celebrity culture” as many people like to claim. Lamenting about the fact that some Christian figures reach celebrity status is not at all relevant in addressing the root of the problem. Politics and fame will certainly play a role in people’s various temptations, but the tragic turn of events for both Christianity Today and Ravi Zacharias come to down to the simple choices that we all face, whether we’re public figures or not.


When we choose popularity or pleasure over obedience to God, it hurts ourselves and others. And when we choose to justify or hide our sins instead of repenting of them, it severely damages our Christian witness.


I know this to be true from personal experience, and I know you do, too. Sexual sins, in particular, leave deep wounds. God can heal them, but, as Voddie Baucham says, “the scars are a mercy.” They remind you that the consequences of sin are very painful, and that you should not touch the flame again.


The difficult reality that Christians, no matter their position in the body of Christ, must accept is that we are free to make right and wrong choices. We can sacrifice our own popularity and pleasure to honor God, or we can go our own way and wreck lives in the process. God can and does redeem sinners in magnificent ways, but it requires acknowledging where we have turned from Him and committing to the path He has chosen rather than the one we would prefer.


May we recognize these choices in our own lives and pray all the more diligently for our hearts and minds to be conformed to Christ’s. It is abundantly clear that He is the only one who will not fail us.



Carmen Schober is a novelist, wife, full-time mother, and Rocky enthusiast. She earned a master's degree in English literature and creative writing, and she currently lives in Kansas. You can buy After She Falls here.

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