Ravi Zacharias passed away in May of 2020. He was a prominent apologist, and left behind a large ministry, having written many books as well as having spoken extensively. For many believers who were raised in Christian homes, Ravi Zacharias may very well have been a household name. It has come to light that he may have engaged in sexual misconduct. It can be jarring when we hear of someone who was regarded as such a prominent proponent of truth as possibly having committed acts that are so harmful and so far from the truth they outwardly professed. Our attention often initially focuses on the perpetrator in such situations. There is also attention to be given to all those affected, as they may very well be experiencing some spiritual injury.
Spiritual injury may be an unfamiliar term. I first came across the concept about one year ago, and it resonated with me. We may often consider the physical and emotional effects of abuse and neglect, but there is a growing field of professionals who are discussing the spiritual effects of abuse and neglect, and this has been termed spiritual injury, which speaks to deep feelings of guilt, shame, resentment, uncertainty about God, and difficult faith-based questions survivors of abuse and neglect may experience.
Ravi Zacharias had an influence that spread across the globe, as he encouraged deep questions, intellectual pursuit, and an in-depth study of the Word of God.
Spiritual injury is currently largely considered as an effect of significant abuse or neglect. This is important when considering a comprehensive approach to supporting survivors on spiritual as well as emotional and physical fronts that are addressed by professionals. But perhaps it can also speak to the dissonance and disparity that occurs when we have experienced hurt with relation to the church. We have knowledge of God being good and just, then experience hurt in a church setting and there is an internal struggle that occurs in response.
A recent Washington Post article shares some thoughts of a man named Daniel Gilman who had been deeply influenced by the teachings of Ravi Zacharias1. The article describes that Gilman is wrestling with some questions, and, given Zacharias’ status and widespread influence, there may be many others around the world also struggling with some internal conflict and perhaps some symptoms of spiritual injury.
Believers may find themselves asking what the Christian response is in this situation. Also quoted in the Washington Post article was Boz Tchividjian, an attorney and advocate. Tchividjian is encouraging the use of resources to identify any other victims, and seeking to serve them well. This may call for collaborations between human services professionals and church leadership teams. Furthermore, Ravi Zacharias was a prominent figure, and his story is receiving a lot of media attention. Moving forward, churches can take measures to keep the conversation going, in the sense that spiritual injury may be an ongoing discussion in the church. This may encourage those experiencing spiritual injury to ask their tough questions, to be lifted up in prayer, and to be comforted by their church family.
In his epistles, Paul continually exhorts churches to pursue unity, and he encourages believers to continue in the purity of the message of the gospel. There are those in the church who are in need of patient and loving believers who will hear their tough questions, lift them up in prayer, and continually point them to the cross of Christ, our hope and our salvation.
The big story of Ravi Zacharias may be an opportunity for church leadership teams around the country and the world to consider those who may be hurting in their congregations. May our first response be to seek to serve those who are hurting, and may we look to the Word to guide us in pursuing unity and healing.
Regina Emmart is a data analyst by day and student by night. She is a first year MA distance student, and is also finishing an MS in Positive Youth Development through Kansas State. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, Jon, and she enjoys spending time with her large family.
1. “Evangelist Ravi Zacharias taught his followers to ask tough questions – just not about his sexual conduct.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/02/09/ravi-zacharias-apologist-rzim-sexual-misconduct-lori-anne-thompson-spa/