A Letter to Our Younger Leaders about the Ravi Zacharias Report

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I’m sure your heart sank like mine when you read the allegations of Ravi Zacharias’ sexual misconduct. And our hearts sank even deeper after reading the final report of the findings of the four-month investigation that confirms the pattern of abuse, deception, and manipulation.

No doubt we all have experienced a web of emotions through our prayers and tears. Disappointment. Sadness. Anger. Confusion.

Ravi was no stranger to the Lausanne Movement. He spoke most recently in Jakarta at 2016 Younger Leaders Gathering (YLG2016), where many of you listened to his talk on ‘Overcoming the Christian Credibility Gap’. He spoke truth with conviction, wit, and power, but at the time, none of us were aware of the severe gap between the message and the life of the messenger.

There is not a single one of us that doesn’t recognize a credibility gap in our own lives. Which one of us is not painfully aware of our character flaws and our own feet of clay? James 3:1 comes, though, with a warning: ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.’

There is the biblical reality of sin. And there are biblical standards for those who would teach and influence.

There is no doubt that there is gospel grace for sinners like us. That grace is vertical, which we receive from our Lord when we turn from sin and repent. And there is horizontal grace that we receive from one another when we humble ourselves to remove the masks that hide our true selves. The ‘genuine love’ that Romans 12:9 speaks of is a love, sine cera, ‘without wax’ veneers that hide our true imperfections and wounds. So from one sine cera believer to another sine cera believer we confess our sins, one to another—we accept one another, we forgive one another, and we love one another.

I didn’t know Ravi very well. I only had a few interactions with him both in 2016 and in 2013 when he spoke in Bangalore, India, at my public installation as the new CEO of Lausanne. But I suspect Ravi had experienced too little horizontal grace and had on too much waxy veneer that hid the cracks and imperfections of his life. I understand that Ravi didn’t have many close friends, but again I didn’t know him well. At the very least we haven’t heard of any friends who knew him well enough to be aware of Ravi’s abuses and addictions nor to confront him about them in love and rebuke.

Friends, you and I have benefited greatly from Ravi’s ministry. He taught truth with mental acuity, eloquence, and heart. May that not be taken from us even in these days. But the most important priority for us today is to put into practice the lessons we need to learn for our lives tomorrow.

Let me share very briefly some thoughts with you all and encourage you to pray and add your own.

  1. I am reminded of the need to seek mentors and godly influence in our lives without idolizing those blessings. The fall of public figures is more dramatically and emotionally painful when people are lifted up too high in our hearts. Christian celebrities not only have feet of clay, they are from dust and will return to dust.
  2. For those of you who are a part of Lausanne’s YLGen (Younger Leaders Generation) family, I want to beseech you to give yourselves to the Lord and to one another in a way that you can receive both that vertical and horizontal grace. The genesis of YLGen was the recognition that seven days of an amazing conference isn’t enough to bring about long-term impact in a younger leader’s life. That led to the decision to have YLG2016 be an introduction into YLGen, our ten-year investment in your lives. I’ve often talked about how much more amazing and blessed might the ministries of Ajith Fernando, John Piper, and Ravi Zacharias have been if their participation in the first Lausanne YLG in 1987 in Singapore had been not just seven days but ten Now I wonder what could have been if Ravi had connected more openly and vulnerably with a few faithful friends back then.
  3. The credibility gap that Ravi spoke about isn’t less true or less important because of what has been revealed about Ravi’s life. It’s even more true and more important. We speak so often in Lausanne of being HIS leaders—leaders of Humility, Integrity, and Simplicity, which Chris Wright spoke about at Cape Town 2010. Too many leaders have fallen instead into pride, deception, and greed.
  4. We have an enemy, and it is not each other. If and when Christians’ weaknesses and sins are publicly or privately revealed, may we remove the planks from our own eyes and weep over the darkness of sin. May we never forget that we do indeed have an enemy who, as Ravi reminded us at YLG, ‘seeks to discredit the message by destroying the messenger’. May we stand against all of his wily ways together. All other earthly enemies we are called to love, especially those of the household of God.
  5. I found myself wondering about where justice lies for Ravi and his victims especially with Ravi’s having passed before this all was publicly revealed. Ravi escaped earthly confrontation and earthly reckoning. But there was ultimate justice. And that was at the cost of the cross of Jesus. Jesus had to die for the devastating sins of Ravi. And for ours. God did not treat Ravi’s sins lightly, nor do we.
  6. But there are still victims who have been left disillusioned and broken. How can we right such wrongs in their lives? It is through that same cross. The cross of justice is the cross of comfort. The cross of Christ’s wounds is the source of our healing. Not just theoretically or theologically, but practically. May the practice of that practical love abound in our own lives. There were so many victims known and unknown. Only God knows them all. And may He make Himself known to them all through His people. And may we not create more victims or rub salt in the wounds of others by failing, for example, to show compassion to Ravi’s wife Margaret and family.
  7. And finally may we not deceive ourselves by buying into the deception of learning to be ‘fruitful’ without being pure. I wrote about this topic on the eve of Cape Town 2010 for my generation of younger leaders, and now I pass this along to you.

Why do we feel such grief through this all? Undoubtedly it’s because this grieves God’s heart. And I grieve in the grief that this has caused you as well.

But it would cause God only further grief if we missed this learning opportunity.

There but by the grace of God go we…


Michael Oh serves as the Global Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement. Michael and his family served as missionaries in Nagoya, Japan, from 2004 to 2016. There he founded a ministry called Christ Bible Institute (CBI), which includes Christ Bible Seminary, the Heart & Soul Cafe, and a church-planting ministry.