Misusing Scripture for Personal Wants


Many (most?) of you are aware of the report that came out on Ravi Zacharias and some of his sexual misconduct (and the associated misuse of funds, as well as deception, to maintain the misconduct). I have friends who are real fans of Ravi, but I must admit I don’t really know much of his work. I did read a book he wrote, but that was literally decades ago (I remember liking it, but I can’t recall the title). I appreciate the fact that the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) chose to have the allegations thoroughly investigated and then reported the findings publicly. While I know some Christian leaders balked at the “unbiblical” route for handling the problem, I feel they did exactly the correct thing. In pastoral counseling, a common dictum is that “A family is as sick as its secrets.” One can take it further and say that “An organization is as sick as its secrets.” While I don’t recommend airing all of one’s dirty laundry all the time, the bigger the problem the sicker the organization becomes in trying to hide it.

I do know that there is one or two passages in the Holy Bible that COULD be interpreted as keeping church secrets secret. Paul recommended that church members try to handle their problems in-house rather than rely on outside authorities. That passage has been abused by so many for so long in the church, I would almost ask people to skip that passage when reading the Bible. Now, don’t take me too seriously on this point. All Scripture is useful, but my concern is that there has become such a culture of dubious beliefs within the church over the centuries around that passage, that people almost automatically read it wrong. The passage doesn’t say,

  • Hide your secret sins and evil behaviors from unbelievers.
  • Establish a culture within the church where people can behave in a predatory manner without any real repercussions.

No one, of course words it that way exactly, but it is pretty clear the passage is used that way by many. It is much the same with Matthew 18, a pattern that Jesus gave for addressing confrontation within the assembly. Many have weaponized it to maintain patterns of abuse— from both sides. Some use it as a pipeline for trying to push people out (rather than seeking reconciliation). Others try to turn the tables on the confronter, essentially saying, “I am not at fault, you are, because you didn’t follow Matthew 18” regardless of whether the situation fit the context of that passage.

With Ravi, part of what I found most disheartening was that he used his training in apologetics and rhetoric to manipulate women. A term used a fair bit in recent years is “grooming,” as in a predatory act of maneuvering another individual into a position of being compliant to abuse. The skills to groom and the skills to do apologetics often overlap. So when Ravi referenced Old Testament patriarchs who had more than one wife, or telling a woman to keep quiet about their actions or she will be responsible for potentially millions not coming to Christ, this is the rhetoric of manipulation. I really doubt Ravi really believed that (commonly pretty toxic) polygamous relationships in the age of the patriarchs is prescriptive for how men and women should ideally relate today. I also doubt that Ravi really believed that holding a religious leader accountable for his (or her) actions should be avoided to keep from dooming populations of people to hell. Most like, he did not believe either one, but used them because they suited his purposes in the moment.

And I get that on a certain level. Years ago (in my pre-Internet days) I was on Compuserve Religion forum. I was holding a religious thread with a person from a very different religious perspective. I recall no details of that conversation, except one. At a certain point, I shared a Bible verse to counter the other’s point. I felt guilty about it afterwards… and still do. Why? Because I misused the verse. I used the verse in a way that, I believe, confused the meaning of the Bible in context. The wording of the verse ripped from its context made it sound like I could use it as I did… but in context I was misusing it. And it is actually worse than that because the person I was talking to did not know the Bible well enough to know that I was speaking out of context. That is a pretty bad thing to do. If you don’t think it is bad, try to recall a time when someone grossly misuses your words to support something you do not believe. I really don’t think God likes that either.

I do recall a pastor who was speaking at a large gathering of other pastors. They were going to vote on something. He told the group, “You must vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ You cannot vote ‘Abstain,’ for the Bible says, ‘Let your Yeas be Yeas, and your Nays be Nays.” Of course, that is a huge misuse of the Bible, and the words of Jesus. However, to be a wee bit fair, perhaps the pastor was being funny, and he assumed (right or wrong) that these pastors knew their Scripture well enough so that there was really no deception or manipulation involved. I can’t be certain in this case.

But in the case of Ravi Zacharias, I do believe he used his position as a big name Christian leader (at least within one branch of Christianity) and his knowledge of rhetoric and apologetics for selfish purposes, not for truth. I believe the temptation for this is great. This is because the skills for apologetics (debate, rhetoric, logic) are neutral. That can be used for good or bad. But the temptation to “win” can overcome one’s desire for truth.

It is tempting to violate godly principles when it satisfies short-term desires. I have so many friends who would tell me during an election time, “We need to vote character.” Years later, they were saying, “No, we can ignore character. We need to vote political principles.” Of course, people can change… but it is pretty clear to me that in most cases their beliefs never changed. Their beliefs were alway, “Vote for Party A and vote against Party B,” and use whatever arguements (inconsistent or not) to try to fool people into voting their way.

I have no time for that, and as Christians, I believe we have a mandate to do better. Misusing arguments, logic, rhetoric, the Bible, and more to get our own desires satisfied is simply wrong. It is tempting… and I am sure I do it a lot more thatn I would be comfortable in realizing. But it is still wrong.

<If Ravi is actually innocent, then I hope he is vindicated. But the gospel does not depend on any one person, except God. If he is actually guilty, then siding with the gospel, and siding with the church, and siding with God, means siding with the victims.>

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