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Christian leaders call for repentance, overhaul following Ravi Zacharias sexual abuse report

Christian leaders call for repentance, overhaul following Ravi Zacharias sexual abuse report

Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016. | Courtesy of Passion Conference/Phil Sanders

Christian leaders and a former associate of Ravi Zacharias' ministry are calling for repentance and an overhaul of organizational practices after a report released Thursday detailed the late apologist's pattern of sexual abuse.

In an email to The Christian Post on Friday, Carson Weitnauer, who previously led RZIM's U.S. speaking team, said he now believes that Zacharias was not only a fraud, as he articulated in an earlier op-ed published by CP, but that the organization bearing his name is as well. He further asserted that the ministry's apology is unacceptable in light of the revelations released in the report. 

"The organization’s apologetic-sounding statement was released by an anonymous board, is incomplete in its scope, avoids calling on the Zacharias Estate to release the Thompson's from the NDA, and announces no resignations or removals of those most responsible for this tragedy. 1 John 3:18 instructs us, 'Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,'" said Weitnauer to CP. 

"I pray that many churches and nonprofits will decide to learn from this catastrophe and take immediate action to mitigate the risk of personally repeating it," he added. 

RZIM issued an apology Thursday with the announcement of the results of an extensive independent investigation in which victims claimed that Zacharias had engaged in “sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape” over the course of many years. 

The ministry hired the Atlanta law firm Miller & Martin to conduct the independent investigation. In the apology statement published as the report was released, RZIM said it was “shocked and grieved" by the actions of the late apologist and that "corporate repentance” was needed. 

Weitnauer said it's crucial that churches and ministry organizations appoint senior leaders who bear responsibility and that they establish or strengthen policies against abuse of every kind — provide training on toxic cultural dynamics, and ensure board members and community leaders are informed and watchful advocates for survivors and other vulnerable members of their communities. 

"The continued prevalence of sexual abuse within the church, and the weak response to it by church leaders, is a great discredit to our witness," Weitnauer said. "For the sake of the Gospel and the honor of God, and our commitment to the wellbeing of victims, may we instead courageously resolve to build communities that are full of truth and goodness." 

Other Christian voices and thought leaders have expressed a variety of emotions. Many said they are disgusted and shaken, but noted that news of respected evangelical leaders falling has become common. 

"I’ve thought about this a lot since it all came out and I guess it sucks to say that I’m not surprised when this happens anymore. Because it just keeps happening. God, have mercy," said author Jackie Hill Perry, tweeted Thursday.

She added in a subsequent tweet-thread Friday that she had attended the funeral for the late apologist last year and that the news of his misconduct left her feeling "thrown." 

"Not because I’m surprised per se’ but because it’s disorienting. I’m reminded that giftedness will never translate to godliness. Neither is orthodox teaching the proof of righteous living...Ravi’s ministry was a gift to most of us but his fall is a warning to all of us. Take heed lest we fall too."

Teacher and popular speaker Beth Moore said in response to the report that, at base, "in every situation where a Christian leader has lived in gross hypocrisy, carrying on a double life, for years on end: They are out of fellowship with Jesus. Period. YOU CANNOT SUSTAIN THAT IN FELLOWSHIP."

"The Holy Spirit convicts of sin. Every believer has and will fall into strongholds of various kinds of sin but, in fellowship with Christ, we cannot bear to remain in it. We will repent. We can implement all the accountability systems & MUST. But what we’ve got on our hands are people using piety and outward appearances of righteousness to hide the fact that they have little to no intimacy with the Father and Son through the Holy Spirit," she added. 

The board of the Zacharias Trust, the U.K. branch of the ministry, also put out a statement announcing that they had made the unanimous decision to separate from RZIM. Although the organization has always been a separate entity in terms of governance with its own trustees, the Trust said that current circumstances have led them to conclude they must operate without any link to the organization. 

"The UK entity will also choose a new name. This process will take time to complete but the UK Board is convinced that this is the best and only way to ensure that the ministry can continue to serve the UK church with integrity. This will also give us the opportunity to review the lessons to be learned from these awful events," the Trust added. 

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