Nathan & Naomi Zacharias: Awkwardly Climbing the Third Ladder

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Today’s question, Nathan & Naomi Zacharias launched a new ministry, Third Ladder ministry. Is this right? 

Good question. One of you asked me, is it right to have family rule in Christian ministry? I am going to answer that question also as part of answering this question. Nathan Zacharias wrote about launching a new ministry called Third Ladder. Third Ladder? What does it mean? Be that as it may, let us read what he wrote on his blog. 

‘I believe that one day my dad’s actual legacy will be restored. One piece of that – a huge piece – is his vision for humanitarian aid, and he entrusted it to my sister Naomi. 

     Together, they pursued the idea of showing that apologetics is not just a matter for the brain, it’s one of the heart. Apologetics is incomplete if you don’t pair it with a compassionate heart and a helping hand.’ 

     Late apologist Ravi Zacharias had 3 children: Sarah, Naomi and Nathan. They actively participated in Christian ministry beside their dad. That was a good thing. God wants to use Christian families in his service. But sin destroys unity in a family. When Adam sinned, it ruined his family. When Saul sinned, it ruined his family. When David sinned, it ruined his family. Holiness has a constructive influence while sin has a destructive influence. When Ravi sinned it also ruined the ministries and personal reputation of his children and grandchildren. 

   Sarah lost her ministry, Naomi lost her ministry and Nathan lost his ministry. That is tragic. Their humanitarian ministry was helping people in developing nations like India and Kenya. So, the needy people in those nations are the real victims of Ravi’s scandal. 

    Nathan says he and his sister would like to restart that ministry. That is commendable. But he should do that in a scriptural way. When Nehemiah saw the destroyed walls of Jerusalem, his heart became heavy. He wanted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. But, before his work, he took some time to spend in prayer, confession of sins and repentance of sins. 

   When Ezra saw that there was no temple in Jerusalem, he became sad. He wanted to rebuild it. But he started in prayer of confession and repentance over the sins of Israel. Sadly, we are not seeing any repentance in Nathan or Naomi over the sins of Ravi. They are still in denial. They are still refusing to believe the evidence that has accumulated against Ravi. 

     Nathan wrote, “I believe that one day my Dad’s actual legacy will be restored”. I agree that Ravi did many great things in his life like giving an intellectual defense of Christian Faith and providing charity to the people in need. He took a stand for persecuted Christians around the world, he took a stand against slavery and human trafficking. He was visiting spas which are populated by the victims of human trafficking. I agree that Ravi did many good things in his life, but that does not negate the fact that he sinned against the women he abused. He lied about his academic credentials. Why did his family members keep quiet when he was throwing ‘Oxford University’ carelessly all over the place? More serious things followed. 

      Ravi had an inappropriate online relationship with a married woman named Lori Anne Thompson. Lori says she was groomed by Ravi to fulfill his sexual appetites. When she wanted to reveal it to her husband, he threatened her with suicide. 

Asking her for forgiveness would have saved his testimony and his ministry to some extent. But he did not do it. He mercilessly dragged her to court. Nathan wrote, ‘Apologetics is incomplete if you don’t pair it with a compassionate heart and a helping hand.’ Where is compassion for Lori Anne Thomspon? Where is the helping hand for Lori Anne Thompson? Ravi portrayed Lori and her husband as extortionists and took them to court. He did not repent of his sins. He did not tell the whole truth to the world. He described himself as a victim and Lori as the abuser. 

    Read 1 Corinthians chapter 6. You should not take fellow Christians to court. There was a church in the city of Corinth. The believers in this church were taking fellow believers to court. Apostle Paul was shocked to see that. He wrote to these believers, 

“What are you doing? If any of you has a dispute with another, why are you taking it before ungodly for judgment? Why are you not settling your disputes within the four walls of the church? Don’t you know that Christians will judge the world? Don’t you know that Christians will judge angels? Don’t you have enough wisdom of God to resolve your conflicts? Don’t you have patience to wait upon the Lord? Don’t you have love to forgive each other? Why are you suing each other and dragging each other to public courts run by unbelievers and pagans?  The great apostle told Corinthians, ‘What you are doing is shameful’. Corinthian church was a carnal church. One of the manifestations of their carnality was suing their fellow Christians and dragging them to courts. 

       What Paul wrote two thousand years ago is applicable even to us in our time. We should not drag fellow Christians to courts. Even when we are right, even when we can win the case, we should  not drag them to court. We bring glory to God when we forgive each other and settle our conflicts within the four walls of our churches. You may win the case against your sister in the court but before God, you lost it. It is better to lose outside the court than win inside the court. Because God hates to see his children fighting before the unbelieving world. 

    Ravi Zacharias did not heed the advice of Apostle Paul. He should have asked for forgiveness of Lori Anne Thompson, her husband and her family. He should have taken the matter before the local church. He should have taken the matter before the elders who ordained him as a minister. But he chose to act in a way contrary to the scripture because he was too proud to admit his sin. He was too proud to ask for forgiveness. 

     So, applying the scripture to Ravi’s case, we can conclude what he did was shameful. Just as it was a mark of carnality when the Corinthians did it two thousand years ago, it is a mark of carnality today when Christians take their brothers and sisters to court. Ravi’s widow Margie, his children Sarah, Naomi and Nathan should recognize it rather than continuously denying any wrongdoing from Ravi. It is difficult to accept sin in a figure you admire so much but when you see so much evidence, you should not ignore it. 

   In Indian culture, we put a lot of emphasis on family loyalties. That is good to some extent. But that should not prevent us from seeing things with moral clarity. Hindus have a concept called dharma. Dharma means doing what ought to be done. In Hindu epic, Mahabharata, Draupadi was a beautiful woman. She was the common wife of the five pandava brothers. These five brothers had a conflict with Kauravas, a group of 100 brothers. 

    Kauravas wanted to abuse Draupadi. Their father, Dhritarashtra knew about their plans. One of the Kauravas, Dushasana drags Draupadi to the court. That was shameful. She was like his sister. Yet, he dragged her to the court with force. Dhritarashtra knew that his son was acting immorally but he kept his silence. Today we say that Dhritarashtra should have opened his mouth and rebuked his son for abusing Draupadi. The lesson is that Dharma must take precedence to family bonds. When you see sin, correct it even if it is in your own son. When you see sin, correct it even if it is in your own father. In the Bible, that is what Nathan did when he saw sin in David. David abused Bethsheba and got her husband killed in a battle. God sent prophet Nathan to confront King David. Nathan went and condemned King David on his face. So, Nathan should condemn his dad’s sins. That would be the first step in relaunching his new ministry. 

   Then, Nathan wrote, ‘he entrusted it to my sister Naomi’. That is not right. Ravi entrusted his ministries to his children as if they were his personal properties. He handed over his main organization to Sarah Zacharias and his charity to Naomi Zacharias. Many Christian leaders are doing this now. They build a Christian ministry, then they pass it on to their children, then their grandchildren and then their great grandchildren. That is called a family empire, not Christian ministry. You should leave what you build to a board of directors carefully chosen based on their Christian commitments. Then that board will choose who should succeed you. They may choose your son or somebody else based on their worthiness. The secular world is already doing it. 

     I read an article in the New York Times on Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates. Bill Gates is a co-founder of Microsoft, a technology corporation. When he was chairman and CEO of this corporation, he developed a reputation for sending inappropriate emails to his female employees. He would write, ‘Would you like to go on a date? If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened’. He would say, ‘Would you like to go to a movie? We can have some personal talk’. When the executives saw his emails, they sent a warning letter to Mr.Gates. They warned him about his behavior. 

   It should be like that. Mr.Gates founded Microsoft, yet he placed executives who would question his behavior. At RZIM, no one confronted Ravi over his text messages to Lori Anne Thompson. No one questioned him about the nude photos on his phone. He filled his organizations with wimps and weaklings who would not dare to warn him about anything. 

  When we start an organization for the Lord, we should make sure there are individuals who would have freedom to question our behavior. Chuck Colson founded the Prison Ministry. John R Rice founded Sword of the Lord ministries. Adrian Rogers founded Love Worth Finding ministries. They are dead but their ministries are flourishing because they entrusted their organizations to Christians with good character, not to their family members. That does not mean, family members should stay away from the ministries started by their fathers and mothers. But they should always be controlled by a board of directors. 

   Let us hope our Christian leaders will learn these important lessons. That is my answer to this question. We should welcome Nathan and Naomi Zacharias willingness to start a Christian ministry, but first they should acknowledge the sinful behavior of their dad. They should repent if they had any no role in the coverup. They should make sure such things will not be repeated in the organizations they are planning to set up. 

References: 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:c6989c92-fd13-4ad7-b599-051db23a4b63

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