Individual and Collective Sin.
The most recent revelations last month regarding Ravi Zacharias and RZIM have forced many of us to reflect on sin, abuse, power, and the church. I won’t delve into the specific details as they have been more than adequately covered (I recommend David French’s detailed account from February 14 for a thorough understanding-https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/you-are-one-step-away-from-complete). Rather than go into detail of the findings, I have been reflecting on how this situation ties into recent controversies of Critical Theory, largely by the SBC, but the evangelical world in general.
Many of the comments I have seen comments by Christians generally in line with the “but the grace of God go I.” However, a few others have highlighted individual sin and the ease at which presumed men of faith can fall into sin. I don’t have significant disagreements with these thoughts. Rather, my concern is that these statements only tell half the story.
Ravi sinned. That is not in question. Ravi abused women. Ravi took advantage of his position. I could list all the ways that Ravi sinned in thought and deed. I could talk about personal sin at nauseum. However, if I do so, I am still missing part of the picture.
Ravi’s ability to abuse women and to escape accountability cannot be simply explained by personal sin. Rather, a structure specifically in RZIM, but many Christian ministries in general, perpetuated a power dynamic that marginalized victims, that protected a predator, that disregarded warning signs, and that implicated the entire board and leadership structure of RZIM in what can only be seen as a cover-up or white washing of the allegations.
The structures in many evangelical ministries are designed to protect the status quo and the “Investments” of time and money of ministry partners and donors. At RZIM the power was clearly in Ravi’s hands. He used his position and power to prey on women. Once allegations surfaced, the organization through its deference to his desires, reinforced this power dynamic. In doing so, RZIM further reinforced a narrative that stripped even more power from those victimized. Critical Theory, despite the naysayers in the SBC or more Trumpian circles, is a valuable tool for breaking down the way institutions preserve power and reinforce power dynamics at the expense of marginalized individuals.
Is it the only tool available for examination? Of course not. However, it is a powerful tool for generating questions. What the questioner does once those questions have been asked and/or answered is where those with a Biblical worldview will develop different conclusions than those with a more secular worldview. Yet, the questions derived from a Critical Theoretical Framework are not necessarily outside a Biblical Worldview. Moreover, these question are necessary in order to ensure that Christian organizations (including local faith congregations) are able to ascertain whether the marginalized, powerless, in other words, the least of these, are being adequately served and ministered to.
For those faith-based ministries looking at the circumstances that have unfolded at RZIM over the past several years I encourage you to look at individual accountability as individual sin is prevalent and needs to be safeguarded. Yet, do not neglect institutional structures that reinforce, protect, and at times perpetuate sin (by means of abuse and further marginalization) towards the vulnerable.