Preachers behaving badly

Justine Toh reflects on the abuse scandal concerning Ravi Zacharias, and allegations of abusive behaviour against Joss Whedon.

This week two well known preachers were outed for gross abuses of power.

The full report outlining serial sexual misconduct of the late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias is finally out, raising serious questions about how his predatory behaviour could have gone on for so long.

Ex Buffy and Angel star Charisma Carpenter also accused Buffy creator Joss Whedon of abusive and bullying behaviour in what she described as a toxic workplace environment.

Zacharias was known for preaching the intellectual credibility of Christianity. Whedon is not religious, but a preacher nonetheless – of “feminist ideals”, as ex-wife Kai Cole described him in a 2017 column detailing the breakdown of their marriage.

Whatever you think of their causes, their misconduct (alleged, in Whedon’s case) smacks of hypocrisy. Zacharias’ actions, in particular, will jeopardise the faith of many.

“As a guilty man I knew the only way to hide was to act as though I were righteous… I lived two lives,” Whedon apparently confessed to Cole after several infidelities. It’s a line that also applies to Zacharias.

Powerful men behaving badly? Nothing new. Christian leaders failing their communities? In recent years, not so shocking either, though that’s depressing for believers to admit.

Men aren’t the biggest problem, though. Nor is power, ultimately – though as an amplifier that can wreak havoc in the lives of countless people, and the institutions that organise our existence, power is second to none.

The real issue is a very human failing, one with a tragic human cost. We lie to ourselves, neglect what we owe each other, and carry on as though we’ll never be caught.

The best Twitter can do is cancel people. But what we really want – no matter what we believe – is for justice to be served.