In response to the Miller & Martin report that documents Ravi Zacharias’ sexual abuse and other misconduct Tom Nelson of the EFCA’s Christ Community Church sent out an email to his congregation explaining that he was wrong about the famed evangelist. Nelson who deeply admired Zacharias discussed the ongoing scandal with his congregation. Its refreshing and encouraging to see proactive behavior in light of troubling facts. Last year, Steve Baughman the atheist who pursued the issues with Ravi Zacharias wrote a post about Tom Nelson’s praise for the well known evangelist. The humility that is shown by the lead senior pastor at Christ Community Church after learning the facts is deeply encouraging and this blog hopes that others will follow suit.
“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.“
for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
Ephesians 5:8 ESV
While the Ravi Zacharias scandal plays out among modern evangelicalism one important aspect is how churches are responding to the spiritual crisis. That response can reveal much about the health and problems of evangelicalism. This blog likes to focus on the EFCA and there has been an interesting development regarding the Zacharias scandal and Christ Community Church in the Kansas City and Kansas area. Tom Nelson in his pastoral career has long respected Ravi Zacharias and has spoken about how he has been a spiritual influence on his life. After Zacharias’ death in May of 2020 he wrote a blog post for Christ Community Church recalling him as the real deal and celebrated him as a life well lived. You can read some of his thoughts in, “From John Welborn of Salem Church Recommending James MacDonald to Tom Nelson of Christ Community Church Praising Ravi Zacharias. Does Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Explain How Corruption and Scandal Are Ignored?” Steve Baughman who is the atheist from the San Francisco Bay Area who pursued the issues with Ravi Zacharias wrote a response to Tom Nelson through this blog. You can read that in, “Guest Post: Steve Baughman on Pastor Tom Nelson of Christ Community Church, Ravi Zacharias and Keeping Christian Secrets.” But the Miller & Martin report became a game changer in this situation.
In an Email to Christ Community Campuses Tom Nelson Talks About How He Was Wrong About Zacharias
After the Miller & Martin report came out which documented sexual abuse and raised other issues Tom Nelson took down his blog post that celebrated Ravi Zacharias. This morning February 18, 2021 at 11:54 a.m. all members of Christ Community Church from all campuses to include Brookside, and downtown Kansas City, Missouri locations, as well as Leawood, Olathe and Shawnee, Kansas received the below correspondence. This is what Tom Nelson wrote to his church.
Dear Christ Community family,
The horrific and sordid revelations regarding Ravi Zacharias have been deeply shocking, heartbreaking and unthinkable. The February 9, 2021 Miller & Martin report into the sexual misconduct of Ravi Zacharias leaves no doubt regarding Ravi’s years of horrendous abuse of women and deceptive living. My heart cries out with agonizing lament for all the women who lives have and continue to be harmed by Ravi’s inexcusable words, evil actions and abuse of power. My heart grieves that Ravi used his position to abuse women and conceal it under the guise of Christian living.
Like so many, I looked up to Ravi and trusted him to be a person of integrity and impeccable Christian conduct. In past years Ravi visited our congregation to discuss the existential and philosophical understanding of Christian faith. In my sermons, I would regularly quote Ravi and my book, Work Matters was endorsed by him. Over the years I had several interactions and extended conversations with Ravi. I truly believed Ravi was who he claimed to be and in a blog of tribute, I affirmed him as having embodied a well-lived life.
I was very wrong. I now know Ravi was living a lie, and he abused his power to commit grave injustice. I am horrified at Ravi’s actions, grieved at the harm he caused, and deeply sorry for all I have said and done to affirm his Christian witness. There is much that has been said and much more that could be said about these painful revelations, but I would like to encourage each one of us who are part of the Christ Community family to fervently pray for justice and healing for the women who are victims of Ravi’s abuse. I also want to express our unwavering commitment at Christ Community to be a safe place for everyone. We will not tolerate abuse of any kind. We will take seriously any person with a concern or report of abuse of any kind. We are committed to leading with integrity, transparency, and accountability, even when truths are hard to hear.
Please pray for our staff and congregation that we might live Christ-honoring lives of integrity, and that our gracious Lord Jesus will keep us from harm and evil. During this Lenten season will you join me in prayer? Cleanse us Lord no matter how painful it may be. May we live holy lives and always have the courage to renounce evil and sinful behavior. Cleanse hearts that entertain sinful thoughts and show us the way of escape in every trial and temptation. May our private lives match our lives in the public arena. Rid us of all hypocrisy and replace it with a tender longing to be faithful to God who demands nothing less than our fully surrendered lives.
On behalf of our entire leadership team, let me express our heartfelt gratitude for the privilege of serving you.
Lead Senior Pastor
From My Experience This is Rare as Evangelicals Seldom Admit Error
What Tom Nelson did in that email is very much unique. My experience from my past involvement in evangelicalism and also what I have written about here at this blog is that evangelicals seldom admit error. This blog has written about a lot of denominations and scandals to include Acts 29, Harvest Bible Chapel, Mars Hill Seattle, Sovereign Grace Churches, Southern Baptists, Church of God in Anderson Indiana and others. Very seldom do evangelical churches re-visit an issue and re-evaluate the situation. Often what happens is a doubling down or the practice of cognitive dissonance. It becomes “The Elephant in the room” which is always present. Other times a church or denomination will just ignore the issue and act like its not a problem. Another pattern that can also happen is the church rebukes or attacks people for talking about it often misusing words like “slander” and “gossip.” Or another response is that the evangelical church runs from the problem and then think it won’t follow them. In my own spiritual abuse mess that was unresolved the military officer who triggered a false accusation that threatened my career, hurt my family and more just ran and didn’t want to face what he did. The other component is that sometimes you have to do more. Admitting error sometimes is not enough, sometimes as part of the error one must have action that can support what you are communicating. In this particular case that is not going to be an issue because Tom Nelson has done what he can do. The major burden will fall upon Ravi Zacharias International Ministries as they will have a lot to do, and to be honest this blog is skeptical that they will take all the necessary actions long term to right a wrong. However this blog also wants to be proven wrong.
Tom Nelson Shows the EFCA and Evangelicals How Its Done
What Tom did is taking a step in the right direction. Not only did he say he was wrong but he identified the ways Ravi Zacharias was involved and supported Christ Community Church over the years. Nelson also pointed out that Zacharias endorsed a book that he wrote. In his email his comments were very specific. The Christ Community Church pastor also referenced how he quoted Zacharias in his talks and teaching. Another aspect worthy of pointing out is that Tom Nelson accepted the Miller & Martin report. How many times over the years has a report been released that is skewed or the evangelical industrial complex chooses to ignore it? That is not the case here. In processing all this the EFCA pastor also brought it up with his congregation and let them know about this issue. Tom Nelson in all this took the initiative and did so with humility in talking about how he was wrong in his view of Zacharias. All of these steps are important and in my view confirm some of the positive feedback I hear about Christ Community from time to time through other sources. This is what makes Tom Nelson’s statement credible but also different from other behavior inside evangelicalism. Honestly I think evangelicalism would have a lot more respect if they responded to scandal and problems in this manner. It would not have the reputation or baggage that it does if it responded in this consistent manner. This blog is impressed with this statement now the bigger question, will others follow a similar path? One other point I want to emphasize. In today’s difficult media environment with truth taking a hit and alternative facts being used, its important to note that this is not cancel culture. This is a sincere response to a spiritual crisis that Ravi Zacharias alone created.
The EFCA can not avoid this issue. This blog is hearing that some denominations are trying to figure out how to respond to the Ravi Zacharias situation. The other day this blog wrote a post that suggested that Greg Strand spearhead a response to the Ravi Zacharias to help the EFCA find a way to navigate through the spiritual crisis. That can be read in, “Greg Strand Needs to Take the Lead in the Growing Ravi Zacharias Scandal. He Should Guide and Help the EFCA Navigate Through the Spiritual Crisis.” This is not a problem or issue that is going away. The facts need to drive the response and what happened at Christ Community Church needs to happen in many other EFCA churches. EFCA Midwest District Superintendent Noah Palmer in his communications within is district should encourage other churches to also tackle this subject.
Closing Thoughts and Gratefulness for Tom Nelson’s Leadership in the Ravi Zacharias Scandal
As this blog post comes to a close I want to emphasize that this blog is grateful for the actions Tom Nelson took in this situation. This blog sadly writes about a lot of scandal and issues, while also looking for success stories or actions taken that are responsible and healthy inside evangelicalism. And the reality is that its hard to find many pastors or churches taking the right course of action. That is not the case in this situation. This blog is happy to write about this development and hopes other churches follow suit. Again this blog appreciates Tom Nelson’s wisdom and how he responded to the news from the Miller & Martin report. Its refreshing, encouraging, and very much needed. This blog wishes Christ Community Church well and is grateful for Tom Nelson’s leadership.