Last week, speakers at an international missions conference urged Christian organizations to hold leaders accountable and examine their ministry structure in light of the abuse scandal surrounding well-known apologist Ravi Zacharias.
An independent investigation found that Zacharias engaged in years of sexual abuse before his death in 2020. The investigation “did not find evidence” that anyone within Ravi Zacharias International Ministries or on its board “knew that Mr. Zacharias had engaged in sexual misconduct,” according to the report, which was released in February.
The International Conference on Missions held its annual meeting last week for the first time since the report was released. Christianity Today covered the conference, which was held in Richmond, Va.
“Those who are on the wrong path are depending on you to give them the ultimate benefit of a doubt,” Jeff Vines, pastor of One&All Church in San Dimas, California and the outgoing ICOM president, warned attendees.
“Those of us in leadership who are on the wrong path are depending on the fact that you don’t want to know about it,” Vines said, according to Christianity Today. “Any organization in this day and age that does not create systems of accountability will eventually come to ruin.”
Accountability was a major theme during the ICOM annual meeting, which included plenary speakers and workshops addressing the issue. One breakout session examined ways that ministries can better protect children from abuse. Another session offered ideas for ministries to build a structure of transparency and accountability.
Vine encouraged ministries to assume that what happened to Ravi Zacharias International Ministries could take place within their own institution.
“The best people who have ever lived, the worst seeds [of sin] are in their hearts, but church boards and mission boards act as if this is not true,” Vines said, according to Christianity Today. “Do you think your pastor, your elder, your missionary is above accountability? Then you’ve taken the first step towards his and your and a victim’s demise.”
Jake Lapp, vice president of member accountability for the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, urged ministries not to ignore problems.
“We don’t think any organization was up one morning and decides not to be accountable,” Lapp said. “It happens over time. It happens with little decisions.”
Kip Lines, executive director of Christian Missionary Fellowship International (CMFI), explained how his organization dealt with two allegations of sexual abuse among its missionaries, Christianity Today reported.
“We need to do better,” Lines said in a video. “When it comes to preventing abuse and holding leadership accountable in our ministries, so that we don’t protect abusers, so that we don’t sweep it under the rug and hide it, so that we don’t make decisions that are merely based on what makes our organizations and ministries look better, we need to do better.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.