In the last weeks I have observed something strange and troubling. Christians across the continent have been weighing in on two figures: Ravi Zacharias and James Coates.
I have been amazed at the number of Christians coming to Ravi's defence. Many of those who do are willing to admit they believe the reports are true and that Ravi was probably guilty of all kinds of sexual immorality. Still they defend him. They say things like:
he was a great apologist;
he was wonderfully used of God;
he needed help as we all do;
he was a sinner as we all are;
he was saved by grace.
At the same time I have been amazed (and sickened) by the number of Christians attacking James Coates. They know he has acted in service of Christ, they know that he is morally above reproach, that he is in prison for gathering his congregation for worship. Still they criticize him. They say things like:
he wants to be martyr;
he is justly in jail for violating covid-regulations;
he is putting lives in jeopardy;
he is not being persecuted;
he should obey the government.
Interesting isn't it how quick Christians are to defend their leaders who have morally failed? And its particularly interesting in light of the fact that those same Christians are typically quick to attack and criticize morally upright leaders whose only 'sin' is that they are truly principled men.
Who we criticize says something about us.
Many Christians see themselves in Ravi. They see a flawed man who 'struggled' with sin. They can identify with that. They can identify, perhaps, with the sexual immorality even if they can't identify with the particulars. They can identify with failure and sin. And they are comforted with the notion that such a man may still be in heaven. Of course, they are wrong. "Without holiness no one will see the Lord." Though he professed that he knew God, in works Ravi denied Him. He - allegedly - lived a (secret) life of bondage to sin. This is the character of an unregenerate man not a saved man.
So why the crtiticism of a man like James Coates? Because so few Christians see themselves in him.
His courage is a rebuke to their cowardice. His principles are a rebuke to their compromise. His willingness to suffer is a rebuke to their love of ease.
What James has done makes every compromised believer feel uncomfortable. They see in him something that they do not see in themselves. They see commitment, perseverance, holiness, courage, valour, and it comes a prick upon the conscience. And so they are left with two choices. Either imitate him or criticize him. Either follow him down into death or blame him. The easier way - of course - is the latter. No wonder that so many have chosen to take it.
No wonder if a morallly lazy, laodicean, sardis-like Church should defend a moral failure while attacking a man of God.
It says something about the state of the Church and comes as reminder that we still badly need revival.