Compliant Commandments and Mundane Mulligans

The two ubiquitous questions reverberating around the fundamentalist firmament these days are 1. Is Ravi Zacharias rejoicing in heaven or roasting in hell? and 2. Why’s the world picking on a good man like John MacArthur?

For those unfamiliar with those two names, here’s a brief rundown: Ravi Zacharias, who died of cancer a few months ago, was an evangelical rock star, the Indian-American Bruce Springsteen of Christian apologetics. Now, you might ask, “What is Christian apologetics?” It’s a branch of Christian theology that seeks to reveal and defend the authenticity and reliability of the Christian faith (my definition). Meanwhile, John MacArthur is the pastor of a southern California mega-congregation known as Grace Community Church. He’s also one of the most influential figures in the white evangelical movement.

Ravi Zacharias

The first highlighted question began to be asked not long after Zacharias’s death in May of 2020. The reason for that question was tied to emerging allegations that Zacharias was a serial adulterer and sexual harasser. When the first allegations trickled out, board members and staff at his Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) were—or at least appeared to be—shocked. A subsequent independent investigation found abundant evidence confirming many of the allegations. So the question shifted from “Did he really do it?” to “Has God forgiven him?”

John MacArthur

Meanwhile, back in sunny southern California, the country’s COVID capital, Pastor John MacArthur—who’s waged a nearly year-long battle with state and local governments over his refusal to submit to COVID-related governmental health protocols—has become the subject of investigations into his finances. It seems that MacArthur, a clamorous critic of “Prosperity-Gospel” preachers has become preposterously prosperous from his own preaching. His net worth is estimated at north of $14 million. His three homes have a combined worth well into the millions. Yet he continues to attack prosperity preachers such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer (who deserve every bit of criticism aimed their way).

The Unbalanced Responses

One need only type each of the two names into the YouTube search bar to see the dramatically different responses from white evangelical “defenders of the faith” to the two scandals. Zacharias has been posthumously pummeled. His offenses are typically portrayed as “inexcusable.” And a question posed repeatedly in evangelical circles is, “Is Ravi Zacharias in heaven?”

Meanwhile, MacArthur’s defenders have been out in force. Many of the same Christian commentators who’ve openly condemned Zacharias have unambiguously defended MacArthur. It seems that the seventh of the Ten Commandments—the one about adultery--is much more egregious than the tenth—the one about coveting. One might wonder, however, if the 138 Bible references to money and greed are somehow less significant than the 122 references to sex and adultery.

But that’s been the pattern within evangelical circles for at least decades—probably much longer. Sexual sins are heinous, but greed is … well it’s the driving force behind capitalism, and every good white evangelical knows that God created and blessed capitalism. After all, God loves conservative, capitalist, Republican, All-American, white Christians. Adulterous, brown-skinned Christians? Maybe not so much.

Every good white evangelical knows that God created and blessed capitalism.

I am not seeking to excuse Ravi Zacharias’s misbehavior; it deserves condemnation. But so does John MacArthur’s hypocritical greed. (I’m tempted to begin a tirade here on the inconsistency of MacArthur’s “Lordship Salvation” theology and his covetous behavior, but I’ll save that for another post.)

The Trump Clause

Meanwhile, most of those casting stones at Zacharias’s sexual failings while shielding MacArthur’s hypocritical greed also happen to be Trump toadies. They’re stout defenders of a man who repeatedly extolled the virtues of greed and who also repeatedly bragged of his extramarital affairs and who has been accused of sexual misconduct by 26 women. Sex and money, with Trump it’s a twofer. But, like other cult leaders, the pseudo messiah sits above the sacred scriptures; the commandments are for mortals, not God-ordained liberators. Particularly if that liberator is a rich white guy with a “hot” wife and daughter and a string of sultry sexual conquests. In that case it’s okay to violate the tenth commandment in pursuit of a violation the seventh. God gives “mulligans” to the “right” people.