David Robertson | 12th February 2021An investigation into the once respected evangelist Ravi Zacharias has revealed far more disturbing behaviour than many had anticipated. In looking at the final report, which includes an allegation of rape, David Robertson says the future of the ministry, RZIM, is in serious doubt
When it was first reported that Ravi Zacharias was being accused of sexual abuse through a couple of massage parlours that he had financial investments in – the news was so shocking that it was hard to take in.
As with all such allegations it is better not to comment until we know the truth. Now we do.
Although there are concerns about the speed at which Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) began the investigation, once it was started it was done thoroughly and speedily with no excuses and no attempt to cover up
The final report, released last night is entitled “Report of Independent Investigation into Sexual Misconduct of Ravi Zacharias” and is devastating.
It’s a tale of money, sex, abuse, greed, exploitation, and more. It’s far worse than we anticipated. We now know:
1. Ravi Zacharias was guilty of sexual abuse on many occasions, in different places, over a period of many years. These involved not only women in the US, but also in Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and almost certainly other places. With over 200 massage therapist contacts in Mr. Zacharias’s phones, including many overseas this issue is widespread.
2. He especially used those who worked in massage parlours – even “importing” them from overseas and seeking “more than a massage”.
3. In one example he offered to take a masseuse to travel overseas with him.
4. He used RZIM ministry funds to fund his abuse. He would either pay them, or give masseurs large financial gifts. Four received monthly support from RZIM’s charity for the poor for a lengthy period of time.
5. He used the Gospel and Christian language to gain the confidence of his victims.
This paragraph from the report is one horrific example. “This witness told us that their relationship began as a normal massage therapist-client relationship, and she came to think of him as a father figure. He elicited information about her faith and her financial situation. She reported that after he arranged for the ministry to provide her with financial support, he required sex from her. According to this witness, Mr. Zacharias used religious expressions to gain compliance, as she was raised to be a person of faith. She reported that he made her pray with him to thank God for the ‘opportunity’ they both received. She said he called her his ‘reward’ for living a life of service to God, and he referenced the ‘godly men’ in the Bible with more than one wife. She said he warned her not ever to speak out against him or she would be responsible for the ‘millions of souls’ whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged.”
6. Several RZIM staff expressed concerned about Ravi travelling with a personal masseuse because “they feared the appearance of impropriety”. When challenged he became angry. From 2018 several members of staff expressed doubts about Ravi’s explanation for the Lori Thompson case. His response? They’re “nasty people” and “lunatics” who were engaging in “satanic” slander and falsehood.
7. One of the witnesses interviewed for the report said she had engaged in sexual intercourse with Ravi: “This witness reported details of many encounters over a period of years that she described as rape. To protect her identity, this report does not disclose many of the details she shared with us.”
8. The report said Lori Anne Thompson’s complaints of sexting are highly likely to be true. “In order to avoid ‘protracted and public litigation,’ on April 27, 2017 the Thompsons sent Mr. Zacharias a letter demanding $5 million in exchange for a release of claims against him and the ministry.” Ravi paid them $250,000 to buy their silence.
9. Some people excused Ravi as being “naïve” and not using language wisely. The report provides evidence that his language was way beyond naïve. For example, he wrote to one massage therapist in Bangkok “I know more than ever that you have become the love of my life. I’m waiting to hold you close to my heart again”. There are many other similar examples in the report.
10. Ravi consistently lied – “In my 45 years of marriage to Margie, I have never engaged in any inappropriate behaviour of any kind,” he claimed. Yet just weeks after the Thompson case he was engaging with similar behaviour with a Malaysian masseuse.
The evidence is clear. Ravi Zacharias was a liar, a sexual pervert, and an abusive, deceitful manipulative, greedy hypocrite. This goes way beyond one incident, one fall. It reveals a lifestyle and pattern over many years. He fooled many people, shamed his family and brought disgrace upon the Church. He was someone of whom the scripture warns us – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Does that negate the message he preached? No. If someone who says that two plus two equals four, turns out to be a mass murderer it does not negate the truth that two plus two equals four. But it’s somewhat more complex than that. Given that one of the evidences of the truth of the Christian message is the fruit of the Spirit; when a preacher of that message displays the opposite, it is a terrible blow for the credibility of that message. Ravi betrayed the Lord he professed to love; he denied the Gospel he preached, and he caused the name of God to be blasphemed. May God have mercy on him.
Ravi betrayed the Lord he professed to love; he denied the Gospel he preached, and he caused the name of God to be blasphemed.
What about the victims? In a world where the word is so often misused, they are real victims. Perhaps they will rightly feel exonerated. Perhaps ashamed. Perhaps angry. All we can do is pray for them and commend them to the one who never abuses, manipulates, deceives or lets us down.
What about the future for RZIM? The report exonerates them in that it states, “we did not find evidence that anyone within RZIM or on its Board knew that Mr. Zacharias had engaged in sexual misconduct.” Although there are still questions to be answered about the lack of accountability (which they admit).
In response they have issued a statement. The opening words say it all: “It is with shattered hearts that we issue this statement about the allegations against RZIM’s Founder, Ravi Zacharias.”
They also include this apology: “We regret that we allowed our misplaced trust in Ravi to result in him having less oversight and accountability than would have been wise and loving. We also regret the ways that many of us have publicly extolled Ravi’s character and the impact this will have had on victims of his abuse.”
The Board have appointed Rachael Denhollander and Guidepost Solutions, a management/compliance consulting firm and have added “In light of the findings of the investigation and the ongoing evaluation, we are seeking the Lord’s will regarding the future of this ministry.”
It is clear that, whatever the future holds for the many talented Christians within RZIM, the current organisation cannot continue under its present name and it is difficult to see how it can continue at all.
Whatever the case we know that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Lord’s church – no matter the blows it takes. ‘Millions of souls’ will not be lost because of the damage to Ravi’s reputation – just as they would not be saved if he had been a saint. We are saved by the grace, love and mercy of Christ – not the reputation of his people. Thank God.
Michael Ramsden. President of RZIM tweeted “I am heartbroken and ashamed”. I feel his pain and share his heartbreak. I didn’t know Ravi – although he did sit at our dining table once and did preach in my church – and I didn’t work for him. But I do feel some of the heartache and shame. Only God knows the pain that all the victims, the abused and the deceived, are going through just now but of this one thing I am sure: “I am not ashamed. I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guardwhat I have entrusted to him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12).
Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed on our blog do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.
About the Author
David is Director of Third Space, CBF, Sydney, Australia. Previously he was minister of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee and associate director of Solas the Centre for Public Christianity.
ACCOUNTS OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE, SEXTING AND RAPE IN INVESTIGATION OF RAVI ZACHARIAS
KALEY PAYNE | FEBRUARY 12TH, 2021 09:54 AM |
Please note: This article discusses rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse.
An investigation into alleged sexual misconduct of the late Ravi Zacharias has found significant evidence of sexual misconduct involving massage therapists at day-spas Zacharias co-owned, as well as evidence of text and email based relationships with women.
The report, by law firm Miller & Martin, has been released today “with shattered hearts” by the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) Board.
“To be victimized by unwanted sexual contact, advances, and behavior is horrendous. It is diametrically opposed to everything we believe about the value and dignity of every single person,” the statement reads.
“We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation. Tragically, witnesses described encounters including sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape. We are devastated by what the investigation has shown and are filled with sorrow for the women who were hurt by this terrible abuse.”
RZIM is a global apologetics ministry with a list of some of the world’s best academics and evangelists answering questions, speaking and training others about the Christian faith. Zacharias himself had been labelled one of the best Christian apologists in the last 100 years.The highly successful ministry has been running since 1984, funded primarily by donations.
In 2019, the ministry received over $35 million in donations.
RZIM opened an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by its founder and namesake in September 2020, after three women came forward alleging Zacharias sexually harassed them in their work at two day spas Zacharias co-owned and to which he was a frequent visitor. The day spas were located in a strip mall in the suburbs of Atlanta, a short drive away from RZIM headquarters.
The women claim Zacharias touched them inappropriately, exposed himself and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of five years.
The report today confirmed the account of one of those massage therapists (who remained anonymous), while finding evidence of other instances over a period of 10 years. Some therapists gave accounts suggesting that Zacharias built their trust over a period of time – getting to know them and asking probing questions about their spiritual journeys – before asking them to “do more”, including touching his genitals or letting him touch them. One therapist told investigators that she never came forward because she thought, “who would believe me” against a famous Christian leader.
Accusations about Zacharias behaviour towards the massage therapists came just months after Zacharias died following a brief battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer in the spine.
RZIM initially denied the claims, but hired a law firm to investigate. In a statement at the time, the RZIM board said they first learned of the allegations after Zacharias’ death, and so weren’t able to explore them with him directly.
“We engaged Miller & Martin PLLC to investigate these allegations, while also giving them wide latitude to go wherever their investigation might lead them.”
In December, the RZIM board said that an interim update on the investigation indicated that Zacharias did engage in sexual misconduct.
Critics of the organisation have questioned whether the report goes far enough in exposing both Zacharias misconduct and the internal organisational issues that have encouraged loyalty over truth.
Carson Weitnauer, a former RZIM speaker and author who led the RZIM US speaking team before resigning last month, had called for any investigation of Zacharias and RZIM to include the testimony of Lori Anne Thompson. Thompson claims Zacharias groomed her into a sexual online and phone relationship that included sending him nude pictures and engaging in phone sex. Thompson’s testimony is the subject of a non-disclosure agreement from 2017, which she signed with Zacharias after he launched legal action claiming Thompson had sent Zacharias “unwanted” nude pictures in an attempt to extort him.
Given the mounting evidence against Zacharias, “it is far more likely that the NDA is silencing the voice of a victim than it is protecting an innocent man from slander,” wrote Weitnauer. A recent video of Thompson reading her victim impact statement has been shared by many RZIM and former RZIM speakers in a sign of support for Thompson and her testimony.
The statement from the RZIM Board also states that the conclusions of the investigation have “caused us to think very differently about the allegations Mrs. Lori Anne Thompson made against Ravi in 2017.”
“We were wrong,” the Board said. “Our trust in Ravi’s denial of moral wrongdoing and in his deceptive explanations of emails and other records that became public was severely misplaced, and our failures in 2017, including our failure to commission an independent investigation at that time, allowed tremendous pain to continue to be caused in the Thompsons’ lives.
“We believe Lori Anne Thompson has told the truth about the nature of her relationship with Ravi Zacharias. It is with profound grief that we recognize that because we did not believe the Thompsons and both privately and publicly perpetuated a false narrative, they were slandered for years and their suffering was greatly prolonged and intensified. This leaves us heartbroken and ashamed. We are deeply grateful for their longstanding commitment to making the truth known and admire their strength to carry on even when they were not believed. It is our hope to seek a redemptive way forward with Mrs. and Mr. Thompson and seek their forgiveness, while recognizing that we have no right to this and wanting to be led by them in terms of what might be most helpful.”
Along with Carson Weitnauer, RZIM leadership has come under intense criticism for their handling of the allegations from high profile Christians, including Dr Max Baker-Hytch from OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, popular author and speaker Sam Allberry, Daniel Gilman and Australian theologian and historian John Dickson.
The RZIM Board says it has engaged victim-advocate Rachael Denhollander, to advise them on understanding trauma and best practice in responding to victims. Denhollander was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nasser while she was a US gymnast.
“We are committed to change,” the RZIM Board wrote.
In light of the investigation, the future of RZIM remains unclear. The Board writes that they “are seeking the Lord’s will regarding the future of this ministry”, and will speak again soon about what is to come for RZIM.