Ravi Zacharias, arguably the most famous Christian apologist in recent history, was a sexual predator who manipulated his victims with Jesus.
The most damning evidence of his behavior was finally released yesterday by the ministry he left behind after his death last year and which is now run by members of his family.
Before we get into the details of what the report revealed, it’s helpful to remember what we knew before yesterday. After Zacharias died in May — with Vice President Mike Pence speaking at his funeral — former workers at two health spas he owned in Georgia said Zacharias had been “sexually out of control with the female therapists over whom he had professional power.”
The Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) responded by promising to conduct an independent investigation into the matter. In December, a preliminary report warned his followers that there was “significant, credible” evidence that the late apologist was guilty of sexual misconduct and more.
While the details were not provided at the time, a separate investigation by Daniel Silliman at Christianity Today had three women on the record saying Zacharias “touched them inappropriately, exposed himself, and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of about five years.” One woman said he had masturbated in front of her over 50 times, in addition to propositioning her for sex.
That wasn’t even the only hit to his reputation. A few years ago, we learned that he had been lying about his credentials for years, suggesting he had multiple earned doctorate degrees (he did not), affiliations with prestigious universities (nope), and honorary titles (false). He wasn’t “Dr. Zacharias.” He was Ravi the Liar. (Who knew at the time that those scandals were mild compared to what lay ahead?)
Another scandal involved sexting a married woman, Lori Anne Thompson. He said that was not true and the woman was extorting him for cash. But it turned out there was plenty of reason to believe there really was an intimate (albeit virtual) relationship between Zacharias and the woman, and that Zacharias tried to keep it under wraps. RZIM and the woman in question settled their legal case out of court, but their deal included a non-disclosure agreement by the woman. She can’t speak about the case. RZIM has still — today — refused to release her from that so she can tell her story. (After hearing about the women from the health spa, the married woman and her husband spoke out anyway.)
On Wednesday, Thompson released a victim impact statement:
Victim Impact Statement https://t.co/6brqCntKiW
— Lori Anne Thompson R Kin. BSCH Kin. MA CHAD (@LoriAnneThomps2) February 8, 2021
So that brings us to the final report, which RZIM released to the public yesterday.
It opens with this:
We confirmed one of the three accounts described in the Christianity Today article and found significant evidence of sexual misconduct involving additional massage therapists. We also reviewed Mr. Zacharias’s electronic devices and found evidence of text- and email-based relationships with women who were not his wife, as well as over 200 “selfie”-style photographs of women.
The investigation involved interviewing more than 50 people, “including over a dozen massage therapists” who worked with Zacharias or had him as a client.
Here are some of the most damning revelations:
- There were at least five more victims than we knew about earlier.
- There was evidence of alleged sexual abuse in foreign countries where Zacharias traveled and lived.
- Those 200 “selfies” included nude images — not illegal but certainly hypocritical given his Christian message.
- He used tens of thousands of dollars that were donated to his ministry to fund the lifestyles of four different massage therapists.
- One of those therapists said Zacharias “required sex” from her. She used the word “rape” to describe that interaction.
- Zacharias used religion to guilt-trip his victims from speaking out against him, telling them that going public with their stories would put “millions of souls” in danger of eternal hellfire.
It’s just utterly disgusting behavior from a man whose reputation was built on his commitment to God.
In response to the report, RZIM issued this statement:
It must have been deeply painful for the victims of Ravi’s abuse and misconduct to tell their stories and to relive their terrible experiences as they participated in this investigation. To you we say directly: Words cannot come close to expressing the sorrow that we feel for what you have been through or the gratitude we feel for the bravery with which you have responded. We are so thankful to you, and we are so sorry.
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. We now know our words have been hurtful, and that causes us deep sorrow.
RZIM also issued a formal apology to Lori Anne Thompson.
We were wrong. 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.
(Zacharias’ wife Margie did not say, however, that Thompson would be released from her non-disclosure agreement. That’s a separate issue from the investigation at hand.)
It’s also worth noting that the statement comes from the board of directors as a whole and not from the individuals (including Zacharias’ family members) who dismissed the allegations when they were first made. Thompson referenced that in a public statement:
“I appreciate the vocabulary of their apology, but it must be backed by action,” Lori Anne Thompson told The Washington Post on Thursday. “When I ask my child to say sorry, it must be what specifically they’re sorry for. I’d like to know how each member of the executive leadership feels they themselves have failed. Don’t hide behind the institution. We almost didn’t make it out of this. … We almost lost our marriage. We’re not looking to be litigious, but we’re looking for them to be accountable. They tried to actively crush our family.”
As far as the RZIM statement goes, they’re saying many of the right things, and they’re taking concrete steps to fix their problems moving forward. I’m not sure how much credit they deserve for that, though, since they’re choosing to repair the ministry rather than shut it down entirely. The brand has already been tainted but keeping RZIM going means they’ll get to keep receiving recurring donations from people who don’t keep up with the news.
When it comes down to it, perhaps the bigger story here is how a famous Christian apologist was able to get away with utter hypocrisy and abuse for many, many years. He told people to follow a specific conservative interpretation of God’s Word while refusing to do it himself. His actions were far worse than those of the non-Christians he thought needed to be “saved.”
Christianity isn’t a virtue. It never was. The report shows us that Zacharias got away with abuse for a long time precisely because he was known as a man of faith and he was shielded by those running his ministry. At least now his name will always be synonymous with Christian hypocrisy and abuse.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Portions of this article were published earlier)