Following serious accusations of sexual impropriety by their founder who died last May from cancer at age 74, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) announced late last week, “It is with shattered hearts that we issue this statement about the allegations against RZIM’s Founder, Ravi Zacharias.” RZIM hired Miller & Martin PLLC, a law firm with experience in corporate and sex crimes investigations, to conduct an independent investigation following a September 29, 2020 Christianity Today story explaining three women came forward charging that Zacharias had conducted himself improperly with them, sexually exploiting them, and grooming them for such exploitation.
The RZIM International Board of Directors explained, “We gave Miller & Martin a broad scope to pursue any avenues that they judged to be relevant to the accusations, and we emphasized that our only purpose for the investigation was to ascertain the full truth.” RZIM has released the entire 13 page investigative report to the public here. Its content and conclusions are sad and disturbing. As the International Board of Directors of RZIM explained in their official statement on the report,
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.
The Miller & Martin investigation was limited in scope to a few specific charges. The investigators admitted on the first page of their report they did not conduct an exhaustive search of Mr. Zacharias’ full behavior and conduct with women.
…[W]e did not enlist resources on the ground in Asia, where Mr. Zacharias frequently traveled, to locate and interview witnesses there. With over 200 massage therapist contacts in Mr. Zacharias’s phones, including many overseas, we did not think it worthwhile to attempt an exhaustive survey and instead sought to speak with those we thought most likely to have relevant information or who otherwise reached out to us.
There is no indication whether a more exhaustive investigation will be conducted. The report explains, “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 investigators also found, “Several massage therapists confirmed Mr. Zacharias’s frequent efforts to ‘try for more than a massage,’ as one therapist put it.” The report adds, “Some therapists pushed back on his behavior with some success.” Others were not successful.
The legal investigators explain on page 4 of their report, “Only one of the witnesses we interviewed said that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual intercourse. This witness reported details of many encounters over a period of years that she described as rape.” Most of the reports by other women were of improper touching, sexualized communications including nudity, and emotional manipulation related to these exchanges.
Grooming for Abuse
Zacharias regularly traveled with a masseuse, and according to the report, it was always a woman paid by or through the ministry. The report explains, “On paper, her job title reflected other responsibilities, but it appears that her primary job was to massage Mr. Zacharias” while on trips.
Many of the massage therapists Zacharias regularly employed described similar tactics to groom them for abuse. These included, as the report details, “the use of ministry funds to provide financial support, the effort to elicit personal information about a difficult past, and Mr. Zacharias’s use of religious language during their encounters.” Therapists also reported that Mr. Zacharias would leave large tips and gave gifts that were at times lavish, such as a Persian rug or a Louis Vuitton wallet with $500 inside.
The woman who said their relationship turned sexual for years, describing it as rape, explained Zacharias “made her pray with him to thank God for the ‘opportunity’ they both received.” He told her she was special, “his reward for living a life of service to God” and he referenced the “godly men” in the Bible with more than one wife. The report details how she was warned by Zacharias never to speak of their relationship or she “would be responsible for the millions of souls whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged.”
Lack of Accountability
The report stated that Zacharias went to some lengths to keep his electronic communications hidden from those he worked with and was accountable to at the ministry. These legal investigators explain,
He insisted on remaining separate from official RZIM communication platforms, and his phones were on a separate plan rather than the RZIM plan. He also used private email addresses rather than an RZIM account, and while at RZIM headquarters he used the public wireless access rather than RZIM’s virtual private network. He claimed this was for security reasons, but the end result was that no one at RZIM would have had administrative access to his devices or email communications.
RZIM’s media representative lamented earlier this month in a letter to that ministry’s leadership, “A well-respected Christian leader observed in 2018 that ‘Ravi only surrounds himself with people who are related to him or on his payroll or both.’” The representative also explained that RZIM leadership played a role in this debacle for failing to hold Zacharias properly accountable to basic standards of Christian discipline and practice,
Ravi was treated as an exception, he was placed on a pedestal, he was idolized; tragically, that fed his narcissism and hindered the opportunity for repentance and rehabilitation. This was especially pronounced and problematic since it was widely known that Ravi was not a member of a local church and did not receive pastoral care or operate within a system of accountability.
Sarah Davis, RZIM’s CEO and Zacharias’ daughter, told Christianity Today last month, “I think I, and others, without awareness, expected Ravi to be more than human” adding, “…we forgot he was just a man, because he seemed like such an exceptional one. And while in many ways he was, we are now learning he was a human with very real flaws.”
There had also been previous concerns that Zacharias had long misrepresented his academic credentials. He confessed in August 2018 that, contrary to earlier claims, he did not possess an earned doctorate nor had ever been officially associated with the universities of Oxford or Cambridge as a student or lecturer. Zacharias was a regular guest on many popular Christian radio and television shows including the Focus on the Family broadcast.
John Stonestreet explains so well in his Breakpoint commentary today the devastating effects sin and unaccountability can have in each of our lives,
There is no sugar-coating, excusing, or explaining away Ravi’s behavior. It was sinful. It was wicked. And, as this report made crystal clear, it was duplicitous. Reading through it, I couldn’t shake the words I heard time and time again from Chuck Colson: “There is no limit to the human capacity for self-rationalization.” That’s why Proverbs uses the word “folly” to describe sin. As a mentor of mine used to say, sin makes us dumb.
It does indeed. And it leaves tremendous pain in its wake.
Photo from RZIM