Ravi Zacharias committed 'spiritual abuse,' accused of 'rape': independent investigation

Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016. Students in Houston were able to watch Zacharias through livestream for the first time in Passion's 19 year history.
Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016. Students in Houston were able to watch Zacharias through livestream for the first time in Passion's 19 year history. | (Courtesy of Passion Conference/Phil Sanders)

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries issued an apology Thursday as it announced the results of a monthslong independent investigation in which victims claimed the late Christian apologist engaged in “sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape” during his life.

Atlanta law firm Miller & Martin, independent investigators hired by RZIM, released an in-depth report this week detailing serious allegations of sexual misconduct by Zacharias. 

In a statement accompanying the report, the board of RZIM said it was “shocked and grieved by Ravi’s actions” and feels “a deep need for corporate repentance.”

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“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,” the RZIM statement explains.

“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 lengthy report includes interviews with more than a dozen massage therapists who treated Zacharias over the years.

One massage therapist said the evangelist often tried for “more than a massage,” while four massage therapists said Zacharias masturbated or asked them to touch his genitals during massages. 

Five said he “touched or rubbed them inappropriately.”

Another massage therapist “reported details of many encounters over a period of years that she described as rape,” according to the report. 

"Only one of the witnesses we interviewed said that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual intercourse," the report states. "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."

After Zacharias talked with her about her faith and finances, establishing himself as a “father figure,” he arranged for his ministry to provide her with financial support. However, he then demanded sex and “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.”

“A number of aspects of this account involved similar behavior and escalation as the accounts of other therapists who would not have known each other and who treated Mr. Zacharias in different contexts over time,” notes the report. 

The investigation discovered that a collection of explicit photos — many of them of much younger women — were also found in Zacharias’ possession. 

Romantic emails Zacharias sent to a woman in South Korea and a massage therapist in Thailand, whom he called his “angel,” were also uncovered. 

“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 report reads. 

Throughout his decades-long ministry, Zacharias, who died of cancer at the age of 74 last May, was a globally respected apologist. 

A prolific figure in American Christian radio and TV, he founded RZIM in 1984. Today, the ministry has offices in 15 countries and nearly 300 staffers.

In 2017, Canadian Lori Anne Thompson accused Zacharias of engaging in a sexually inappropriate online relationship. The apologist denied the claims, accusing her and her husband of extortion. 

Zacharias was also accused of inflating his academic credentials that same year. 

In the fall of 2020, additional allegations surfaced against Zacharias.

Several massage therapists at day spas co-owned by the prolific speaker and author alleged that he would expose himself, masturbate, ask for explicit photos and proposition them during his treatments for back pain. 

RZIM hired Miller & Martin to investigate the claims. In December 2020, RZIM admitted in an interim report that the late apologist had indeed engaged in sexual misconduct at the spa. 

The investigative team was given “broad discretion and authority to follow leads into other sexual misconduct that might arise” beyond the spa allegations.

In its statement Thursday, the board said that based on the latest report, it now believes that witnesses who spoke about Zacharias’ conduct are telling the truth.

“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,” the board said in a statement. 

“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.”

San Francisco attorney Steve Baughman, who first reported on the accusations by massage therapists, told The Christian Post in a statement that “[t]his is no longer about Ravi Zacharias but about the evangelical business world that enabled him to lead a double life for so many years.”

“As long as we only focus on the individual, the system will never change and we can expect the victim body count to keep rising,” he said in a statement. 

In a Tweet on Feb 9, Thompson said she  is “hopeful” that her “whispers in the dark have prepared the way for other victims to shout in the day.”

“What happened to these women matters greatly,” she wrote.

Moving forward, RZIM is taking steps to help the victims of Zacharias’ abuse. 

The organization has engaged victim advocate Rachael Denhollander to educate and advise the board and senior leadership to understand trauma, abuse and best-standard practices. Denhollander will serve as a confidential liaison for survivors to “help guide the process of care, justice, and restitution for those who have been victimized.”

RZIM has also engaged the compliance consulting firm Guidepost Solutions to conduct a thorough evaluation of RZIM, its structures, processes, finances and policies to help foster a “top-down and grassroots cultural reform.”

“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,” the statement reads. “We are learning much through this time and hope to have the chance to apply these lessons in the future. We remain passionate about seeing the gospel preached through the questions of culture. We will be spending focused time praying and fasting as we discern how God is leading, and we will speak to this in the near future.”

In an op-ed for The Christian Post, Carson Weitnauer, who previously led the U.S. speaking team, lamented how RZIM handled allegations of sexual misconduct. He called on RZIM to “change its name, remove Ravi’s material, repent for its many failures, and provide a restorative response to the harm that Ravi’s victims experienced.”

“If they want to avoid following RZIM’s example, Christian ministries and churches should rigorously evaluate how their systems and culture could prevent them from personally experiencing this crisis,” he wrote. “May God give us the clarity and courage we need to become faithful advocates for the survivors of abuse — and to deter such abuse from occurring in the future.” 

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