Ravi Zacharias, Lawsuit, RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries), Sex Scandal
“Pleasure without God, without the sacred boundaries, will actually leave you emptier than before. And this is biblical truth, this is experiential truth. The loneliest people in the world are amongst the wealthiest and most famous who found no boundaries within which to live. That is a fact I’ve seen again and again.” ~ Ravi Zacharias
UPDATE 2/12/21: This post is once again being published today (February 12, 2021). After it was originally published, the victim, Lori Anne Thompson (pseudonym “June” in this article) requested that I remove it. I normally do not remove posts, but deferred to Lori Anne’s request because of my commitment to “Do No Harm” when it comes to survivors. They are the ones who get to tell their story on their own timing. As it turns out, screenshots were taken from this original article and were reposted, but I didn’t feel it right to post it again until I got the green light. Since then, Lori Anne has gone public with her story. That is sufficient green light for me. This is her story. She wants it told. ~Julie Anne Smith
I have covered the topic of clergy sexual misconduct before. The sexual grooming situations of Tullian Tchividjian was a case Brad Sargent and I covered in great detail. Through my advocacy work in defending victims of clergy sexual abuse, one of Tullian Tchividjian’s victims reached out to me for support. I believed her account of what happened, but it took many months before she decided to report her experiences publicly. Because of Rachel’s bravery, clear evidence, and willingness to go public with her report, Tullian Tchividjian is no longer a pastor. Hopefully, he will never use his position of influence to harm again.
And now, I bring another account of abuses by a person in power. On January 9, 2017, I received an email and subsequent phone call from a woman who told me about her relationship with Ravi Zacharias. I was very shocked to hear this news because I had only known Mr. Zacharias as trustworthy.
However, as I listened to this woman share her experiences, I heard the same pattern that I had heard from four of Tullian Tchividjian’s victims. I was looking for the patterns of sexual grooming, and it was unmistakably there.
Legal information: This account contains information that is of public interest and import. Ravi Zacharias is a public figure. I believe all of the information in this article to be true, and it is being provided to show how people in positions of power and trust can use their positions to harm.
What are Sexual Grooming and Clergy Sexual Misconduct?
Sexual grooming is a process that can take weeks or months, by which a perpetrator gains the trust and emotional connection with someone — usually someone with a troubled background — with the eventual intention of using that person for sexual gratification.
Grooming may be gradual and subtle, desensitizing the congregant to increasingly inappropriate behavior while rewarding her for tolerance of that behavior. Offenders may use religious language to frame the relationship, such as “You are an answer to my prayer; I asked God for someone who can share my deepest thoughts, prayers, and needs and he sent me you” (Liberty, 2001, p. 85). Grooming is essentially seduction in a relationship in which a religious leader holds spiritual power over the congregant. (How Clergy Sexual Misconduct Happens: A Qualitative Study of First-Hand Accounts)
Clergy sexual misconduct occurs when someone in a role of religious authority over another misuses that position of power for his/her sexual gratification. While not every state in the U.S. has specific laws about clergy sexual misconduct/abuse, some do — and many states have laws about how “consent” by the underling cannot be used as a defense against criminal charges when there is this kind of power/authority differential in the relationship.
Based on my phone and email conversations with this woman, I believe that she is a victim of grooming by Mr. Zacharias that led to his clergy sexual misconduct with her.
Along the way, this woman and her husband began the process of taking legal action against Mr. Zacharias. A demand letter was sent by her attorney. Mr. Zacharias then responded by filing a legal complaint against the woman and her husband.
I found out that this case was settled out of court. November 24, 2017, was the last time I corresponded with the victim, not knowing the parameters of the settlement.
At this point, the settlement means that this victim’s voice cannot be heard; however, via the legal documentation that is publicly available, Mr. Zacharias has been able to give his narrative, which looks nothing like what I heard or read from the victim.
This troubles me greatly. A victim’s voice is silenced. Yes, she chose that, and I don’t understand all of the whys, but it is concerning because nothing is preventing this from happening again. Additionally, no major publications have covered the lawsuit. Unless someone speaks out publicly, this case will be lost in the shuffle.
Legal, Personal, and Organizational Issues in This Situation
On August 3, 2017, an amended complaint was filed by Mr. Zacharias’ attorneys against this woman and her husband in response to a demand letter filed by the woman’s attorney against Mr. Zacharias. (From here on, I will refer to the woman by the pseudonym, June.)
Surprisingly, in the complaint, Mr. Zacharias’ attorney included a demand letter from June’s attorney, Mark Bryant. The demand letter, dated April 27, 2017, by Attorney Mark Bryant refers to a specific e-mail written by Mr. Zacharias. Here is a quote from the demand letter:
In an email following many lengthy telephone conversations with you (we have copies of your emails and the call register), [June] informed you of her decision to tell [June’s husband] about this misconduct. You responded by email that you would end your life and “bid this world goodbye” if she confessed and outed you to her husband. You later admitted that this was not true and we have independent confirmation of many of these discussions by an anonymous third party.
In this quote, we see that Mr. Zacharias has threatened to kill himself if June informs her husband of Ravi and June’s relationship.
As I said earlier, I read the legal complaint submitted by Mr. Zacharias’ attorney which tells the narrative of Mr. Zacharias being the victim of June! This doesn’t make sense one bit. The complaint also shows that the relationship lasted over months. That leaves me with questions:
- Why did Ravi Zacharias continue engaging with June for months if he didn’t like their conversations?
- The complaint alleges June was the initiator in the sexually explicit pictures sent. Why was RZIM board not notified?
- The demand email referenced one email from Ravi Zacharias where he said he would end his life if June told her husband. If Mr. Zacharias were guilt-free, why would he feel the need to end his life? People understand about fans who respond sexually to celebrities. Mr. Zacharias could have provided his entire communication with June to the Board to establish that he was guilty of no serious wrongdoing. And he did not. Why not? Because he was guilty?
- Whenever there is a connection between a Christian leader and another person, the onus is on the leader, the one in a position of trust, to ensure proper boundaries are established and kept so that it does not cross over into illicit territory. When there is such a power differential, misconduct is never the victim’s fault.
Along with the many years of Mr. Zacharias failing to be transparent about his academic credentials, I believe he needs to come clean on this issue, and not hide behind a settled lawsuit.
I believe June. I believe she reached out for help and wanted her voice to be heard. So I am releasing the following emails which were sent to me by June on February 27, 2017, long before any settlement was reached, any demand letter sent, and also long before any lawsuit was filed.
Mr. Zacharias and RZIM Board needs to address this.
“Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”
~ Ravi Zacharias
I know that Ravi Zacharias has been a hero of faith to many, and this will be difficult information to read. It is never my desire to do harm, but to bring light and truth to situations. My prayer is that Mr. Zacharias will finish well as he addresses these situations.