Resource Archive and FAQs on the Ravi Zacharias and RZIM Situation

INTRODUCTION

The team at Spiritual Sounding Board has written on numerous situations of reported spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse/misconduct by church and ministry leaders. These are typically complex situations that involve investigating theological beliefs, ministry practices, organizational systems, cultural context, and other elements for relevant details and patterns.

We present this Resource Archive to help readers who want to do their own studies into the emerging situation of Ravi Zacharias and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), to develop their own informed conclusions. We seek to provide a range of select links that offer observations, analysis, and interpretations of events and evidences. Along the way, we present our opinions and understandings of relevant issues through the questions we ask and the ways we organize the material in response to questions that readers/commenters here and elsewhere on social media are asking.

Initial edition of December 8, 2017, compiled by brad/futuristguy, with input/review from Julie Anne Smith on link selections, issue analysis, and FAQ answers. Additional questions, links, and notations may be added to expand this post. We will usually note when new material is added, but the nature of this post is to serve as an archive that is updated.

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MAIN SOURCES

Primary Sources

Demand Letter — dated April 27, 2017.

RICO Lawsuit — filed August 3, 2017.

Ravi Zacharias: Statement on My Federal Lawsuit — December 3, 2017.

RZIM: Statement on Ravi Zacharias’ Biography — December 3, 2017.

ProPublica page for RZIM. The ProPublica “Nonprofit Explorer” page for RZIM includes summary financial information and links to Forms 990, which detail financial and organizational aspects of the corporation. The compensation of officers/staff chart in Form 990, Part VII, lists directors and key employees. This is all public-access information as required by the IRS.

Timelines

Georgia Northern District Court Case 1:17-cv-02885.

[More timelines may be added later.]

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QUESTIONS, ISSUES, DISCREPANCIES

Resource links that help answer these questions will be posted as they are discovered. To respond to these questions, we are selecting sources that are as concise as possible yet with enough detail to give a reasoned response. In some cases, the questions have complicated answers that need more than one source for readers to decide for themselves.

LAWSUITS

Did the prior lawsuit the married couple initiated involve extortion, or has that been mischaracterized?

The fact that the couple whose lawyer filed the Demand Letter had been involved in a previous lawsuit against a church has been taken by some social media commenters as “proof” of their being litigious, and thus that the Demand Letter to Mr. Zacharias is frivolous and just an attempt to extort money from him. Such comments rarely refer to any details from that prior case.

So far, this question has been addressed more thoroughly on the following post at The Wartburg Watch, especially in comments by blog co-owner Dee Parsons, along with commenters “sandy c” and Charis. Read this series of links to comments in that thread, and historical sources linked to, and see what you think about whether this was “extortion” or not. And if so, what should be done about that? And if not, is the mention of it by Mr. Zacharias potentially an attempt to “poison the well” or “controversialize” the couple?

Mr. Ravi Zacharias and the Emails/Sex Scandal UPDATED – We suggest you begin in the middle of the comment thread with this particular comment, and follow the chain of comments from there that look at the 2008 court case.

Mr. Zacharias emphasized in his statement to Christianity Today that he had no “fiduciary duty” to the woman in question. Why might that be important to this case?

If a person is in a profession where they have a “fiduciary duty” to others, there may be legal implications if he or she engages in “misconduct.” For instance, many states have laws concerning forms of sexual misconduct between those in a role of authority/power and those in their charge — for instance, teachers and their students, prison officers and prisoners, counselors and clients, clergy members and parishioners. In some cases, “consent” of the subordinate person in the relationship cannot legally be used as a defense by the superior person.

To study the state-by-state laws on professions and consent issues, see the State Law Database from RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Also, see the details and analysis from Christianity Today writers in their article of December 3, 2017:

Zacharias’s lawsuit stated that “there was no confidential and/or fiduciary relationship” between him and the woman, as would exist between a pastor or counselor and a counselee. Lawyers emphasized that Zacharias is not a pastor or counselor, and that RZIM is not a church and does not provide formal counseling or therapy.

Georgia state law does not specifically address sexual misconduct by clergy, though it does declare it a crime for a practitioner of psychotherapy to use a “counseling relationship to facilitate sexual contact,” even with the consent of the victim.

Issues surrounding fiduciary duty have received increased scrutiny in “survivor blogs” the past five years or so, primarily as more cases come to light of sexual misconduct by pastors, youth ministers, Christian school workers, counselors, etc. So, for a Christian celebrity like Mr. Zacharias to specifically state he had no “fiduciary duty” relationship with the woman in question deserves a deeper look. Though he was not professionally a counselor to her, he appears to have served in a pastoral and/or spiritual director role of care and mentoring. And his profession as a Christian apologist, speaker, and author does give the weight of authority to his interactions. And, according to this comment from “mirele” on a Spiritual Sounding Board post, Mr. Zacharias is a clergy member. What implications does this have for this situation, and why did Mr. Zacharias feel the need to address whether or not he had/has any fiduciary duty here?

Salty, according to the Schedule J, page 3 on Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Form 990 for 2014, it says, and I quote: “As an ordained minister of the Gospel, the CEO receives a board-approved housing allowance in accordance with Internal Revenue Code section 107.” So he IS in the ministry, otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed to take this tax exemption.

Nonprofit Explorer has the Form 990s here: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/133200719

RZIM BOARD AND STAFF

How many Zacharias family members serve on the RZIM board of directors, or are employees of the non-profit? How much are they paid?

See the most recent Form 990 available from ProPublica. The compensation of officers/staff chart in found in Form 990, Part VII, which lists directors and key employees. Listed below from the Form 990 2014 are the family members, and their position(s) in the organization. See that chart for reportable compensation (W-2/1099-Misc), and estimated other compensation.

  • Ravi Zacharias, Chairman and CEO.
  • Margaret Zacharias, Vice Chair of Ministry.
  • Sara [Zacharias] Davis (daughter), Director/Executive Director. (Link.)
  • Naomi Zacharias, Vice President of Wellspring International (the benevolence division of RZIM).
  • It was reported in 2012 that Nathan Zacharias (son) “currently works as senior writer and video producer in the Media Department at RZIM, creating written and visual content for marketing, fundraising, and broadcast. In addition to his work behind the scenes, Nathan is becoming an increasingly visible face of his father’s ministry, spearheading initiatives such as the “Ask” interactive youth apologetics curriculum. […] [H]is wife, Sarah Parker Zacharias, … serves as a marketing and development associate at Wellspring. (Link from 2012 article on Christian Post.) (Link on TWW.)

Is this a truly independent board/ministry if there are multiple Zacharias family members on it?

Among the concerns the IRS has for non-profit corporations are: governance without conflicts of interest caused by family members/friends on the governing board, and inurement — excessive compensation of board members and others. Having family/friends on the board is not automatically a problem, but consider in this situation the potential difficulties — personal and organizational — of Mr. Zacharias needing to inform the board of RZIM about his reported activities and the related Demand Letter.

Where can I get more background information on key requirements for non-profits and their boards? [FAQ added 12-09-2017.]

According to the International Revenue Service, an EO (Exempt Organization) must function “in the public interest” and not run it for the benefit of any private individuals or other organizations. The Compliance Guide for 501(c)(3) Public Charities is probably the best official IRS overview resource addressing the basics of constituting a non-profit, ongoing requirements, record-keeping, governance procedures and practices, and required disclosures and documentation. It’s concise and clearly written, and if you’re involved with an EO, or investigating one, you should read it to make sure you/they don’t put its tax-exempt status in jeopardy.

What we typically think of in America as a “church” or “ministry” is typically constituted as a non-profit religious organization that is exempt from federal income tax. To stay tax-exempt, we have to abide by the rules and regulations for the corporation! And although there are many requirements in terms of forms to file and records to keep, the IRS print materials and websites consistently emphasize three main restrictions for maintaining tax-exempt status. To quote the Compliance Guide:

1. Private Benefit and Inurement. A public charity is prohibited from allowing more than an insubstantial accrual of private benefit to individuals or organizations. This restriction is to ensure that a tax-exempt organization serves a public interest, not a private one. …

No part of an organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of an insider. An insider is a person who has a personal or private interest in the activities of the organization such as an officer, director, or a key employee. …

If a public charity provides an economic benefit to any person who is in a position to exercise substantial influence over its affairs (that exceeds the value of any goods or services provided in consideration), the organization has engaged in an excess benefit transaction. [Page 4, emphasis added.]

2. Political Campaign Intervention. Public charities are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office. [Page 5.]

3. Legislative Activities. A public charity is not permitted to engage in substantial legislative activity (commonly referred to as lobbying). [Page 8.]

CREDENTIALS AND TITLES

What specific allegations have been posted of Mr. Zacharias and/or RZIM publicizing exaggerated or misleading academic credentials for him?

For details and extended analysis on allegations of misleading credentials, see links from the sections below on Warren Throckmorton’s Blog, and Steve Baughman’s Media.

What are considered appropriate uses of the title of Dr. for those with honorary doctorates?

According to Warren Throckmorton, “In Missouri it is against the law to claim a degree you don’t have but I don’t think it is anywhere else. In other states, it can be if you defraud people of their money by using a false degree but I don’t know if it could stick on Ravi Z with this set of facts.” (Link.)

And are protocols different between such usage in academic versus non-academic environments?

On this Christianity Today Podcast (Episode 85), guest Professor John G. Stackhouse explains from his work in academic circles why it is a significant problem to misrepresent academic expertise and/or experiences through exaggeration, fabrication, or ambiguous references.  Ravi Zacharias and the Case of Christian Credential Inflation. “Many evangelists and apologists have a history of overstating their qualifications.” “Ravi Zacharias is the biggest name in apologetics currently,” said Stackhouse. “As he goes, so goes apologetics so it’s really important that he be scrupulous in everything he does.”December 7, 2017.

UPDATING OF BIOGRAPHIES AND TITLES

Given that RZIM was reportedly informed in at least 2015 of questions about misused/misleading credentials in biographies and other references to “Dr.” Zacharias, why were so many online sources not corrected until early December 2017? When were their policies about this title usage put in place?

This post and comment thread from Warren Throckmorton’s blog address this particular problem in detail. (Link.)

Several people have reportedly informed RZIM staff members over the years of their concerns about misleading uses of academic information and experiences. These include: Professor John Stackhouse, about 20 years ago (source podcast). According to Steve Baughman in this comment on a Warren Throckmorton post, “Tom Lunol, a Christian computer programmer now in Colorado, also contacted RZIM around 2005 to express his concern about the bogus Cambridge claim. He got nowhere so he quit” (emphasis added). And Steve Baughman himself reports exposing Mr. Zacharias on this issue in the summer of 2015.

NDA/NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT

How is it that Mr. Zacharias could present a lengthy commentary statement about the context and other details of the lawsuit settlement, and that not violate the non-disclosure agreement, yet he appeals to the non-disclosure agreement as a reason to not answer a range of other relevant questions?

[Response to be added.]

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LINKS TO NEWS REPORTS AND ANALYSIS

Warren Throckmorton’s Blog

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Steve Baughman’s Media

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The Wartburg Watch Blog

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Spiritual Sounding Board Blog

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Ravi Zacharias Sources

  • Ravi Zacharias Amazon Author Page. [Link added 12-01-2017. Note that as of this date, Mr. Zacharias’ author bio still refers to him as Dr. Zacharias.] [Update: The Author Page was still the same on the evening of December 3rd, but a significantly edited and expanded version replaced it by the morning of December 4th.]
  • Ravi Zacharias biography from RZIM “About” page. [Link added 12-01-2017. Note that as of this date, the bio states it was “Updated 17 May 2017.”] [Update: The bio was revised as of December 3, 2017.]
  • Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) link: Ravi Zacharias bio for ECFA Board of Reference. [Link added 12-01-2017.] [It appears this bio has not been updated for as much as 7 years, as it mentions Mr. Zacharias being in ministry for 36 years, and his most recent book being one first published in 2010. Note added 12-04-2017.]

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RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) Sources

  • RZIM – Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
  • Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) organizational links: RZIM. Wellspring International (“A Benevolence Wing of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries“).

RZIM Non-profit Data. All of the following information is public access information for non-profits. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is registered as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. The Employee Identification Number (EIN) for RZIM is EIN 13-3200719. This is the unique identifier number assigned to RZIM by the IRS. The IRS ruling year for RZIM was 1984, meaning this is the year it was granted non-profit status and donations would be tax-deductible. The NTEE Code for RZIM is (Christian X20) — for a description of what this code includes, see the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities’ Religion-Related Codes page.

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Other Sources, News Reports, Analysis, and Opinion Pieces

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17 comments on “Resource Archive and FAQs on the Ravi Zacharias and RZIM Situation

  1. Pingback: Ravi Zacharias: Email Threat and Ongoing Lack of Response About Reportedly Inflated Credentials | Spiritual Sounding Board

  2. “Mr. Zacharias emphasized in his statement to Christianity Today that he had no “fiduciary duty” to the woman in question. Why might that be important to this case?”

    Why does RZ even need to make this statement IF nothing happened between him and the woman?

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  3. Pingback means that another blogger has referenced this particular post. So you can go and check out that blog and see what they are saying about this topic (and how they have referenced this post). I haven’t clicked on the link to check out that blog, but perhaps they have permission to reblog their post. Dee is usually fine with people doing that.

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  4. 5 million dollars?

    I’m shaking my head.

    No wonder Christians and Christianity looks utterly ridiculous to the outside world.

    Only in America folks

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  5. Bridget, I believe it was made because I’ve been very public about calling this situation clergy sexual misconduct which does imply fiduciary duty. My quote was published in Christianity Today and might have been in the Christian Post (too lazy to look).

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  6. The $5 million demand letter from the couple after-the-fact does not logically rule out unethical and immoral behavior on RZ’s part. In my opinion, this actually makes the claims of his manipulation and sinful overtures to the wife highly credible.

    People are complicated. They may do the wrong thing (or what others judge as the wrong thing) in response to being harmed or taken advantage of. That does NOT take away the responsibility or guilt of the person who took advantage of or abused them.

    The RZIM narrative that the letter is evidence of a set-up for extortion (they were framing RZ) doesn’t make logical sense given the settlement and NDA. It seems far more likely that there was some type of moral failure on RZ’s part and he wanted to bury the evidence of that. That’s my perspective.

    There could be a variety of motivations and reasons for that demand letter. For example (1) the couple could have felt aghast and furious over what happened and how they were manipulated, and wanted to get recompense / revenge, or (2) one or both of them decided to be mercenary about it knowing that RZ and the ministry had millions of dollars, or (3) their attorney saw a chance to get some big bucks (that’s what attorneys frequently do) and convinced the couple to send the letter, or (4) all of the above, or (5) another reason we don’t know.

    The focus needs to stay on RZ and what these issues mean for his credibility, honesty and character (i.e. claims of online affair and claims of inflated credentials & experience).

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  7. @Linn. The Mennonites — a denomination known for peace-makers — did finally come through with a systemic approach to remediation a few years ago, after decades of covering up or explaining away the actions of their main theologian, John Howard Yoder. I have written a fairly extensive case study of what they failed to do for so long, what finally happened, and the specific and multifaceted ways they went about repairing the damage.

    It hasn’t been the best time to post that, because it needed several articles to explain “systems” and “systemic abuse” in order to build up to making sense of their inactions and then their actions. But those preliminary articles are closer to being done so maybe that set will get published sometime in the near future.

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  8. I’d like to say something about that $5 mil. After Mr. Thompson got away from the reformed maranatha church that used and ruined him both emotionally and financially, he went to a conference in 2014, in Ontario, by Ravi Zacharias, the famed apologist with a doctorate. He inquired about purchasing books and supporting Ravi’s ministry- Dr Ravi is a talented speaker. Unknown to Mr. Thompson, ‘Dr’ Ravi had his assistant ask Mr. Thompson’s wife for her contact info but not Mr. Thompson’s. In emails Ravi contacts Mrs. Thompson and they begin corresponding and she shares some distressing things that have happened to her that she is distraught over.

    He is a famous christian and very smart so anyone might have done that. Then several years pass and Mrs. Thompson finds herself in a more and more compromising situation because (unknown to brad) ‘dr’ ravi has been ‘counseling’ her more and more intimately and has subtly manipulated her into believing that he loves her and probably some hogwash about how it is Gods will they be together forever and its providence that she can help him through a difficult time in his life (wife doesn’t understand me, is cold to me. Blech) by sending him pics of herself for those lonely nights.

    Mrs. Thompson however comes to her senses and since she never stopped loving her husband, is overcome with guilt and tells the dr that she must end it and confess to her husband. The dr says in his most dramatic and manipulative way that if she does he will end his life. Mrs. Thompson has real compassion and concern, and tells her counselor who also is concerned. The counselor contacts Ravi and finds, alas, he was joking, no worries. In that email (with records) convo, the counselor reassures Ravi that Mrs. Thompson’s intention is to tell only her husband. Mrs. Thompson reaches out to some people including bloggers known to stand up for people that have suffered spiritual abuse and manipulation and one counsels her to talk to a lawyer.

    She confesses to her husband who attempts suicide (no joking) when he finds out that once again his life has been ruined by a person claiming to be a christian only this time the person didn’t steal his wallet but his wife. Mr. Thompson survives (thank God) and is under treatment for this devastation but continues to work part time. By this time Mrs. Thompson has PTSD and anxiety disorder and can only work part time as well but thankfully somewhere along the way did contact a lawyer. This also has affected their children. The lawyer writes a letter explaining how Ravi’s actions have destroyed the Thompson’s marriage and left their home in shambles, reminds Ravi that there is a 3rd witness that will confirm his threatened suicide, and that there are a lot of emails and phone records. The lawyer put the value of lives destroyed and loss of work ability at about $5 mil.

    We don’t know if that was a high estimate that was a bargaining start or how much was actually paid (if any).

    We could however get out calculators and see what kind of income the Thompsons each would have earned for the rest of their lives if they had not met ‘dr’ Zacharias, added medical expenses and legal fees. Or we could just keep trying to distract from the real issues by further slandering the Thompsons by implying they are extortioners and rackateers, which seems to be what ravi has advised his followers to do.

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