ABUSE & VIOLENCE IN THE CHURCH, Christianity Today International, Ed Stetzer, James MacDonald, Mark Galli, Spiritual Abuse

Open Letter from Two Abuse Survivors to the Board of Directors, Christianity Today International

Statue of Lady Justice
Statue of Lady Justice © Sebastian Duda, Fotolia #35822634. Licensed to Brad Sargent.

Open Letter from Two Abuse Survivors

to the Board of Directors, Christianity Today International


Easter Week 2019

TO: Board of Directors, Christianity Today International

Chairman, Eugene Habecker. President and CEO, Harold Smith. Members: Thomas Addington, Miriam Adeney, Claude Alexander, David Bere, Sandra Gray, Tami Heim, Alec Hill, Walter Kim, Darryl King, Michael Lindsay, Samuel Rodriguez, Meritt Lohr Sawyer, John Sommerville, Annie Tsai.

FROM: Julie Anne Smith and Brad Sargent, Spiritual Sounding Board

Julie Anne Smith, who was sued unsuccessfully in 2012 by her former pastor and church for $500,000 for posting allegedly defamatory criticisms of them online.

Brad Sargent, who is a spiritual abuse survivor, research writer on multiple forms of abuse/violence, and has been blogging as “brad/futuristguy” since 2003.


We are posting this open letter to the Board of Directors for Christianity Today International (CTI) because we believe the public situation of reportedly questionable ethics and abusive behaviors by CTI representatives Mark Galli and Ed Stetzer has escalated to where it can only be resolved at the board level. We have opened the comment section of this post to allow members of survivor communities and others to express their thoughts on this open letter and on the actions of CTI representatives.

CTI is constituted as a non-profit corporation, which requires it to function for benefit of the public. CTI is also a member of the Evangelical Press Association (EPA), which requires it to function by their Code of Ethics. Recent events connected with James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel have led to fractious interactions in the public eye between individuals associated with CTI and other Christian leaders. Also affected directly and indirectly are members of abuse survivor communities.

In our opinion, public figures who represent CTI have failed to fulfill its non-profit purpose or EPA ethics in this situation. Instead, they have reduced CTI reputation and misspent whatever good will we had left toward it.


Ethical issues in this situation include questions about:

  • Journalists not accepting gifts that unduly affect work performance (EPA Code of Ethics, section 4.3).
  • Not having either the appearance or reality of a conflict of interest (section 5.1).
  • Bias in publishing opportunities that give the appearance of an endorsement that compromises editorial independence (section 4.2).

There are also questions about level of wise discernment, abusive accusations and interactions with fellow Christians, and giving a platform to Christian celebrities who are known to have abused the power in their roles of influence as public figures in Church and community. To summarize the specifics:

1. The status of Ed Stetzer in relation to his official connections with CTI; his acceptance of a substantive gift from celebrity Christian James MacDonald, who has a track record of verbal, spiritual, financial abuses that has been well documented by survivor community writers, Christian news media, and on social media; and Mr. Stetzer’s lack of transparency and deflection of accountability in explaining the situation.

2. Issues of ethics and poor discernment and judgment by high-ranking CT employee Mark Galli, involving his apparent conflicts of interest plus bias or tacit endorsement of James MacDonald.

For instance, Mr. Galli gave James MacDonald an uncritical Op-Ed platform that promoted his position on what turned out to be a frivolous lawsuit, and described weak processes for how an opposing view might possibly be presented by Christianity Today.

He also inserted himself into this conflict situation by offering to mediate between Mr. MacDonald and other parties involved in his defamation lawsuit (i.e., The Elephant’s Debt bloggers Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant and their wives, and investigative journalist Julie Roys).

3. Assertions by Mark Galli that Wade Burleson (in blog post comments) and Kristen McKnight (via a phone call) were “bearing false witness,” and how he communicated with them publicly on social media, and also with Scot McKnight instead of Kristen McKnight, his wife, directly.


All together this raises the serious question:

If we cannot trust the ethics and discernment of these high-profile CTI associates (and we do not, at this time), how are we to trust CTI’s reporting and other dealings with those involved in abuse survivor communities?

In challenging systemic abuse, we’ve learned how consequences often impose themselves, because system parts and processes are interconnected. In this case, some of the key inherent consequences of CTI’s interactions with abuse survivors are that you cannot claim to have veracity for leadership or credibility for reportage among abuse survivors on issues and situations we face. Instead, your track record ranges from apparent indifference to abuse survivors through lack of timely coverage, to the appearance of outright complicity with celebrity Christian leaders who abuse their power and privilege.

We—and other abuse survivors/advocates—have posted about similar problems in recent years. Christianity Today publications have effectively given a positive platform to a celebrity Christian at the same time their victims have been sharing their narratives of maltreatment and crying out for justice. This affects CTI’s reporting and reputation negatively, while inflicting further harm and loss on those already traumatized by abusive Christian leaders.

This is an era of #MeToo changing the social dynamic on sexual abuse and harassment; and  #Exvangelicals, “nones,” and “dones” reflecting how evangelicalism has alienated them. If you, as Board members of CTI, are not aware of who those celebrities are who have been demonstrated to be abusive, and when exactly this happened in CT publications, we urge you to find out—if you care about survivor communities, that is. And frankly, we’re not convinced that you are aware or care, based on the ongoing problem patterns and series of negative situations from CT publications.

We hope you will secure the services of an independent investigative agency to study these problems and patterns. (As guidelines to what “independent” investigation does and does not mean, we recommend the October 16, 2015, Religion News Service article by Boz Tchividjian of GRACE: Are abuse survivors best served when institutions investigate themselves?)

A genuinely independent investigation would serve as a sign to our communities of your good-faith efforts to identify systemic issues at CTI and to begin repairing damages already done and preventing similar ethical lapses in the future. With an independent investigation, we believe you’ll find why we feel CTI does not represent the Good Samaritan among our communities of those wounded by abuse, but as the religious leaders who walked on by, their apathy adding to victims’ recovery time.

If the Board of Directors for CTI decides it wants that antipathy to change, here are the main things we will be watching for in your attitudes and actions:

  • How well you resolve the current situation involving violations of professional ethics by Mark Galli and Ed Stetzer—and repair damages done by their actions and inactions.
  • How well you address questions being raised about CTI’s ethical standards in general.
  • How well you deal with the appearances and realities of bias and complicity in past coverage of prominent Christians who are reportedly abusive, including CT’s giving them an unchallenged platform, whether through op-eds or news articles.

Thank you for reading this open letter. Because these conflicts involving your employees have been public, and they themselves have engaged in them on social media, we would appreciate seeing public responses—especially to the specific men and women named above who were directly affected in the current situation we outlined, and to the general community of those victimized by James MacDonald/Harvest Bible Chapel.

Julie Anne Smith and Brad Sargent

NOTE: We have corrected several typos and formatting inconsistencies.

*     *     *     *     *


Feel free to co-sign and/or comment if you agree with the sentiments of this open letter, or comment if have criticisms of them or the facts as we have analyzed them. We know this particular situation has brought out strong emotions from abuse survivors, and if you choose to comment we would appreciate your being respectful and constructive toward all parties, and staying on-topic. If you are new to Spiritual Sounding Board, see the Blog Moderation page for basics about comment and moderation policies.

43 thoughts on “Open Letter from Two Abuse Survivors to the Board of Directors, Christianity Today International”

  1. I concur. This does not pass the smell test, and CTI needs to take action to ensure proper integrity going forward.


  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the content of this open letter and I hope the named representatives of CTI take this seriously and respond as requested here as that is the only legitimate way to begin to repair the damage done by unscrupulous individuals employed by CTI.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a former writer for three CTi publications, I completely agree with everything you write here. After CT published what ostensibly was a promotional letter on behalf of Ravi Z to attack his victim, I publicly announced I was done having any association with them. But since that time, I have seen CT continue to support high-profile pastors/Christian leaders even after they have been credibly accused of malfeasance.

    I hope the board of CT will acknowledge the ethical and moral failures by its editor and editorial board. I completely concur with what Julie Anne and Brad have written here.


  4. I agree. CTI, please take this seriously. These problems need to be addressed and corrected.


  5. Steve Baughman said:

    Christianity Today really should also investigate their own coverage of Ravi Zacharias. They essentially became a spokesperson for his ministry. Why?

    That is a very good question, Steve. That was part of a conversation I had with Brad which led to this open letter (thanks, Brad for getting it down in “writing”). I was disappointed that both Ravi Zacharias and Tullian Tchividjian had the opportunity to use Christianity Today’s public platform to defend themselves, yet the victims in both of those cases weren’t given the same opportunity. In the Zacharias case, I was asked to write a statement by CT reporter, Kate Shellnutt, but it was never used. Meanwhile, both Ravi Zacharias and Tullian Tchividjian, both sexual misconduct cases, are still speaking publicly (and in Tchividjian’s case, preaching!).

    It makes you wonder what is going behind the scenes with CT and Tchividjian/Zacharias.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Here are a few recent noteworthy articles/tweets:

    Dee at The Wartburg Watch just posted this today: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2019/04/17/here-is-the-entire-james-macdonalds-hot-mic-transcript-this-is-a-new-friendship-with-christianity-today/


  7. CT committed an astonishing act of journalistic breach of duty. They published verbatim Ravi Zacharias’s 800 word defense of himself against the sexting allegations, a statement in which he trashed his victim, essentially calling her a promiscuous liar. But then when Ravi invoked the non-disclosure agreement to refuse comment on his suicide threat, the magazine did not bother to ask him about selective use of the NDA. “Mr. Zacharias, how is it that you can attack your opponent, defend yourself with specificity, and then in the same breath say you cannot comment on the suicide threat due to confidentiality?“

    This was such a shocking oversight by CT that I do not think it is unreasonable to suspect collusion in the board room.

    CT needs to explain.


  8. Yes, they do! Steve. you and I spoke at length about the Ravi Zacharias sexual misconduct case and how CT dropped the ball. Ravi, Tullian, and James already have an audience. Victims do not! With the name “Christianity” Today, it makes me curious if they really care about “the least of these” like Jesus did.


  9. Thank you for this letter. I’m Kris McKnight’s daughter. I am offended that Mr. Galli called her husband (my father) instead of speaking directly to her. Did Mr. Galli want my father to restrict her voice?


  10. I AGREE %100 with the whole content of this letter! This is serious and needs to be addressed ASAP and corrected!! So much damage has been done by CTI and their unscrupulous reporting!!!


  11. I agree with the concerns listed in this open letter. Gone are the days of Christian movers and shakers operating without input or observation from those they are tasked to serve.

    CT must do better or it is best shuttered with other organizations and groups claiming affiliation with Christ while acting antithetically to his heart and nature.


  12. CT, you are being tested… which side will you choose… for such a time as this…

    in the last few years, journalists are re-discovering their call for investigative reporting for the common good/knowledge of the community. God is shifting and shaking the Church with a season of exposure… the #churchtoo is not going away for a while, there’s a lot of ungodly behavior that will be and is being exposed… The Christian Industrial media/publishing complex has been gatekeepers protecting celebrity leaders for a few decades it seems while giving them a platform… essentially prostituting/trafficking the Bride of Christ… benefiting leaders at the expense of the Ekklesia… There have been systemic abuses of power… I hope this isn’t you? please do not deceive people with empty words… your responses, your decisions, and your actions will be what is tested.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I co-sign this open letter. I wholeheartedly agree with it.
    Even here in Australia people like me who advocate for abuse victims are concerned about the unethical behaviour of Christianity Today.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I concur. I am concerned that the most influential, well resourced, and well supported are automatically siding with their similarly situated friends when it comes to possible church abuse of power, thus re-victimizing those already made vulnerable from the original abuse. This is unrecognizable as characteristic of the God whose name we bear.


  15. I concur with the this SSB post and with the several comments about the conspiracy with Zacharias. Thank you to Brad Sargent, Julie Anne Smith, Julie Roys, and many others who have worked to ring evil to light.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My take here is that CT is, as others have noted, a creation of large entities within evangelicalism, and as such will struggle to report items separate from that framework. My own church could say the same thing about how we will deal with things within the GARBC orb, and to a degree within fundamentalism more broadly.

    Another example is that World Magazine’s writers–really a fairly diverse group, but leaning towards the Reformed side of the world–did their readers a great, if imperfect, service by simply admitting their bias. That’s the first step towards overcoming it and addressing issues fairly.

    In this specific case, I do think it’s fair to suggest to CT that if “bigwigs” are being given uncritical access to their pages, readers and prospective readers will respond by assuming that their reporters are not faithfully asking the “who, what, where, how, why, and when” of a good report.


  17. Thank you for this strongly worded accurate open letter. I agree to co-sign. I pray the CTI board responds and acts quickly especially with regard to Mr. Stetzer and his many relationships in the evangelical community. A continued non-response from CTI et al will not bode well for their future in my opinion


  18. CT lost any shred of respect that I had for it in 2016. I would not even read an article in it for free, then, now or in the future, much less pay for it. CT has ZERO journalistic credibility or integrity in my eyes. They reported that my husband and I were a couple with a litigious past in financial trouble. NOTHING could be further from the truth. The truth of this aspect of the matter was easily accessed by a VERY simple online search for information.


    Click to access 2011-1100-0012.pdf

    A full and comprehensive summary resides here:

    Basic journalistic due diligence was overlooked entirely. They reported misinformation and were malfeasance in doing so. I heartily and unreservedly cosign this letter.

    Mrs. Lori Anne Thompson

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I wholeheartedly agree.

    Many, many thanks to Julie Anne Smith, Brad Sargent, Julie Roys, Dee Parsons and anyone else who helped bring this serious breach of ethics to light.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Lori Anne Thompson was victimized plain and simple by CT’s reporting.

    The magazine said “ Zacharias‘s lawyers noted that the couple previously sued an Ontario pastor and his Christian reformed church.” I tracked down that lawsuit. Lori Anne was NOT a party to it.
    The magazine published Ravi’s press release IN TOTO where he said Lori Anne “shockingly sent me extremely inappropriate pictures of herself unsolicited. I clearly instructed her to stop contacting me in any form; I blocked her messages, and I resolve to terminate all contact with her.” The magazine failed to note that this blatantly contradicts Ravi’s own federal court filing wherein he ADMITS that he made every effort to remain friendly with the Thompsons for fear of reputational damage. It also failed to note that Zacharias provided absolutely zero evidence of any instructions to Lori Anne stop.
    The magazine inexplicably failed to ask Ravi how he could invoke the NDA in refusing to answer questions about his written suicide threat and at the same time issue and 800 word press release trashing Lori Anne.

    Again, backroom collusion is the best explanation for this.

    Ravi Zacharias is lucky that Lori Anne keeps her word even when others don’t.


  21. Thank you, Steve and Lori Anne for sharing specifics about the Ravi Zacharias sexual misconduct case. It’s frustrating that people have not held him accountable. I guess money means more to them than integrity.


  22. Julie Anne,

    To be clear, I am specifically referring to CT’s lack of due diligence as it relates to the lawsuit that my husband had to file for clerical financial malfeasance, which he eventually dropped. All of the details of which can be found in my aforementioned post. This was gross and defamatory misrepresentation in the CT article. The other aspects and or persons I cannot discuss.

    Lori Anne Thompson

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Shoot, Lori Anne, I did read your comment. I guess my anger got the best of me and all I could do was focus on the part that you cannot discuss. I’m sorry for the confusion. Yes, CT completely messed up on the lawsuit regarding your husband AND the sexual misconduct case. I’m wondering how many other abusers have been allowed a platform at CT?!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Thank you, Julie Anne and Brad for articulating what so many of us feel. I completely concur. I am reminded of the article by the perpetrating youth pastor CT published a few years ago. When challenged, they took it down but the damage was done, particularly to his victims. It is time we take the right side on these issues of abuse of power–the side that Jesus consistently took during his ministry. We always should stand with the marginalized and not those who hold the reigns of power.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I am also really disturbed by the way CT played a role in legitimizing Ravi Zacharias for ministry. The impression one gets from the CT article is that all of the questions and concerns regarding RZ’s credentials and sexting have been satisfactorily answered and squared away.

    They haven’t been, although RZ fans would love to believe that he really has been satisfactorily cleared for continuing ministry – either out of naïveté or a bottom-line desire to continue promoting an evangelical celeb who is worth a lot of $.

    Plus the way CT allowed RZ to malign the Thompsons was harmful and deeply irresponsible.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Journalistic due diligence ought to be done.
    The damage to relatively powerless people by immensely powerful organizations and the people within them cannot be undone.

    “What luck for those in power that people don’t think.” -Joachim Fest


  27. Elizabeth, it has been so disturbing to see how many Ravi followers (including educated ones) thought Ravi satisfactorily addressed all the issues in his press releases. These folks did not notice that he refused to answer about the Suicide threat (a HUGE issue) and he never saw much as mentioned the words Oxford and Cambridge.

    Ravi’s PR folks knew that by just focusing on how the relatively trivial “Dr. Z” issue, and on how bad LAT was they would assuage the fan base. And it worked.

    Make it hard to keep faith in the power of facts when dealing with cult members.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Steven, it is disturbing, indeed. I read your book on Ravi.

    In February, I wrote a letter to all 14 members of the Camp-of-the-Woods Board, urging them to take a closer look at RZ, since they’ve booked him as a chapel speaker for a week of their Summer 2019 season.

    In March, the Chairman of the Board responded to me in a letter, “… Know that our board has fully investigated the accusations that have been made against Mr. Zacharias and are completely satisfied that Mr. Zacharias is qualified, both ethically and theologically, to continue to minister at Camp-of-the-Woods.”

    Although the tone of the Chairman’s letter was cordial, “just trust us” was his clear message to me. He did not seem to think that having trust in the COTW Board’s judgment warranted further explanation, and did not specify what the COTW Board’s investigation into RZ entailed.

    This is deeply upsetting to me, since COTW has been dear to my family for 3 generations.

    RZIM, CM&A and CT all played a role in legitimizing RZ’s continued ministry.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Hi Elizabeth. I join Julie Anne in thanking you and commanding you for writing to the board members about Ravi Zacharias. Your post made my jaw drop, but it really shouldn’t have. The “just trust us“ approach is standard practice for the God business when a major rainmaker like Ravi comes under suspicion.

    The Christian and Missionary Alliance (the denomination that licenses Ravi as a minister) had this to say, which is to say they said absolutely nothing other than “just trust us.”


    One really wonders why these folks don’t say “we have investigated and found that Ravi Zacharias really was a Cambridge educated professor at Oxford who studied quantum physics at Cambridge, and we also find that he did not threaten suicide to cover up his online infidelity. …”.

    But they do nothing of the sort. Very troubling.

    If you are willing to share the response from the camp director who wrote you, I would love to ask them for more of an explanation. I’m genuinely curious what they would say.

    Thanks for trying. The effort will pay off eventually. One sort of bit of good news is that HarperCollins Christian publishing seems to have taken Ravi’s
    forthcoming book, Jesus through Eastern eyes, off its release calendar. I only know this because the receptionist tells me that no longer appears. But my half dozen or so requests to the HarperCollins Christian executives have gone unanswered. It looks like they shelved the book but don’t want anybody to notice. Cowardly.

    Onward! We need to keep talking about it. BTW, Ravi and his people Will be doing their thing at Acadia College in Eastern Canada in July. I have informed almost all the faculty and administration of the ethical problems with the man, and not received a single reply, but I did learn from a source that at least one faculty member has expressed concern. Feel free to share your thoughts with them. https://acadiadiv.ca/event/rzim-summit-2019/


  30. In dealing with Spiritual and Sexual abuse in Churches for over 20 years, I was always baffled by CTs un-willingness to tackle any story until it had made the front page in prominent mainstream press… now we know why. They were unapologetically bought off.

    Liked by 1 person

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