ABUSE & VIOLENCE IN THE CHURCH, Ravi Zacharias

The Ravi Zacharias Legacy: Fans, Falsehoods, and Yet Another Troubling Question — by Steve Baughman

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • The Ravi Zacharias Legacy: Fans, Falsehoods, and Yet Another Troubling Question
  • The Ravi Zacharias Rebirth Narrative
  • Brother Ramesh Calls the Police
  • Brother-in-Law and “Soul Mate,” Rev Sunder Krishnan, Remains Silent
  • Doctored Medical Records
  • Ravi Invents a New Miracle
  • Ravi’s False Reasons for Secrecy
  • A (Pro-Ravi!) Smoking Gun?
  • Miscellaneous Puzzles
  • Passing the Baton
  • Ravi’s Influence on Christian Apologetics
  • About the Author

NOTES: This is a guest post by Steve Baughman of the RaviWatch site, which is dedicated to “Investigating the false claims of evangelist Ravi Zacharias.” Additional bio information is at the end of this post.

This article contains extensive documentation footnotes — 55 of them. They appear at the end of each section to make it easier to check them instead of having to scroll to the end of the article to see them.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

The Ravi Zacharias Legacy:

Fans, Falsehoods, and

Yet Another Troubling Question

Investigating a suspect who exercises his right to remain silent can be a challenge. The suspect provides no information, so one can spend loads of time pursuing hunches that lead nowhere, or worse, to egg on the face. But with Ravi Zacharias it’s been easy. Almost every one of my hunches has led to evidence of significant deception by the man Chuck Colson called “the great apologist of our time.”

Yes, Ravi really did lie in all those author bios about being “Cambridge educated” and about being a “visiting scholar” at that prestigious institution.

No, Ravi did not study quantum physics “under” Dr. John Polkinghorne in 1990. Polkinghorne did not teach physics that year.

Yes, Ravi lied about being a “Professor at Oxford,” and also about holding an “official” teaching position there.

No, Ravi did not chair a “department” at Alliance Theological Seminary. Alliance had no departments.

Source: Southern Evangelical Seminary, 2012-2013 Academic Catalog

No, contrary to his faculty bio as a Guest Lecturer (2012-2013) at Southern Evangelical Seminary and multiple early newspaper bios, Ravi did not earn a B.A. from the University of New Delhi. He dropped out after his first year.

No, Ravi did not win the international “Asian Youth Preacher Award” in 1965 in Hyderabad. That award is a Ravi Zacharias invention.

No, Ravi did not come up with the idea of the Veritas Forum “in an elevator with a businessman from Ohio.” Kelly Monroe describes the origins of the group she founded in great detail in her book, Finding God Beyond Harvard. Veritas was underway before she ever heard the name Ravi Zacharias.

No, Ravi did not “routinely ask not to be referred to as ‘Dr. Zacharias’ – even by employees.” On the contrary, early newspaper clippings show that he aggressively marketed himself as “Dr.” for decades, and when in 2015 or 2016 I called to speak to him I was put through to his personal secretary who answered the phone with “Dr. Zacharias’s office.”

No, Ravi’s father did not sit in the front row with tears streaming down his face when Ravi received his first “doctorate.“ By that time Oscar Zacharias had been dead for over a year.

It gets uglier. Hunches led to my discovery of the vicious and false claims Ravi made in the 2017 federal court sexting lawsuit he filed against the young woman he accused of extortion.[1]

In late 2018 Ravi himself very quietly admitted to what amounts to many years of bold deception about his credentials.[2] The hunches bore fruit, however rotten.

There is another hunch I cannot shake; Ravi’s dramatic conversion-on-a-bed-of-suicide, a story he has shared with millions of fans, never happened. It is a regular part of his presentation to television interviews and large audiences. But it appears that the evangelist kept the God-glorifying story from the public at large until the death of the only two witnesses with firsthand knowledge of its truth or falsity. And less than a year ago he disclosed that the medical records from the incident did not indicate a suicide attempt at all. These, and much more, suggest a late date for the now-canonical Ravi Zacharias rebirth narrative.

Will this be my first big Ravi hunch that splatters egg on me? Maybe. But I don’t think so. Let’s take a look.

FOOTNOTES 1-2

[1] On Ravi’s online sexual misconduct I was provided valuable information by Julie Anne Smith of Spiritual Sounding Board.
[2] See Warren Throckmorton’s “Exclusive: Ravi Zacharias Apologizes for False Claims about His Credentials at Oxford and Cambridge.” October 22, 2018. Given how widely Ravi claimed to be “educated at Cambridge” (where he had never enrolled) and a “professor at Oxford” (where he had never held any formal teaching position), these deceptions were significant. Still, as far as I can tell, Ravi made this apology only to Dr. Throckmorton, a fairly obscure Christian blogger, as opposed to posting it in a way calculated to reach his flock. He also waited over three years after the falsehoods were revealed to admit to them. This suggests damage control, not repentance.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

The Ravi Zacharias Rebirth Narrative

Those who follow Ravi Zacharias know the story well. It was 1963. An unhappy 17-year-old locked himself in his bathroom, took poison, and collapsed, in danger of dying. But God had seen something special in this kid and ensured that he took the “right poison” such that he would suffer neither death nor even any kind of “neurological debilitation.”[3]

With God “standing in the shadows,” a house servant “became God’s instrument,”[4] broke through the door, snapping it off its hinges, and got Ravi to the hospital. Then, in a moment of “divine appointment,”[5] God sent a Youth for Christ worker to deliver a Bible to the young man.

Ravi now speaks of that hospital room encounter as “a bolt of lightning in a moment of pitched blackness.”[6] He accepted Christ then and there, and made a promise to God; “I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”[7] Thus began “a journey that has now continued with utter delight, … walking hand in hand with Him.”[8]

So important is this experience in Ravi’s life that (in addition to discussing it with great frequency) every time he returns to Delhi he hires a taxi to take him to the hospital,[9] where he sits, alone with the driver, and cries. It is a pilgrimage, he tells us, to “where it all started.“[10]

This is a powerful tale. Did it happen? I began looking closely and quickly saw red flags everywhere.

FOOTNOTES 3-10

[3] Walking From East to West at p.107.
[4] Ibid.
[5] https://youtu.be/tchqYRMSy_o at 9:30.
[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LfmEVJ1d_k&t=536s at 12:00.
[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LfmEVJ1d_k&t=536s at 12:50.
[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tchqYRMSy_o&feature=youtu.be at 10:40.
[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2zrHxbucOM&t=1960s at 34:00.
[10] https://youtu.be/PvdLhQ3Mz04 at 1:02:30.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Brother Ramesh Calls the Police

I decided to cut to the chase and call Ravi’s brother, Ramesh Zacharias, M.D., a prominent physician in the Toronto area. (His phone number and email address are publicly available at his hospital website.)

I left Dr. Zacharias a phone message and told him I was working on a story about Ravi’s conversion. I asked him to confirm the suicide story. I assured him that I would drop my investigation if he told me that Ravi’s story was true. I also emailed him. This was the full extent of my attempt to reach Dr. Zacharias. My communication was polite and brief. (He very likely retained my voice message.)

I expected a simple “Dear Mr. Baughman, it is well known in our family that Ravi attempted suicide as a teenager. Now please go away.” That would have settled it for me.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, a few days later, the Major Crimes Unit of the Toronto Police Department contacted me and threatened to investigate me for harassing a Canadian. They confirmed that the complaint had been generated by Ramesh Zacharias.

Dr. Zacharias may have had his reasons for not wanting to communicate with me. But his sensitivity around my very simple question (and my offer to drop the matter) did little to allay my suspicions about his brother’s tale.

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Brother-in-Law and “Soul Mate,”

Rev Sunder Krishnan, Remains Silent

I thought I would perhaps have better luck with Ravi’s brother-in-law, the Rev. Sunder Krishnan. Rev. Krishnan is a retired atomic scientist who later became a successful Christian minister in Toronto. He and Ravi were very close during Ravi’s early days as a Christian. They were, Ravi tells us, “soul mates”[11] Now they are family.

I emailed Rev. Krishnan through his former church and told him I was writing about Ravi’s suicide attempt, that there were grounds for suspicion, and that his commenting would likely help Ravi. I asked him when he first heard about Ravi’s suicide attempt and assured him that I would mention his comments in my article.[12] I also left a voice message on his home phone.

Again, a simple question, plus an offer to print an answer that I expected would help his brother-in-law.

No reply.

Perhaps I am being hasty in suspecting that both these men know that Ravi has fabricated the story and they are principled enough not to lie in his support. But they do not wish to out him either. So they split the ethical baby and remain silent.

Whatever the case may be, apart from the curious fact that two of Ravi’s closest relatives do not wish to speak in his defense, there are strong reasons to doubt the now-canonical “bed of suicide” account.

FOOTNOTES 11-12

[11] Walking From East to West at p. 114.
[12] The exact sequence is as follows. I called the Rexdale Alliance Church and they offered to pass a message along to Krishnan. When I did not hear from him, I emailed my specific questions to the church with the request that they forward them to him. When I again did not hear back I made another attempt via email. I then reluctantly called Rev. Krishnan at home and left a voicemail for him indicating that I wished to simply ask when he first heard about Ravi’s suicide attempt. (I found his phone number in the publicly available online white pages and I know it was his home because the outgoing answering machine message indicated that it was the home of “Sunder and Shyamala Krishnan.” Shyamala is Ravi’s sister.

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Doctored Medical Records

On July 10, 2019, over half a century after his alleged suicide attempt, Ravi made the surprising revelation to Christian television host Eric Metaxas that the doctors had “branded [his suicide attempt] as a gastroenterology mishap.”[13] To my knowledge, this is the first time Ravi has revealed that his medical records would not support his story of willful infliction of self-harm.

Why did Ravi decide to disclose this significant fact only last year? I do not wish to be overly dramatic, but I would be remiss not to note the following about Ravi’s timing. The Eric Metaxas interview occurred only a little more than two months after Ravi would have learned from brother Ramesh that I was investigating the suicide claim. Coincidence? Or was Ravi trying to cover his tracks in case someone came forward with copies of those medical records?[14]

Furthermore, insofar as a deliberate attempt to kill oneself is not a “mishap,” why would the doctors describe it as such? Ravi tells us that the doctors knew it was a suicide attempt.[15] And in 1963 attempted suicide was a crime in India punishable by up to one year in jail. If this was a conspiracy to cover up a crime why would licensed physicians take such a risk?

Finally, Ravi tells us in his memoirs “I never asked for any details then or after my discharge.”[16] How then did the 17-year-old know how the doctors described his condition in the medical records? And, again, why disclose that now?

FOOTNOTES 13-16

[13] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LfmEVJ1d_k&t=536s at 9:30.
[14] It is also possible that Ravi did mention the “mishap“ story elsewhere and I have just missed it. But I doubt it. I have seen no such suggestion in any of the many videos and articles in which Ravi discusses his suicide attempt.
[15] Walking From East to West at p. 105.
[16] Walking From East to West at p. 103.

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Ravi Invents a New Miracle

How did that Youth for Christ minister, Fred David, hear about Ravi being in the hospital? Ravi tells us that Fred received an instruction to visit Ravi from a minister from Calgary named John Teibe.[17] But how did Teibe know? Although Ravi mentions Teibe frequently, and had a lifelong friendship with him,[18] to my knowledge, Ravi never tells us how Teibe received the news. That is, not until after Teibe died in 2018.[19]

About a year and a half after Teibe’s death, Ravi stood before an audience of 60,000 at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta and shared his standard bed of suicide story. This time however, and apparently for the first time, Ravi revealed the truth behind the mystery.

“God who is Sovereign over the whole universe tapped the shoulder of one man who had come to India from Calgary, Alberta and told him to send somebody into my hospital room with a Bible.”[20]

So God directly told John Teibe that Ravi Zacharias was in the hospital.

Why does this significant event not appear in Ravi’s memoirs, which were published after Ravi had been close friends with Teibe for over forty years? And why does it not appear anywhere else? And why does Ravi share it only after Teibe died?

FOOTNOTES 17-20

[17] https://sermons.love/ravi-zacharias/4214-ravi-zacharias-liberty-university-convocation.html. Teibe’s last name is sometimes misspelled as “Tabe.”
[18] https://sermons.love/ravi-zacharias/4214-ravi-zacharias-liberty-university-convocation.html See also Walking from East to West at pp. 110, 113, 116.
[19] Google “John L Teibe obituary”.
[20] https://youtu.be/-uSOqlHfz9U at 22:00. My emphasis.

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Ravi’s False Reasons for Secrecy

Like the John Teibe tale, Ravi’s dramatic redemption story brings much glory to the God he serves. From picking the “right poison” to preserving Ravi’s neurological structures to miraculously arranging that hospital room meeting, God had His hand on this young man in a very special way.

Why then did Ravi wait sixteen years to begin sharing the story with the media and audiences, as he so eagerly has done in the latter part of his career? Why, that is, did he wait until the only witnesses to the hospital episode had died? Ravi’s mother died in 1974[21] and his father died in 1979.[22] The earliest public reference I can find to his suicide attempt is in the April 26, 1980 issue of the Milwaukee Journal.[23]

Ravi seems to spot the suspicious timing and he spends a good bit of time trying to explain it. And here he gets into trouble.

In most accounts he chalks the lengthy delay up to the sensitivities of his parents. His suicide attempt was “very embarrassing”[24] for them. Ravi tells us that he could not talk about the suicide matter while his parents were alive, or until his father’s “latter years.”[25] He also explains his silence by his own pain in reflecting upon “the intense sadness and embarrassment of my foolish act.”[26] In his memoirs he says the memory was like “trauma from a war experience” and “It took years before I could mention it to anyone, even those closest to me. The only one with whom I was comfortable talking about it was Margie, my wife.”[27]

But this appears to be false. Ravi actually talked about the suicide attempt a great deal with his classmates at the Ontario Bible College (OBC) in the early 1970s. I recently spoke with two students who were with Ravi at OBC. (Both remain strong followers of Jesus.[28]) One told me that in his/her first conversation with Ravi, which occurred in 1970 with perhaps one other person present, Ravi proceeded to talk about his suicide attempt. (Ravi had not yet married Margie at that time.[29]) This person also said, “I think [the suicide story] was well known” at OBC. The other former student, now a partner of the first, told me that it was his/her impression that Ravi’s story was well known at OBC, although s/he was not sure how that impression arose.

Ravi, I was told, “swept in like a whirlwind” at OBC. Was Ravi Zacharias in 1970 already doing what is now known to be his P.R. modus operandi, making up stories to enhance his status? A dramatic conversion story would have helped his image, and his parents would not rebuke him for fibbing because they would likely not hear about it. What would stop the ambitious future preacher from turning a “gastroenterology mishap” into that dramatic tale of “divine appointment”?

There is more trouble for Ravi around his secrecy account. In 2019 he told Eric Metaxas that before he published his memoirs, Walking From East to West, he asked his family permission to mention the suicide attempt. “I asked them permission. This may embarrass the family. What do you think?”[30]

But Ravi published these memoirs in 2005, over a quarter century after his father died! He had also discussed the suicide attempt on several occasions with the press, beginning in 1980.[31] The story was out. Why would he in 2005 still need his family’s permission to write about his (Kingdom-glorifying) conversion story? Might there have been family discomfort around Ravi including in his formal memoirs something they all knew was false? That would explain the need for a family discussion in 2005. (Notice also that on his 2019 version the reason for Ravi’s secrecy was no longer mom’s and dad’s conservative Indian sensibilities, nor his own “sadness and embarrassment.”)

Ravi’s fabricating the suicide story at a later date would also explain his odd claim that his father possibly did not know about the suicide attempt until years later. His father, Ravi plainly tells us in his memoirs, may not have known “what happened.” On the same page he also says, “None of us ever talked about the incident. In fact, a few years afterwards, when I did mention it in an interview with a magazine, the details seem to shock my father. He wanted me to talk to him about the whole episode, but I wanted this to be just a thing of the past.”[32]

Let us assume (for the sake of discussion alone) that Ravi did indeed have this discussion with his father before he died in 1979. We now need a complex explanatory web to make sense of how it was that Oscar Zacharias, who was with Ravi in the hospital room, did not know about the suicide attempt until Ravi told him about it years later. By contrast, if the suicide story is bogus, the pieces fall nicely into place.

FOOTNOTES 21-32

[21] https://youtu.be/EL2OYILO8Gg at 2:00.
[22] https://youtu.be/V8bD7ovxIuc at 14:00.
[23] The issue is available online through Newspaper.com. Anyone interested in confirming my cite here may take advantage of the free one-week trial subscription they offer.
[24] https://youtu.be/AzTeniSROnY at 8:20.The reluctance of Ravi’s father seems a bit implausible. Oscar Zacharias had had his own powerful conversion to Christ. Would this not have made him less squeamish about Ravi going public with the God-glorifying bed-of-suicide story?
[25] Ibid.
[26] Walking From East to West at p. 106.
[27] Walking From East to West at p. 106.
[28] They have asked me not to disclose their names.
[29] Walking From East to West at p. 163.
[30] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LfmEVJ1d_k&t=536s at 6:50.
[31] At Newspaper.com I found numerous references to Ravi’s suicide attempt beginning in 1980.
[32] Walking From East to West at p. 104. It I s clear from the context that Ravi means that his father may not have known that he had attempted suicide.

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A (Pro-Ravi!) Smoking Gun?

What about that alleged early magazine interview, the one that contained an interview in which Ravi discussed his suicide attempt only a “few years“ after 1963? That would bolster Ravi’s credibility by showing that, at very least, he did not wait until his parents died to go public with the story.

I have made several requests to Ravi’s ministry for information on that article. They have not replied. I suspect that that magazine article is like Ravi’s nonexistent “Asian Youth Preacher Award.”[33] But I could be wrong.

Will his ministry provide it?

FOOTNOTE 33

[33] The impressive sounding “Asian Youth Preacher Award” exists only in Ravi’s self-promotional materials. Google the award to confirm. When I had dinner with Ravi in 2017 he told me that he had a trophy with those words on it, but that they had faded.

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Miscellaneous Puzzles

There is an intriguing medical question here. Ravi claims that upon swallowing the poison he immediately began vomiting[34] and “couldn’t stop.”[35] He soon lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital.[36] An emergency room doctor to whom I presented Ravi’s claim said that while the story was plausible, “It’s a little bit far-fetched that some poison that made him vomit would also cause him to lose consciousness, but it would really depend on what substance he took.”

Ravi is surprisingly and consistently vague about how he got the poison from the university chemistry lab. In his memoirs he says “I somehow got into the locked cupboard where the chemicals were stored.”[37] Elsewhere he simply says that he went to school and “saw some chemicals.”[38] But how is it that he cannot remember a bold, risky and illegal act such as this? It was daytime, classes were in session, and the poisons were locked away. Stealing them was no small feat. But he recalls nothing of how he gained access to those deadly controlled substances.

Ravi wonders aloud on several occasions about how the Youth for Christ worker, Fred David, got into the hospital room. Ravi claims to have no idea[39] how it happened. But Fred did not die until 2013 and Ravi maintained close contact[40] with him until then. Why did he not simply ask him?

How did the servant get into the bathroom to rescue Ravi? In his 2018 television interview with John Ankerberg, Ravi does not remember. “I don’t know whether he broke the door down, pushed the door down, I don’t remember exactly.“[41] But in his memoirs, Ravi remembers the details very well. “Suddenly, the door banged hard behind me. It was the servant, pushing against it. Another bang, and another. Finally he burst through, snapping the door off the hinges.”[42]

In some renditions, the servant rushed Ravi to the hospital.[43] In others the servant seems to have remained behind to clean up the mess and cover Ravi‘s tracks.[44] Perhaps the servant did both, but would that have given him enough time to get back to the house to clean up the mess to cover the tracks of this young master? And, was he also able to repair the door before the family returned? And how would Ravi know any of this given that he lost consciousness in the bathroom and woke up in the hospital?[45]

Ravi returns to India at least once a year and takes a taxi to the hospital every time to sit and reminisce. Over the decades this would mean he has made dozens of such trips. The hospital name changed in the 1970s, at least forty years ago. But Ravi does not seem to remember its name.[46] And in his memoirs he gets the original name wrong as well.[47]

Ravi says that he lay on that hospital bed “with the doctor giving me no more than five days to live.”[48] Do doctors really share such speculative predictions with their teenage patients or with their mothers?

In 2017 Ravi told the International Leadership Conference at GONCIL that he attempted suicide because “I knew an exam was coming and I wouldn’t make it. I had only one option and that was to take my life.”[49] To my knowledge this is the only time he has ever mentioned the impending exam. In all other descriptions he speaks only of a general malaise. (“I didn’t even have what it took to get by.”)[50]

FOOTNOTES 34-50

[34] Walking From East to West at p. 103.
[35] https://youtu.be/7ad91US2GU4 at 11:00.
[36] https://youtu.be/CT6-MGubddk at 20:40.
[37] Walking From East to West at p. 102. In each of the numerous other videos in which I have seen Ravi discuss acquiring the poison he is equally vague about how he pulled it off.
[38] See https://youtu.be/AzTeniSROnY at 8:30.
[39] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tchqYRMSy_o&feature=youtu.be at 9:31. “I still don’t know how he got in. Maybe because he was a minister.”
[40] https://youtu.be/7ad91US2GU4 T 25:20.
[41] https://youtu.be/AzTeniSROnY at 9:45.
[42] Walking From East to West at p.
[43] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDSOnaMeG70&t=70s at 1:00.
[44] Walking From East to West at pp. 103-104.
[45] https://youtu.be/CT6-MGubddk at 20:40.
[46] https://youtu.be/7ad91US2GU4 at 13:22. See also https://youtu.be/QeZdVW8CpLM at 29:37.
[47] Walking From East to West at p.103. The hospital was called the Willingdon Hospital until the 1970s. Ravi called it the “Wellington Hospital.”
[48] https://youtu.be/bOQqOl0b0Ww at 20:00.
[49] https://youtu.be/deBMwxn9j3s at 59:00.
[50] Walking From East to West, at p. 99.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Passing the Baton

None of these puzzles is conclusive in and of itself. But together they raise concerns about the veracity of Ravi’s conversion story.

Perhaps a journalist with more clout than I, one whom Ravi and his people cannot repeatedly ignore, will persuade the Zacharias ministry to produce that magazine interview from “a few years“ after the alleged 1963 event. That, or any such public statement by Ravi predating the death of his mother, would undermine my theory that he fabricated the story and kept it from his parents.

This would, however, also make it much harder for Ravi to explain why he, the one who vowed “to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of truth,” left one massive Kingdom-glorifying light largely under a bushel for so many years. Ravi is indeed in a bind.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Ravi’s Influence on Christian Apologetics

Source: Facebook Image

In the eternal sense, all conversions to Christ are equal. But in our shallow pre-mortem world, some conversions are cooler than others. I believe I have given serious reasons to suspect that Ravi Zacharias enhanced his cool factor with a false, but dramatic conversion story. There is enough here to warrant a response from the Zacharias ministry, especially given their leader’s well-documented practices of deceptive self-aggrandizement,

However they handle the issue, we must not forget that the mountain of Ravi Zacharias dirt we have comes from merely scratching the surface. Imagine the deceptions we would uncover if we had the cooperation of Ravi’s board (and his denomination) and the resources to pursue hunches about, say, the “revival” he “triggered” in Vietnam, the one that was “[traced] back to a young Indian,” the revival where he personally saw “nearly three thousand people come to know Christ.”[51]

And his astonishing success as a preacher in Cambodia with that packed “large public arena” where “masses of people pressed forward to commit their lives to Jesus.”[52]

Source: Cover-Up in the Kingdom by Steve Baughman

And his quasi-miraculous near miss of a Vietcong ambush, where the body count was one in his 1971 version, but had grown to four by the time he wrote his memoirs in 2005.[53]

And how about that Russian general he led to Christ, the one from the nonexistent “Center for Geopolitical Strategy”?[54]

And what about Ravi’s finances? What was with those entity status changes right around the time of his lawsuit?

But to whom would any of this matter? The big lesson Ravi Zacharias teaches us is that most Christians do not want to know how corrupt their gurus are. The pew-warmers, a most incurious lot indeed, dismiss the evidence with speed (and often vitriol). And the evangelical Powers-That-Be cover it up.[55]

This is most unfortunate for those who value the rich and important philosophical debates about God’s existence and the truth of Christianity. As we attempt to navigate the technical issues presented by, say, modal logic and the problem of evil, freedom versus determinism, cosmology, etc., we cannot but rely on experts. Ravi Zacharias and his enablers have made it harder for honest lay seekers to distinguish experts from pretenders. Apologetics has become a pretender’s paradise.

Given the very sad news about Ravi’s recent cancer diagnosis, he may or may not be with us much longer. But the damage he has done to ethical standards in apologetics and Christian publishing will linger. The powerful Christians who have supported him along the way remain as entrenched as they are unrepentant. We find ourselves now in an ironic situation where conduct that would lead to canceled book tours, revoked contracts, and ruined careers in the secular world is accepted practice in Christian circles.

Too strong a statement? Last time I checked, Ravi’s new book, Jesus Through Eastern Eyes, is still set for release next month, April 2020, courtesy of the behemoth HarperCollins Christian Publishing. The evangelical publisher announced the book a few months after Ravi settled a lawsuit and paid money for a non-disclosure agreement that permits him to remain silent about the written suicide threat he made to cover up his online sexual misconduct. Things really are that bad.

FOOTNOTES 51-55

[51] Walking From East to West at p.170. See also https://youtu.be/Yte0SUOR6kU at 46:00 for Ravi triggering a revival in Vietnam.
[52] Walking From East to West at p. 181.
[53] In the December 1971 issue of the OBC magazine, The Evangelical Recorder, after the ambush, Ravi saw one “blood soaked body.” By 2005 it had become four bodies “strewn across the side of the road, bullet-riddled and dead.” See Walking From East to West at p.168.
[54] Walking From East to West at p. 201.
[55] I have been encouraged by the Christian bloggers and academics who have been willing to speak out against Ravi’s deceptions. Sadly, we can count them on less than two full hands.

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About the Author

Steve Baughman is the author of the investigative exposé, Coverup in the Kingdom; Phone Sex, Lies, and God’s Great Apologist, Ravi Zacharias. He is a lawyer and sometime graduate student at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. He wishes to thank Paul McCarthy for extensive research assistance and for finding many of the video clips cited here.

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22 thoughts on “The Ravi Zacharias Legacy: Fans, Falsehoods, and Yet Another Troubling Question — by Steve Baughman”

  1. For many of my friends, Ravi is the “go to” for anything to do with apologetics. I never have quite gotten their fascination with him, and that was long before all the scandal emerged. I just didn’t find him very compelling. I’d much rather read a CS Lewis or Lee Strobel book. Either way, it’s sad that in order to become a famous Christian apologist one has to engage in so much deception, really sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was a follower many years ago, so disappointing to know the truth of Ravi. I believe this documentation.
    Why is telling lies so common in leaders who claim to be followers of God. They definitely are not !, because Jesus is “The Way, The Truth”.
    I wonder if God simply allows for lies to be exposed with modern day technology. Little by little, light exposes lies, church doors open, let in light and disillusioned followers walk out into the light. Gradually, churches empty, ministers are out of work, God’s way of firing liars who claim to speak for God.

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  3. I have watched him misrepresent his degrees to University students in his talks at a evening “campus ministry” event. He really made a big deal about his credentials, and it just disgusts me that they are all lies. It is an insult to us that do have them.

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  4. This is a long comment. Sorry. But, sigh! The Corona Virus isn’t the only pandemic. We seem to have a pandemic among Evangelical “Big Shots.” How many big name, Big Shot Evangelical Celebrity pastors/teachers have been exposed in some sort of ethical breach? Is it fame that caused the corruption (“celebrity” itself is a heady, insidious narcotic!) or was there latent narcissism which drove the “ministers” to seek fame? Think of how many “Big Shots” have been exposed in the last four years:

    Bill Hybels: This big shot passed himself off as the Phineas J. Whoopee (the man with all the answers) of church growth and “leadership.” But the fearless leader had an eye for the ladies and was known to flirt and behave inappropriately toward the fair sex for years before he was exposed. He lied– publicly and emphatically– about the women who accused him and when the story broke in the New York Times about his affair with a live-in nanny, the “leadership” at Willow Creek finally believed Vonda Dyer, Nancy Beach, Betty Schmidt, John Ortberg, et al. Since his termination, Bill has gone into hiding and has not sought the forgiveness of the women he maligned, nor has he admitted his wrongdoing.

    James MacDonald: The founder and chief architect of Harvest Bible Fellowship, a quasi-denomination head quartered in the Chicago area. James was finally shown the door after years of abuse, narcissistic behavior, greed, misappropriation of funds, and good-old-fashioned arrogance. There’s all kinds of information about James Mac on the web. Julie Roys’ blog is a good place to start. At any rate, the lifestyle of James MacDonald, including his million dollar mansions and his 20,000 dollar hunting expeditions (some call them safaris!) on the church’s dime indicate that James Mac is a greedy pig. Period.

    Ravi Zeeeeeeeee: See above.

    Mark Driscoll: The former big shot pastor of Mars Hill Church (and its “satellites”) in Seattle, WA. Mark was another big shot with narcissistic tendencies who had been accused by multiple associates on multiple occasions of abusive, overbearing behavior. What finally did ‘ol Pastor Mark in was not his bullying, nor his vulgar language and fixation on sex. Nope, it was misappropriation of funds (this’ll get you every time, if you’re caught!), and rank, and I do mean RANK, plagiarism (consult radio host Janet Mefferd for specifics), along with a scheme to inflate sales of his books so as to place them on the New York Times bestseller list. My, what integrity!

    Dr. David Jeremiah: Maybe I should spell it, so you’ll know he’s a DOCTOR?! DOCTOR David Jeremiah pulled the same stunt as the good Reverend Driscoll, mentioned above. He, too, schemed to have his book sales inflated to place them on the best seller list. His behavior was such that he was sanctioned by the National Religious Broadcasters.

    Doug Wilson: This character is a big shot who seemingly caricatures….Himself! He deigns to pronounce child molesters cured, marries off pedophiles to young women from his church, and has aided and abetted fellow ministers who were under discipline (RC Sproul Jr.)

    Steven Furtick: The king of “narcigesis,” i.e., narcissistic eisegesis, who pontificates from his stage (NOT PULPIT!) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pastor Steven generally preaches himself, not Christ crucified. This big shot was busted a few years ago by a local news affiliate who flew a helicopter over his secluded mansion in North Carolina. It seems Pastor Steven, who cares only about spiritual things, mind you, had this gargantuan house built, with an enormous garage, for around 2 million bucks. Feel free to Google it, I’m working off memory on this one. In any event, it was an ostentatious, materialistic venture on the part of Pastor Full-of-himself..

    C. J. Mahaney: Have you heard of the scandal of Sovereign Grace Ministries? This is/was another quasi-denomination, co-founded by big shot celebrity pastor, C. J. Mahaney. To keep it short, Sovereign Grace was rocked by sexual abuse scandal(S) stemming from a number of violations which took place in the late 80’s, ’90’s, and perhaps early 2000’s. It led to a class action lawsuit on the part of several families whose children were sexually abused by employees/ volunteers of Sovereign Grace churches. The story is shocking, to say the least. Documentation is PROFUSE– probably the best source is Brent Detwiler, who co-founded Sovereign Grace with Mahaney over 40 years ago. Anyway, C. J. covered up the abuse and has lied about his involvement and his cover up for YEARS. He’s still lying.

    John MacArthur: One of the big names in conservative Evangelicalism. I hate to say this because I have been a supporter of MacArthur over the years. But. Credible stories of rape and sexual assault COVER UPS have come from former students of The Master’s College. It seems MacArthur has knowledge of these incidents. There have also been legitimate criticisms raised about nepotism and awarding lucrative contracts to family members, involving ministries headed by MacArthur. But the most odd-ball incidents are those yarns MacArthur has told to make himself look good. For example: he has alleged that he was present in Mississippi when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and that he, along with several notable civil rights leaders, drove to Memphis and surveyed the scene of the crime the very night it happened! MacArthur’s claim has been refuted (see Warren Throckmorton’s or Brent Detwiler’s blog) based on several key facts.

    Now. I’ll stop here. Is there a common thread or denominator with these big shots? It occurs to me that most of them can’t admit they’re wrong. Even when they’re caught red-handed. Doo Wop Coke Fan.

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  5. Am I the only one who wonders, because of all this deceit and lies, if Ravi’s cancer is one too?

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  6. really, if someone lies, can you ever trust them again? you will always be wondering. That one’s word is good is the most valuable thing a person has. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

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  7. I understand many things that you appear to mistrust. Cultural differences could account for a couple of them. The other areas of the question & criticism have reasons or explanations I could not know firsthand.

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  8. One thing that may be going on culturally is that indicators of status can be very important in Indian society, things like one’s caste (though you never mention it openly, you can figure it out by one’s family name, and most people do), trade, university, and the like. So I can see at the very least a huge temptation to “burnish” one’s credentials by “fudging” certain honors. It’s like using an honorary “doctorate” in U.S. society, but just a LOT stronger temptation.

    It doesn’t make it right, but socially, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what’s going on. I have my blind spots, culturally speaking, and others do, too.

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  9. The school where I teach (currently in remote mode) has about 1/3 students of Indian descent. I have been there over 15 years, and I have yet to encounter one of our professional parents (many are entrepreneurs, tech people, or medical-many currently on the front lines of the virus battle) inflating their credentials. If anything, they are usually very self-effacing, and defer to me all the time in terms of teaching experience. And, Ravi seems to have a life-long habit of inflating himself-that speaks more to a deep character flaw than a cultural “norm.”

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  10. I am a little uncomfortable attributing lies to “cultural differences.“ It seems to imply that falsely claiming to be “a professor in Oxford” is acceptable in India. It’s not. Nor is threatening suicide to cover up your online infidelity.

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  11. David Orrison of Grace for my Heart had a great blog post on organizations that support abusers. When organizations become legalistic, the measurement of righteousness becomes more important than being true and recognizing that sin itself is the enemy. In other words being a fraud in the institutional church is much less of an issue than being discovered for being a fraud. Organizations get caught up in this because their reputation is also at stake. If Ravi is a fraud, then those who trusted and supported a fraud are also assumed to be accomplices. [I’m not sure this should be the case unless they were aware].

    There was also a very intriguing article in Psychology Today. The claim is that narcissists and abusers are hard to resist because we are somehow hard-wired to follow and support those who seem to be powerful and in control. Narcissists short-circuit this because they can falsely maintain a powerful and confident exterior. The problem is that when we realize that they are false, instead of rejecting them, we fall into codependency – we try to act in ways that make them appear powerful and confident.

    This is also a trap for RZIM. If their leader is exposed as a narcissistic liar, the natural tendency is not to embrace the truth and reject him, but instead to double down on maintaining his false front.

    My initial theory is that RZIM didn’t realize how serious it was for Ravi to fake his academic credentials, as a “gifted minister”. Instead, I think they are keenly aware that coming to terms with his academic (and personal) fraud would destroy the ministry and that’s why they refuse to acknowledge any of it. Our expectation should be that the public more and more sees that the emperor has no clothes, while the nobles surrounding him proudly proclaim his and their purity.

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  12. Well apparently Ravi only has weeks/months left to live. So all you naysayers should be happy about that.

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  13. Gosh, this is enlightening. My Facebook feed is full of friends mourning how he’s not doing well health-wise. I was looking through this site on another issue and found out that my gut was right on him.

    As, an academic myself, he never quite passed the smell test for me. I listened to a few of his recorded messages a decade ago and moved on. It seemed odd that he gave out credentials that seemed contrary. Like why was he claiming that he was some sort of important scholar at liberal Oxford and Cambridge? How did that come about at those storied institutions (being realistic here)? And if he was a scholar at one or both of those, why hadn’t he published anything under those umbrellas (the hallmark of academia)? I spent some time searching online and never found anything.

    He reminded me of another Christian apologist some years back who was claiming that they spoke at the research institution where I had worked some years before in their press kit for the launch of a book. People were all over this author including several of my friends. That seemed really contrary to me given the kinds of scholars they usually invited to speak there. Well, more searching, and they spoke at a BIBLE STUDY. I knew of that Bible study when I worked there and actually attended it several times, and it met in a side room of the cafeteria. So I found the announcement for that speaker on the institution’s schedule of informal interest groups. I knew where to look. Oops!

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  14. I sure would hope people would not take joy in the death of Ravi Z. He has made some grave mistakes, but he is still a human being who is suffering from cancer (having watched several people die from it, including my mom, I don’t wish that disease on anyone). That doesn’t excuse Ravi’s falsehoods, but it just isn’t right to rejoice at the death of another, at least not as a Christian. As mean and evil as Saul was to David, the new young king did not rejoice in the death of his enemy. Rather, he praised his military victories and what might have been.

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  15. Thinking about this reminded me of a formerly close school friend. He always had a streak of dishonesty – changing the marks on his school report to hide some failures, but failing to make sure the totals still added up. Maths clearly was not his strong point!

    He made a profession of faith and was baptised. Was strong for a while, then he drifted away for the usual reason – immorality.

    I lost contact with him, but years after school came across him again in our home town, this time attending a church and pretending to be a high ranking officer in the navy. Unfortunately for him, both sons of one of the members actually were in the navy, so he disappeared pretty quickly. He told me stories of all the places he had visited across the world, of the languages he was now fluent in. Not long before his death I chanced to see him contributing to a forum discussing our old school, and he was still at it with his fictional claims. Maybe some were true, but with so much false it’s difficult to believe any of it.

    This meant he spent virtually the whole of his life living in a fantasy world of make-believe, and presenting this as truth to those around him. My wife reckons this is a recognised medical condition. I can’t but think he really couldn’t in the end tell the difference between truth and fantasy, reality and fiction.

    I just wonder if this phenomenon is being replicated in the life of Ravi. I have no axe to grind either for or against him, I’ve not read him and rarely heard him. If the charges levelled against him here are true, then this really must put a question against the authenticity of his conversion. Is is actually possible to learn up the arguments for the Christian faith and be able to present them without actually ever being converted?

    At the end of the book of Revelation, those who face the second death include all liars, and everyone who who loves and practices falsehood. The little phrase ‘all liars’ has particularly grabbed my attention at times, all the more when living in society where truth is at a premium.

    When he died not so long ago, I thought of his profession of faith, his subsequent life and the fantasies, and wonder just where he stands in relation to God. Was he culpable or was there something wrong with him he couldn’t help? One thing is certain – you can’t fool God, and he is the one from whom nothing is hidden to whom we must all give account. A painful and sobering thought.

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  16. “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

    ‭‭John‬ ‭8:7‬ ‭

    “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”
    ‭‭
    Luke‬ ‭6:42‬ ‭

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  17. Nadar, by quoting those verses, you are just admitting that you don’t believe what you’re claiming they say.

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  18. The first verse, although much loved, is almost certainly not actually part of John’s gospel according to the manuscript evidence. Whether the story itself is authentic is impossible to know.

    The second verse, rightly aimed at the evangelical tendency to play judge and jury over others shouldn’t be misused to fail to test, examine or discern doctrine or behaviour in the church. This implied in that once you judged your own life you will see more clearly to exercise discernment over others.

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  19. I’m from India, so you must know couple of things.
    1. Usually, even today, there are hardly any suicide attempt which doesn’t up in death is recorded as suicide in medical records. It is because of shame the family has to carry afterwards in society, these instances are hushed up.
    2. Honorary doctorate holders are usually referred to as Dr. in all instances and platforms in India. Only after allegations on Ravi, we all came to know that it is not the case outside India.

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