Note from Julie Anne: This is a guest blog post by Steve Baughman. While studying philosophy, he ran across the works of the highly respected Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias–and then Steve uncovered a colossal number of lies and cover-ups by him.
One year ago this week the renowned Catholic disability rights advocate, Jean Vanier, died. The widely-adored Vanier had created 154 communities for mentally disabled adults in 38 countries through the group he founded, L’Arche International. He had lived with those he cared for and sacrificed much for those who suffered.
Shortly before his death it was learned that Vanier had been involved in abusive sexual relationships with at least six women, beginning around 1970. An investigation confirmed that these relationships were marked by “significant imbalances of power.” To make matters worse, Vanier’s manipulative methods were similar to those of his spiritual mentor, the late Rev. Thomas Philippe, who once sexually assaulted a woman when she approached him to complain about Vanier.
All this splattered much egg on the faces of powerful Catholics. To their credit, nobody circled the wagons in defense of the beloved leader. L’Arche, the group Vanier founded, retained outside investigators and publicly expressed their shock and disapproval of what their leader had done. The University of Notre Dame withdrew two prestigious awards it had bestowed upon Vanier. The outrage was nearly universal. Any chance of sainthood quickly evaporated.
Another Beloved Falls: The Ravi Zacharias Credential Scandals
Meanwhile on the other side of Christendom, a highly regarded evangelical preacher and apologist was himself on the way to sainthood. And like the Catholic Vanier, this evangelical had a closet full of skeletons.
Indisputable evidence had emerged that beginning in the early 1980s, Ravi Zacharias systematically inflated his academic credentials. After receiving his first honorary doctorate in 1980, he began marketing himself as “Dr. Zacharias“ and as having a “Doctor of Divinity” degree while routinely failing to disclose that his degree was merely honorary. (Zacharias’s highest earned degree was an M.Div.)
The Christian credential inflation extended to Zacharias’s claim to have been the chair of a department at Alliance Theological Seminary in New York. The seminary, however, had no departments. He also falsely claimed (in his autobiography and elsewhere) that in 1965 he won an international preaching competition in India. A quick Google search reveals that the “Asian Youth Preacher Award” exists only in Ravi Zacharias promotional materials. (Zacharias repeated the claim last year on the Eric Metaxas Show.)
These were the least of his deceptions, however. Since around 2006 Zacharias has referred to himself as “a professor at Oxford” or as “an official lecturer at Oxford.” The professorship claim appeared for several years on Zacharias’s website, among other places, and the “official lecturer“ claim appears in his autobiography.
As if an Oxford position weren’t enough, he attached himself to Cambridge, too. In 1990, the forty-four year old Zacharias spent two to three months at an Anglican church training institution in the town of Cambridge. He thereafter began to refer to himself in his author bios as “Cambridge educated.” He routinely told fans and donors that he had “studied at” Cambridge University where he had taken courses in “quantum physics“ under the renowned Cambridge physicist John Polkinghorne.
In one particularly bold episode we see Zacharias tell an audience that the University of Cambridge had the most prestigious philosophy department in the world and that “I went there, I studied under them.”
Zacharias also widely claimed that his time at Cambridge was pursuant to having been invited to be a “visiting scholar at Cambridge University.”
These claims were all false. And they were shown to be false in late 2015 and 2016.
Oxford stated in writing that Zacharias had never held any teaching position at the university. Oxford’s Wycliffe Hall, where Zacharias claimed to be a lecturer, also confirmed that Zacharias had never held any formal teaching position with them.
Cambridge issued a statement confirming that whatever work Zacharias may have done at the Anglican training school in the town of Cambridge, it would not have made him a visiting scholar at their university.
Zacharias made no public retractions until August of 2018, when he admitted in writing to a single Christian blogger that he had never been a professor at Oxford and that he had never enrolled at Cambridge. I am aware of no other public confession by Zacharias of these deceptions.
It also turned out that by the time Zacharias encountered Polkinghorne, the scientist had not taught physics for years. He had become a priest, and in 1990 was teaching religion. Zacharias took in lectures of Polkinghorne’s science/theology dialogue course and converted that into the claim that he had studied quantum physics at the University of Cambridge.
July 2017: Zacharias Sues for Silence
There is a sex story in Zacharias’s closet as well, one that he paid good money to keep there. According to the lawsuit Zacharias filed in the Atlanta federal court in July 2017, he began an email correspondence in 2014 with a young married Canadian woman whom he barely knew. Despite his busy schedule, which he said made him unable to respond to many of his fans, Zacharias soon asked this young woman to communicate with him by a “more secure“ method, and he gave her his private BlackBerry contact information.
During the course of their relationship, she sent him multiple sexual and nude photos of herself. Zacharias did not report this to his board until April 2017, when the woman threatened him with legal action on the grounds that his grooming and spiritual abuse had severely harmed her and her family. (The foregoing facts are all contained in Zacharias‘s federal lawsuit and are not in dispute.)
Zacharias Threatens Suicide in Writing
Most explosively, Zacharias’s lawyers added Exhibit 1 to the complaint, a “personal and extremely confidential” letter from the woman’s attorney to Zacharias dated April 27, 2017. That letter was the first indication the world had seen that Zacharias had gotten himself in serious trouble. The lawyer claimed to have in his possession a written threat Zacharias made to the woman when she told him that she could not continue their relationship and would confess to her husband. Zacharias replied that he would kill himself if she mentioned his name.
This written suicide threat was later made public by Julie Anne Smith, a Christian advocate for clergy abuse victims, who had acquired it directly from the Canadian woman. The email proved that on October 29, 2016 at 4:38 PM, Zacharias had indeed made the ultimate threat to keep this young woman quiet.
But his threat didn’t work. Still she persisted. So on July 31, 2017, Zacharias sued the woman and her husband in federal court in Atlanta.
Damage Control and The Great Commission
At the precise time he filed his lawsuit, Zacharias left the United States on a missions trip to a dangerous, undisclosed “War-Torn Region” where, per his blog posts from the field, he labored “in desert terrain, under torrid temperatures of about 115 to as high as 120 degrees.” He told his fans “I can’t say much ‘til we are out of here” and he asked for “prayers and God‘s protection as we serve in His will.” All this occurred within days of filing his lawsuit.
Prior to leaving the US, Zacharias had cleared his calendar for the entire month of August, a very unusual move for the much-in-demand evangelist. His next scheduled public appearance was on September 9 in Bengaluru, India, where he was to deliver a lecture titled “Living With Clear Boundaries.”
The Nondisclosure Agreement
What happened next we may never know. Whatever it was, it cost Zacharias money but got him what he wanted. Zacharias settled his lawsuit via a nondisclosure agreement that permanently forbade all parties to discuss the matter. He now had what he needed to keep the woman quiet and for himself to evade awkward questions. He then dismissed his lawsuit.
Soon after having silenced the woman, Zacharias issued an 800-word press release that absolved him of all wrongdoing except for failing to “exercise wise caution.” In that statement he painted the woman as a promiscuous extortionist who came after him with a vengeance. In the face of this provocative press release, the woman honored their nondisclosure agreement and remained silent.
What had Ravi Zacharias done that he felt had to be kept secret, on pain of his own suicide? One does not normally threaten suicide to keep a mere failure to “exercise wise caution” under wrap. Christianity Today asked him about the suicide email for their December 3, 2017 article on the lawsuit. Zacharias invoked the nondisclosure agreement and declined to comment. The magazine saw no irony here and proceeded to publish verbatim the press release of a subject who claimed he was legally bound to silence.
But Zacharias has, in fact, commented: in private, at least once. In January 2018 I received an email from Baptist archivist, author, and historian, Jim Lutzweiler, informing me that Zacharias had been asked by a nationally known senior minister (whom we both knew) about the suicide email and he admitted that he had sent it. Mr. Lutzweiler had it straight from the minister.
1 Timothy 5:20 versus Worthy Business Matters
Given that not one of the above facts is in dispute, will Ravi Zacharias still be permitted to pass on with his reputation unblemished? Will it be business as usual for his evangelical business empire after he passes?
Roman Catholic leaders have been learning their public relations lessons the hard way. Lying would work, they once thought, especially lying coupled with intimidation and bullying of the souls under their spiritual care. Unfortunately for the Church, dedicated journalists and plaintiffs’ lawyers foiled that plan. And when the Vanier evidence surfaced, the Catholics did the right thing.
How has the evangelical world responded to the undisputed evidence of systematic and sustained deception by Ravi Zacharias? By signing new book deals with him, bestowing lifetime ministry awards upon him, granting him prestigious speaking engagements, and acting as if none of his deceptions mattered. And now, with the undeniably sad news of Zacharias‘s terminal prognosis, we have seen a flood of adulation on the Internet:
Perhaps sober heads will prevail. Perhaps the evangelical world will take a cue from their Catholic counterparts. The evidence against Ravi Zacharias is, after all, serious and compelling. If evangelicals ignore it they will show the world that they do not take their Holy Bible seriously (1 Timothy 5:20).
And if that’s the case, Ravi Zacharias will have unwittingly shed light on an important truth.
Steve Baughman is a lawyer and part-time student at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. For extensive documentation of the assertions in this article see his Ravi Zacharias exposé Cover Up in the Kingdom: Phone Sex, Lies, and God’s Great Apologist, Ravi Zacharias, available at Amazon for download and physical delivery. Steve can be reached through his website www.RaviWatch.com or www.CelticGuitar.com .