This post is an SSB team effort with the first draft written by Brad Sargent, with additions and edits by Julie Anne Smith.
In This Post:
Key Sources for Documentation, Details, and Discernment
The Big Picture of the Last Six Months (September 2020 – February 2021)
- RZIM Individuals, Institutions, and Followers/Supporters
- Ravi Zacharias’ Followers; Issues with His Teachings
- Zacharias Family Members
- Mainstream and Christian Media Coverage
- Celebrity Christians on Social Media; Critiques by Christians with Expertise
- Abuse Survivors, Advocates, and Activists
- Twitter Hashtag to Call Out Promoters and Enablers of Ravi Zacharias
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Key Sources for Documentation,
Details, and Discernment
Julie Anne was recently asked what had been happening over the past six months — September 2020 through February 2021 — with the situations involving Ravi Zacharias and RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries). This post summarizes what we’ve seen as key patterns and themes that have emerged during that period. It is only the big picture of what has turned out to be a complicated situation with multiple scandals and mountains of details. To get up to speed with those details, and glean what you can about the overall context, we recommend you go through the following three posts, and also peruse postings by Lori Anne Thompson on Twitter and on her website.
1. Ravi Zacharias and RZIM 2020 Research and Resource Post: Timeline, Links to Articles/Analysis, Nonprofit Reference. This resource page gives links in chronological order to facts, analysis, documentation, and opinion for the following topics.
- Pressuring Shirley Steward to have an Abortion (1973; 2019)
- Spas: Touch of Eden (2004-2008) and Jivan Wellness (2009-2015)
- Fabricated and/or Exaggerated Credentials (2005 onward)
- Ravi Zacharias Sexting: The Thompsons’ Demand Letter (2017)
- Sexting: Threat of Suicide, Lawsuit, Settlement, and NDA (2017)
- RZIM Non-Profit Reclassification to “Church,” Finances, and Forms 990 (2018)
- Ravi Zacharias Rebuttals; RZIM Statements; Questions of NDA Violations (2017-2018)
- Christian & Missionary Alliance Denominational Discipline Investigation (Starting March 2018)
- Spa Scandal and Potentially Related Revelations (Starting September 2020)
- RZIM Commissioned Partial Investigation and Intermediate Report Confirms Sexual Abuse (2020)
- Challenges to Ravi Zacharias’ Legacy and RZIM’s Leadership (2020)
- Push-Back Continues, Consequences Intensify (December 2020)
This was compiled December 2020 by Brad Sargent. For additional research on RZIM, see Brad’s Twitter account.
2. RZIM & Ravi Zacharias Document List. This page on Ruth Hutchins’ website archives links in the following categories.
- Public statements
- From The Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA)
- Lawsuit documents (2017)
- Financial/Governance documents
- Annual reports
- Touch of Hope documents
Most items are from 2017 onward, but she has included documents with historical significance from earlier years. For additional research on RZIM, see Ruth’s Twitter account. (Also note that some of the most recent entries are listed as February 2020 when they are from February 2021.)
3. Ministry leaders’ rush to empathize with Ravi Zacharias is beyond alarming, by Kyle J. Howard (February 19, 2021; RNS/Religion News Service). This is a concise analysis critiquing the numerous statements from well-known pastors, preachers, and writers who show they identify more with Ravi Zacharias the abuser than empathize with his victims. For additional research on RZIM, see Kyle’s Twitter account.
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The Big Picture of the Last Six Months
(September 2020 – February 2021)
Key Details from 2020
Ravi Zacharias died in May 2020. His wife, Margie, apparently became the executrix of his estate. The estate–and not RZIM–holds and controls the non-disclosure agreement with the Thompsons.
In September 2020, several women who were massage therapists in Ravi’s spas–and sexual abuse victims of his–spoke out. Their statements were picked up in major Christian media. RZIM stood behind previous treatment of the Thompsons.
In October 2020, RZIM announced that the law firm of Miller & Martin would conduct an investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse. Brad and Lori Anne Thompson posted an Open Letter to RZIM
On December 23, 2020, RZIM posted an intermediate report from Miller & Martin on their investigation. The report gave credence to the allegations of Mr. Zacharias’ sexual victimization of the women, and that there were indicators of even worse behaviors. The final report was due out sometime January to mid-February of 2021.
Key Details from Late December 2020 through February 2021
Basically, all hell broke loose on Ravi Zacharias’ infamy and the status of RZIM’s legacy. This started with the notice of the intermediate report of December 23, 2020, and has been ongoing through the posting of the final report, dated February 19, 2021, and thereafter. In those eight weeks, there have been upheaval in the Zacharias family, RZIM network, individuals and institutions that supported Mr. Zacharias and RZIM, media, and abuse survivor/advocate communities.
1. RZIM INDIVIDUALS, INSTITUTIONS, AND FOLLOWERS/SUPPORTERS
* Resignations from RZIM Board and staff (US and elsewhere).
* Firings of RZIM personnel.
* Former personnel posting appeals to RZIM US to do the right thing.
* International branches (associated to RZIM but their own national entities/charities) issued statements about Ravi and RZIM–mostly critical of how they’ve handled things and how Mr. Zacharias was deceptive and unaccountable.
* Some individuals within RZIM global network sent private apologies to Brad and Lori Anne Thompson; many if not most of those are also voluntarily made public because their sins were public.
* RZIM in UK voted to dissociate from RZIM US.
* RZIM Canada’s Board voted to dissolve their organization.
* RZIM Africa leaders posted a public apology video and statement after offering their private apology in a conversation with Lori Anne Thompson.
* RZIM (US) issued an apologetic Open Letter, but it was signed only as the International Board with no individuals’ names. The Board membership has not been on public record lately, and so the absence of personal signers continues what has been seen as lack of institutional transparency.
* RZIM (US) was formally removed from membership in ECFA/Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
* Fund-raising by multiple RZIM entities (including RZIM US) has shut down.
2. RAVI ZACHARIAS’ FOLLOWERS; ISSUES WITH HIS TEACHINGS
Many everyday followers and financial supporters of Mr. Zacharias and the RZIM network have taken to public media in reaction to the incontrovertible evidence and conclusion in the investigative report that Mr. Zacharias was indeed guilty of a pattern of sexual abuse. They have been expressing a range of emotions: anger, shock, confusion, disillusionment, sadness, numbness.
Some followers have posted questions and concerns about what to do with his videos, books, etc., and whether they are still valid despite his immoral lifestyle, or unalterably tainted and teachings about truth from a practiced liar should not have a place anywhere. Some who had referenced his works have removed those recommendations. Similarly, for videos on their sites or links to them elsewhere.
Businesses and associated ministries have had to make similar kinds of decisions, which they began announcing in mid- to late February.
* HarperCollins–whose subsidiaries publish over 20 of his books–have canceled a forthcoming book that was under contract and removed his prior books from their catalog. (Source.)
* Authors who reference Ravi Zacharias are revising those sections of their books. Lee Strobel is one. (Source.)
* Some booksellers and other merchants have posted they will no longer carry his books.
* The Christian and Missionary Alliance revoked posthumously Ravi Zacharias’ ordination with their denomination.
3. ZACHARIAS FAMILY MEMBERS
Meanwhile, a variety of sources point to the Zacharias family apparently being in significant turmoil, with very different responses.
* Margie Zacharias, Ravi’s wife, has continued to refuse to negate the non-disclosure agreement with the Thompsons. She resigned her position on staff and the Board of RZIM, and has remained silent in terms of news and social media.
* Daughter Sarah, remains a major leader and officer in RZIM, but reportedly was not in agreement with her mother about what to do about the investigation report and follow-up actions. She has not been public in her personal responses, but presumably has been guiding the public statements made by the anonymous Board of Directors.
* Son Nathan is no longer with RZIM. He has been active on social media and, in February, set up a blog in defense of his father.
* Other extended family members have not been so prominent in news, either in being mentioned or giving statements.
4. MAINSTREAM AND CHRISTIAN MEDIA COVERAGE
It has become clear that this is a major news story, as RZIM (US) typically had over $20 million in donations annually in recent years, with about $40 million in net assets. With a global network of speakers and associated institutions, the impact of the organization was far-reaching. In part because of the largeness of scale involved, the consequences of many years of deception and sexual abuse by Mr. Zacharias have been severe.
* National mainstream news media like the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN have carried news stories about the scandals, their impact on evangelical communities, and RZIM.
* Christian media–both print and online–have carried news, investigate reports, analysis, interviews, and opinions.
5. CELEBRITY CHRISTIANS ON SOCIAL MEDIA; CRITIQUES BY CHRISTIANS WITH EXPERTISE
Some prominent evangelical preachers and celebrity leaders posted articles podcasts, and/or videos on social media giving their takes on “lessons we need to learn” from the scandals. Unfortunately, many of them reveal they are identifying more with Ravi Zacharias the Abuser than empathizing with any of his victims. They are “sin-leveling,” saying “this could happen to any of us” and the like. Which is preposterous–are they telling us they are tempted to be serial sexual abusers?
The push-back from abuse survivor communities has been fierce and forceful overall against these celebrity theologians/thought leaders. Some of the main critiques are that they have shown their ignorance of the power dynamics involved in clergy sexual abuse and the destructive impact it has on victims. In terms of theology, they have an ill-defined concept of misconduct that fails to see that Mr. Zacharias’ thousands of destructive decisions and deceptions over decades involved sins, crimes, and evil.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some Christians who have the expertise to critique fully and fairly have taken to task Ravi Zacharias abilities as an apologist. For instance, see this interview with John Stackhouse on Ravi Zacharias and the General State of Modern Evangelicalism (February 24, 2021) by Paul Calin Moldovan at Overthinking Christian.
6. ABUSE SURVIVORS, ADVOCATES, AND ACTIVISTS
The abuse survivor/advocate community online has been very active in other ways beyond calling out sin-levelers. Members have been researching, writing, and posting: facts and analysis, links to documentation, and interpretations of how the issues of Ravi Zacharias and RZIM fit within problem patterns in the larger evangelical community.
They have also been advocating for victims of Ravi/RZIM, which include: the women he sexually abused by means of his religious roles, the followers whose lives had been positively affected by his teachings, and present and former personnel in the RZIM network.
The overall situation has amplified a focus on how abusive individuals groom not just potential victims but an entire community to enable and protect the perpetrator. So there has also been a significant outpouring of information designed to help those who are dealing with wounds from sexual and spiritual abuse, as well as those dealing with having been co-opted as pawns to keep Ravi Zacharias afloat. For those considering what to do with materials from Mr. Zacharias/RZIM, abuse survivors and advocates have encouraged his followers to consider the larger situation of victims of sexual abuse/violence, and the potential negative impacts of women hearing quotes from or seeing books by a documented sexual abuse perpetrator.
Some survivors/advocates have expressed the importance of developing a case study that dissects what Ravi Zacharias did and how RZIM failed in its governance to be transparent, give genuine oversight and accountability to Mr. Zacharias, and track all financial dealings appropriately and accurately. This is necessary because prevention of future systemic abuse by individuals who lead and their institutions is based on intervention in current situations.
7. TWITTER HASHTAG TO CALL OUT PROMOTERS AND ENABLERS OF RAVI ZACHARIAS
There has also been a significant level of calling out of Christian and cultural celebrities who posted public eulogies for Mr. Zacharias. Very few of these promoters and commenders have since made public statements to withdraw those praises and sincerely apologize for their negative impact on his victims and others who have been triggered by failure to believe victims. See the Twitter hashtag #HoldRaviZachariasAccountable and see the list with documentation compiled by Shannon, beginning here.