Accounts of spiritual abuse, sexting and rape in investigation of Ravi Zacharias

Please note: This article discusses rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. 

An investigation into alleged sexual misconduct of the late Ravi Zacharias has found significant evidence of sexual misconduct involving massage therapists at day-spas Zacharias co-owned, as well as evidence of text and email based relationships with women.

Ravi Zacharias

The report, by law firm Miller & Martin, has been released today “with shattered hearts” by the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) Board.

“To be victimized by unwanted sexual contact, advances, and behavior is horrendous. It is diametrically opposed to everything we believe about the value and dignity of every single person,” the statement reads.

“We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation. Tragically, witnesses described encounters including sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape. We are devastated by what the investigation has shown and are filled with sorrow for the women who were hurt by this terrible abuse.”

RZIM is a global apologetics ministry with a list of some of the world’s best academics and evangelists answering questions, speaking and training others about the Christian faith. Zacharias himself  had been labelled one of the best Christian apologists in the last 100 years.The highly successful ministry has been running since 1984, funded primarily by donations. In 2019, the ministry received over $35 million in donations.

RZIM opened an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by its founder and namesake in September 2020, after three women came forward alleging Zacharias sexually harassed them in their work at two day spas Zacharias co-owned and to which he was a frequent visitor. The day spas were located in a strip mall in the suburbs of Atlanta, a short drive away from RZIM headquarters. The women claim Zacharias touched them inappropriately, exposed himself and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of five years.

The report today confirmed the account of one of those massage therapists (who remained anonymous), while finding evidence of other instances over a period of 10 years. Some therapists gave accounts suggesting that Zacharias built their trust over a period of time – getting to know them and asking probing questions about their spiritual journeys – before asking them to “do more”, including touching his genitals or letting him touch them. One therapist told investigators that she never came forward because she thought, “who would believe me” against a famous Christian leader.

Accusations about Zacharias behaviour towards the massage therapists came just months after Zacharias died following a brief battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer in the spine.

RZIM initially denied the claims, but hired a law firm to investigate. In a statement at the time, the RZIM board said they first learned of the allegations after Zacharias’ death, and so weren’t able to explore them with him directly.

“We engaged Miller & Martin PLLC to investigate these allegations, while also giving them wide latitude to go wherever their investigation might lead them.”

In December, the RZIM board said that an interim update on the investigation indicated that Zacharias did engage in sexual misconduct.

Critics of the organisation have questioned whether the report goes far enough in exposing both Zacharias misconduct and the internal organisational issues that have encouraged loyalty over truth.

Carson Weitnauer, a former RZIM speaker and author who led the RZIM US speaking team before resigning last month, had called for any investigation of Zacharias and RZIM to include the testimony of Lori Anne Thompson. Thompson claims Zacharias groomed her into a sexual online and phone relationship that included sending him nude pictures and engaging in phone sex. Thompson’s testimony is the subject of a non-disclosure agreement from 2017, which she signed with Zacharias after he launched legal action claiming Thompson had sent Zacharias “unwanted” nude pictures in an attempt to extort him.

Given the mounting evidence against Zacharias, “it is far more likely that the NDA is silencing the voice of a victim than it is protecting an innocent man from slander,” wrote Weitnauer. A recent video of Thompson reading her victim impact statement has been shared by many RZIM and former RZIM speakers in a sign of support for Thompson and her testimony.

The statement from the RZIM Board also states that the conclusions of the investigation have “caused us to think very differently about the allegations Mrs. Lori Anne Thompson made against Ravi in 2017.”

“We were wrong,” the Board said. “Our trust in Ravi’s denial of moral wrongdoing and in his deceptive explanations of emails and other records that became public was severely misplaced, and our failures in 2017, including our failure to commission an independent investigation at that time, allowed tremendous pain to continue to be caused in the Thompsons’ lives.

“We believe Lori Anne Thompson has told the truth about the nature of her relationship with Ravi Zacharias. It is with profound grief that we recognize that because we did not believe the Thompsons and both privately and publicly perpetuated a false narrative, they were slandered for years and their suffering was greatly prolonged and intensified. This leaves us heartbroken and ashamed. We are deeply grateful for their longstanding commitment to making the truth known and admire their strength to carry on even when they were not believed. It is our hope to seek a redemptive way forward with Mrs. and Mr. Thompson and seek their forgiveness, while recognizing that we have no right to this and wanting to be led by them in terms of what might be most helpful.”

Along with Carson Weitnauer,  RZIM leadership has come under intense criticism for their handling of the allegations from high profile Christians, including Dr Max Baker-Hytch from OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, popular author and speaker Sam Allberry, Daniel Gilman and Australian theologian and historian John Dickson.

The RZIM Board says it has engaged victim-advocate Rachael Denhollander, to advise them on understanding trauma and best practice in responding to victims. Denhollander was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nasser while she was a US gymnast.

“We are committed to change,” the RZIM Board wrote.

In light of the investigation, the future of RZIM remains unclear. The Board writes that they “are seeking the Lord’s will regarding the future of this ministry”, and will speak again soon about what is to come for RZIM.

If you have been impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse, a 24 hour, confidential information, counselling and support service is available in Australia by telephoning 1800 RESPECT (i.e. 1800 737 732), along with an online chat service. Please call 000 if you are in danger.