Ravi Zacharias ministry called to consider reparations
Local leader has resigned
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries needs to rebuild trust, rebrand and consider reparations for victims of the evangelist and apologist it is named after. A series of allegations about Zacharias has only grown since his death this year, involving his interactions with women employees at a spa company he invested in. Earlier cases involved sexting, with new information coming at the time of his death, and exaggerated credentials.
So writes Dr. Max Baker-Hytch, a senior tutor with RZIM’s OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and a lecturer at Wycliffe Hall – a private hall of the University of Oxford – in a five-page letter in which he outlines a poor response to each of these scandals. The letter, which was first reported by blogger/journalist Julie Roys, details that:
- RZIM had a slow response to the credential scandal which he investigated internally. Warren Throckmorton, Psychologist, Professor and blogger uncovered this issue of the inappropriate use of the title Doctor and claims to have lectured at Oxford University According to Baker-Hytch RZIM exhibited “slowness and reluctance to set the public record straight, which finally happened only after a great amount of external pressure was brought to bear on the issue.” He adds the the RZIM foot dragging on this issue was “a source of embarrassment for me as an academic.”.
- On the sexting scandal, according to Roys, Baker-Hytch asserts that “RZIM President Michael Ramsden stated in a December 4, 2017, all-staff update that ‘no money had changed hands between Ravi and the Thompsons [the couple involved].’”
“But in September 2020, Baker-Hytch says he learned that Zacharias paid the Thompsons $250,000 as part of the 2017 settlement of the apologist’s lawsuit against the couple.” He recounts other gaps in the RZIM narratives of the issue.
- Strike three for Baker-Hytch was the emergence of the ‘spa story’. Steve Baughman, a long time investigator of Zacharias, gave the story to Christianity Today, which did an intensive investigation showing sexual misconduct by Zacharias at the spa. (Eternity gave more details in our earlier story.) Baker-Hytch says that comments by RZIM leaders undermined the credibility of the witnesses including an allegation they had been coached.
The letter includes a plea for RZIM to offer a wholehearted apology to Zacharias’ spa victims should their testimony be confirmed. He calls for “meaningful reparations” to these women. And says that RZIM should set up a support group that any further victims could come forward to.
In Australia, Jordan Thyer – an itinerant speaker for RZIM – has resigned to become minister at Providence Church in Perth. (Thyer has been put forward by the elders, to be ratified by a vote. The church was previously pastored by Stephen McAlpine). Speaking to Thyer, it is clear that Zacharias has been a formative presence in his life. But, he is disappointed in both the organisation and Zacharias himself.
“Their posture since the allegations has been ‘underwelming’ and doesn’t represent how many of us speakers on the team feel,” he tells Eternity’ “The great respect we had for RZ was what made it so hard for us to process and make sense of the allegations.”
That shows up in how Thyer has previously written. “Hearing Ravi’s voice unpack the uniqueness of Christ and the rationality of the Christian faith filled me with confidence that Christianity was not only good, but also true,” Thyer wrote in a testimonial for Eternity when Zacharias died. “His ability to demonstrate how Jesus makes sense of life’s big questions – the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny – was both poetic and intellectually robust.”
This was published before the spa allegations came to light.
Thyer’s response to the mounting allegations has been a conviction that he could not stay in the organisation. He gave Eternity an insight into how his concerns were triggered:
- The allegations read credibly regarding the day spa. The ministries initial response was that “We, the family and ministry teammates of the late Ravi Zacharias, can say the allegations now being made against Ravi do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades—we believe them to be false.” Myself and a number of other speakers on team pushed back at the time saying that this was putting words into our mouths and is furthermore hurtful and dismissive to the potential victims who have come forward. I personally could not say in conscience I believed the allegations to be false. So I was incredibly unhappy with the ministry responding in this way, especially since they hadn’t asked any of us if that is how we felt! Sarah Davis did later apologise to us for this statement and amended it but unfortunately this statement had already been aired by CT and the damage done (to our credibility, the pain of the witnesses and the integrity of our gospel witness)
I was personally unsatisfied by Ravi’s claim (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/december/ravi-zacharias-sexting-extortion-lawsuit-doctorate-bio-rzim.html) that he was “never alone with a woman” who wasn’t his wife or daughters. Many women on our RZIM team have told me this is blatantly false since they’ve been alone with him many times (even though nothing untoward happened).
- The public posture of the ministry has not been genuine concern for the victims of Ravi’s misconduct. If RZIM are doing a thorough investigation why not offer genuine compassion and concern for these woman and simply state, “we hope these allegations are not true but if they are we want any victims to know that we care about you and don’t believe what happened to you was right”. The ministry could have said this without prejudicing or assuming the outcome of the investigation.
- I heard from leadership multiple times that Lori-Ann Thompson and her husband [the couple who involved in the sexting issue] were trying to extort money from Ravi and RZIM by blackmail. At first, in 2017, we wanted to believe that narrative because we loved and appreciated Ravi so much. As more information came to light though this explanation from the ministry wasn’t justified, yet that narrative circulated to us as a team globally. It seems that rather than them trying to cover up Ravi’s wrong doing, they simply couldn’t believe he did these things and therefore wouldn’t investigate them more thoroughly. So rather than the leadership or board being deliberately deceptive in a cover-up, it appears that they were naive and therefore potentially negligent in doing their role of keeping Ravi accountable as a Christian minister.
“Plausible explanations were offered, and I am embarrassed to say that I too easily trusted what I was told.” – John Dickson
John Dickson, an Australian author and historian with close ties to RZIM, says about the Baker-Hytch letter, “I am devastated.”
“I knew about the rumours, but it was always explained to me by RZIM officials as scurrilous gossip intended to bring down a good organisation. Plausible explanations were offered, and I am embarrassed to say that I too easily trusted what I was told. But it is clear to me from this leaked letter – at least reading between the lines – that one of the most important intellectuals in the RZIM team (Max Baker-Hytch) fears the very worst about all of the allegations concerning Ravi.
“He also seems to have experienced obfuscation and a lack of sincerity from the very top of the organisation. That is not the organisation I have known and loved for more than 20 years, but I also know that Max is about as trustworthy and mild-mannered a human being as you will ever meet. Apart from anything else, someone in leadership at RZIM – one of the recipients of the letter presumably – seems to have leaked this letter. I am sure Max is not alone in feeling that there is a very real possibility that RZIM has betrayed the public trust, numerous women, and the Lord himself.”
Dickson describes an earlier experience of Zacharias: “I found him humble, passionate, and godly. And when he invited me to join his speaking team, I was very tempted.”
“It’s just that I felt I could do more good in Australia pursuing a different path, especially setting up the Centre for Public Christianity. In some ways, I ended up having the best of both worlds. I got to develop my own approach to reaching Australia, and I also occasionally joined the RZIM team for conferences and outreaches in Asia, the US, and the UK.
“More recently, I have taught the historical Jesus each year at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, a subsidiary of RZIM. Some of the key speakers in RZIM, especially people like Amy Orr-Ewing, are among the most gifted communicators I know. I count it a privilege to call them friends.”
Eternity understands that Oxford Professor John Lennox – perhaps the most high profile adjunct for RZIM – no longer wishes to continue his association with the organisation.
Eternity is told that nomenclature within RZIM is revealing. If the Zacharias issues are regarded as “attacks” by a RZIM staffer, then that person retains a very high view of Zacharias. But if a staffer regards them as “allegations,” it is a sign they give them credibility. And, with it being “almost half and half among the staff”, RZIM appears to be two organisations at present.
There is a transatlantic aspect to the organisation that may explain this: RZIM has both a North American board and a UK one.
In North America, a number of the RZIM board are Trump supporters operating within a celebrity pastor culture. The “plausibility structure” of at least that part of the RZIM organisation is based on a high degree of admiration for Zacharias, to the point that the Board has found it hard to hold him accountable. In contrast, Eternity has been told that the UK board has not been happy.