US head of Ravi Zacharias Ministries apologises and global operations wind down

“It may be right for this organisation, at least in its current form, to come to an end.”

The US head of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), Vince Vitale, and his wife Joanna – who also works for RZIM – are the latest to post a public apology and “confession” on their social media accounts.

Ravi Zacharias

“We were wrong and we are profoundly sorry. To all who watch or read this, thank you for allowing us to share a personal confession,” posted the Vitales on both of their Facebook and Twitter pages.

As well as serving as “Americas’ Director”, Vince Vitale is also director of the Zacharias Institute, RZIM’s training facility. Joanna is Dean of Studies at the Zacharias Institute, as well as a speaker for RZIM in the US and formerly in the UK.

The joint confession by the Vitales is part of the continuing fall-out from a report released on February 12 of an investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct of the late Ravi Zacharias. It found significant evidence of sexual misconduct involving massage therapists at day-spas which Zacharias co-owned, as well as evidence of text and email-based relationships with women.

“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,” declared the report by law firm Miller & Martin.

Launched by Zacharias in 1984, 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. In 2019, the ministry received more than $35 million in donations but since the report’s publication, the various international arms of RZIM have been winding down and the global website stripped back.

‘Grieved beyond measure’

When making the joint confession, Vince clarified on Twitter that “although @Joanna_Vitale and I felt a conviction to make this confession together, the responsibility for many of the failures we describe (and others that I am still in the process of recognising and appreciating) falls much more heavily on me because of my leadership roles from 2017 to the present.”

The couple made a full copy of their confession publicly available, and it includes:

“We are grieved beyond measure for every one of the victims who has been abused in such appalling and reprehensible ways by Ravi Zacharias. There are not words to express our grief as strongly as we wish to. Sexual abuse — abuse of any kind — defies everything that the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims about the sacred, intrinsic, undiminishable value of women, and indeed of every single person.”

“We failed to respect Lori Anne Thompson by not giving her the serious attention that she deserved.” – Vince and Jo Vitale

“Over the last several months and especially since the release of the interim report of the investigation in December, we have been asking God to search our hearts, to reveal to us the ways in which we personally have failed. And we have recognised some extremely sobering truths: first, our confidence in our friend, Ravi, was severely misplaced; Ravi abused people in horrific ways and then repeatedly and brazenly lied to our faces. On the heels of these truths came the sickening realisation that by believing Ravi’s lies and then passing on his false narratives, we in turn deeply hurt people — the very people most in need of our care — and we added to their pain. We are sorry. We are so very, very sorry.

“Two of the primary concerns that motivated us to become apologists were, for Vince, a desire to speak hope to the sufferer and, for Jo, a desire to share with women that God sees them as valuable and of sacred worth. It fills us with intense sorrow to know that we have failed in the precise areas that God had asked us to prioritise, and in doing so failed the very people that God asked us to love well.

“In 2017, Lori Anne Thompson came forward with allegations about how she had suffered grievously because of Ravi, and we did not listen. We failed to respect her by not giving her the serious attention that she deserved. We also failed to listen to those who faithfully stood with her and spoke up for her. Shamefully, we were slow to listen and quick to speak, the opposite of what God asks of us.”

The pair go on to say they were “far too quick to accept Ravi’s explanations for emails now made public rather than challenging things that didn’t seem right”.

‘We should have asked for help’

They admit to making “it too easy for Ravi to live a lie”, perpetuating “his false narratives to those who came to us with questions and concerns”. They also defended Ravi when people raised “concerns on numerous occasions”.

“We should have asked for help,” the confession continues. “When allegations were brought against Ravi in 2017, we were in a situation that we did not have the learning and understanding to handle well. We needed expert counsel, especially from survivors and advocates, and not recognising our ignorance was another serious failing of ours.

“Had we sought the right counsel, we could have done a far better job responding to the legitimate questions and concerns that were raised at the time, and we would have been told to recommend a thorough independent investigation. Had such an investigation been done, so much might have come to light and Ravi’s abuse might have been stopped much sooner.”

“… It may be right for this organisation, at least in its current form, to come to an end.” – Vince and Jo Vitale

To the victims of the alleged sexual misconduct by the late Ravi Zacharias – including Lori Anne Thompson and several massage therapists at day spas co-owned by Zacharias – the Vitales said: “We feel a very heavy burden for the ways in which our public honouring of Ravi … will not only have caused further pain to victims, but will have made it even harder for them to share their stories out of fear that no one would believe them. To those of you who were wounded by our words, we are deeply sorry for the hurt that we have caused you.”

“We realise that there are likely many more wrongs that we need to confess that we have not yet had the wisdom or the humility or the courage to be able to identify. As we pray and learn, we hope to increasingly identify selfish dispositions, unhealthy patterns of behaviour, wrong thinking, and specific failures that we are responsible for and need to repent of. We recognsze that this confession is only the very beginning of that process.”

The Vitales also pointed to the possible end of all RZIM operations.

“So much is uncertain about the future, but what we do know is that we serve a God who is infinitely more concerned about the cries of victims than about our reputations, and far more interested in repentant hearts than rebranded ministries. In light of the severity of what has occurred, it may be right for this organisation, at least in its current form, to come to an end. We are at peace with that. We have absolutely no interest in getting back to business as usual,” they write.

“We personally have felt a temptation at times to run from this whole catastrophe, but we believe, especially in light of our personal failures and the responsibility that we personally bear, that God is asking us to focus our full attention on repentance and restitution and learning and serving.”

RZIM winding down around the world

The organisation’s operations have already ceased in many parts of the globe. The latest arm is RZIM Africa, which has pulled down its website except for a statement of lament.

RZIM Africa intends to close down operations for the next three months in order to:

– “Pray for, listen to and learn from victims and victim advocates, seek their forgiveness where appropriate, and take steps that emerge.”

– “Take much-needed rest and pastoral care for our team.

– “Actively lean into disciplines of lament.

– “Wrestle with a theological response and public witness around the themes of these revelations.

– “Continue to engage with our stakeholders in a spirit of humility and transparency as we seek to build on the trust that has over the past years been graciously extended to us.

– “Prayerfully seek God’s guidance on how best to continue with our mandate to preach and defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Africa team, and the nature of our relationship with our founding organisation moving forward.”

RZIM Canada announced on February 18 that it is “winding down operations”, after ceasing to take donations last month.

The UK arm of RZIM, Zacharias Trust –which operates The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics – recently announced its decision to “make a clear separation from the global RZIM organisation”. It will “operate without any link to RZIM US” and will “choose a new name”.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the only two full-time RZIM speakers – Dan Paterson and Jordan Thyer – stepped down before the Miller & Martin report.

While there has been no announcement about closure from the International Board of Directors of RZIM, the organisation’s global website has been drastically stripped back.

There is now only one webpage accessible, containing links to two documents – “Why Make Public a Private Investigation?” and the letter from the International Board of RZIM about the investigation of Ravi Zacharias.