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Nate Jackson / Feb. 15, 2021

Et Tu, Ravi?

The late Ravi Zacharias is accused of sexual misconduct.

The late Ravi Zacharias was a Christian apologist and evangelist beloved by many. He was a man who, when he died last May at age 74, left behind a legacy of love and truth and faithful living. Or so we thought.

Upon his death, our Thomas Gallatin reflected on Zacharias’s impact. His 48-year career legacy included founding Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) in 1984, as well as authoring more than 30 books and preaching in more than 70 countries. Millions of people benefited from his gospel message.

Yet after his death — when he is no longer here to defend himself — rumors began circulating of sexual abuse accusations against him. Could it be that this seeming giant of Christian faith lived a double life, preying on several women from his position of power and authority?

It seems the answer is yes.

“It is with shattered hearts that we issue this statement about the allegations against RZIM’s Founder, Ravi Zacharias,” wrote the ministry’s board in an open letter. Last year, the board commissioned the law firm Miller & Martin PLLC to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations, and with this letter releases that report “in the exact form that we received it.” It is damning and tragic.

If the accusations are true, and the evidence suggests they are, then Ravi Zacharias victimized multiple women. It is to them first that our hearts go out. The same was true of the board, which wrote:

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. 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.

Beyond the direct victims are those closest to Ravi. “The findings of this investigation and their public release will be devastating to Ravi’s wife, son, and daughters, and to his entire family,” the board wrote. “Our hearts are broken for them, and we grieve with the weight of being part of this unimaginable pain.”

The board’s gut-wrenching letter described how recent months were in fact not the first time such allegations had been made. One accuser, Lori Anne Thompson, came forward in 2017, and the board apologizes now with “shattered hearts” and “profound grief” for not believing her, and for “both privately and publicly perpetuat[ing] a false narrative.” Ravi was alive then, and he did deny the charges, even claiming to be the victim, which only added to his shame. He ended up suing Thompson, only to pay her $250,000 to eventually settle with a nondisclosure agreement attached. The board didn’t fully investigate, including allowing Zacharias to refuse review of his phone records.

Now that he’s gone and can no longer shield himself from investigation, Christianity Today reports, “Even a limited review of Zacharias’s old devices revealed contacts for more than 200 massage therapists in the US and Asia and hundreds of images of young women, including some that showed the women naked. Zacharias solicited and received photos until a few months before his death.”

The investigative report notes that one woman accused him of rape, saying that he “made her pray with him to thank God for the ‘opportunity’ they both received.” She added that “he called her his ‘reward’ for living a life of service to God, and he referenced the ‘godly men’ in the Bible with more than one wife.” He warned her that she would be responsible for millions of people hurt by damage to his reputation.

Zacharias evidently silenced and marginalized those who even questioned the appearance of impropriety when he would travel with only a female personal masseuse, using his back pain as an excuse. He seemingly acted in textbook fashion to cover his offenses, threatening women and blocking accountability. He was a man who evidently used his power and authority to gratify his own lusts, all while surrounding himself with people who would validate instead of challenge him — people more invested in their own role and reputation in a ministry than in the truth.

In much of this, he was like Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr., Hillsong’s Carl Lentz, and far too many others.

At great length, the board now confesses its own shortcomings in oversight and handling of both Ravi and the accusations against him. The failures of many people around Zacharias were numerous and profound, and accountability should come. The board’s confession and public pledge seems to be an example of what owning up to negligence and working to rectify it should look like, but the letter is anonymous. Who will be held accountable for this now that Ravi is gone? He cannot defend himself, let alone answer for his sins. Who failed in allowing him to continue, looking the other way or even enabling him, and what will happen to them? No one at RZIM has publicly resigned. There will apparently be layoffs, but will they include merely low-level and powerless people, or the people at the top — people who should not have given Zacharias a free pass?

It’s worth remembering the biblical doctrine of the total depravity of humans. People are the worst, broken in every way and capable of awful things. It’s amazing that God saves any of us. Of course, Jesus does save sinners. Perhaps that still includes Ravi Zacharias, who was guilty of more and worse sins than the millions of people who benefited from his ministry ever knew. And most of all we hope his victims will find refuge in the Lord — even refuge from a man who apparently did unspeakable things in His name.

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