Overview:

A new report sheds light on the lack of oversight that allowed Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias to get away with abuse for years.

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The late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias turned out to be a sex predator. And now we know just how little the people running Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) did to put a stop to his bad behavior. A new report released by a group investigating the ministry in the wake of the sexual abuse revelations found plenty of complicity and financial shenanigans by the people closest to him.

The Ravi Zacharias scandals

For those who aren’t familiar with Zacharias, he was arguably the most famous Christian apologist in recent history. But after he died in May of 2020—with Vice President Mike Pence speaking at his funeral—former workers at two health spas he owned in Georgia said Zacharias had been “sexually out of control with the female therapists over whom he had professional power.”

RZIM responded by promising to conduct an independent investigation into the matter. In December of 2020, a preliminary report warned his followers that there was “significant, credible” evidence that the late apologist was guilty of sexual misconduct and more.

While the details were not provided at the time, a separate investigation by Daniel Silliman at Christianity Today had three women on the record saying Zacharias “touched them inappropriately, exposed himself, and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of about five years.” One woman said he had masturbated in front of her over 50 times, in addition to propositioning her for sex.

All of this was in addition to a very different kind of stain on his reputation near the end of his life, when we learned he had been lying about his credentials for years, suggesting he had multiple earned doctorate degrees (he did not), affiliations with prestigious universities (nope), and honorary titles (false). He wasn’t “Dr. Zacharias.” He was Ravi the Liar. (Who knew at the time that those scandals were mild compared to what lay ahead?)

It wasn’t just the women at the spa, either. Zacharias, we learned after his death, had carried on an intimate (albeit virtual) relationship with a married woman, Lori Anne Thompson. He denied those rumors in his final years and claimed the woman was extorting him for cash. But after the ministry and the woman settled their legal case out of court, both sides were bound by a non-disclosure agreement. (After hearing about the women from the health spa, the married woman and her husband spoke out anyway.) But that NDA also allowed Zacharias to continue preaching without having to speak about that scandal. It was a gift for him.

After the Christianity Today report came out, RZIM hired a law firm to do an independent investigation of the claims. The final report not only confirmed the details of the story, it shed light on even more sordid details. We found out there were at least five additional victims, alleged sexual abuse in foreign countries where Zacharias traveled and lived, over 200 sexually explicit photos of women on Zacharias’ phone (not illegal, but certainly hypocritical given his Christian message), proof that he used tens of thousands of dollars from the ministry to fund the lifestyles of four different massage therapists (one of whom said he “required sex” from her in exchange), and evidence of spiritual abuse to stop his victims from speaking out against him.

The ministry said at the time, “We regret that we allowed our misplaced trust in Ravi to result in him having less oversight and accountability than would have been wise and loving.”

The Guidepost Solutions report

The sheer number of scandals led RZIM to hire another independent group, Guidepost Solutions, to investigate how the hell all of this could’ve happened. Yesterday, a year after they were first hired, the public learned what they had uncovered. It’s all damning. All of it.

Daniel Silliman, who’s been on top of this story since the sexual abuse scandal broke, got a copy of the report before it went public, and the details are unbelievable.

The report concludes that RZIM’s reputation was severely damaged not only by Zacharias’s moral failures but also by catastrophic lapses of ministry oversight and leadership.

“RZIM heavily and unjustifiably relied on Zacharias’s representations, many of which were discernibly dubious,” the report says. “Their veneration (bordering on devotion) for Zacharias and his family contributed to a culture that discouraged honest and open discussion about Zacharias’s conduct and valued loyalty to Zacharias above almost all else.”

Among the findings was the fact that, despite saying no ministry funds were used to pay for Zacharias’ legal defense in Thompson’s lawsuit, RZIM actually spent close to $1 million of donors’ money on it.

That included a loan to Zacharias himself for $260,000… which covered the $250,000 settlement. Which was then followed by a $400,000 bonus payment to Zacharias… which helped pay off the earlier loan and covered his taxes. Considering that the ministry paid $560,000 to the law firm defending him in the lawsuit, that’s $960,000 in total paid for by the ministry to defend Zacharias in a lawsuit that he once insisted was an attempted extortion. All while telling the public “no ministry funds were used” for any of it.

The ways the ministry handled those finances was so twisted, it would make a pretzel jealous:

The payments, however, were not processed with other invoices. The law firm did not send bills to RZIM’s financial office. It sent them instead to one board member, who would personally contact the chief financial officer, who then instructed finance personnel to pay the bills without reading them, according to Guidepost.

How on earth could RZIM spend that much money defending their namesake without asking any serious questions along the way? That’s what happens when you’re basically involved in a cult. You take the leader’s word for everything. Critical questions go right out the window. It didn’t help that RZIM staffers included plenty of family members, who had even less of a reason to challenge Zacharias.

What we should learn from RZIM

But they weren’t running a fan club; they were running a ministry funded by donors who thought they were paying for something very different. They’re either guilty of lying to Christians or neglecting to do their duties. In an unsigned letter introducing the Guidepost report, RZIM said, “Regretfully, we trusted and defended a man of whose integrity we were firmly convinced.” As if this was all Zacharias’ fault alone and not theirs for failing for provide proper oversight.

They also deny unnamed aspects of the report, saying, “we do not agree with everything in it. We believe there are inaccurate accounts or pieces of information that were either overlooked or omitted by Guidepost and we disagree with some characterizations therein.”

Among the nearly two dozen recommendations in the report, there are calls to change RZIM’s leadership, provide more transparency and accountability, and adopt policies that any decent non-profit group would have had in place from the beginning. But an even better solution wasn’t listed in the report at all: Just shut down the whole damn operation. It’s not worth it.

When it comes down to it, RZIM and Zacharias serve as cautionary tales of how a famous Christian apologist was able to get away with utter hypocrisy and sexual abuse for many years all because he kept tossing around the word “Jesus.” His family members and close employees were so riveted by his promotion of Christianity, they never bothered to question his actions. They were so busy trying to convince atheists to become Christians that they never considered the possibility that they were the monsters. Zacharias was a far worse human being than the non-Christians he thought needed to be “saved.”

We’ve always known Christianity isn’t a virtue. This latest report shows us that Zacharias got away with abuse for a long time precisely because he was known as a man of faith and he was shielded by those running his ministry. These things aren’t unique to him or RZIM, but unless more Christians are willing to treat their ministries as businesses and their heroes as fallible, we’re bound to hear more stories just like this one.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.