My Response to the Ravi Zacharias Scandal

This is one of the most difficult articles that I have ever written, but it had to be done because of the seriousness of the abuses that have been both documented and alleged by investigations into the sexual abuse charges regarding the late Christian apologist, Dr. Ravi Zacharias.  One year ago, I wrote a letter (which was published on Pastor’s Desk - May 20, 2020) on behalf of MFGC to the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM) to extend our condolences on the passing of Ravi.  We could not have been more proud of the “best Christian apologist ever”, who just happened to be an immigrant from India.  We shared a common ancestry, a common immigrant-American citizen experience, and a common purpose: to see souls brought to salvation by preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The funeral service was decidedly heroic in the Christian sense, an event trying to capture a similar aura to that of Dr. Billy Graham’s funeral service in 2017, including a casket made by prisoners in Angola State Prison in Louisiana.  Vice President Mike Pence came personally to eulogize a man whom he had invited to the VP residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. to speak at prayer meetings where hundreds of people were invited to hear the eloquent gospel message from Ravi.  Kayleigh McEnany (President Trump’s impeccable press secretary) sent a tearful video message of how Ravi’s powerful apologetics and Gospel presentations revived and stabilized her in the faith while she was a student in Oxford University.

Many other dignitaries from around the world spoke, as did many leaders in Christian ministry.  Anyone who was part of the “Who’s Who” list of the Christian world made it a point to extend their condolences, and for good reason.  The prevailing thought at the time was that the life and ministry of Ravi Zacharias had been just as big a blessing to the Church and the cause of Jesus Christ as Billy Graham; “Billy Graham was the greatest preacher of the gospel of all time (a notion that Dr. Graham completely rejected); Ravi Zacharias was the greatest Christian apologist of all time” – this sentiment was routinely repeated.  For many people, and I specifically refer to the Asian-Indian crowd, there was a rush to associate themselves in any way possible.  One fellow at the funeral mentioned how he was personally “the closest person to Ravi” (I assume he was the apologist’s personal assistant); he was saved in Ravi’s ministry after he took time to personally share the gospel to the former Hindu; further, he was baptized by the preacher (in the Indian Ocean I think) and so on and so forth.  The fellow sounded like he wanted to prove the “mantle had passed on to him” personally by Ravi!  Others put clips of weddings he had conducted or special church services he had preached at.  I will not absolve myself at this point; I had invited him to Maranatha Full Gospel Church for general conventions many times but with no success.  But we were content to have received a reply from his ministry that was considerate and expressing to us regret at not being able to come-something I mentioned in our letter of condolence last year, at the time of his passing.

Now, one year later, Ravi Zacharias has become the most infamous pariah to the Christian faith, probably since Judas Iscariot.  This is not a joke.  I am appalled at how many innocent people have become scandalized by the facts that came out regarding accusations of sexual abuse and other private indiscretions that have been coming out since last August.  I will not go into sordid details, but I will mention the story of Lori Ann Thompson, the woman who, along with her husband, Brad, accused Ravi of online sexual abuse (via sexting) in 2017.

Unbeknownst to most of the world at the time, privately, litigation was going on between Ravi and the Thompsons and a non-disclosure agreement was signed between the two parties.  This usually entails financial payments from one party to the other to remain silent (in this case Ravi Zacharias would be paying the money and, both parties would be mutually bound by the agreement, by law, to be silent about the matter).  Except, Ravi and RZIM released a statement through Christianity Today (which explains the journal’s motivation for later chasing after him and this story) which basically portrayed Lori Ann Thompson and her husband, Brad, as predatory extortionists.

They were in a position in which they could not respond while Ravi’s ministry thrived to the point that even young political commentators such as Ben Shapiro made it a point to interview him on his online show.  It must also be said here that the Thompsons (and they have the email evidence as well as the witness of two Christian counselors to prove this) extended mercy, grace, forgiveness and an offer of reconciliation to Ravi before his breaking the NDA between them.  Instead, he virtually destroyed them.  Mrs. Thompson went on to detail (with evidence) the mental breakdown and torment that she and her husband went through, and why.

Lori Ann Thompson was the victim of sexual abuse from an early age of her life, beginning with her father.  Throughout her life (according to her testimony), she has been victimized sexually by other people, including in a church that she and her family attended.  In the aftermath of this last occurrence in her life, she and her husband begin to listen to Ravi on the radio, and as a result, the family began to support the RZIM financially as partners.  Later, they met Ravi at a ministry luncheon and in time, they began a close relationship.

Intent is subjective.  According to the Thompsons, they got into relationship with the hope and expectation of a “father-daughter” relationship, something that Lori Thompson never had as a child but hoped for in the relationship that she had with Ravi; he was, after all, thirty years’ her elder.  Her version of the story at this point is that he groomed her for the later sexting abuse, and she has the emails to back this claim.

I will not go into the details of the abuse, but it should be mentioned that everything that happened next has been investigated and proven by a third-party private investigating firm hired by the RZIM, as have several other abuse claims that have come up subsequently.  Let me speak from a personal point of view now.

I did not want to believe the worst because my family and I have seen the other side of the coin, where horrible rumors are concocted by individuals with financial resources and circles of friends that destroy true men and women of God and their families, with no justice coming down on the victimizers.  That said, I will admit that for those us in the ministry, we want to believe the best in people whom we assume to be the best.

I cannot tell the number of times I have been moved in my spirit and soul at the messages of Ravi Zacharias.  How eloquent and powerful was his defense of the Gospel in universities settings all over the world, and God knows that we need it in the face of skeptics and atheists who repeatedly attacked the Bible and Jesus Christ in the media.  He seemed so kind, so generous, so genuinely concerned for the people that he talked to as well as passionate for the truth that he espoused, that even Pentecostal denominations and institutions invited him to speak at their general conventions and college forums.  How could this man be the man in the EVIDENCE that was brought to the public by the law firm investigating these accusations at the behest of RZIM?

At first, I thought it was an attack on the ministry, and my first inclination was to reach out to some of the people in the RZIM board and perhaps extend advice or help.  After all, RZIM, in my opinion, was not set up like most church ministries.  They had the apologetics ministry side under the leadership of Dr. Abdu Murray on one hand, but also the administrative and business angle on the other under Sarah Zacharias Davis (Ravi’s oldest daughter).  This was a $40 million dollar enterprise, and I am sure that there were more than a few family members and friends who were part of the ministry for business purposes.  I was not sure if they knew how to face what was before them in the way church denominations would have faced such moments; with much prayer in the Spirit, integrity, and discretion.  Without knowing the other side of the story, I was sure that there was going to be a terrible outcome to the whole process of “defending themselves” by laying open all of Ravi’s records, phones, laptops, etc.  What were they thinking?

What was I thinking?  I did not know about the non-disclosure agreement with the Thompsons, and his violating of it.  I did not know about the “spiritual massage parlor” in Georgia and his rape of women there during his therapy session, and then afterwards, praying with one of them, “thanking God for the experience.”  I could not fathom the stupidity of hundreds of lewd pictures on his private computer’s files and email.  And once again, all of this was backed up with evidence, and as President John Adam’s put it, “Facts are stubborn things.”

The last straw came when I watched another longtime Christian apologist, Christian statesman, and longtime family friend of the Ravi Zacharias family, Dr. Josh McDowell finally say “the accusations are true.”  I felt my heart collapse.

A few weeks later, Dr. Abdu Murray, who was similarly devastated, also verified the facts of the accusations and further went on to say that he was taking a pause in the ministry.  From a position of great humility, he even thanked the atheist who had pushed forward the Lori Ann Thompson accusation, saying that the greatest failure of the RZIM was to ignore and treat her story as well as the abuse she went through, with contempt.

The damage is done.  Perhaps the best example of that damage was reading the conclusion of Lori Ann Thompson’s testimony: “I no longer believe in Christianity though I still believe in Jesus.”

When I started to write this article, some well-meaning friends told me not do it, and I understand why they said it.  This article could be perceived as an attack on the Zacharias family, which it is not.  It could be said that this matter is none of our business, but that is not true.  If anything, that letter last year reveals just how much it is our business.  We respected a man and his ministry enough to put our credibility on the line and honor him.  If the facts reveal that our affirmation of him was wrong, then we cannot stick our proverbial heads in the ground and pretend that nothing happened.  I made a decision that I would not be bitter and vile, though this whole episode is nothing but revolting.  It has affected Christian ministry as a whole and especially with regards to the Zacharias family.  Ravi’s daughter, Naomi, was leading Wellspring International, a ministry that deals with the victims of sex trafficking and red light districts of the world.  God only knows what kind of pain and anguish she and other involved in that ministry are feeling today.

I was told by others that “I should not judge lest I be judged.”  Such an idea is patent nonsense, and with regards to Christian ministry, as a pastor and evangelist myself, I cannot allow that idea—out of its Scriptural context—any room whatsoever.  I am not speaking as a critic who wants nothing more than to destroy, but as a servant of God.  The honor of the Ministry is something that must be guarded zealously, otherwise we will become no better than the “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  Are we to tell victims (all victims, not just in this type of crime or situation) just to be quiet and consider their pain as a “service to the Kingdom of God” while their victimizers wreak havoc in secret while they publicly “build the kingdom”?  I am sorry, that cannot work.

If anyone is under the impression that this approach is a good idea, they should look at the nation of Ireland and the Catholic Church there.  For over a thousand years, the Christian ministry begun by the work of St. Patrick was a great and powerful influence in that nation—until 2020.  The people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to hurl Roman Catholicism’s influence and presence out, as much as possible, from the life and law of that nation.  Why?  The short answer: because of hundreds of years of abuse and “looking the other way.”

More than our present humiliation in the aftermath of this scandal, those of us who are involved in ministry in the name of Jesus Christ must take a close look at our own lives and as the Bible commands us, “see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).”  Having been involved in Christian ministry all my life, the accusations made against Ravi Zacharias are not anything new with regards to the world of ministry.  I grew up learning the dictum that the “mission field is a mine field,” but each time, the shock I feel due to the person involved in scandal shakes me to my soul.  And the stories become increasingly more disturbing.

How shall I close this article?  I remember one college forum in which Ravi and the late Nabeel Quereshi were speaking (in any Ivy League university), and during the question period, one young man asked him what was wrong with subjective morality.  (“What is wrong with subjective morality?  I mean, I know right from wrong.  We are not just going to turn into murderers!”)

Ravi started his answer by asking, “Do you lock your door at night?”  And then he proceeded to absolutely break down each point of his argument.  A part of me wants to believe that Ravi was a tormented preacher when he stood on the platform and made his defense of the Gospel, and yet at the moment, he was living by “subjective morality.”  I want to believe that he was shaking in his soul when he was giving a speech based on his book “Can Man Live Without God,” and when he told an audience that Jesus Christ revealed more clearly “mankind’s malady, and the only remedy for it.”  Did he really believe that?   Whether he did or not, what he said was the truth of God’s Word.  I hope that those who heard his messages or talked to him personally will find this to be true and place their faith in Jesus Christ rather than Ravi.

Dr. Haddon Robinson, the late, great professor of Biblical preaching, in a sermon on King David’s sin with Bathsheba, said that sin can be forgiven but “forgiveness cannot wipe out consequences.”  And nowhere in the Bible does it say otherwise.  We the body of Christ will be living with those consequences for years to come, as will RZIM and the Zacharias family.  I hope they (if they read this article) will understand that we say this in sorrow but not with vilification or vindictiveness.

In closing, I call to mind the memory of some unsung heroes in the Bible, namely the men of Jabesh-Gilead in the last chapter of the book of 1 Samuel.  King Saul had died by suicide on Mount Gilboa while the Philistines were devastating the army of Israel.  Three of his sons were dead and Saul and his armor bearer died together at the end.  When the Philistines came to strip the dead, they further defiled the bodies and hung them on the walls of the Temple of Dagon on top of a mountain that overlooks the Jezreel Valley.  Saul died leaving Israel divided and vulnerable from every direction, and this macabre scene was the saddest ending that could be wrought about this man who “carried the anointing of the Lord.”  The men of Jabesh-Gilead could not explain all the reasons for Saul’s destruction, nor could they understand it.  They were not presently concerned at the prospects of a brutal civil war among the tribes of Israel in the near future.  Their only thought was for the disgraceful sight of the former king and his sons, to see their dead, mutilated bodies hanging from the walls of that heathen temple in the sight of all Israel.

The men of Jabesh-Gilead remembered how years ago, when that king had fought his first battle for their salvation from the Ammonites, when they did not have the courage to face that enemy who had threatened to make a similar spectacle of them.  The Bible now referred to these men as the “valiant men of Jabesh-Gilead.”  They decided to go that very night all the way into Philistine territory, to that city and temple that overlooked the Jezreel Valley, and take down the bodies of Saul and his sons, bring them back to Israel and give them a decent and honorable burial, a feat whose bravery was equal to those done by King David’s mighty men.

I thought about that story and wondered whether Ravi Zacharias will have anyone who would extend to him to that courtesy or grace.  If anyone in ministry has a thought that death is the great escape from trouble, then this story is hopefully a sharp wake up call.  My heart goes out to anyone who is involved in Christian Apologetics ministry, who will have the unenviable task of carrying this story for the next few years into the future.  But I pray that God will give those men and women the courage to stand up and do what God would have them do. And maybe someday, this tragedy—this dark shadow—will be wiped out with glory of God as souls come to Jesus Christ for salvation.