The women who accused Zacharias of sexual misconduct described a pattern, according to CT: They said Zacharias gained their confidence and learned their life stories, which included instances of sexual abuse.
That is also what Lori Anne Thompson claims Zacharias did to her.
Thompson and husband Brad met Zacharias at a donor event in 2014 and began communicating with the apologist by email, at first about Zacharias’ ministry. Soon Lori Anne Thompson was the only one communicating with Zacharias. In an account that she wrote later, she said that the situation escalated from a ministry relationship, in which she confided to Zacharias her background as a sexual abuse survivor, to one where he was requesting explicit photos of her and engaging in phone sex.
The Thompsons are now forbidden by a confidential settlement agreement from talking about what happened. But Lori Anne’s sister, Tamara Battiste, released Lori Anne’s pre-settlement account. Battiste also had phone records and email records between Zacharias and Thompson. Independent reporter and blogger Julie Roys first published those records, some of which WORLD has also obtained independently.
Battiste said her sister confessed the adulterous relationship to her in 2016. She said Zacharias would call Thompson constantly, request nude photos, and initiate phone sex.
RZIM, in a recent statement on these allegations, said Zacharias had never been alone with Thompson. But Thompson had never claimed they were alone. RZIM also said there was no evidence Zacharias had ever solicited photos from her. Thompson’s pre-settlement statement said Zacharias did ask for photos of her scantily clad, and she eventually progressed to sending him nude photos of herself. She said she deleted all of their email exchanges at the time “out of an earnest desire to protect him.”
In her account, Thompson acknowledged her complicity in engaging in the relationship but also felt a mix of “victimization, sin, shame, and sorrow.” She felt Zacharias had taken advantage of the knowledge that she had been sexually abused by her father, engaging in a paternal relationship that turned sexual.
As Roys reported and Battiste confirmed, Thompson went to Biblical counselors to try to save her marriage in 2016. After confessing the relationship to her counselors, she emailed Zacharias, saying she was going to confess to her husband. According to Battiste’s email records, Zacharias responded by apparently threatening to kill himself, saying, “If you betray me here I will have no option but to bid this world goodbye I promise.” Thompson’s account and Zacharias’ lawsuit both reference his suicide threat, although Zacharias’ lawsuit argued it was a threat over “his reputation being unfairly tarnished.”
Battiste said Thompson texted her about Zacharias’ threat when it happened, asking what she should do. Thompson’s counselors wrote directly back to Zacharias from her email account asking about his well-being, according to Roys’ records, and he responded to say he was fine.
Battiste, a former missionary to Africa, said that after seeing so much “corruption in ministry,” she no longer attends church, although she maintains a private faith.
“I would like to see a little bit of accountability,” she said.
Eventually, the Thompsons consulted a lawyer, who in 2017 wrote a private letter to Zacharias seeking a $5 million settlement and accusing him of taking advantage of Lori Anne while acting as a “spiritual guide.” The letter stated that after Lori Anne confessed the relationship to her husband, their marriage suffered and Brad became suicidal.
In response to the letter, Zacharias filed a federal lawsuit against the Thompsons. The lawsuit accused the couple of extortion and pointed to a previous lawsuit Brad had filed against a pastor as evidence that he was a serial extorter. It used excerpts of emails to paint Lori Anne as a manipulative woman who was scheming to ruin Zacharias.
The lawsuit also claimed the Thompsons were “experiencing significant financial distress” and had believed that “depicting an inappropriate relationship (in person, online, or otherwise) between Ms. Thompson and a prominent, pious individual like [Zacharias] would enable them to force the individual to pay an exorbitant sum of money under the threat of the disclosure.”
But tax documents, which WORLD obtained, show the Thompsons to be relatively prosperous, making about $443,000 the year Zacharias sued them and giving $50,000 of that to charity. That year Brad’s electrical business also gave $149,000 to ministries including UCB Canada, a Christian broadcasting company that had aired Zacharias’ broadcasts.
Yet the Zacharias lawsuit accused the Thompsons of “demonstrated criminal conduct” and said their “scheme” was “extreme, outrageous, and shocks the conscience.” It demanded compensation for Zacharias’ emotional distress.
Employment lawyer Ed Sullivan, who was not involved in the case but regularly handles such cases, told me demand letters like the Thompsons’ are normal. He said an attorney can put a specific settlement amount in a letter to show how confident he feels about the case. Usually, cases settle for about 20 percent of the demand, so if the Thompsons’ lawyer asked Zacharias for $5 million, that would communicate they likely wouldn’t settle for less than $1 million.
But he noted that a person with deep pockets can “fight a two-front war” by filing his own lawsuit, as Zacharias did. Even if you make $400,000 a year like the Thompsons, “you are going to have financial difficulties defending a lawsuit,” said Sullivan. That “drives your settlement strategy, and lowers the amount.”
After the Thompsons settled in 2017, Zacharias released a statement to CT defending his character. (The Thompsons’ lawyers maintain the statement violated their settlement’s confidentiality agreement.)
“In my 45 years of marriage to Margie, I have never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind,” Zacharias said at the time. “I love my wife with all my heart and have been absolutely faithful to her these more than 16,000 days of marriage, and have exercised extreme caution in my daily life and travels, as everyone who knows me is aware. I have long made it my practice not to be alone with a woman other than Margie and our daughters—not in a car, a restaurant, or anywhere else.”
That statement is now in question with the accusations that he at least spent time alone with women at the spa.
The Christian & Missionary Alliance said it was assessing “additional steps” after the latest reports. In March 2018, the C&MA said Zacharias would retain his ministerial credentials in the denomination after it had conducted a “thorough inquiry” into the accusations involving Lori Anne Thompson. At the time, the denomination said it had interviewed those involved and reviewed “all available documentation and records … the available evidence does not provide a basis for formal discipline under the C&MA policy.” (Thompson told me the denomination never contacted her, but she reached out to the denomination after learning there was an investigation.)
Now the C&MA says it will look at any new information in relation to the spas or the Thompson allegations.
“These recent allegations about Mr. Zacharias have raised concern over the C&MA’s decision in 2018 to retain Mr. Zacharias’ ministry credentials,” said spokesman Peter Burgo in a statement. “This decision was made based on what was known about Mr. Zacharias’ personal behavior and ministry activities at that time.”