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Zacharias investigation finds “serious” misconduct

RZIM releases initial investigation findings showing “credible evidence” of apologist’s longtime sexual misconduct

Zacharias investigation finds “serious” misconduct

Ravi Zacharias speaks in 2016 during the Society of World Changers induction ceremony at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind. (Jeff Morehead/The Chronicle-Tribune via AP)

Warning: This report contains graphic accusations about sexual activity.

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) released an interim report Wednesday on sexual misconduct accusations against its founder, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who died earlier this year. 

“Sadly, the interim investigation update indicates this assessment of Ravi’s behavior to be true—that he did indeed engage in sexual misconduct,” the executive committee of the RZIM board said in a statement upon releasing the interim investigative report from Atlanta law firm Miller & Martin. The board said it would speak “more comprehensively” when the full report was available, which it estimated would be in January or February. 

RZIM contracted a law firm to conduct an independent investigation after news reports this fall on Zacharias’ purported mistreatment of women at spas he owned.

In a September report, Christianity Today published anonymous accusations from several massage therapists who said Zacharias sexually harassed them, masturbated in front of them, and touched them inappropriately. Zacharias partially owned two Atlanta spas he visited regularly. 

WORLD also interviewed spa employees, including longtime manager Anna Adesanya, who said a therapist was fired after complaining about Zacharias asking for “more than a massage.” 

The interim report released Wednesday did not detail specific instances but said it had uncovered new “more serious” misconduct. 

“[W]e have found significant, credible evidence that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual misconduct over the course of many years,” wrote Lynsey Barron, a former prosecutor in charge of the Miller & Martin investigation. “Some of that misconduct is consistent with and corroborative of that which is reported in the news recently, and some of the conduct we have uncovered is more serious. Our investigation is ongoing, and we continue to pursue leads.” 

RZIM’s initial statement this fall dismissed the spa accusations as “false.” RZIM had also in 2017 dismissed accusations of sexual misconduct against Zacharias from Lori Anne Thompson, a Canadian woman. 

Now RZIM has pledged to release to the public Miller & Martin’s full, unedited report as given to the board. That transparency from an organization under this kind of shadow is unusual. 

“We are heartbroken at learning this but feel it necessary to be transparent and to inform our staff, donors, and supporters at this time, even while the investigation continues,” said the RZIM board. “In the meantime, we share your compassion for any victims of this conduct, and we appreciate your prayers for them and also for Ravi’s family who have been devastated by this information.”

Barron, the lawyer leading the investigation, said the report would center on the spa accusations, but RZIM had given the firm freedom to probe broader accusations. The law firm, which contracted a private investigative firm, said it had interviewed dozens of witnesses and reviewed documents and electronic data from Zacharias. 

The Christian & Missionary Alliance, the denomination in which Zacharias was an ordained minister, also this fall commissioned an independent investigation into his misconduct. It had previously defended him when Thompson’s accusations first surfaced in 2017. 

Some RZIM staffers had been pushing ministry leaders and its board to take the womens’ accusations seriously and to share the results of the investigation publicly. 

RZIM staffer Carson Weitnauer wrote publicly this week about the accusations, sharing his longtime admiration of Zacharias and his slow realization of the apparent pattern of Zacharias’ misconduct. He said ministry leadership initially discouraged and dismissed his questions about the accusations.  

“I confess that my longing for the approval of others kept me from asking hard questions and accepting the painful truth much sooner,” he wrote. “[W]e must not silence those who tell us the truth about Ravi’s egregious abuses … May God give us the clarity and courage we need to become faithful advocates for the survivors of abuse—and to deter such abuse from occurring in the future.”

Emily Belz

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the The New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @emlybelz.

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  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Thu, 12/24/2020 10:24 am

    This is crushing news. His poor wife and family. Betrayal is heartbreaking in any form but to now know that your husband, whom everyone loved and held in high esteem, committeed ongoing sexual betrayal s devastating. Thank God she has her Lord and children to lean on.

  • mjr59
    Posted: Thu, 12/24/2020 12:49 pm

    It breaks my heart; Ravi living a lie, for his family and the RZIM ministry.  I attended an RZ School of Apologetics years ago here in S FL.  Ravi became a mentor in absentia from books and video materials used in the curriculum.  I met him and esteemed him on the level of Billy Graham or other evangelical luminaries. 

    However sad it is, I have also witnessed the fall of many Christian superstars, some I called pastor, and others we have all observed on the international stage. Discernment through the years teaches us to test the truth the preacher preaches and look for the kinks, understanding the vulnerabilities of those whose outreach and power become great. As a scarred, healthy skeptic, I am saddened that I am less shocked than I should be.  

    Where did the hedges of protection fall and fail?  Billy took the admirable precaution of never being alone with a woman.  Wake up sleepers and know who is prowling like a lion.  Once stardom is achieved, it is too easy to believe the accolades and press clips opening the door to become lion fodder.   

    Thank you to RZIM for your transparency, despite the devastation to the organization and the people who also esteemed Ravi and knew him well.  It was a grave betrayal that God can use for good through painful, honest reporting, forgiveness, and reconciliation.   

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Thu, 12/24/2020 02:04 pm

    Thanks so much, Emily Belz, for following up on this! Though the truth is painful here, it is important for it to come out.  And, for anyone discouraged by news like this, I would simply remind them that the Gospel is true nonetheless.  Christianity teaches that sin is pervasive in humanity; that is why Christ's sacrifice on our behalf and for His glory is such good news!

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Thu, 12/24/2020 06:00 pm

    "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much." 

    Mr. Zacharias's swerve from total truthfulness regarding his academic credentials  was a telling sign. How heartbreaking for his family and friends but...the women who brought allegations much deserve our prayers for their healing and our appreciation for their courage.

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Mon, 12/28/2020 03:25 pm

    By now most of us reading this have experienced the disheartening fall of several esteemed leaders.  A question for RZIM, is after the investigation is completed and apologies and reparations are made?

    Ravi wrote books, and has vast numbers of talks on media.  Most of us reading this would agree that the substance of his talks is solid. Should these continue to be disseminated, or closeted? Ravi's "star power" and credibility is badly tarnished, so I would think his works need to be closed down.

    On the other hand, the staff of RZIM should continue their apologetics ministry, but under a new organization. RZIM as an organization should be closed out after the investigation and reparations and apologies.

    What do others reading this think?