When “rape” and “Ravi Zacharias” covered the front news, my wife and I were shocked and in disbelief. After we carefully read over the evidence and reports ourselves, she was furious. I was sick.
There was no doubt that a great evil had happened in Jesus’ name. There was no doubt that it was more serious than any scandal in American Evangelicalism.
It raises many questions:
How could this happen?
Was Ravi a true Christian who just fell into temptation?
Was this just a minor slip-up?
How should this affect Christian communities?
How should we think and talk about this?
What can we do now?
This is Worse
There have been many sexual scandals in Christianity: affairs with secretaries or prostitutes, homosexual affairs, multi-person affairs, fraudulent miracles, stealing funds, cover-ups, and many more affairs. That’s sadly not uncommon, but nothing quite so scandalous as this has ever occurred in our corner of modern Christianity.
What makes this worse?
First, this wasn’t just a local pastor or priest—as awful as that is—but this was an international Christian celebrity. This was a man widely respected by believers and unbelievers alike, in the fields of religion and philosophy, as a Christian and as a thinker.
This man spoke at the most prestigious universities in the world, weighing in on matters as an authority on Biblical truth and virtue. He influenced millions of people through his speaking and writing ministry. He was highly regarded as an embodiment of Christian wisdom and godly temperament.
Second, he wasn’t merely guilty of an affair, or even multiple affairs—as despicable, dark, and destructive as that is. No. This was much more malicious and intentional. Much more deliberate and strategized.
The damage this will do is inconceivable.
While we must be careful not to be driven by morbid curiosity or to take part in gossip or slander, we also must be responsible with the truth so we can know how we should best:
Process this situation with renewed minds
Speak about it with one another and church-skeptics
Ask hard questions about the Evangelicalism that allowed this
Evaluate ourselves, our churches, and our belief structures
Seek repentance for ourselves, our communities, and our belief structures to bring prevention and healing by the power of the Spirit
With these goals in mind, here is a summary of the incident, followed by an examination of why this happened, and how we can move forward. Many of these statements can be found on his ministry’s website.
In 2017, Lori Thompson accused Zacharias of having sexually inappropriate conversations with her, asking for nude pictures, and pressuring her into sexual activities. She claimed that he “groom[ed]” her as he “gained her trust as a spiritual guide, confidante, and notable Christian statesman,” after which she “opened up her life” to him to the point where he “exercised a controlling influence over her as one with spiritual authority.” He used this influence, she claimed, “to exploit her vulnerability to satisfy [his] own sexual desires.”
Zacharias denied and minimized her statements, claiming that she was slandering him, victimizing him, and being used by the Devil to spread Satanic lies against his ministry. He even sued her for extortion. He convinced most of his RZIM staff (and the world of evangelicalism) that he had a minor lapse in judgment but was ultimately innocent of any serious wrong.
Some members of his staff thought his explanations were not satisfying, and that the whole ordeal left many important questions unanswered. But their concerns weren’t taken seriously by the leadership of RZIM.
Zacharias resolved with Lori outside of court with a cash settlement and a non-disclosure agreement to silence her. She has since tried to be released from this.
In May of 2020, Zacharias died at the age of 74 of spinal cancer. He never said anything about what was later exposed (as far as we know). But on the day of his funeral, one of his victims watched the world applaud him as a paragon of Christian knowledge and wisdom, and it urged her to action.
Sickened, she located a reporter who had long been tracing Zacharias’s lies, fraud, and indecent behavior with women in a blog (RaviWatch). After speaking to him, she went forward with her own story of spiritual abuse and forced sexual activities with Ravi Zacharias.
Then other women came forward.
Then a full investigation was launched by RZIM—his own people. Ravi’s mobile and computer devices were explored, unearthing a long history of sexual misconduct and maltreatment against hundreds of women while he was on his worldwide ministry trips.
The allegations were not only true but proved to be much more prolific than originally estimated, and much more horrific than originally imagined.
RZIM then released the investigation to the public, which exposed the following:
Ravi had sexual correspondences with numerous young women
Ravi’s phone contained over 200 sexual photos from hundreds of women
He had many nude photos and a graphic nude video
Ravi requested sexual photos for years and up to just months before his death
He kept a list of translated expressions of a seductive and sexual nature
He used apps to permanently delete text messages
Many eyewitnesses testified about sexually inappropriate, even forceful conduct, labeled “rape”
Multiple testimonies about Ravi using his position of authority to lure and pressure women into sexual activities
He used thousands of dollars from his ministry for sexual favors
He used his father-figure position to encourage women to tell him about their vulnerabilities, and then he intentionally twisted those vulnerabilities to elicit sexual favors
There’s also no evidence that he ever felt remorse, or that he hated what he was doing, or that ever tried to quit his destructive appetites; only that he didn’t want to be exposed or stopped.
The Reaction of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
After hearing of the second allegation, RZIM hired Miller & Martin PLLC, a law firm with experience in corporate sex scandals and crimes, to do a full investigation, keeping nothing off-limits. When RZIM received the damning results, they made a public statement, including:
Confirmation of Ravi’s crimes and sexual abuse
Confirmation of Ravi’s deception and lies
An apology to Lori and her family for compounding the damage caused by Zacharias, and for siding with Ravi over her
A lamentation for the victims, including Ravi’s wife, children, and family
A thank-you to the unsung journalists who helped bring this to light
An admission of fault for trusting Ravi and not providing him with accountability
A commitment to help all Ravi’s victims in any way possible
A commitment to examine their organization for structural flaws that allowed this
A commitment to never allow scandals to take place again
These are some of the highlights from their official statement:
We were wrong. Our trust in Ravi’s denial of moral wrongdoing and in his deceptive explanations of emails and other records that became public was severely misplaced, and our failures in 2017, including our failure to commission an independent investigation at that time, allowed tremendous pain to continue to be caused in the Thompsons’ lives…It is with profound grief that we recognize that because we did not believe the Thompsons and both privately and publicly perpetuated a false narrative, they were slandered for years and their suffering was greatly prolonged and intensified… We regret the statement that we released on September 15, 2020. It lacked compassion and concern and did not communicate that we would take the allegations seriously. Also, it gave the impression that all of RZIM’s staff shared the opinion that the allegations were false. Our statement was wrong in tone and wrong in the impression that it represented our entire staff. We deeply regret that statement, and we are very sorry for it.
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. We also regret the ways that many of us have publicly extolled Ravi’s character and the impact this will have had on victims of his abuse. We now know our words have been hurtful, and that causes us deep sorrow. Moreover, in the wake of the accusations brought against Ravi by the Thompsons in 2017, we communicated our confidence in Ravi’s denial of these accusations, and others trusted Ravi because they trusted us. Through our failure, we made it more difficult for victims to come forward. This grieves us intensely and makes us so thankful that the truth has ultimately been revealed.
Was This a Slip-Up or Something More Sinister?
We have to admit how awful this is. We can’t sugar coat it or mitigate it or minimize it—as Ravi or his staff did. That would be siding with evil.
We have to face reality because this was done in the name of our King, and our faith, and our people. We have to take some responsibility by acknowledging it and doing all we can to bring Jesus’ healing presence to it.
With that intent, I cautiously and carefully make the following observations.
Ravi Zacharias was not only a serial sex offender, but he used his ministry as a platform to engage in and finance his devious behavior, even as he used his intellect and spiritual position to lure vulnerable women into his reach, even as he used his quick wit to cover up his tracks.
Ravi’s activities were exposed to be more than a minor lapse in judgement, or a fall into temptation, but a long history of calculated abuse, deliberate sexual exploitation, and even rape. The investigation uncovered not just a few lies, but a whole web of deceit that he had meticulously constructed with a long series of systematic deceptions that he used to cloak his activities.
When he was caught in highly inappropriate behavior with Lori Thompson, he said that he “should not have engaged in ongoing communication” with a woman who was not his wife. He further claimed, “In my 45 years of marriage to Margie, I have never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind.” He claimed that he had learned a “difficult and painful lesson”.
Sound good? It did to most of his staff and to most of us.
Yet the day after this statement, he elicited nude photographs from other women he had been grooming, and three weeks later he appeared in a picture with a woman who sent him more than 50 images over that next year, including nudes.
This was intentional and this was long-term.
If you doubt it, which is understandable, review the evidence yourself.
The evidence points to something much worse than giving in to temptation—even a horrendous temptation. It describes a long pattern of deliberate violations of vulnerable women. Ravi oppressed these poor woman for his sexual gratification as a representative of Jesus. Again and again and again, for years in the shadows.
Clearly, Ravi used strategy and planning to build an entire second, hidden life.
Imagine the will this takes? The effort he put into this? This wasn’t done impulsively or accidentally. He worked hard at his crimes and deception to a degree that's reminiscent of serial killers who constantly live with their dark deeds and darkened hearts hidden in a secret life. Only the victims know the real them.
The evidence shows not someone who made a mistake, but a predator who loved what he was doing. This is certainly what his victims described him as, and how the RZIM website now portrays him.
This is more than a casual slip-up.
This shows a heart that is committed to walking in darkness.
He never evidenced signs of grief when confronted with Lori Thompson; he rather exploded in anger. His staff recounts a time he was advised about being alone with his masseuse, and he threw a fit of rage against that person, and their relationship never recovered.
He continued to engage in his secret life, pushing young women for sexual pictures nearly up to his death, which was not preceded by any confession of guilt or sorrow.
How Should We Feel?
God, Jesus, and the saints were never shy from calling evil deeds evil. Through the mouth of Nathan, God asked David why he dared “to do what is evil” (2 Sam. 12:9), and why he “despised” God so much by sleeping with Bathsheba and killing Uriah.
Jesus wasn’t shy either about Judas. Though he was made in the image of God and dearly beloved by Jesus, Jesus still told the hard truth that “it would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Mark 14:21).
With that in view, let’s speak the truth. Then let’s feel and act in truth.
Consider who Ravi victimized:
Hundreds of young woman
His wife, children, and family
His friends, ministry, and staff
Everyone he ministered to and influenced
Everyone who will hear about his deeds
Everyone who follows the Jesus Ravi proclaimed
That’s the worst part: he did this all as a representative of the Son of God, the embodiment of love. While he was heralding the name of the Savior who taught self-sacrificial actions to benefit others, Ravi was sacrificing others so he could please himself.
And there is no evidence that he had any regret or repentance.
How should we feel?
Enraged as much as disgusted and saddened. He was a wolf who put on precious Jesus’s sheep clothing to devour the sheep for his sick appetites.
This should upset us in every direction just as if the women were our mothers, or sisters, or daughters, or us.
We should feel how God felt about David’s murder. We should feel how Jesus felt about the Pharisees' systematic oppression. We should feel how Jesus certainly feels about these abuses in his name and the victims who were hurt by it.
What Message Do Ravi’s Deeds Send to the World?
In the world of logical fallacies, the behavior of a person has no technical relation to the validity of that person’s statements. If Hitler said, “Jesus is God”, the truthfulness of this claim would not be affected by what he did.
This is called an ad hominem fallacy.
So, while it is technically accurate that Ravi’s lifestyle does not invalidate his assertions about Jesus, it certainly sends a powerful message about Jesus and the gospel that has the potential to reach deeper than any of his ministry efforts.
Actions speak louder than words, and Ravi’s actions will be trumpeting throughout the media outlets for some time to come, echoing in the minds of people who love Jesus, people who hate Jesus, and people who don’t know what to think about Jesus.
Indeed, the far extent of Ravi’s reach throughout the world will now only serve as a springboard to spread the impact of his deed even further.
Think about it.
His actions say a whole lot:
Jesus and Christianity are not practical
The Bible will not actually lead to a God who will meet your needs
God isn’t actually trustworthy or reliable
God is worth talking about, but not worth living for
There’s nothing powerful about the Spirit
There’s nothing in the gospel that outshines sexual deviance
It really doesn’t matter how we live, as long as we think the right things
Abuse is better than love
Authenticity in character is irrelevant
Sexual sin is more fulfilling than Jesus
People aren’t worth being treated with love
People are worth objectifying for personal gain
It makes the gospel look ineffectual for meeting our needs, and impractical for real problems. It makes it seem as if there is nothing in God worth living for and nothing in Jesus worth dying for.
It shows the world, again, that a person can appear close to Jesus, know an incredible amount about the Bible, and be trusted by millions in the Christian community, and yet center their life around exploiting others in the most devious, perverted ways.
Ravi spent his public life proving the truthfulness of the gospel, but the deeds of his secret life will powerfully prove it can all be a sham.
We need to ask how this could happen, and what we can do to bring healing and prevention.
How Could This Happen?
It really shouldn’t surprise us that this happened, nor should it shock us that scandals of abuse and sex have multiplied like bacteria in the Evangelical church.
Apart from the wicked nature that we all retain, there are specific traits about the brand of Evangelicalism Ravi swam in that enables this behavior—potentially even encourages it.
Ask yourself these questions about mainstream Evangelicalism:
What is the central focus: actions, words, or creeds?
What is talked about the most: actions, words, or creeds?
What is valued the most: actions, words, or creeds?
Is the use of one’s body talked about with candid Biblical literacy?
Is daily Christianity presented as reading, praying, arguing, and other intellectual activities, or in actions of self-sacrificial, other-benefiting love?
Do the community structures create a safe place of honesty and accountability?
Do the communities welcome moral struggles and failures?
Is healthy sexuality well-understood and talked about?
It should not be surprising when someone in this ideologically-centered religion lives as if actions don’t matter.
Ravi Zacharias was an apologist, which means he focused on proving the intellectual validity of Christianity.
What is the focus here? The mind.
What is the presupposition here? That how we think is central, which implies that how we live is marginal, and what we do with our bodies is peripheral.
It shouldn’t be surprising when someone whose focus is thinking right thoughts and speaking the right words, who was revered worldwide for his mind and words—it shouldn’t be surprising when they act as if their lifestyle is of minor importance.
As others have said, “There’s an embarrassing gap between the baptism and the funeral.” In other words, Christianity focuses on believing the right things so we can go to heaven when we die, but what we do in the meantime is an afterthought.
A blurry footnote.
Not surprisingly, Ravi was praised for his astounding intellect and ability to communicate well, all the while having no accountability for his actions.
Not surprisingly, Ravi was wildly popular for being smart and able to prove his points with philosophical astuteness, all the while living like the Devil.
The structure I’m describing is not his fault, but all of ours.
The church has a horrendous reputation—and often for good reasons like this—so we must boldly ask hard questions about our brand of Christianity. Rotten fruit like this scandal is growing out of it, so let's examine its roots. And let's be ready to cut it down and start from scratch if need be.
How has the thought structure of our Christianity enabled or even contributed to these issues?
Here are some potential contributors to scandalous living in Christianity because Evangelicalism is ideology-centered, and
Idolizes theology, doctrine, and opinions
Centralizes the doctrine of salvation by faith, which often implies that it doesn’t always matter how we live
Lacks a focus on living out practical, daily, difficult, mediocre love
Appeals to action in terms of moralism, which destroys safe environments
Accountability is rare because the structure is not healthy
Intellectualism rather than kindness is a core value
Judgmentalism rather than acceptance is a core value
What Ravi did should inflame us.
It should grieve us.
It should convict us!
It should motivate us to answer the hard questions to crack away the layer of artificiality and to expose the true heart of Christianity—which is not a creed or theology but living out the love of the living God.
It should drop us to the floor in tears even as it should drive us to our knees in prayer for:
Ravi’s victims and everyone shattered by his actions
Ravi’s wife, children, family, friends, and staff
Ravi’s followers who looked up to him
All those who have doubts about Jesus who will hear about Ravi
All those whose faith may be dented or destroyed by Ravi’s misconduct
The fiery darts of the enemy to be extinguished as the aroma of true Christian healing and humility saturates this situation
And while we’re asking questions and praying, let’s:
Live out our creeds, not just recite them
Live out our theology, not just study it
Live out our doctrines, not just sing about them
Be humble and honest about our own shortcomings
Be realistic and gracious about other’s shortcomings
Welcome and offer accountability
Help create an atmosphere of acceptance and safety
May God have mercy on Ravi Zacharias, for he lost his way.
May God have mercy on us all.