Well-known Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, who died last spring, is guilty of "sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape" of multiple women over the course of several years, the global evangelical organization he founded announced in an open letter this week.
"It is with shattered hearts that we issue this statement," the organization, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, wrote following the completion of an investigation ordered by the organization last fall after a report published by Christianity Today detailed allegations that Zacharias sexually harassed multiple massage therapists employed at two Atlanta-area day spas co-owned by the evangelist.
After initially denying the allegations against Zacharias, claiming that they "do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades," RZIM acknowledged this week that credible evidence uncovered during the investigation had changed its perspective.
"We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation," RZIM's statement said. "We are devastated by what the investigation has shown and are filled with sorrow for the women who were hurt by this terrible abuse."
The independent law firm that conducted the probe, Miller & Martin PLLC, published its findings on Tuesday, outlining a troubling pattern of abuse. In the report, more than a dozen massage therapists, who were typically much younger than him, spoke out about frequent inappropriate behavior and alleged that Zacharias often tried "for more than a massage."
"Eight therapists reported that Mr. Zacharias would start the massage either completely nude or would remove the sheets during the massage. Six therapists reported that he always or almost always had an erection during the massage. Four therapists reported that he would either touch his genitals or ask them to touch his genitals. And five therapists reported that he touched or rubbed them inappropriately," the report stated.
One massage therapist "reported details of many encounters over a period of years that she described as rape," the report stated. She noted that while her relationship with Zacharias started out as a normal therapist-client relationship it evolved over time until she came to think of him as a "father figure." He came to elicit personal information from her and eventually required sex.
According to the report, "She said he warned her not ever to speak out against him or she would be responsible for the 'millions of souls' whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged."
Several of the therapists alleged that Zacharias would offer ministry funds to provide financial support only to pressure them later to perform sexual favors.
The investigation also reportedly uncovered that Zacharias would often inappropriately engage in text and email relationships with women. A probe of his electronic devices found that he had more than 200 massage therapist contacts in his cellphones and more than 200 selfies from younger women, some of them nudes.
In 2017, a woman named Lori Anne Thompson came forward alleging that after she confided in the evangelist about her history of abuse, the evangelist began soliciting sexually explicit text messages from her. At the time, Zacharias denied the allegations, claiming that Thompson was attempting to extort him and RZIM failed to commission an independent investigation into the matter. But with the new revelations, RZIM has now restated its opinion on the incident.
"The investigation's conclusions have caused us to think very differently about the allegations Mrs. Lori Anne Thompson made against Ravi in 2017. 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," RZIM stated. "We believe Lori Anne Thompson has told the truth about the nature of her relationship with Ravi Zacharias."
Before his death from cancer at age 74 last May, Zacharias was a renowned evangelist and author who traveled the world encouraging Christians to think critically and challenging skeptics to embrace Christianity. He was known for his brilliant mind and captivating manner of speech. His specialization was in apologetics, or the passioned defense of the faith, and his ministry's motto is: "Helping the thinker believe. Helping the believer think."
The report is undoubtedly devastating to Zacharias' reputation as a winsome and upstanding evangelical leader and, perhaps even more sadly, will be devastating to the many followers he attracted throughout his decades of global ministry.
In a statement posted to RZIM's website on Thursday, the organization said, "The circumstances and events relating to our founder, Ravi Zacharias, have been a shock, a horror, and a source of deep grief to us all and to the public who follow this ministry. As painful as these revelations have been, we must recognize the Lord's hand in bringing these deep-seated sins to light. As a ministry committed to the public proclamation and defense of the gospel, it is incumbent upon us to discover the facts and follow them wherever they lead, with a view to pursuing repentance, restitution, and restoration that matches the rigor and transparency of the investigation itself.
"It is in light of these principles that we believe it is important to take these steps publicly. We pray for God's grace and mercy for all, and for restoration that brings peace, hope, forgiveness, and change where most needed," the statement continued.
Last year, a memorial service was held to honor Zacharias' life, during which many well known evangelical guest speakers took the stage to remember him, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Pastor Louie Giglio, and former NFL player Tim Tebow.
Memorial: Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020) with VP Mike Pence www.youtube.com