Apologists Say Former RZIM Leaders are ‘Disqualified’ For Unrepentant Abuse and Deceit

By Julie Roys
RZIM Apologist Disqualify
Former RZIM executives Sarah (Davis) Phillips (far left), Abdu Murray (center), and Michael Ramsden (far right) are disqualified from ministry, leading apologists say.

Several leading Christian apologists have released a statement, declaring that three former top executives of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)—Sarah (Davis) Phillips, Michael Ramsden, and Abdu Murray—are “disqualified” from ministry because of unrepentant abuse and deceit.

The apologists—William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, Mike Licona, Debbie Licona, and Paul Copan—said they invested about 1,000 hours investigating “serious injustices and abuses” by Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray against former RZIM employees.

After interviewing 25 people, studying “copious amounts of supporting documentation,” and consulting with experts, the apologists concluded that “abuse and deception” was part of the “organizational culture” at RZIM. The apologists list 18 examples of RZIM’s toxic culture, many stemming from leaders’ attempts to conceal the sex abuse scandal involving the late RZIM founder Ravi Zacharias.

Topping the list is the group’s finding that RZIM’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) of Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray “intimidated, mistreated, or retaliated against” RZIM staff members “who pushed back or asked legitimate questions” from 2017—2021. (Phillips was CEO of RZIM; Ramsden was president; and Murray was vice president and general counsel.)

Ramsden even threatened to extradite RZIM employees in the UK who asked questions about the allegations against Zacharias, the document states. Yet when asked about the alleged threats, Ramsden, a lawyer, reportedly responded, “What is ‘extradite’?”

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Ramsden also reportedly denied being a part of the SLT, despite “extensive documentation and testimony” confirming his role as an SLT team member and president of RZIM.

The document also asserts that the SLT “participated in spiritual and emotional abuse in the ‘conciliation’ practices of Judy Dabler.” Dabler, the discredited founder of Live at Peace Ministries and Creative Conciliation, “was ‘The Enforcer’ brought in by Ramsden and (Davis) Phillips to reign in ‘errant troublemakers’ and bring them in line,” the document states.

“Multiple employees remain in therapy due to their experience during these ‘conciliation’ meetings,” the apologists write. “One employee’s therapist referred to what occurred as ‘psychological torture.’”

Ravi Zacharias Sarah Davis RZIM
Ravi Zacharias and his daughter Sarah (Davis ) Phillips onstage with RZIM President Michael Ramsden and his wife.

Despite these and many other documented offenses, Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray “have not displayed a godly sorrow nor demonstrated the fruit consistent with repentance for their actions,” the apologists wrote.

The apologists noted that Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray have publicly apologized for at least part of their role in the Ravi Zacharias sex abuse scandal and have “acknowledged that ‘mistakes were made.’” (One of the apologists, Sean McDowell, gave Murray a platform on his podcast last year to apologize and explain his actions. McDowell has since removed that podcast from online and apologized to former RZIM staff who objected to the Murray podcast.)

But the apologists added that the three “have not specifically owned their actions or expressed remorse to those they hurt. Nor have they repaired the damage they have caused. . . . Rather, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment amongst Ramsden, (Davis) Phillips, and Murray that they are ‘victims’ of those who went public with their concerns.”

The document concludes that Ramsden, Phillips, and Murray are “disqualified” and “not fit to be in ministry and leadership positions.” The apologists add that they “will not partner with them or endorse their work until the fruit consistent with genuine repentance is evident in their lives.”

Among the list of offenses cited by the apologists is a surprising revelation concerning the late apologist Nabeel Qureshi, who was widely regarded as Zacharias’ well-loved protégé.

According to “multiple sources” interviewed by the apologists, Zacharias became jealous of Qureshi when Qureshi began getting more speaking requests than Zacharias. Zacharias then spread false rumors that Qureshi was a “womanizer” and “an alcoholic,” the document states. Murray then met Qureshi in the Atlanta airport under false pretenses, and with Phillips present, fired Qureshi, the document states.

The Roys Report (TRR) reached out to Murray for comment, but he did not immediately respond.

Abdu Murray RZIM
Former RZIM VP Abdu Murray

Of the three former SLT members, only Murray remains in public ministry. Despite his role in the RZIM scandal, Murray published a book with Zondervan on September 27 called, “More Than a White Man’s Religion,” and the publisher currently hosts a website for Murray.

Murray also has been speaking at churches and conferences, and recently appeared on Moody Radio’s Chris Fabry Live.

He was scheduled to speak at the Colson Center’s Great Lakes Symposium on Christian Worldview this summer. However, after The Roys Report (TRR) reached out to Colson Center President John Stonestreet, inquiring about Murray’s appearance, Murray was quietly removed from the program.

More examples of alleged abuse and deceit

The apologists state that the offenses listed are not “a comprehensive report of all that took place at RZIM, but rather a summary of the types of abuse and deception that were representative of RZIM’s organizational structure.” These include:

  • When Ramsden discovered that information he had given RZIM staff was false, he “made no efforts to correct the record.” For example, Ramsden told RZIM staff that “no money had exchanged hands” with Lori Anne Thompson for a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Yet, once Ramsden learned that wasn’t true, he said nothing.
  • The SLT maintains employees who went public with their concerns were wrong for doing so. Ramsden claims they were “part of ‘The Resistance’ to bring the ministry down.”
  • Former RZIM employees who pushed Phillips “to handle certain questionable situations were reprimanded by her for insurbordination, accused of gossip or other spiritualized scolding by Ramsden and others, and sidelined for challenging leadership.” Witnesses of this behavior remain “afraid of retaliation or further trauma.”
  • Former RZIM spokesperson Ruth Malhotra was forced to go on extended leave “due to pressure” from the SLT and Zacharias. According to “testimony and documentation,” Ramsden and Murray were concerned Malhotra had compiled a “dossier to take down the ministry.” Before Malhotra went on her leave, “all her work electronic devices were confiscated (including passwords).” At the same time, Zacharias “refused to turn over his devices.”
  • The SLT engaged in a “smear campaign” against Malhotra and another employee who wished to remain anonymous. “Members of the SLT told other staff members that these two employees were emotional, disloyal, and untrustworthy.”
  • Despite Phillips assurance that RZIM staff wouldn’t have to sign NDAs, RZIM required Malhotra, to sign an NDA to receive severance. Malhotra refused and received no severance. Similarly, former RZIM director, Carson Weitnauer, had to engage in “three months of difficult legal negotiations” to avoid signing an NDA.
  • Several former RZIM employees remain in therapy because of the actions of the SLT. RZIM initially paid for counseling but has stopped doing so.

Though the focus of the apologists’ investigation was the SLT, the statement adds that the RZIM Executive Committee of the Board, which remains anonymous, “egregiously failed in its duties.”

“Not only did it fail to hold Zacharias accountable, it did not even look at the evidence in the Thompson matter prior to signing off on Zacharias’ statement of denial,” the apologists state. “We believe it failed in its fiduciary duty to Zacharias, RZIM, their donors and to the public. . . . We have not observed the signs of repentance from former or present RZIM Executive Committee members that would be appropriate in light of the extensive damage caused by their negligence.”

Phillips and Ramsden out of spotlight

For the past year, both Phillips and Ramsden have remained relatively silent and away from the spotlight.

In 2021, Sarah (Davis) Phillips launched a new ministry, called the Lighten Group, with former RZIM speakers, Alycia Wood, Xandra Carroll, and Lou Phillips whom Sarah recently married. However, Lighten confirmed that Phillips stepped away from leadership in Lighten last February. And in September, Lighten announced it is shutting down due to “growing financial challenges.”

Sarah’s husband, Lou Phillips, now works as the director of church and ministry relations for The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender.

TRR has been unable to determine Michael Ramsden’s current employment status. His Facebook page still lists him as President of RZIM and RZIM still exists as a legal entity, but its website states it is “down for maintenance.”

This article has been updated.

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21 thoughts on “Apologists Say Former RZIM Leaders are ‘Disqualified’ For Unrepentant Abuse and Deceit”

  1. They should also investigate Collective Church in Pascagoula, Ms for pushing people out, and even telling them to go ahead and leave for questioning the pastor’s actions biblically.

  2. It is horribly confusing and perturbing that Ravi Zacharias gave the eulogy at Nabeel Qureshi ‘s funeral—after the latter was fired and slandered?
    How far did this man go to maintain his deceptions?

  3. Julie, it might have been helpful to say in the article that Sarah (Davis) Phillips is one of Ravi Zacharias’s daughters, not merely a top executive. A caption in one of the photos however does tell us that, but it’s easy to miss.

    1. One tweak to the article, just a suggestion, would be to refer to Sarah (Davis) Phillips as “Sarah Phillips” throughout. I’m not sure why but keeping it straight that “Phillips” is the former Sarah (Zacharias) Davis was giving me more trouble than the names in a Russian novel.

  4. It’s very discouraging and disconcerting and disappointing to see that people we thought were titans were actually abusers and deceivers..

    We’re partly to blame for embracing a “celebrity” mentality..

    The good thing is that God is cleansing the church, hopefully in preparation for Christ’s impending return!

  5. These people are criminals. They found a “meal ticket” in Christianity and being grifters they are milking it for all it’s worth. They also are very mean spirited and vicious as they treat their employees terribly. They are liars, deceivers, power abusers, sexual abusers and money grabbers. Like the money changers in the temple they are a den of thieves. Hopefully like those money changers we will soon be “cleansed” of them.

    1. Jim,
      Thank you for some straight forward honest Jn8.40ff!! We desperately need to call a rat a rat – expose evil – time to take the gloves off with so many religionists that wantonly abuse the high call in Christ. I am sick and tired of this…

      I do not say anything about those in the world (1Cor5.12,13) – but we ARE called to judge in the church – and to cast a few out as needed!

  6. Thanks for including a link to the statement in full. Its tone is professional, and the authors express admirable concern for the spiritual condition of the three named individuals.

    One can only surmise that Ravi’s sins deeply permeated RZIM and its culture. These executives became acolytes more committed to the organization’s survival than to the welfare of human souls employed by it. The former president of a ministry devoted to defending trust denies being a member of senior leadership? That’s beyond intentional deceit; it’s delusional. And very sad.

  7. The fact that William Lane Craig, Sean, Licona, and Copan took the time to investigate is a bit unusual as they are academics and are highly accomplished in their fields of expertise. It speaks of the seriousness of the abuse perpetrated by Ravi’s leadership team. It seems many of the workers were blind-sided and did not know what to do as they were serving the Lord and loved the ministry. The Leadership had a psychological stronghold over the organization and manipulated their employees. People in these situations need to get outside legal and professional advice-especially ones that have no skin in the game. I am glad that Josh deleted the interview with Abdu, as it was cringe worthy listening to an apologist giving this guy a platform. I think he was playin ya buddy, and used your friendship, respect and admiration to platform his comeback.

    Zondervan and Moody Radio should be taken to task for platforming Abdu. Also, I think those that were damaged and destroyed need to bring civil litigation against these people. Thank you to all those who have helped to expose these “vipers”.

    I knew there was trouble when Ravi and Co. would not address the ‘Doctor’ issue (too much money involved)! I just would never have guessed how diseased the organization and leadership were.

    Please do not delete this as it is not mean spirited but forthright speech and we as a church have to toughen up. We live in perilous times. I respect those who have spoken up and have taken a hit for their stances. A sage said,

    “Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches”.

    1. Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight)

      Zondervan is owned by Harper Collins. Unbelievers own a Christian publishing company, and the fiduciary responsibility of Harper Collins to its shareholders is to make money. Money can be made in a lot of ways, including the publishing of heresies and the covering up of sin.

  8. “According to “multiple sources” interviewed by the apologists, Zacharias became jealous of Qureshi when Qureshi began getting more speaking requests than Zacharias. Zacharias then spread false rumours that Qureshi was a “womaniser” and “an alcoholic,” the document states. Murray then met Qureshi in the Atlanta airport under false pretences, and with Phillips present, fired Qureshi, the document states.”

    1) Why did Qureshi’s wife invite Ravi to speak at her husband’s funeral?

    2) Why have none of Qureshi’s friends bought up his being fired under these circumstances?

    Seems a bit odd.

    1. I’m pretty certain that Qureshi’s wife and friends would have known that he was sacked and roughly what allegedly for.

      So it’s it’s strange no one spoke out and Ravi was at funeral etc.

  9. Lori Anne Thompson

    I am grateful for the ongoing exposure of hidden things. The light will do what it says it must — illuminate.

    I am also hopeful that “in group” accounting is a precedent for other similar situations. Those within the same cultural or faith group of greater or equal power should hold their peers to a public accounting when private confrontation fails to produce adequate results.

    Well done and well done.

    Onwards.

    Lori Anne Thompson

    1. I agree with you Lori Anne,

      This is a hopeful development that some are finally stepping up to the plate. As an aside, my extended family are Canadians, and I spent many good times up there. Once, I traversed hundreds of miles of gravel to get up to Yellowknife.
      Best

  10. Good to see Sean McDowell get on the right side of this after the sympathetic interview of Murray he had previously co-hosted with his dad. It would be interesting to hear more regarding what brought about the change in Sean’s thinking, although what Josh McDowell currently thinks about these things remains unclear.

  11. This is rather odd. These apologists have no official oversight over these RZIM employees. What gives them the right to cast such damning accusations. Shouldn’t it be the RZIM board and/or any denominations that credentialed or ordained them? A rag tag group of academics conducting their own ad hoc investigation have no authority to make these judgements.

    1. “A rag tag group of academics conducting their own ad hoc investigation have no authority to make these judgements”
      Obviously, Santosh, you are not familiar with this situation or the ‘academic’ culture in general.

    2. Santosh Ninan, you are correct in noting that the authors have no formal jurisdiction over RZIM. Understand, however, that the organization is not accountable to any local church, national or international denomination, ordination counsel, credentials committee, licensing agency, or equivalent body. Also, RZIM has elected a classification that exempts the ministry from the requirement to file an annual Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. And it refuses to disclose the identities of directors on its board.

      If no one else will regulate their fellow apologists, these five persons have good reason to investigate. I assume that they’re motivated by the desire to prevent further actions that discredit the profession. With all except Debbie Licona holding doctoral degrees, they cannot be accurately described as a rag tag group of academics.

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