Class-Action Lawsuit Claims RZIM Covered Up Ravi Zacharias’ Abuse, Misled Donors

By Bob Smietana
Ravi Zacharias RZIM
Ravi Zacharias speaks to students at the Zacharias Institute in Alpharetta, Georgia, in July 2018. (Photo by Gary S. Chapman)

Donors to Ravi Zacharias International Ministries — including an NFL player — are suing the troubled nonprofit for allegedly covering up late founder Ravi Zacharias’ abusive behavior.

A complaint in federal court for the North District of Georgia alleges donors to RZIM were told Zacharias was a trustworthy Christian apologist and their donations would be used to promote “Christian evangelism, apologetic defense of Christianity, and humanitarian efforts.”

But those donors were misled, according to the suit.

“Defendants bilked tens — if not hundreds — of millions of dollars from well-meaning donors who believed RZIM and Zacharias to be faith-filled Christian leaders,” the plaintiffs allege. “In fact, Zacharias was a prolific sexual predator who used his ministry and RZIM funds to perpetrate sexual and spiritual abuse against women.”

Zacharias, who died of cancer in 2020, was a legendary Christian apologist, who traveled the world defending the Christian faith. His books on apologetics were cited by celebrity pastors and politicians. Former Vice President Mike Pence and college football star turned Christian celebrity Tim Tebow spoke at his funeral.  

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Not long after Zacharias’ death, allegations of serious sexual abuse surfaced.

The lawsuit is built largely on the findings of a 2021 report commissioned by RZIM, which detailed a pattern of sexual abuse by Zacharias.

The abuse included groping workers at a spa he co-owned and asking them to massage his genitals and then praying for them.

The report also found Zacharias had explicit photos of women on his cellphone and he used ministry funds to pay for massages during his travels.

RZIM leaders had been aware of alleged misconduct by Zacharias since at least 2017.

That year, Lori Anne Thompson, a Canadian supporter of RZIM, accused Zacharias of spiritual abuse and sexting, alleging he had groomed her by pretending to minister to her and then asked her for nude photos and engaged her in explicit online conversation.

Zacharias denied the allegations and sued Thompson and her husband. The suit was later settled, with Zacharias paying $250,000 and requiring the Thompsons to sign a nondisclosure agreement.  

The class-action suit alleges RZIM’s board failed to properly investigate Thompson’s allegations. By failing to do so, the board allowed Zacharias’ abusive behavior to continue. The complaint cites a 2021 letter from RZIM’s board of directors, in which RZIM’s leaders admit they failed to hold Zacharias accountable and failed by not conducting an investigation into Thompson’s allegations.

“RZIM’s actions and failure to respond appropriately to reports of Zacharias’s sexual misconduct furthered the public deception that Zacharias was a faith-filled, moral, and upstanding Christian leader. RZIM’s acts and omissions further allowed Zacharias to continue sexually abusing women under the cover of Christian ministry and permitted Zacharias’s ongoing, deceptive fundraising efforts for RZIM,” the complaint alleges.

RZIM did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Thompson said she was not aware the lawsuit was being filed and had no connection to it. She said she believed RZIM’s leaders had breached public trust and the board should be held accountable.

As a result, donors “funded ongoing misconduct and abysmal lack of oversight.”

“Ravi Zacharias was a public defender of the faith, who denied that faith by his private predatory actions. The RZIM board of directors were mandated as overseers of the individual conduct of RZ and the institutional conduct of RZIM,” she stated in a text message. “The board of directors abdicated this role and responsibility — a breach of public trust. It is just that they, and the estate of the late Zacharias, be held accountable by civil action.”

A pair of donors, Derek and Dora Carrier of Nevada, are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The couple donated $30,000 to RZIM in January 2020. They did so after listening to Zacharias for years, which the complaint said led them to believe in RZIM’s mission. Derek Carrier is a tight end for the Las Vegas Raiders.

 “In late 2019 and early 2020, Plaintiffs carefully and prayerfully considered which ministries would receive their yearly tithe, or a portion thereof, and they readily accepted the call to provide financial support to Zacharias and RZIM,” the complaint states.

The complaint defines all donors — except for RZIM employees and others with direct ties to the group — who gave to Zacharias or RZIM from 2004 to Feb. 9, 2021, as being part of the class.

In February 2021, RZIM announced it would no longer accept donations. The nonprofit has also said it will stop doing apologetics work and will give donations to other Christian charities that do evangelism and support abuse victims. 

It is unclear whether or not RZIM has begun to make donations to other ministries. The nonprofit had $36.8 million in net assets as of 2019, according to Ministry Watch. RZIM has laid off staff and closed down some of its international offices in recent months.

RZIM’s board hired Guidepost Solutions to review its culture and practices earlier this year. The results of that review have not been made public. 

Brad R. Sohn, an attorney for the Carriers, said his firm has already heard from other donors who are interesting in joining the suit.

He said his clients, like many other donors, trusted Zacharias and other RZIM leaders, and that trust was betrayed. Sohn said his clients no longer believe RZIM is trustworthy and want their donations returned.

More than that, he said, the Carriers want all donors to be treated fairly.

“They could have picked up the phone and asked to have their money back,” he said. “But it’s not just about them.”

Sohn is skeptical of claims made by RZIM leaders that they have learned from their mistakes and that they will give the organization’s assets away. He said RZIM has had months to contact donors and return donations but failed to do so.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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18 thoughts on “Class-Action Lawsuit Claims RZIM Covered Up Ravi Zacharias’ Abuse, Misled Donors”

  1. Very nice.
    Hopefully we will see more of this, going after more corrupt televangelists.
    Maybe even against corrupt churches.

    1. The reality is a majority of evangelicalism is so much about the grift – using the name of Jesus – which is, literally, the best product in the world (cf Nigerian grifters as perfect example).

      Trump has had great teachers…turned from a little league grifter to a big-time grifter – thanks to teaching by Jeffress, White et. al.

      1. Frances Christenson

        Greg, what about all those years that Billy Graham was going in and out of the White House? Then Rick Warren went in and out. Why didn’t anyone complain then about evangelicals in bed with the presidents/politicians? Why only now? This goes back years and years and years in our country without a peep. I don’t understand that.

        1. Billy Graham was unique in befriending and seeking to counsel President’s of *either* party. He did not use his position as an evangelist to promote the political positions of *either* party.

          The partisan loyalty of white evangelicals to the Republican party, and in particular their fealty to Trump from the pulpit itself, is unprecedented and quite different from the other examples you have cited.

        2. Frances Christenson,

          I don’t support Graham and Warren either. Billy Graham was a rabid anti-Semite and in his later years he proved he had a less than full commitment to Biblical truth. Warren is responsible for giving the West its megachurch personality cult abomination addiction. Graham was used by God to harvest many lost–that doesn’t mean he did the saving himself or was even righteous. Warren is as far as I am concerned just another wannabe rock star celebrity.

  2. James Lutzweiler

    It’s about time!

    I warned BBN Radio in 2018 but they ignored the warning because Ravi was a great cash goat for them. Shameful!

  3. Frances Christenson

    Wow. This is really gaining traction. That is good. The betrayal of donors and followers is really sad. I have friends that still don’t want to believe this. It hurts too much to look behind the curtain.

    1. Perhaps this will set a precedent. When enough bad actors are monetarily held accountable, we may see some change in behavior. Just a thought experiment-what if churches, board members, and pastors be held liable when they knowingly passed on a sexually predator to another church who then harmed others? We would see this type of behavior drastically decrease.

  4. Warren Millard Roy

    I saw this coming. I predict that there will be more legal action to follow. I hope these church leaders who have covering up sin in their churches for years will learn!
    You don’t cover up sin! I believe the Apostle Paul would never have covered up for Ravi Zacharias. Read 1 Cor.5!
    Look what happened in Josh. 7 when there was sin in the camp. Israel became powerless! They had to deal with it very harshly!
    No I am not advocating the stoning of Ravi Zacharias and his family. Or any other fallen preacher!
    But I do advocate church discipline and firing them as a pastor and giving them a public rebuke(1 Tim.5:19&20)!!!
    It is time to deal with the sins within churches! No it is long past time!

    1. “You don’t cover up sin!”

      well, let’s be honest, here: there is too much to lose for a professional christian not to.

  5. When are the denominations and parachurch orgs/corporations that went out of their way to cover up for Rapist Zacharias (cough, C&MA, cough) because he was so good for their bottom line going to get sued?

  6. There is some culpability with the donor class too:

    considered which ministries would receive their yearly tithe

    The tithe goes to the church. RZIM is not a church. An NGO is not a church. I’m reading more about other christian organizations that operate as a “church” but are not actually churches. An IRS classification of an organization as as a “church” does not make it a church.

    Donors who are disciples of Jesus Christ will join their local church and give their tithe to the church. They may give beyond the tithe to other orgs, but that is not tithe.

  7. Several years ago, my wife and I sold our home and gave RZIM the profit margin we made on the sale. It was a financial stretch. We trusted the leadership of RZIM (including the Board) to be men of integrity and accountability. This is in addition to monies we gave RZIM for more than a decade. Can you please inform me the pathway to join this class-action lawsuit against RZIM. Thank you in advance for your time and assistance; both are much appreciated.

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