Ravi Zacharias

Opinion: New Ravi Zacharias Allegations Highlight Secrecy, Cover-Up & Questionable Practices at RZIM

By Julie Roys

Recent allegations concerning Ravi Zacharias have shocked the evangelical world and prompted two investigations—one by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and one by the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), the denomination that ordained Zacharias.

Yet some are arguing that such investigations and reporting are pointless and even cruel, given that the famous apologist has passed away.

“While this may be true, I think it’s irresponsible to accuse one who cannot defend against the allegations,” said someone on Facebook.

“Since it’s not an ongoing problem, and he surely won’t do it again, I’m not sure I see the relevance,” said another.

Yet, many credible allegations were raised about Zacharias when he was alive. But rather than rigorously investigate them, his namesake organization spun cleverly worded statements, which exploited evangelicals’ desire to lionize their champion apologist.

(M)any credible allegations were raised about Zacharias when he was alive. But rather than rigorously investigate them, his namesake organization spun cleverly worded statements . . .”

RZIM also engaged in questionable governance and financial practices for years, enriching Zacharias and his family, and giving them undue control over the ministry. But while Zacharias was being upheld as the gold standard, no one was willing to look at these practices or hold the board accountable.

Hopefully, now this has changed.

Board Ignored Allegations for Years

Certainly, anyone who’s read Steve Baughman’s 2018 book, Cover-Up in the Kingdom, can see that Zacharias exaggerated his credentials and outright lied about being an Oxford professor.

Similarly, the emails and phone records I recently published make it painfully clear that Zacharias most surely was not a victim in the 2017 sexting scandal, but a predator.

Any board worth its salt would have read Baughman’s book. It also would have demanded all emails and phone records during the time in which the sexting between Zacharias and Lori Anne Thompson occurred.

The board also should have interviewed Thompson and asked her for documentation. Yet, Thompson told me RZIM never contacted her or asked for any documentation.

Even now, after revelation of shocking sexual abuse and harassment allegations by massage therapists at spas Zacharias co-owned, RZIM seems bent on denial. Though RZIM has hired a firm to investigate the spa allegations, what’s telling is RZIM’s recent statement, labeling the accusations “false.”

So, before the results of any independent investigation, RZIM apparently has made up its mind. It’s likely, then, that RZIM’s “investigation” will not be an attempt to discover the truth, but rather a ruse to justify a foregone conclusion.

It’s likely, then, that RZIM’s “investigation” will not be an attempt to discover the truth, but rather a ruse to justify a foregone conclusion.

The law firm RZIM hired for the investigation, Miller & Martin, is telling, as well. The firm has been accused of fraud and appears to have little expertise in sexual harassment and abuse cases.

But what’s most concerning is that Miller & Martin promotes itself as an expert in “crisis management.” On its website, the firm states that its crisis management team “aggressively pursues avoidance” and helps “limit” the amount that a crisis “damage(s) a client’s brand.”

This is not a firm that an organization committed to truth and transparency would hire for its “independent” investigation. But RZIM hasn’t shown a commitment to truth and transparency for years. And this is frightening, considering that the ministry manages $30 million to $40 million in donations each year.

Secrecy, Wealth, & Nepotism

In 2015—the same year that Steve Baughman began investigating Ravi Zacharias—RZIM was granted its request to be classified as an “association of churches” by the IRS.

This enabled RZIM to stop filing IRS form 990s, which reveal the salaries of an organization’s top executives, as well the identities of its board members.

I have been asking RZIM for the names of its board members and executive salaries since November 2019, but RZIM refuses to produce them. A look at RZIM’s last 990, filed in 2015, indicates possible reasons why.

In 2015, three Zacharias family members sat on RZIM’s board. Ravi served as chairman. His wife, Margie, served as vice-chairman. And his daughter, Sarah Davis (now CEO of RZIM) served as a director.

It’s no wonder Lori Anne Thompson, and her husband, Brad, felt they couldn’t approach RZIM’s board in 2017 about Ravi’s alleged sexual predation.

In 2015, RZIM also paid Zacharias family members more than a million dollars.

Ravi and his wife received more than a half-million dollars. Their daughter, Sarah, received more than $216,000. Another daughter, Naomi Zacharias—director of Wellspring International, the stated beneficiary of one of Zacharias’ spas where abuse allegedly occurred—was paid nearly $150,000.

Two other Zacharias family members—Naomi’s husband at the time, Robert “Drew” McNeil, and Ravi’s son, Nathan Zacharias—were paid another $155,000.

The 2015 form 990 also states that RZIM provided a “housing allowance or residence for personal use” to Ravi and Margie Zacharias.

Later documents I obtained indicate that the $700,000 home Ravi and Margie Zacharias occupied the past several years was bought in 2018 by an LLC managed by an RZIM executive.

The address for the home was listed on a 2019 background report for Ravi Zacharias as his current address. According to public records, the owner of the home at the address was Gate Project LLC whose “organizer” is RZIM CFO Jeanette Chuquiure.

In January 2020, I asked RZIM public relations manager, Ruth Malhotra, about this arrangement and asked if RZIM had bought a house for the Zachariases. She responded that RZIM “will not confirm their address” and did not answer my question.

Ravi Zacharias Sarah Davis RZIM
Ravi Zacharias and his daughter, RZIM CEO Sarah Davis, appear on stage in 2019 with RZIM President Michael Ramsden and his wife.

RZIM also maintained a revocable rabbi trust for Zacharias, which in 2018 was valued at $1.6 million. This is mentioned in the 2015 990, as well as in a 2018 RZIM financial report I obtained.

Given the 2017 sexting allegations, I asked Malhotra in January 2020 whether RZIM had already disbursed the full trust to Zacharias and under what conditions the trust could be revoked.

Malhotra responded that the trust is explained in “Note 8” of the 2018 financial statement. However, the explanation simply says that the trust is “for the purpose of paying disbursed compensation to the founder upon retirement, death, or disability” and is revocable.

I also recently discovered that Paul Kepes—an RZIM board member in 2015—loaned Naomi Zacharias and her former husband $332,000 to remodel a home the couple had purchased in 2015 for $495,000. This is mentioned in the couple’s divorce settlement, which was filed over the summer.

The loan raises a significant conflict of interest issue.

Certainly Kepes, who wanted his loan repaid, would have extra incentive to make sure Naomi and Drew remained employed by RZIM. Plus, the loan gave Kepes the ability to have undue influence—not just on a key employee, Naomi—but also on another board member, Margie Zacharias, and while he was living, Ravi.

Given these many red flags, Miller & Martin should be investigating the RZIM board, not just Ravi Zacharias. But Miller & Martin was hired by the board, and has a fiduciary responsibility to the board, so I’m quite sure this will not happen.

ECFA Seal of Approval

Despite these many issues, RZIM remains a member in good standing with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Yet donors should be aware that the ECFA often merely gives a false sense of security, rather than truly holding its members accountable.

I recently emailed Jake Lapp, ECFA compliance team lead, informing him that RZIM does not disclose its board members and asking if that practice complies with ECFA standards.

ECFA Jake Lapp
ECFA Compliance Team Lead Jake Lapp

Stunningly, he replied that ECFA’s standards do not require ECFA members to disclose who serves on their board.

I also asked Lapp if ECFA would have a problem with three Zacharias family members serving on the board, two of whom were the top board officials. 

Lapp responded that ECFA standards do not require all of a ministry’s board members to be independent, but merely a majority. According to ECFA’s standard on governance, an independent person is defined in part as someone who is not an employee of the organization or “related by blood or marriage to staff members or other board members.”

I didn’t bother to ask Lapp about the Zacharias family receiving more than $1 million or about Ravi’s $1.6 million rabbi trust and housing allowance. That’s because I’ve already observed that large compensation packages present no problem for ECFA.

Two years ago, when I reached out to ECFA, warning it that James MacDonald was likely misusing Harvest Bible Chapel funds, ECFA conducted an on-site review and declared Harvest a member in good standing.

Later an audit revealed that MacDonald made about $800,000 per year in salary and benefits. This was in addition to the $3.1 million Harvest paid MacDonald in private accounts over a three-year period, and the $1.2 million MacDonald received in deferred compensation.

Widespread Lack of Accountability

Sadly, the lack of accountability at RZIM and ECFA is rampant in evangelicalism.

Another example is Zacharias’ denomination, the C&MA, which allegedly “rigorously investigated” the sexting allegations and credentials claims by Zacharias in 2018 and found no “basis for formal discipline.”

The C&MA’s investigation reportedly included “a review of all available documents.” Yet the Thompsons say the C&MA didn’t request any documentation from them. The couple added that during the only conversation they had with the C&MA, General Counsel Gary Friesen told them that the sexting matter was a “he said she said” situation and the truth of the matter could not be known.  

I contacted C&MA spokesman Peter Burgo for the denomination’s side of the story. He told me that the C&MA did request documentation from Lori Anne Thompson. However, he said he could not “attest to whether or not that documentation was received.”

When I asked other follow-up questions about the call with the Thompsons and the documentation the C&MA reviewed, Burgo said he could not provide me with any additional information.

“I was not privy to any of the conversations nor any of the documentation . . . due to the confidential nature of the inquiry,” he added.

If the C&MA conducted a valid investigation in 2018, the denomination should be willing to disclose details about its investigation and publish its findings. Instead, it’s behaving like an organization that has something to hide.

If the C&MA conducted a valid investigation in 2018, the denomination should be willing to disclose details . . . Instead, it’s behaving like an organization that has something to hide.

But this has become standard practice in evangelicalism.

In Cover-Up in the Kingdom, Baughman devotes an entire chapter to “Ravi’s Enablers at God Inc.” These “enablers” include Zacharias’ publisher, prominent evangelical seminaries, and some speakers at RZIM who surely noticed Zacharias’ deceptive practices.

It’s a sobering chapter, but one every evangelical should read.

We cannot say we stand for the truth and then look the other way when our favorite ministry or leader is implicated in wrongdoing. If we do, then the scandals in evangelicalism will only increase.

But if we face the unvarnished truth—even about a deceased man and the organization he founded—there will be reform. Doing so is not cruel. It’s not irrelevant. It’s necessary.

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27 thoughts on “Opinion: New Ravi Zacharias Allegations Highlight Secrecy, Cover-Up & Questionable Practices at RZIM”

  1. Very difficult to read but, I agree, essential in order to hold the many who are responsible to the standards of biblical principles we are supposedly dedicated to. Ignoring evil, covering it up, all just allows it to grow, impacting the lives of so many. Thank you for doing this incredibly distasteful and painful work. You are very brave in the face of much criticism. I will be praying for you.

    1. Hearing Zacharias tiptoe around question I have a Q&A session during a Ligonier conference years ago concerning whether Roman Catholicism is a valid Christian denomination, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that he was likely a charlatan.

      The main problem, though, is with us following so-called Christian celebrities instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. It almost gets to the point where we deify them. I’ve had to be careful not to get caught up in that with some of my favorites in the reform to camp like Sproul and MacArthur, especially since now that MacArthur is at the forefront of standing up against government tyranny in California.

      The fact of the matter is religion has long been a means for hucksters to get rich. Charismatics and word-faith preachers aren’t the only ones; they’re just the most obvious examples.

      1. Great comment. I wish I had seen/heard Zacharias’ response to your question. One I did hear (via YT) was his response to basically the same question at Texas A&M. He tiptoed around that one too. I did not find it at all graceful though and it felt more like he was wading through quicksand. It was revolting and made me want to vomit. Thankfully I had stopped listening to him years prior. When I was a young believer his words were like music to my years. But as I grew in faith and knowledge, his many words and philosophical ramblings, which were devoid of scripture and sound doctrine, became like sounding brass and clanging cymbals.

        Blessings to you.

  2. It Is All About the Money

    well thought out and presented….it is sad but all these so called mega ministries suck up the money to give those involved enriched lifestyles,….obviously James McDonald being one. In Atlanta, where Ravi lived, many live lives of luxury…Michael Youssef, $3 million penthouse…Andy Stanley, tax records indicate now close to $2 mil, and then our beloved Jentezen Franklin, hitting the $2 mil milestone himself. What I find interesting is they are all hiding their properties behind LLC’s. When one searches the tax records, you have to know a starting point because they do not want you to know where they live, or how much their property is worth. That in itself is rather disconcerting. There is something terribly disturbing about this pic…

    1. Didn’t know that about the LLCs as I have searched for different pastors in the past. Wow – that is even more damnable. What a travesty and so sickening.

  3. Yes, Ravi has passed away, but his ministry had an effect on millions of people all around the world. If the board staged a coverup, they shouldn’t be managing anyone’s money or reputation.

  4. Please don't include my name in this comment.

    We were missionaries with the C&MA and found them to be both secretive and protective of their leaders, while not being afraid of who they wounded along the way. I am not surprised to hear of their lack of investigation into the claims of alleged wrongdoing by Ravi Zacharias. While I loved hearing him speak, he was one of their celebrities. They are quick to discredit those who might come forward (see their slowness in responding to allegations regarding their Mamou boarding school in Africa) with stories of mistreatment or abuse. I am deeply saddened by all of this and more by the fact that many Christians would rather not have their Christian celebrities’ reputations tarnished. They would rather believe that the victims are making things up than consider that there could have been wrongdoing or deception. Why are our leaders living so differently than Jesus lived?

  5. Dennis G Chesley

    Phil 1: 15,!8 the Apostle Paul said: It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
    It is suspicious that these sexual allegations come out years later and we prosecute someone in public media, declaring someone guilty until proven innocent. This is not Justice from above, but human media titillation.

    1. Dennis, You haven’t done your homework. I understand being suspicious but until you’ve read the articles and listened to the podcast and seen the evidence that Julie has uncovered, you will not discover the truth. I say this with all due respect because it was hard for me to believe too until I took the time to read these articles and listen to her broadcast with Steve. As Christians, now isn’t the time to put our heads in the sand and we have to be more concerned about standing up for what is TRUE, calling out hypocrites, and most importantly, representing Christ well (albeit imperfectly). This is whole issue with Ravi and the board of RZIM is a BIG DEAL.

    2. I understand your concern for fairness, etc., yet I have been reading about Mr. Zacharias’s authenticity problems for a few years before his recent illness & death. Including financial indiscretions & governance compromises on the part of family members on the board. It was blaringly apparent that Mr. Z did not want to engage in any sort of clarification or defense or admittance of wrong-doing/sin. He has lost his chance now that he is dead, which is tragic on many levels, esp. to any victims. I can not imagine being marginalized & silenced & ignored by such a seemingly prestigious brother in Christ – – there are no winners here (but thankfully, our Lord & His Gospel did get preached, in spite of sin).

    3. “He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth.”

      The Justice from above you mention, might it perhaps manifest as…cancer? I’m not committing to this interpretation of events but I thinks it’s a possibility.

    4. Management of the spa Ravi co-owned *was* notified at the time by one of his massage therapists. She went to them concerned about Ravi’s inappropriate behavior. She was fired. Back then. At the time. Ravi’s business partner apologized for not stopping Ravi. These women did not come forward, a journalist *went to them*. If the journalist hadn’t gone to them it is doubtful they would have come forward. They said they have agreed to speak out in order that other women who have dealt with this with Ravi would know they were not alone; that they believed them because it had happened to them as well. I think they were probably referring to Lori Anne Thompson of the recent texting scandal. She and her husband have now, as a result of these ladies, come out publicly, about two days ago to address their side of the story after having signed an NDA with Ravi. Ravi, who also signed an NDA about the texting scandal broke his NDA at the time referring to them publicly, trying to cast doubt on them and exonerate himself. Legally, they then had a right to break the NDA to counter everything he said about them. They refrained from doing so until two days ago. I believe they were encouraged to speak out now by knowing their were others from the spa. True, false, God knows. What we do know is there are multiple women, about 6 from the past and Lori from recently who are alleging inappropriate sexual behavior. There were also the inflated scholarly credentials that he lied about. There was also the letter from the woman who had dated Ravi’s brother and at 16 was urged by Ravi to have an abortion. She wrote a letter telling her story, I believe her name was Shirley. She was a police officer for 30+ years. They could all be lying. He could be completely innocent. But most of these allegations were around when Ravi was alive. Not all of the spa allegations were but everything else was and at least the one spa allegation was…the one where the woman was *fired* for going to management. :(

  6. I am saddened by this whole sordid mess. The evangelical church in America is diseased. Ravi epitomizes what has been going on for years now. He is just the most well known.

    On the positive side, Julie and Steve are bringing to light issues that may never have been exposed. Excellent post Julie. I am amazed at some of the information you were able to obtain. I suppose RZIM is not happy with you, but please continue with your excellent reporting.

  7. I am from India. I have passionately followed RZ for 25 years. Attended his Hyderabad and Delhi conference, truth-at-life and footprints workshops. Travelled to numerous places to listen to him. Introduced him to 1000s. Supported
    RZIM in many ways. Memorized many of his jokes, quotes and even sermons. He spoke so loud and clear on the condition of man and the forgiveness of God.

    But maybe, he never confessed his sins publicly. I don’t remember him sharing how he felt ashamed about his private sins anywhere publicly.

    Sin is not the problem here. Because we all sin and fall. But confession, repentance and a path to restoration seem to be missing here! If sin is overlooked a few times, we tend to continue in sin! We invent ways of managing sin!

    For me personally, it is good to desire that I never become famous or rich beyond control. One check could be that I be open about my bank balances and assets. What can money and fame do to a person!? We have seen this too often.

    And about RZIM, C&MA, ECFA etc, what are we trying to achieve? We better fear the almighty God of the universe! In this tiny planet we think we can micromanage our affairs! How foolish are we :(

    You are doing the right thing Julie. Thank you.

    1. PD7,

      You mention,

      “Sin is not the problem here. Because we all sin and fall. But confession, repentance and a path to restoration seem to be missing here! If sin is overlooked a few times, we tend to continue in sin!”

      Nothing untrue, there.

      However, i see a problem. In christian culture the concern — ALL the concern — is for the perpetrator. And his restoration.

      Those whose live were destroyed by the perpetrator are ignored completely.

      All the attention goes to coddling the one who did all the damage, spending tons of money and time “restoring” him. And then they all humble-brag about it, and use it to advance careers and income streams that are all linked together and mutually dependent.

      This must stop.

      WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHOSE LIVE WERE DESTROYED?? WHAT ABOUT THEIR RESTORATION??

      let the perp fend for himself. he’s caused enough damage already.

      (I am addressing not so much you but my entire religion that i am so, so disappointed in. of course i’m done with it all. my own personal integrity can’t tolerate it any more.)

          1. Yes, I appreciate your response, PD7.

            To reiterate, my comment was directed not really to you, but to christian culture which has lost its marbles (ethical marbles, common sense marbles, i’m sure there’s more… but i’m seriously wondering did it ever had them to begin with).

            Your comment was the catalyst.

    2. Thank you, PD7 for such a wise response and for expressing kindness to those who said they were hurt. Your words give me hope that women will be treated well (“treat older women as mothers, younger women as sisters”) within the framework of the church, even if that’s not the norm in the rest of the world.

  8. It is really sad that such an acclaimed speaker has allegedly found wanting on so many fronts- sexual misconduct, financial irregularities and lying about his credentials. How could he say he was a Oxford University professor when he was not. It’s actually stupid to misuse the name of the most famous university in the world. How would you think it would not be noticed. Many must have noticed and yet kept quiet, especially his own colleagues so all of RZIM is guilty of hiding lies and all are beneficiaries financially.

    As a believer from India I am especially pained because we Indian Christians were so proud of his achievements and we followed him with dedication. As a journalist I can see that Julie has done an incredible job at investigating this story. More power to you Julie because I know how tough it can be to do stories of powerful people.

    Those who are doubtful about these stories are delusional and living in denial because one can see the grooming that Ravi Zacharias allegedly indulged in with the spa employees who were vulnerable and a couple were even child sexual abuse survivors. He used their confidentially shared stories to allegedly exploit him.

  9. Re Ravi’s competence as an apologist, there is an article by the Canadian theologian and apologist John Stackhouse that addresses the issue:

    johnstackhouse.com/ravi-zacharias-as-exemplary-apologist-a-demurral/

    Stackhouse has always seen him as a poor thinker and an often off-putting communicator, using a video of Ravi’s “answer’ to the question: “Why are Christians so judgmental?” as an example.

    The takeaway I got was that Ravi provided more style than substance, addressing audiences who were mostly Christians who were unable to accurately evaluate the quality of what they were hearing. (They were like me: if I had watched the video without Stackhouse’s perspective, I would have been impressed with what Ravi had said.)

  10. Nice to see some Indian believers speak up for truth, reminding me of that glorious time when all ethnicities will worship God together before His throne. (Rev. 7)

    Looks like RZIM and the Zacharias family, with their secret board, bought themselves a fine law firm to abet their ongoing cover-up of sin in a sham investigation as they obstinately persist in their impenitent ways to their own demise, all the while reimbursing themselves with exorbitant salaries and perks from their donors. Ironically, Ravi’s disgraced name is fitting for such a disgraceful organization.

  11. The question I think to start with is ‘Is it possible for Ravi to be guilty?’

    We like to think there are some people (Christian leaders included) beyond certain sins. But as Christians we should know that every person is capable of committing the most horrendous crimes given different circumstances.

    The life of king David should be proof enough that even a man after God’s own heart can fall into deep sin and be blind to it. It took a prophet to make him see his sin.

    If we can’t start from truly believing Ravi could be guilty, we will never find the truth, including RZIM.

  12. The suggestion that I or my agnostic and moslem friends and relatives are on sin-level par with Ravi is beyond insulting. We value our integrity and have sacrificed to preserve it. Because it is the right thing to do.

    Yes, we are all capable of wrongdoing, but Ravi’s willful choices put him in an exceptionally despicable league which most human beings would not stoop to, let alone be able to even imagine.

  13. Wow. I somehow stumbled on this website and article and I had no idea. I listened to RZ for years on the radio and learned a lot in those years. I’m so sorry for Lori Anne and her husband and anyone else betrayed by and hurt by RZ. It makes me realize often we put so much stock and faith into these souls who are mere mortals. There should be a much larger system of accountability, especially in mega churches.
    I am very impressed with your investigative articles and how you present all angles.
    I’m praying for all involved as I am sure that many are hurting. God bless.

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