A devastating, 26-page letter written by Ruth Malhotra, the public relations manager for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), was published yesterday, documenting unconscionable actions by RZIM senior staff.
In the letter, addressed to the chairman of RZIM’s board, Malhotra gives specific examples of what appears to be a coordinated effort by RZIM senior leadership to suppress the truth about Ravi Zacharias’ abuse and misconduct.
For example, Malhotra reveals that RZIM Vice President Abdu Murray suggested hiring an ex-cop who was “rough around the edges” to discredit the massage therapists who accused Zacharias of abusing them.* CEO Sarah Davis, Zacharias’ daughter, called the therapists’ allegations false before even trying to ascertain the truth. And RZIM President Michael Ramsden initially labeled the therapists’ allegations “hearsay” and suggested the spa victims might not even exist.
Malhotra also gives gut-wrenching details about the spiritual abuse she suffered at the hands of RZIM leaders. And she shares vulnerably about her own internal struggles—trying to “protect the brand and reputation of RZIM” and “support Ravi,” while also aiming to uphold truth and integrity.
There’s no doubt Ruth Malhotra was put in a no-win situation at RZIM and my heart breaks for her. I grieved as I read her document yesterday, especially when I realized I had contributed to her anguish.
After months of receiving obfuscating correspondence from Malhotra about Zacharias’ misdeeds, I let my frustration get the best of me and left a comment last month on her Facebook thread. In it, I asked her at what point she knew Ravi was abusing women and lying about his credentials.
“If those of us on the outside could see it, how much more those on the inside?” I wrote. “This whole Ravi debacle has made me weep. And I can’t help but wonder why those around Ravi not only didn’t speak up, but actually provided cover.”
I deleted the comment the same day and have reached out to Malhotra to ask for her forgiveness. I wish I had held my tongue.
Malhotra and I knew each other before this whole debacle erupted and that’s why I was especially confused and hurt by her involvement.
Yet, I had no idea at the time that she was being subjected to such extreme manipulation and spiritual abuse. I now believe Malhotra was trying as best she knew to navigate an extremely toxic situation.
And sending her bold letter to the board last week was an act of integrity and courage. It was Ruth Malhotra being exactly the person I have known her to be. I am proud of my sister and am truly hoping for reconciliation between us.
That said, I believe there are lessons we can glean from Malhotra’s story. But before I draw any conclusions, here are the details of the abuse Malhotra suffered at RZIM as outlined in her letter.
Spiritual Abuse at RZIM
Within her first month of employment, Malhotra said her then-manager told her, “Whatever you do, don’t cross the Zacharias family.”
“It quicky became evident to me that there was not just an unhealthy adoration for Ravi,” Malhotra writes, “but also a focus on self-preservation—and we were all expected to play along.”
Yet Malhotra, and those around her, didn’t always play along—and they paid a price.
Malhotra said she witnessed that when staff raised objections or refused to blindly believe what senior leaders told them, they were “intimidated, mistreated, or retaliated against.”
Because she asked tough questions and pushed back on false narratives, Malhotra said she was “systemically marginalized, maligned, and misrepresented to others by key members of senior leadership.”
In 2017, Malhotra was part of a task force formed to respond to the sexting scandal involving Lori Anne Thompson. At the time, Zacharias was claiming that the Thompsons were “two very wicked human beings” who had concocted the sexting scandal to extort money from him. We know now that Zacharias groomed Thompson and exploited her to satisfy his own perverse desires.
Malhotra writes that she saw red flags in Zacharias’ narrative in 2017. She saw the suicide email Zacharias had written to Thompson when Thompson said she was going to tell her husband about their relationship. When confronted, Zacharias told Malhotra that some of his phone calls with Thompson were long. He also divulged that he had not just two, but three phones.
Yet, when Malhotra raised some of these issues in meetings with the task force, Michael Ramsden called her “tired and emotional,” she writes. Abdu Murray said her “lingering questions” proved she had moved from “being skeptical to being cynical.”
RZIM Speaker Sanj Kalra reportedly accused her of siding with critics and “plotting to bring the ministry down.” And Director of the Zacharias Institute Vince Vitale urged Malhotra to “do the Matthew 18 thing and go to Ravi directly”—something she did not believe was “practical or appropriate.”
All these actions are textbook spiritual abuse. As I’ve often noted, in dysfunctional systems, leaders deny problems exist and instead make the whistleblowers the problem.
Or as Mike Bryant, a pastor expelled from Harvest Bible Fellowship for confronting James MacDonald, put it: “They want loyalty above righteousness, and it really messed with me internally.”
Clearly, it messed with Malhotra too.
In her letter, Malhotra includes a paragraph from her journal in 2018: “I was killing myself to try and protect this ministry. Yet from Sanj’s point of view, I felt like he was saying, ‘I thought you were killing this ministry.’”
“It was a crushing feeling,” she recounts.
The abuse reached a climax for Malhotra when CEO Sarah Davis arranged a three-day “group conciliation” with the task force and Judy Dabler in May 2018.
Dabler is a controversial figure who has an abysmal reputation among many in the abuse survivor community.
In a December letter to the RZIM Board, Max Baker-Hytch, a speaker with the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA), writes: “Dabler’s training and conciliation methods are at best questionable and at worst dangerous . . . Dabler’s particular approach is largely repudiated by sexual abuse victims and many in the advocate community as improper and harmful . . .”
Not surprisingly, Malhotra’s experience with Dabler was awful. She writes that Dabler “told me in front of the entire Task Force that I was ‘one step away from complete and total insanity,’ and others piled on.”
Following that “conciliation,” Davis urged Malhotra to go to Dabler’s center for a week of “intensive sessions.” Thank God, Malhotra instead went to a competent counselor familiar with Dabler’s approach and the RZIM situation.
“His exact words to me were, ‘You have been a victim of gaslighting,’” Malhotra writes.
To gaslight someone is to manipulate them psychologically so they question their own sanity. It’s a common tactic abusers use to gain power.
Protect the “brand” and “Ravi”
Again, there’s no doubt Ruth Malhotra was a victim in the Ravi Zacharias fiasco. She trusted Ravi, loved Ravi, and sincerely desired to serve God by serving RZIM.
But her letter betrays a tragic misunderstanding of her job. And I have found that just about every good person who gets entrapped in a corrupt Christian “ministry” has this same, tragic misunderstanding.
Our job as members of a ministry—whether we’re a board member, public relations manager, or work in the mailroom—is not to protect a brand or the leader of an organization. It is always to protect the mission.
I was fortunate when I was navigating the abuse and corruption at the Moody Bible Institute in 2017-18 to have a wise brother walking with me who kept reminding me of this truth.
The MBI Board wanted to protect the brand. The most frantic call I received from a trustee during that season was in response to my intention to go public with facts I had learned about Jerry Jenkins, a trustee and one-time chairman of the board. I was told in no uncertain terms that I would irreparably harm the institute if I reported the truth.
I remember recounting the conversation with my wise friend who told me in no uncertain terms, “Julie, they don’t understand what it means to be a trustee. You protect the mission. You don’t protect a person.”
Yet this misplaced priority has wreaked havoc, not just at Moody, or RZIM. It’s been prevalent in almost every scandal the church has had of late—at Harvest Bible Chapel, Liberty University, Acts 29, Willow Creek Community Church, Hillsong, Grace Community Church, Cedarville, and now RZIM.
It’s epidemic in evangelicalism. And it’s undermining the church.
I’m so glad that in the end, Ruth Malhotra chose to serve God, not the reputation of RZIM. Her truth may end the ministry careers of certain leaders—and it should. It may also lead to the downfall of RZIM.
But truth and transparency always further the mission of God. And if we call ourselves Christians, that is what and whom we serve.
*UPDATE: In a tweet Tuesday (Feb. 16), Abdu Murray denied Malhotra’s allegation that he suggested hiring a “rough” ex-cop. “I did not do any such thing and would never do so. I hired Miller & Martin and the Muller Group to find the truth about Ravi’s abuse and misconduct and they did that.”
Also, Mark DeMoss offered the following statement in an email to me on Tuesday:
Ruth Malhotra has been a friend for many years and I appreciate concerns raised in her letter. The entire tragedy surrounding Ravi Zacharias is one of the most extraordinary crises in evangelicalism in my lifetime and countless people have been hurt in various ways.
While I will not disclose deliberations I was privy to, including counsel I may or may not have given, I will only say with regard to Ruth’s letter, parts of it I have no firsthand knowledge of; parts of it are accurate; while parts of it lack appropriate context which would likely have cast certain events in a different light. I take exception to a number of aspects of this letter, exceptions which I have or will discuss privately with Ruth. I think it is unfortunate that the contents of the letter were not able to be considered by the Board, to whom it was confidentially addressed, and members of the RZIM leadership team, which it called into question, before the letter was released publicly by its author.