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

The Way Back for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

By Warren Cole Smith

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) has a big mess on its hands.

In 2017, MinistryWatch was one of the first organizations to raise questions about Ravi Zacharias and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  We raised concerns about sexual misconduct by Zacharias.  We questioned his educational credentials.  Since then, we and other media organizations have expressed concern that RZIM does not release its Form 990s to the public, thereby creating an environment of secrecy.  We have also questioned the senior leadership roles of Zacharias family members in the ministry.

Those concerns were either ignored or dismissed.  Ravi Zacharias was, after all, a beloved evangelical leader and Christian apologist.  He was not some faith-healing charlatan, or prosperity-gospel televangelist.  Ravi was one of us.  MinistryWatch was picking on the wrong guy.

Today, though, we know that all the concerns MinistryWatch (and others, including WORLD, Christianity Today, and The Roys Report) had in 2017 were valid.  Not only that, a recent preliminary report released by an independent investigator, Miller & Martin, confirmed that these concerns might just be the tip of the iceberg.  The preliminary report indicated that many more problems might still be ahead.

But this need not be the end of the story.  There is a way back for RZIM, but it will not be easy.  Here are some steps MinistryWatch recommends RZIM should take:

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  • Full and Complete Transparency.  RZIM took a good step when it hired Miller & Martin to investigate the sexual abuse accusations against Ravi Zacharias.  But let’s be clear and direct on this point:  It was a baby step.  RZIM and Ravi Zacharias himself are still shrouded in a veil of secrecy.  Full and complete transparency means that Miller & Martin needs to have all the resources necessary to complete its investigation, and the results need to be made immediately available to the public.
  • Release of Form 990s. Regarding that “veil of secrecy” I mentioned above:  Full and complete transparency means much more than releasing the Miller & Martin report.  RZIM needs to release its Form 990s to the public, and they need to release them going back to 2015.  The 2014 Form 990, the last one available to the public, showed that Zacharias made more than $350,000.  Daughter Sarah Davis made more than $200,000.  Margaret Zacharias, Ravi’s wife, made more than $150,000.  Another daughter, Naomi Zacharias, made more than $130,000.  To have this many family members on the payroll, making this much money, is not a best practice for a Christian ministry – far from it.  It is likely that these practices contributed to the culture of secrecy at RZIM.  Miller & Margin is examining sexual improprieties, but a full financial accounting now appears to be necessary, too.
  • Release of Non-Disclosure Agreement with LoriAnne Thompson. One of the alleged victims of Ravi Zacharias is LoriAnne Thompson.  In 2017, Zacharias sued LoriAnne Thompson to silence her.  That case was settled, and the full financial accounting I mentioned above should include the disclosure of any payment RZIM or Ravi Zacharias made as part of that settlement.  We currently don’t know the financial or other details because that settlement was bound by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).  LoriAnne Thompson wants to have that NDA made public.  RZIM and the heirs of Ravi Zacharias should agree and make public that document and all other documents related to that lawsuit.
  • Complete Turnover Of RZIM Board of Directors. We don’t know who is on the board of RZIM, in part because the ministry doesn’t release its Form 990s.  However, we do know that in 2014, RZIM’s Board of Directors had more than 20 members.  That number is far too large for effective oversight.  (MinistryWatch recommends seven to nine members.)  Regardless of size, the events we already know about are all the evidence necessary to prove this statement:  RZIM’s board was responsible for a massive failure of governance and oversight.  The current board needs to go, and the new board needs to be much smaller – so dissenting voices have more weight — and more active in providing oversight.
  • Justice for the Victims of Ravi Zacharias. I mention this last, but in fact this consideration should be of highest importance, and a part of the thinking of all the other steps I have proposed.  What this justice looks like is not for me to decide here.  Some victims will want to be heard and acknowledged.  Some – for privacy’s sake, and for their own healing — may not.  It will be impossible to undo what has happened, but we should not deceive ourselves:  RZIM cannot be restored until its victims are, to the extent that this is possible.

It is not at all clear if doing the things I have described will fully rehabilitate the ministry of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  The very name itself is now tarnished, perhaps irreparably so.  Re-branding the ministry in a way that is not mere white-washing, or a cynical cover-up, will be a significant challenge, even if RZIM is willing to make the changes we recommend here.

Nor is it at all clear that the current ministry leadership is actually willing to make these changes.  After all, the current leadership is part of the problem.  They either created or enabled the culture that allowed the current problems to fester.  Staff members of RZIM – at significant risk to their careers — are now openly expressing a lack of confidence in the leadership of the ministry.

I would also add that even the release of the preliminary report from Miller & Martin, on Dec. 23, late in the afternoon on the day before Christmas Eve, bore all the marks of an organization hoping to bury the story.  That decision was not a good sign.  It does not bode well for the future.

So, to end where we began:  RZIM has a big mess on its hands.  It’s a mess so big that only radical actions can clean it up.  But it is also a big opportunity for the leadership of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to demonstrate to a watching world that it is willing, finally, to practice the truths that it has, for years, been preaching.

One of the RZIM staff members who has gone public with his concerns is Max Baker-Hytch.  In a letter to RZIM leadership he wrote, “The God we worship is able to bring healing, restoration, and even flourishing out of this extraordinarily painful experience.  The reality is that Ravi’s reputation is in tatters;  but his legacy – this team – need not be.  If we choose to act justly and do the right things, we could become known as the gold standard for how to recover from a tragic situation…in a way that beautifully demonstrates the faith we commend.”

To which I would only add a hearty “Amen.”

warren cole smithWarren Cole Smith is the president of MinistryWatch.

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16 thoughts on “The Way Back for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries”

  1. So much of this story, and many others that Julie and the like have covered, could have been avoided if the leaders of the Church and Parachurch organizations would just clean out their ears and listen to us, who bring these things to their attention. But they don’t, they call us liar and question our faith. Well the joke is on them now. – why on earth are people leaving the church, not Jesus, just the church buildings and “organized Christianity”? It’s a real head scratcher.

    1. The IRS website says that 501c3’s that fail to file a 990 for 3 years in a row automatically have their nonprofit status revoked. As of 2019, RZIM had failed to file for 3 yrs in a row yet the IRS still shows them as a 501c3.

      Of course, RZIM can just convert to a religious order & they are exempt from annual reporting

  2. James Lutzweiler

    Warren needs to learn that if a drunk on a bar stool pees in your Diet Coke that you throw the entire cup away. You don’t just try to drink around the urine. RZIM is even worse than Chernobyl. The entire organization needs to go into oblivion. Even the recent writings of people like Max Baker-Hytch are nothing but the droppings of rats fleeing a sinking ship. Max knew as much, if not more than, Steve Baughman in December 2017, yet he said nothing until now. I would not buy a used car from Max. Sorry but those are the cold hard facts.

    Sincerely and quite seriously,

    James Lutzweiler
    Archivist (1999-2013), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

  3. While I appreciate the sentiment about salvaging the ministry, anything with Ravi Zacharias’ name on it will be forever tarnished. They had a good run – now it’s time for them to go away.

  4. While I appreciate the sentiment of trying to salvage an international ministry, anything with Ravi Zacharias’ name attached to it will be tarnished forever. They had a good run – time for them to go away permanently.

  5. It doesn’t seem that RZIM is repairable at this point. Ravi was the face and still is the name of the org and his reputation is now in shatters. And as Warren points out, the leadership, shrouded in secrecy, is complicit and part of the problem.

    Hiring a law firm to conduct an investigation is a meager first step as law firms have a fiduciary duty to who hired them rather than expose the entire truth. Interested parties should not completely trust the current investigation.

    I’d go a few steps further than Warren’s suggestions.
    1. Conduct a full, independent investigation of the following: a) sexual sins, b) leadership complicity, c) cover ups, d) legal settlements, and e) entire organization finances.
    2. Entire board resign immediately. Have an outside group of trusted leaders, not close Ravi supporters, serve as a temporary board.
    3. Use organization resources to pay restitution to identified victims. RZIM is worth millions.
    4. Release Lori from NDA.
    5. Pull all Ravi books and resources from public sale.
    6. Close down organization permanently.

    1. Three more suggestions to my prior list –
      1. Immediately cease soliciting and accepting all donations.
      2. Liquidate all assets.
      3. Distribute assets first to victims then remaining to legitimate apologetics ministries.

  6. If the identity of the organization is Family Business, then shouldn’t it simply quietly close? With practically everyone in the family on the board and drawing a generous salary, how can RZIM be understood as anything other than a family business?? Math was never my strong suit but I can add in my head, from the numbers given above, that the total income for the Zacharias family as reported in 2014 was in excess of $830,000. $830,000! I would like to know more about RZIM’s fundraising strategy. On what grounds did they make their appeals for donations?

  7. WT.??.!!!!!
    Are You KIDDING.??.!!!

    Reform, Rebuild, Return .. “The Way Back”.???

    No, NO, NOOOOOOOOOO.!!!

    Absolutely Disgusting that these SNAKES,
    these WHITE WASHED TOMBS
    would think this is even possible.!!!

  8. The actions called for in the article are good and necessary, but seem highly improbable, given the track record over many years of deceit and moral corruption by the leaders of RZIM, not just the board. They are all unqualified for any involvement in running a ministry, and should be thoroughly investigated themselves due to their abysmal failures on multiple fronts. The Zacharias family business is done due to moral bankruptcy.

    Others who have been associated with or are still associated with RZIM are damaging their reputations, and possibly their careers in legitimate ministry work, if they do not speak out against the long-term lies, abuse, etc. Ravi and his co-conspirators were perpetuating.

  9. It seems the best for everybody is that the organization disbands. All should get regular jobs for awhile-no leadership. After a time of doing this-then work in some ministry.

    Some, of coarse, shouldn’t return to ministry at all.

    What a sad, sad story. There are no happy endings with this one.

  10. I have to agree with other commenters here but it sounds like Warren has been confusing family businesses run as mere scams with actual ministry. The problem is that there is no biblical backing for attempting to restore a corporation that was all about soaking sheep for a load of Mammon. Jesus is into restoring people, not businesses. This was a scam from the get go run by a man from a Indian culture of Godmen who just have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. Godmen is a pejorative term as religious scammers lusting for money and power. The country is a kleptocracy and you should never trust any natives here begging for money for anything. Those from this country know that this is true. That is why they are looking for money here instead of there. We are just so very uninformed about how things work in other cultures sometimes.

    This is not the first time I have had to challenge this “watch dog” with a ministry straight out of corrupt India. Rusty gave GFA a pass on not letting anyone see their overseas books because of “persecution” that they could not prove actually ever existed. Rusty with this ministry originally said that we should not have to hold them accountable for what goes on on the ground. Then that controversy erupted into the blog world and soon the old post disappeared without so much as an apology or an admittance they were wrong, NO REPENTANCE, and a new statement was issued that just echoed what Prof. Throckmorton and others had already uncovered.

    Jesus came to a world full of religious corruption which was also claimed to represent God. He could have called on them to reform their institutions but oddly Jesus never said anything like that. Not a single word! He just rudely called them white-washed septic tanks. He shed no crocodile tears over how demonically corrupt the priesthood had become. He did not really even call them to repent. He just kept saying “Woe” to them as if their fate was already sealed as ones who never had any “Ears to hear.” So why can’t we just admit that this institution is now and has always been a bad tree that can only produce bad fruit? God is the one killing it. Why should we try to resurrect something that was never of Him and something that He certainly did not die for? I hope some of the employees do repent for whatever they knew and did nothing about, or suspected but just choose to ignore. Jesus did die for them, but for our damned by God institutions? Please give me a break!

  11. Why does there need to be “a way back”? This is like “too big to fail” during the financial crisis. Why do we give disgraced pastors a “restoration process” no matter what? Why do CEOs and college presidents who ruin their organizations and are fired for cause given huge severance packages? Why give them anything at all?

    We seem to have decided as a culture that no one has to reap what they sow anymore.

    Close down RZIM, give back the donations, and turn off the lights. What’s so hard about that?

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