Over the past 30 years, few Christian apologists have had the impact that Ravi Zacharias (RZ) has had. In fact, RZ has been arguably the greatest public apologist for the Christian faith in the last 100 years, second only to C.S. Lewis.
Unfortunately, I have very bad news: in spite of the compelling, cogent case he makes for the Christian faith, in spite of the many people who have received Jesus because of his ministry, Ravi Zacharias is himself a fraud, a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.
Yes, you heard that correctly: Ravi Zacharias is a fraud, a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.
Does this mean that RZ has taught unsound doctrine? No. Teaching false doctrine is not the only way to be a false teacher; it is but one way.
It is possible to teach perfectly-sound doctrine and still be a complete fraud as a Christian. The life and demise of the late Iain Campbell—who carried on many affairs during his entire ministry life, and then committing suicide when those affairs became known—is a poignant example of this.
In the case of RZ, the issue is not the message, but rather the messenger. I don’t like to throw tags like “fraud” and “wolf” around–as I am a very “Big Tent” conservative, but RZ has earned it.
RZ, in spite of being an articulate defender of the Christian faith, has established his ministerial empire on blood, academic fraud, and abuse.
Part 1: Blood
In 1973, 16-year-old Shirley Steward became pregnant in a relationship with RZ’s 20-year-old brother (Ramesh). Ravi allgedly counseled her and Ramesh that the best way forward was to pursue abortion, and allegedly colluded with “Vickie S”, a parishioner in their church, to ensure that she could legally obtain the abortion.
For the record: I believe Shirley. It is my conclusion that Shirley is telling the truth.
Why do I believe Shirley’s story?
Here’s the short answer: The “shout your abortion” crowd notwithstanding, women don’t just tell the world that they’ve had abortions. That’s not how it works. When women do that, there is often substantial personal blowback. Even outside the Christian world, this is not seen as a good thing. In the Christian world, you risk major disrepute: many circles will brand you a murderer.
Shirley has no reason to lie about this, and in fact—by telling her story—has placed herself in the line of fire.
(I also believe Shirley’s story because I believe that Julie Anne–who broke the story–has researched this thoroughly. She has been around the block, has even been sued (and won). I know Julie Anne on Twitter and Facebook. Julie Anne, in her blogging capacities, is ironclad.)
It is my conclusion that Shirley is doing this because the pain of blowback is worth her telling the truth about Ravi Zacharias.
And yes, I put the blame for this abortion squarely on the shoulders of RZ: had he counseled her to carry, she would have carried. It is my view that RZ has blood on his hands. He did this early in his ministry life. And that has set the course for his double life.
To date, not only has RZ not addressed this; no major Christian leader has called him out for it.
Part 2: Academic Fraud
In the world of Christian ministry, a terminal degree often means instant authority: in most church circles, you gain instant recognition if you have a doctoral degree of any type. If that doctoral degree is in a Christian area of study, that’s even better.
As a minister, RZ holds an MDiv degree from Trinity International University. He has also done a sabbatical at Ridley Hall in Cambridge. (RH is not part of the University of Cambridge.)
Those credentials are plenty good enough for his ministry: one need not be a PhD academician to be a solid Christian apologist. RZ has established that over the years: in spite of not being a PhD, he has been a prolific writer and speaker.
The problem is, RZ has misrepresented himself as a “doctor”, using his honorary doctoral degrees as proof. He has used that title to sell books and promote his ministry. When questioned about that, he suggested that this was standard practice in India. He finally backtracked under pressure and stopped using the title.
Moreover, RZ also misrepresented himself as having been a “visiting scholar” at Cambridge University, when in fact he did a sabbatical at Ridley Hall, which is not part of Cambridge. He also claimed to have been a “Senior Research Fellow” at Wycliffe Hall at Oxford. That also was never the case.
Any one of those misrepresentations would constitute an immediate termination offense in both academic and business circles. And yet RZ has used such tactics to bolster himself and gain great fame in Christian circles.
Sadly, no major Christian leader has called him to account for this.
Part 3: Abuse
While RZ tried hard to bury the details of his sexting scandal, Steve Baughman ensured that the world would know the truth about RZ’s sexting scandal.
In 2014, RZ met a couple at a conference. They became friends, with RZ maintaining a relationship with the wife—Lori Anne Thompson (LA)—via email. No one knew about this until 2017, when RZ filed a RICO lawsuit against the couple, accusing them of scheming to blackmail him.
In the process, some details of the relationship between RZ and LA became public, with (a) the revelation that LA had sent RZ nude photos, (b) LA informing RZ that she planned to confess to her husband, and (c) an e-mail in which RZ threatened suicide if she did this.
In November 2017, the lawsuit was settled via mediation, with parties agreeing to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). RZ dropped the suit “with prejudice”, meaning he would not refile it.
The problem? RZ’s public actions scream grooming and coverup.
Let me explain.
Over the years, I’ve had online and even real-life relationships with a number of women, some of whom are married. One of those, KM, I’ve known for over 24 years (Cubbie is even closer to her and has known her since her college days). I’m good friends with her husband, too, but I talk and email mostly with her.
Over the last 2 years, I’ve become friends with a number of women in the #churchtoo community. I’ve had Direct Message (DM) conversations with a number of them.
I have never had a conversation—voice, digital, face-to-face, or otherwise—with any of them, that I’d be ashamed to reveal to the entire world.
If every single one of them—TODAY!—decided to release every one of my conversations with them, I would absolutely welcome it.
I would have zero explaining to do to my wife.
My church elders would be pleasantly surprised to find a community online who is concerned for each other, prays for each other, discusses hard issues in collegial manner, and treats one another with great respect. We even—horrors!—express concern for many of our adversaries.
My point in all of this? If RZ was being blackmailed, all he had to do to shut this down—if he were innocent—was release everything!
As Solomon said it: “A man who walks in his integrity walks securely.”
RZ didn’t do that because he has things to hide!
Think about it: the porn/hookup industry notwithstanding, women don’t just send nudes of themselves. RZ claims they were unsolicited, but, if that were the case, a simple release of their email conversations would reveal the truth about that, as this would establish whether there was grooming behavior involved.
If any of my female friends sent me such a photo, I would be shocked, angered, and heartbroken. Why? It would be completely out of character, a total betrayal. And a complete revelation of my emails and DMs would quickly prove my innocence!
RZ threatened suicide because he knew there was more to it than his public statement suggests.
RZ did not release a complete record of his emails because he knew that his grooming behavior—conduct unbecoming of a minister of the Gospel—would be laid bare for the whole world to see.
And THAT’s what is incriminating: grooming behavior. Here’s why…
Let’s assume I am a minister, and I am in a running online conversation with Jane Doe.
If Jane Doe and I are in a conversation that is otherwise above-board, and she sends me a nude pic, then that would be clearly unsolicited: all I’d have to do is show my email records, and the whole world would see the truth.
But let’s say that Jane and I engaged in many sexually-explicit conversations (inappropriate), and THEN she sends me a nude. THAT’s not “unsolicited”, as my sexual conversation–for which I am responsible as a minister–constitutes grooming behavior. In that case, she was the frog in the kettle, and I slowly boiled her.
Make no mistake: RZ groomed Lori Anne. He boiled her.
Yes, RZ—using the power of his team of attorneys—eked out a non-disclosure agreement. Ravi’s public statement on this matter is loaded with Image Repair tactics that scream coverup, as I will demonstrate at the end of this.
But the gun is still smoking. And God doesn’t care about NDAs.
Now why am I writing about this? What is my interest in this case?
For one, I want Ravi Zacharias—and ministers like him—to face the reality of what they have done. That is the only way they have any chance of experiencing repentance. And make no mistake, RZ needs to repent. No apology would be meaningful apart from genuine repentance: a reorientation of the mind that is a fundamental part of regeneration.
Secondly, I believe in the worth of the lives of RZ’s victims.
Because I believe Shirley Steward, that means her unborn child died in no small part due to RZ’s pressure for her to abort. That child deserves recognition.
Shirley Steward, 16 years old at the time—under tremendous pressure from RZ—endured an abortion that she did not want. Everyone walked away and left her holding the bag: she carried the shame and the guilt and the post-abortion PTSD aftermath. Shirley Steward suffered greatly. We must recognize her suffering, and the role I believe RZ played in it.
RZ slowly groomed Lori Anne Thompson for his sexual pleasure. When Lori Anne informed him that she was going to confess to her husband, he threatened suicide. The NDA protects him, as he has—since the settlement—spun his side of the story to his liking, while hiding behind the NDA when anyone asks a hard question.
Lori Anne Thompson deserves vindication. Whatever improprieties she was involved in with RZ, RZ groomed her for them.
Finally, I believe in a God who cares about the truth, and cares for the least of these.
While RZ has been an excellent writer and speaker–an articulate proponent of the Christian faith–he has built his ministerial empire on a foundation of blood, academic fraud, and abuse.
Just as King David got many things right during his reign, God did not turn and look the other way when he raped Bathsheba, got her pregnant, then had her husband killed so he could move in like the good guy and be the hero by taking in a widowed Bathsheba. While God forgave King David, there was a horrendous price to pay. David was a broken man for the rest of his life.
Just as Ravi Zacharias has been such a prolific writer and speaker, God is still a God of justice. He does not excuse wanton bloodshed; He cares about His people telling the truth and not lying to inflate their records; He does not take kindly to those ministers who sexually groom and take license with women not their wives.
Just as King David humbled himself and received Nathan’s rebuke, Ravi Zacharias can own his atrocities, apologize to his victims, admit his fraud, repent, and retire from ministry while making amends to the extent that this is possible.
The Church is in a crisis: we have no small number of high-profile ministers who have been exposed for sexual atrocities, various abuses of power from financial malfeasance to heavy-handed, malicious leadership, coverups of sexual abuse. It is long past time to call them out, repudiate their actions, and call them to repentance, holding them to account.
And make no mistake: Ravi Zacharias is in grave need of repentance.
My Image Repair Analysis of Ravi Zacharias’ Public Statement on His Sexting Scandal and Settlement of His Lawsuit
Intro: What Is Image Repair Theory?
Image Repair Theory is the study of communication strategies that persons and organizations often use when they experience an event that adversely impacts their reputation or credibility. If a politician gets caught in a scandal, if an airline suffers a plane crash caused by negligence, if a church coverup of a sex scandal gets exposed, the response often involves some form of crisis communication. (Some of us cynically call it damage control.)
Image Repair is part of that.
Let’s say you’re a Senator who’s been visiting an escort service (i.e. sleeping with prostitutes). And let’s say you’ve just found out that the Washington Post is going to run a story the next day, detailing every visit you’ve ever made to that escort service, all the way down to every prostitute you’ve slept with.
In such a case, you’ll probably enlist a crisis management firm to advise you in your communications. And they will specialize in Image Repair.
Image Repair embodies the use of five fundamental strategies, each with associated methodologies:
- Strategy 1: Denial: You flat out deny the act (“I never visited the escort service!”)
- Strategy 2: Evasion of Responsibility
- Provocation: claim that the action was in retaliation to a provoked act (“This is all lies, designed to destroy me for my support for pro-family causes!”)
- Defeasibility: claim that you either lacked the knowledge of or control over the factors that led to the act (“I had no idea this was an escort service!”)
- Make an excuse: claim that this was an accident or otherwise beyond your control (“I did not knowingly go there, but when there, I did not exercise perfect discretion.”)
- Claim good intentions: Because act was rooted in good intentions, you demand to be judged by your intentions. (“I was just doing research.”)
- Strategy 3: Reducing Offensiveness
- Bolstering: you communicate to elevate your positive traits and establish superiority (“As a longtime supporter of families and children…”)
- Minimization: you spin the act so as to mitigate its severity (“I spent less than ten minutes in the building.”)
- Differentiation: spin the act, and even the discussion of the act, to contrast with acts that are more offensive, of which you are not even being accused (“I did not have intercourse with anyone.”) ;
- Transcendence: Spin yourself and your work as agents or agencies for some greater good (“We must resolve this quickly, as lives are literally at stake.”);
- Attack Accuser: This often takes a DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender) signature;
- Compensation: you offer to reconcile with the victims (usually on your own terms)
- Strategy 4: Corrective Action
- Promise to correct the problem
- Strategy 5: Mortification
- You admit responsibility and ask for forgiveness
In my MBA studies, we touched slightly on this in my Business Communications class.
But in the #churchtoo world, I was drawn to the work of a physician who, in her spare time, does Image Repair Analysis (IRA) on the statements of ministers and churches in their communication of their respective scandals. She taught me quite a bit about IRA. I started using it on myself just as a means of checking my motives.
Here’s the problem with Image Repair: when someone makes public statements using IR, it is indicative that they are hiding the truth or engaging in spin-doctoring to put the best face on their actions. In the Christian world, however, this is problematic in that leaders who use IR are avoiding transparency and–in many cases–outright lying. Heavy use of IR is indicative of that.
But now it’s time to do IRA on Ravi Zacharias’ public statement in his settlement of his RICO suit.
“In October 2014, I spoke at a conference in Canada. At the conclusion of my talk, I met a couple who expressed an interest in our ministry. The wife asked if I would reach out to her husband because he had questions about the Christian faith. As requested, I followed up by sending an email and a book to him, and invited him to consider attending one of our educational programs at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).”
- “I spoke…my talk…I met…our ministry”.
- That’s BOLSTERING: it puts him in the position of superiority over the couple.
- “The wife asked if I would reach out to her husband”.
- That’s BOLSTERING: that bolsters his superiority;
- it is also ATTACKING: it is a veiled cheap shot at the husband.
- “I followed up…sending..email…and book…invited him”.
- That’s BOLSTERING: maintains his authority over the husband.
“Some months later, I traveled with my wife and one of our daughters to another part of Canada for a speaking engagement. The couple attended this event and invited my wife and me to dinner at a local restaurant afterwards. That was the second and last time I was ever in the same room with either of them.”
- “I traveled with my wife and one of our daughters”.
- That’s BOLSTERING: it creates the appearance of superiority and propriety, even though the facts indicate impropriety on his part.
- “That was the second and last time I was ever in the same room with either of them.”
- This is DIFFERENTIATION: he is pleading innocent to an act that of which he is not accused: the “I was never alone with her” defense is invalid, that is not the issue, as the offenses here are cyber in nature.
“Subsequently, she began to contact me via the email address I had used to contact her husband after first meeting them. My responses were usually brief. Then, last year, she shockingly sent me extremely inappropriate pictures of herself unsolicited. I clearly instructed her to stop contacting me in any form; I blocked her messages, and I resolved to terminate all contact with her.”
- “Subsequently, she began to contact me via the email address I had used to contact her husband”
- That’s ATTACKING: he’s alleging less-than-proper behavior from the outset.
- “My responses were usually brief.”
- That’s MINIMIZATION: he is minimizing his role in email communications with her.
- “She shockingly sent me extremely inappropriate pictures of herself unsolicited.”
- That’s ATTACKING: a simple release of all electronic communications would show context, as that would establish the nature of any conversations that might have led to the sending of such pictures. An unsolicited nude would be a scandal for her, not him. That is, unless they had carried on conversations that were sexual in nature, in which case it would be grooming behavior.
- That’s DENYING and DEFEASIBILITY: he is denying any role in the picture exchange.
“In late 2016, she sent an email informing me she planned to tell her husband about the inappropriate pictures she had sent and to claim that I had solicited them.”
- “claim that I had solicited them”
- That’s DENYING and DEFEASIBILITY: He is denying any role in her sending the pictures.
“In April 2017, together they sent me, through an attorney, a letter demanding money. I immediately notified members of my board, and as they advised, I personally engaged legal counsel.”
- “In April 2017, together they sent me, through an attorney, a letter demanding money.”
- That’s ATTACKING: He’s accusing them of blackmail.
“In response to the demand for money, my attorneys filed a publicly available lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The other side requested mediation rather than going to trial. We agreed to mediation and we reached an agreement in November 2017 to resolve the matter and dismiss my lawsuit. All communication with both of them has concluded, and the legal matters have been resolved. However, at this time, unfortunately I am legally prevented from answering or even discussing the questions and claims being made by some, other than to say that each side paid for their own legal expenses and no ministry funds were used.
- “In response to the demand for money”
- That’s PROVOCATION: he’s suggesting that his ensuing lawsuit was in response to a provoked act.
- “..my attorneys filed a publicly available lawsuit”
- That’s ATTACKING: filing a lawsuit, using multiple attorneys, targeting a couple.
- “The other side requested mediation rather than going to trial.”
- That’s ATTACKING: He’s suggesting that, because they did not want to go to trial, that they are trying to hide something.
- “unfortunately I am legally prevented from answering or even discussing the questions and claims being made by some”
- That’s DEFEASIBILITY: He claims to have no control, preventing him from discussing details.
- It’s also a form of DENIAL: he has denied allegations, and yet left obvious questions unanswered, all while using DEFEASIBILITY to avoid answering them.
- “no ministry funds were used”
- That’s MINIMIZATION: By suggesting that no ministry funds were involved, this makes the situation less important than it is.
“I have learned a difficult and painful lesson through this ordeal. As a husband, father, grandfather, and leader of a Christian ministry I should not have engaged in ongoing communication with a woman other than my wife. I failed to exercise wise caution and to protect myself from even the appearance of impropriety, and for that I am profoundly sorry. I have acknowledged this to my Lord, my wife, my children, our ministry board, and my colleagues.”
- “As a husband, father, grandfather, and leader of a Christian ministry”
- That’s BOLSTERING: he’s reminding you of his superior status in multiple realms.
- “I should not have engaged in ongoing communication with a woman other than my wife”
- This is DIFFERENTIATION and MINIMIZATION: he’s creating a lesser offense—which isn’t even an offense—to take your attention to the offense for which he is on the hook. (Also, it’s utter hogwash. He’s saying, “If I’d only followed the ‘Billy Graham Rule…’ How about NOT BEING A DIRTY OLD MAN???)
- “I failed to exercise wise caution and to protect myself from even the appearance of impropriety”
- This is DIFFERENTIATION and MINIMIZATION: he’s admitting to a lesser offense as opposed to the one of which he is accused.
- It’s also MORTIFICATION, although in a false sense: he is confessing to a non-offense.
- “I have acknowledged this to my Lord, my wife, my children, our ministry board, and my colleagues”
- This is TRANSCENDENCE: appealing to a higher authority to avoid accountability to the very people to which he must otherwise answer.
“Let me state categorically that I never met this woman alone, publicly or privately. The question is not whether I solicited or sent any illicit photos or messages to another woman—I did not, and there is no evidence to the contrary—but rather, whether I should have been a willing participant in any extended communication with a woman not my wife. The answer, I can unequivocally say, is no, and I fully accept responsibility. In all my correspondence with thousands of people in 45 years of ministry, I have never been confronted with a situation such as this, and God and my family and close friends know how grieved I have been.”
- “Let me state categorically that I never met this woman alone, publicly or privately.”
- This is DIFFERENTIATION: he’s denying having committed an offense of which he has not been accused. (Note: whenever people use the word “categorically” in this context, it usually means they’re not being truthful.)
- “The question is not whether I solicited or sent any illicit photos or messages to another woman…but rather, whether I should have been a willing participant in any extended communication with a woman not my wife”
- This is DENIAL and DIFFERENTIATION: He is reframing the issue on his own terms, not addressing the obvious question: what led to the woman sending him those photos?
- This is MORTIFICATION, although in a false sense. Jesus had many extended communications with women (Mary Magdalene anyone?), in spite of not being married to any of them.
- “In all my correspondence with thousands of people in 45 years of ministry”
- That’s BOLSTERING: re-reminding you of his superiority.
- “I have never been confronted with a situation such as this”
- That’s DEFEASIBILITY: he’s casting this as a situation that has come upon him—that he had no control over—rather than a crisis of his own making due to his own choices. He is casting himself as a victim.
- “God and my family and close friends know how grieved I have been”
- That’s REVERSING VICTIM AND OFFENDER ROLES: he is casting himself as a victim.
“In my 45 years of marriage to Margie, I have never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind. I love my wife with all my heart and have been absolutely faithful to her these more than 16,000 days of marriage, and have exercised extreme caution in my daily life and travels, as everyone who knows me is aware. I have long made it my practice not to be alone with a woman other than Margie and our daughters—not in a car, a restaurant, or anywhere else. Upon reflection, I now realize that the physical safeguards I have long practiced to protect my integrity should have extended to include digital communications safeguards. I believe—and indeed would counsel others—that the standards of personal conduct are necessarily higher for Christian leaders.”
- “In my 45 years of marriage to Margie… more than 16,000 days of marriage”
- That’s BOLSTERING: re-reminding you of his awwsummness as a husband.
- “everyone who knows me is aware”
- That’s TRIANGULATION: appealing to other people to deflect from the real issue at hand.
“The Lord rescued me at the age of seventeen, and I promised to leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth. He entrusted me with this calling, it is His; any opportunities I have been given are from Him. My life is not my own, it belongs to God. As long as He gives me life and breath I will serve out this calling He has given me. I am committed to finishing well, using whatever years He grants me to share His love and forgiveness, truth and grace, with people everywhere who are looking for meaning and purpose and hope. I bear no ill will toward anybody. God is the God of healing, and He promises a new day. May that be true by His grace.”
- “The Lord rescued me at the age of seventeen, and I promised to leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth”
- I’ll take TRANSCENDENCE for $500, Alex: It’s all about the Lord now.
- “He entrusted me with this calling, it is His; any opportunities I have been given are from Him”
- I’ll take TRANSCENDENCE for $1,000, Alex: HE’s been entrusted with the calling, with the implication that YOU are but a peasant.
- “My life is not my own, it belongs to God. As long as He gives me life and breath I will serve out this calling He has given me. I am committed to finishing well…”
- I’ll take TRANSCENDENCE for $2,000..OH DAILY DOUBLE!!!!: He’s now all wrapped up in his calling from God, his remaining years, finishing the race, and bestowing all good things on peasants. He’s untouchable now.
- “I bear no ill will toward anybody. God is the God of healing, and He promises a new day. May that be true by His grace.”
- This is BOLSTERING: he is making himself the superior person in this.
Given the known facts in RZ’s case, and given the use of Image Repair in his public statement, the conclusion is that
- Ravi Zacharias is being less than honest,
- Ravi Zacharias is hiding the truth, and
- Ravi Zacharias is using corporate damage control tactics in lieu of addressing hard questions.