Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias (26 March 1946  19 May 2020) was an Indian-born Canadian-American Christian apologist who founded the RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministry). He was involved in Christian apologetics for a period spanning more than 40 years. Zacharias was the author of more than 30 books on Christianity,[1] including the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's Gold Medallion Book Award winner Can Man Live Without God? in the category "theology and doctrine"[2] as well as Christian bestsellers Light in the Shadow of Jihad and The Grand Weaver.[3][4] Zacharias was the founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and host of the radio programs Let My People Think and Just Thinking.[5][6] He was a lifelong minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Keswickian Christian denomination in which he was ordained.[7]

Ravi Zacharias
Zacharias in 2015
Born
Frederick Antony Ravi Kumar Zacharias

(1946-03-26)26 March 1946
Madras, British India
Died19 May 2020(2020-05-19) (aged 74)
Citizenship
  • Canada
  • United States
OccupationChristian apologist, founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
Spouse(s)
Margaret Reynolds
(m. 1972)
Academic background
Alma materTrinity International University
InfluencesNorman Geisler, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Polkinghorne, Billy Graham
Academic work
Era21st-century philosophy
School or traditionChristian philosophy
Main interestsPhilosophy of religion, Christian apologetics, Worldview
Notable ideasFour Criteria for a Coherent Worldview
InfluencedNabeel Qureshi, Lee Strobel, Frank Turek, Tim Tebow, Alisa Childers
Websitewww.rzim.org

Zacharias has been accused of exaggerating his academic qualifications and multiple sources accuse Zacharias of serious sexual misconduct.[8] In February 2021, Miller & Martin, the law firm hired by RZIM to look into these allegations, confirmed their veracity.[8][9][10] As a result, RZIM issued an apology and subsequently announced that it would undergo a name change and remove all material related to Zacharias.[11][12][13] In addition, the Christian and Missionary Alliance posthumously revoked his ordination after conducting their own investigation.[14] HarperCollins, which owns the Christian publishers Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, also confirmed that it would cease selling books written by Zacharias and remove him from other published works.[15]

Early life and education

Zacharias was born on 26 March 1946 in Madras, India. His family moved to Delhi in North India when he was quite young. He grew up being influenced by North Indian culture and spoke Hindi fluently, the only Indian language that he knew.[6]

His family was Anglican,[16] but he was a "skeptic" until the age of 17 when he tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison.[6][17] While he was in the hospital, a local Christian worker brought him a Bible and told his mother to read to him from John 14, which contains Jesus' words to Thomas the Apostle.[6][18] Zacharias said it was John 14:19 that touched him as the defining paradigm, "Because I live, you also will live", and that he thought, "This may be my only hope: A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of Life." He committed his life to Christ, praying that "Jesus if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth."[19]

In 1966, Zacharias immigrated with his family to Canada,[6] earning his undergraduate degree from the Ontario Bible College in 1972 (now Tyndale University) and his M.Div. from Trinity International University in 1976.[6]

In 1990, he participated in guided study at Ridley Hall, a Church of England theological school in Cambridge.[6]

Career

Ministry

Zacharias talks to pastor Joe Coffey at Christ Community Chapel about answering objections to Christianity

Zacharias spent the summer of 1971 in South Vietnam, where he evangelized US soldiers, as well as imprisoned Viet Cong members.[17][20] After graduating from Ontario Bible College, he began an itinerant ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada.[21] In 1974 the C&MA sent him to Cambodia, where he preached only a short time before its fall to the Khmer Rouge.[17] He was later ordained by the C&MA in 1980, and between 1980 and 1984, he taught at the C&MA-affiliated Alliance Theological Seminary, where he was a professor of evangelism.[6][22]

In 1983, Zacharias spoke in Amsterdam at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's first International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists.[23] After Amsterdam, Zacharias spent the summer evangelizing in India, where he continued to see the need for apologetic ministry, both to lead people to Christ and to train Christian leaders. In August 1984, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries was founded in Toronto, Canada, to pursue his calling as a "classical evangelist in the arena of the intellectually resistant."[24] Today its headquarters are located in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.[6]

In 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Zacharias spoke in Moscow with students at the Lenin Military Academy as well as political leaders at the Center for Geopolitical Strategy.[25][26] This was the first of many evangelism events in the political sphere. Future events included one in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1993, where he spoke to members of the judiciary on the importance of having a solid moral foundation.[27]

In 1990 he wrote his first book, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism.[28] In 1992, Zacharias spoke at his first Veritas Forum at Harvard University,[17][29] and later that year was one of the keynote speakers at Urbana.[30] Zacharias continued to be a frequent guest at these forums,[31] both giving lectures and answering students in question and answer sessions at academic institutions including the University of Georgia,[32] the University of Michigan,[33] and Penn State.[34]

Zacharias attracted media attention when in 2004 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) opened its signature pulpit at the Salt Lake Tabernacle to him for a series of messages. Zacharias delivered a sermon on "Who Is the Truth? Defending Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth and The Life" to some 7,000 lay-persons and scholars from both LDS and Protestant camps in an initiatory move towards open dialogue between the camps.[35] Some evangelicals criticized Zacharias' decision not to use this opportunity to directly address the "deep and foundational" differences between the traditional Christian faith and that of the teachings of the LDS Church. He responded by asserting that Christians should not immediately condemn so-called "Mormonism's" theological differences but "graciously build one step at a time in communicating our faith with clarity and conviction". He said this is just as effective as showing someone the faults of their faith.[36] The speaking engagement was nearly sabotaged by an allegation by event organizer Greg Johnson, president of Standing Together, that Zacharias had nothing to do with editing the book The Kingdom of the Cults and had only loaned his name to the latest edition. Johnson later apologized for his comment.[37]

Zacharias was a frequent keynote lecturer within the evangelical community at events including the Future of Truth conference in 2004,[38] the National Religious Broadcasters' Convention and Exposition in 2005,[39] the National Conference on Christian Apologetics in 2006.[40] On successive nights in October 2007, he addressed first the students and faculty of Virginia Tech, then the community of Blacksburg, Virginia, on the topic of evil and suffering in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre.[41] Zacharias has represented the evangelical community at occasions such as the National Day of Prayer in Washington, D.C., the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations, and the African Union Prayer Breakfast in Maputo, Mozambique, and was named honorary chairman of the 2008 National Day of Prayer task force.[42] He also participated in the ecumenical Together 2016 meetings in July 2016, which Pope Francis addressed, describing the event as a valiant effort.[43][44][45]

Zacharias was interviewed in Focus on the Family's Truth Project. In November 2009, Zacharias signed an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration which affirms the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and freedom of religion, as foundational principles of justice and the common good.[46]

In 2014, Zacharias republished his book The Lamb and The Fuhrer, an imaginary conversation between Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as a graphic novel.[47] In 2016, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio appointed Zacharias to his pro-life "Dignity of Life" advisory panel.[48]

In 2015, according to the public Form 990 tax return, Zacharias and his wife reported earning a combined total of $523,926 from his non-profit Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).[49]

Worldview

Zacharias argued that a coherent worldview must be able to satisfactorily answer four questions: that of origin, meaning of life, morality, and destiny. He said that while every major religion makes exclusive claims about truth, the Christian faith is unique in its ability to answer all four of these questions.[50] He routinely spoke on the coherence of the Christian worldview,[51] saying that Christianity is capable of withstanding the toughest philosophical attacks.[52] Zacharias believed that the apologist must argue from three levels: from logic to make it tenable; from feelings to make it liveable; and from whether one has the right to use it to make moral judgments.[53] Zacharias' style of apologetics focused predominantly on Christianity's answers to life's great existential questions with defense of God.[6] He argued that the dominance of the visual in modern communication systems has impacted people's capacity for abstract reasoning altering their way of perceiving things; however, the integration of abstract reasoning into one's worldview is important to have its base grounded in absolutes rather than on relative feelings and fads.[54]

Academic credential controversies

In an earlier edition of his biography and in some of his books and in about section, Zacharias claimed that he studied at the University of Cambridge and was a visiting professor at the University of Oxford.[55][56] In multiple speaking engagements he said that he had taken a class in quantum mechanics under John Polkinghorne and while a visiting scholar at University of Cambridge he had heard Stephen Hawking lecture and saw him struggle between agnosticism and theism.[57][58] Ravi Zacharias often claimed through his books and preaching that he was invited to be a visiting scholar at University of Cambridge, and while at Cambridge he focused his studies on Romantic writers and moralist philosophers.[58][59]

The veracity of Zacharias's purported academic positions at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge was questioned.[60]

When Zacharias said he was a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, he wasn't being truthful. He was a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, which is an educational institution in Cambridge, England. (Warren Throckmorton)[61]

The University of Cambridge denied that Zacharias had ever enrolled or studied at their university, while the University of Oxford denied Zacharias having held any academic positions at their university.

Ravi Zacharias later established The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA), an unaccredited, unrecognised research institute in Oxfordshire, England offering theological degrees.

In 2017, Christianity Today reported accusations that Zacharias had exaggerated his academic credentials; for instance that he had referred to himself in multiple articles and videos with the title "Doctor" or "Dr.", despite lacking a PhD qualification. In response, Zacharias said he had been "conferred ten honorary doctorates" and said further that "in Ravi's homeland of India… honorific titles are customary and are used frequently out of respect for elders, including by the RZIM India team when addressing Ravi."[62]

In a statement, RZIM indicated that "[in] earlier years, 'Dr.' did appear before Ravi's name in some of our materials, including on our website, which is an appropriate and acceptable practice with honorary doctorates. However, because this practice can be contentious in certain circles, we no longer use it." Christianity Today reported that Zacharias' online biography was edited following the accusations regarding his credentials.[62]

The attorney and outspoken atheist Steve Baughman also ran a website exposing how Zacharias exaggerated his qualifications and also committed sexual abuse.[63][64]

Sexual abuse

In April 2017, Canadian Lori Anne Thompson and her husband sent a demand letter to Zacharias requiring him to pay $5 million in exchange for them refraining from filing a lawsuit that would have accused Zacharias of impropriety involving an exchange of texts between Lori Anne Thompson and Zacharias. She had texted nude photos of herself to Zacharias. In response, Zacharias filed a RICO lawsuit against Thompson accusing the couple of trying to extort money from Zacharias.[65] The case was settled in November 2017 with a non-disclosure agreement.[65] In a 3 December 2017 statement,[66] Zacharias said, "Let me state categorically that I never met [Thompson] alone, publicly or privately. The question is not whether I solicited or sent any illicit photos or messages to [her]—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." Zacharias added that he had been "absolutely faithful" to his wife Margie throughout their marriage, but acknowledged that he "failed to exercise wise caution and to protect [himself] from even the appearance of impropriety".[65][66]

Four months after Zacharias' death in May 2020, three women who worked at two day-spas he co-owned in Atlanta came forward alleging that Zacharias had sexually harassed multiple massage therapists over the course of a period of about five years. They alleged that Zacharias would expose and touch himself every time he was at the spa. According to Christianity Today,

Zacharias masturbated in front of one of the women more than 50 times, according to her recollection. He told her he was burdened by the demands of the ministry, and he needed this "therapy." He also asked her to have sex with him twice, she said, and requested explicit photos of her.

Other women also told Christianity Today,

"He would touch my leg, which was kind of by his hand, but then he would run his hand up to the middle of my thighs and then to the private area," one woman said. Another woman recalled Zacharias touching her lower back. It seemed friendly, almost comforting. Then he moved his hand down and inside of her pants. Several other times, he moved his hand up her side and touched her breast.[67]

His former business partner Anurag Sharma expressed regret at not stopping Zacharias and issued an apology to one of the alleged victims.[68]

Carson Weitnauer, a former employee, referred to Zacharias in response to the allegations as "one of [his generation's] greatest frauds," a "sexual predator", and a "uniquely charismatic manipulator."[69]

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries initially denied the claims but subsequently hired the law firm Martin & Miller to perform an investigation. Martin & Miller engaged the services of a private investigation firm consisting of former federal law enforcement officers. The investigators interviewed more than 50 people including more than a dozen massage therapists and accessed data from four mobile devices used by Zacharias.[70]

On 23 December 2020, RZIM confirmed that the allegations were true and released a preliminary report from the investigation.[71]

"The interim investigation update indicates this assessment of Ravi's behavior to be true—that he did indeed engage in sexual misconduct.[72] This misconduct is deeply troubling and wholly inconsistent with the man Ravi Zacharias presented both publicly and privately to so many over more than four decades of public ministry. We are heartbroken at learning this but feel it necessary to be transparent and to inform our staff, donors, and supporters at this time, even while the investigation continues."

On 11 February 2021, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries released the results of its investigation, concluding that there was credible evidence that Zacharias had engaged in sexual misconduct.[9] Accordingly, it was found that Ravi Zacharias solicited and received sexually explicit photos from more than 200 women who were in their early twenties until a few months before his death in May 2020 at age 74.[73] According to investigators, Ravi Zacharias also used tens of thousands of dollars of ministry funds which were dedicated to a "humanitarian effort" to pay four massage therapists, providing them housing, schooling, and monthly support for extended periods of time.[73]

In an article on the report, The Gospel Coalition noted that,

Some therapists describe Zacharias as setting the women at ease by asking probing questions about their background, including "financial struggles or emotionally broken backgrounds." For example, one therapist reported that Zacharias spent the first half of their first massage session asking about her spiritual journey and prior abuse. This set her at ease and made her feel that he cared for her as a person before he later asked her to massage his genitals. Another woman reported that he would talk about her career plans and efforts to improve her financial situation while he was massaging her breasts. She never came forward because she thought, "who would believe me" against a famous Christian leader. Some therapists also reported that Zacharias paid well or would leave large tips and gave gifts that were at times lavish, such as a Persian rug or a Louis Vuitton wallet with $500 inside.[74]

On Zacharias' financial irregularities, The Gospel Coalition further reported that RZIM would pay rent for Zacharias to stay at his own apartment while in Bangkok. They wrote,

Zacharias often traveled alone to Bangkok and other parts of Southeast Asia for substantial time. He owned two apartments in Bangkok. Between 2010 and 2014 he spent a total of 256 days in one of these apartments and sought rent reimbursement from RZIM for those stays. The other apartment, in the same building but on a different floor, housed one of his massage therapists.[74]

Christianity Today while reporting on the findings wrote that,

One woman told the investigators that "after he arranged for the ministry to provide her with financial support, he required sex from her." She called it rape. She said Zacharias "made her pray with him to thank God for the 'opportunity' they both received" and, as with other victims, "called her his 'reward' for living a life of service to God," the report says. Zacharias warned the woman—a fellow believer—if she ever spoke out against him, she would be responsible for millions of souls lost when his reputation was damaged.[73]

Vicki Blue maintains that Zacharias threatened to make her and her daughter Becca (who was also abused) miserable if she disclosed abuse. She stated, “Ravi kept talking about an anonymous donor that he could get limitless money from,” Blue said. “He said, ‘I can keep it going and make your life miserable until you die.’” Blue said initially Zacharias helped a great deal over her spiritual confusion and she thought he was, “the closest person to God other than Jesus.” Later Zacharias maintained his marriage was unsatisfactory and maintained Blue was “his soulmate” and he, “couldn’t survive without (her),” Blue maintains Zacharias put his hand into her groin and continued sexual advances after she said, “no”. Zacharias exposed himself and masturbated in front of her 50 to 100 times, he twice asked her to have sex but she refused. At the time Blue believed Zacharias was in love with her. she claims she was confused and vulnerable, stating, “It’s hard to explain. When someone gives you spiritual advice and you know everything he says about God is true, yet he’s also doing these things to you—it took years of therapy to realize I didn’t do anything wrong.” Blue was persuaded to open a spa with Zacharias as a co-owner and it failed financially. Blue maintains her daughter Becca said Zacharias molested her and six other spa therapists also complained he had done something perverted or molested them. “I realized then how much I had been used and manipulated,” Blue stated.[75]

In an interview, Shirley Steward, a retired Ontario Provincial Police Officer, recounts that Ravi Zacharias, who was already a Christian minister at the time, pressured her to have an abortion after she became pregnant as a teenager by his brother Ramesh.[76]

In response to the second report, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which includes Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, confirmed that it would no longer sell books by Zacharias and that it was working with Christian author Lee Strobel to remove Zacharias from other works.[15]

In their release of the full report, the board of RZIM stated that it was "shocked and grieved by Ravi's actions", and apologized to his victims: "Words cannot come close to expressing the sorrow that we feel for what you have been through or the gratitude we feel for the bravery with which you have responded."[11] Zacharias Trust, the UK branch of RZIM, criticizing this response as inadequate, cut all ties with RZIM in the US and decided to change its name.[77][78]

Both RZIM and Zacharias Trust apologised to Lori Thompson, though Zacharias's widow Margie did not release Lori Thompson from the non-disclosure agreement.

On 19 February, Zacharias's denomination, the Alliance World Fellowship, revoked his ordination after its own investigation confirmed a "pattern of predatory behaviour."[14] In addition, RZIM Canada began winding down operations.[79] By 24 February, RZIM Africa had suspended its operations while RZIM scaled back its website.[80] On 8 March, RZIM stated it will alter its name and take all Zacharias' content out.[12][13] As a result of falling donations, RZIM decided to make 60% of its workforce worldwide redundant and changed from running evangelists and apologists to making grants to other organizations, supporting evangelism and "the prevention of and caring for victims of sexual abuse."[81][82]

Personal life

On 7 May 1972, Zacharias married Margaret "Margie" Reynolds, whom he met at his church's youth group.[83] They had three children, Sarah, Nathan, and Naomi.[84] He lived in Atlanta, Georgia.[6]

In March 2020, Zacharias was diagnosed with a malignant and rare cancer in his spine,[85] and on 19 May 2020, he died at his home in Atlanta at the age of 74.[86] Following his death, a number of high-profile Christians posted messages online detailing Zacharias's influence upon them.[87]

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence were among many who expressed their sympathies for Zacharias following his death.[88]

Bibliography

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  • Jesus Among Other Gods (2000, 2002) ISBN 0-8499-4327-2
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  • The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha (2001) ISBN 1-57673-854-X
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  • Light in the Shadow of Jihad: The Struggle For Truth (2002) ISBN 1-57673-989-9
  • Recapture the Wonder (2003) ISBN 1-59145-276-7
  • Is Your Church Ready?: Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life (2003) (Editor, with Norman Geisler) ISBN 0-310-25061-7
  • Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith (2003) (General editor, with Norman Geisler) ISBN 0-310-24710-1
  • The Kingdom of the Cults (2003) (Editor) ISBN 0-7642-2821-8
  • I, Isaac Take Thee, Rebekah: Moving From Romance to Lasting Love (2004) ISBN 0-8499-0822-1
  • The Prince and the Prophet: Jesus Talks With Mohammed (copyright 2004, to be released posthumously) ISBN 1-59052-319-9
  • The Lamb and the Führer: Jesus Talks with Hitler (2005) ISBN 1-59052-394-6
  • Zacharias, Ravi; Sawyer, R. S. B. (2006), Walking From East to West: God in the Shadows (1st ed.), Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ISBN 0-310-25915-0, 205 pp.
  • The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives (2007) ISBN 0-310-26952-0
  • Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend (2008) ISBN 0-8499-1968-1
  • The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists (2008) ISBN 0-310-28251-9
  • Is There Not a Cause (2008; National Day of Prayer Feature Book) ISBN 978-1-93010721-2; Audio CD ISBN 978-1-61256016-8.
  • New Birth or Rebirth: Jesus Talks with Krishna (2008) ISBN 1-59052-725-9
  • There is a Plan (2009) (excerpts from The Grand Weaver) ISBN 0-310-31849-1
  • Has Christianity Failed You? (2010) ISBN 0-310-26955-5
  • The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha (2010) ISBN 1-60142-318-7
  • Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (2012) ISBN 978-0-89296-319-5
  • The Lamb and the Führer (graphic novel, 2014) ISBN 978-161328-137-6
  • Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense (2014) ISBN 978-1-45554-970-2
  • with Vince Vitale, Jesus Among Secular Gods: The Countercultural Claims of Christ (2017) ISBN 978-1-45556915-1
  • The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind (2019) ISBN 978-0-310-45405-2
  • with Abdu Murray, Seeing Jesus from The East: A Fresh Look at History's Most Influential Figure (2020) ISBN 978-0-310-53129-6

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