The Way Back for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
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:
- 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 Smith is the president of MinistryWatch.