Christianity Today [Carol Stream IL]
March 10, 2021
By Daniel Silliman
(UPDATE): Days after releasing a call for victims and plans for a name change, Ravi Zacharias’s organization announces plans for a dramatic shift in ministry.
Update (March 10): Once the largest apologetics ministry in the world, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) will stop doing apologetics work this year.
CEO Sarah Davis announced to staff Wednesday morning that over the next six months, the downsized ministry will remake itself as a grant-making charity. It plans to give money to organizations fulfilling its original purpose of defending the truth of the gospel as well as organizations that care for victims of sexual abuse.
“RZIM cannot and should not continue to operate as an organization in its present form. Nor do we believe we can only rename the organization and move forward with ‘business as usual,’” said Davis, who is Zacharias’s daughter and has led the ministry since his death in May 2020.
RZIM’s speakers have had invitations rescinded since allegations against Zacharias were reported in September. Over the past several months, donations slowed to the $35 million–$40 million ministry as it investigated and ultimately confirmed abuse by its late founder.
The investigation found “guilt beyond anything that we could have imagined,” Davis acknowledged on Wednesday.
“The ministry of RZIM has been on a journey almost unlike anything we can think of in modern evangelical history,” Davis said. “We, as a ministry, have been processing a wide range of emotions, including intense grief for victims of abuse, abhorrence at Ravi’s actions, disillusionment, dismay, anger, and uncertainty about the future of the ministry we love and serve.”
The ministry is currently undergoing a broad review of culture and structure by the consulting firm Guidepost Solutions. Davis told staff that they can expect layoffs of about 60 percent of staff, starting immediately, as well as leadership changes when the review is finished in four to six months.
In the meantime, staff in each department are being instructed to “focus their gifts, skills, and resources” on “repentance, restitution, learning, and serving.”
Original post (March 8): Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, in the midst of an outside review of its corporate culture and past handling of abuse allegations, has announced it will change its name. It also is calling for additional victims to come forward and report sexual abuse and harassment by its late world-famous founder.
Last month’s investigative report confirmed allegations against the apologist dating back to 2004 and uncovered additional evidence of abuse continuing up until a few months before his death in May 2020. But while the investigation was conclusive, it was not comprehensive.
In a statement released over the weekend, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) acknowledged there may be many more victims. This is the first time RZIM has directly asked victims to come forward.
The consulting firm Guidepost Solutions will field reports by phone and email as part of its comprehensive review of RZIM, while victims’ advocate Rachael Denhollander will serve as a confidential liaison with survivors. Phone lines have been set up in English, Spanish, and French.
“We continue to grieve deeply for the victims who have been treated in ways that are completely antithetical to the gospel,” wrote CEO Sarah Davis, who is also Zacharias’s daughter, in the official statement. “We also painfully and increasingly recognize organizational failures that have occurred and the repentance that needs to take place in both heart and action.”
Davis said the review is comprehensive and is expected to take months. Layoffs are expected soon.
The ministry also announced it is removing Zacharias’s teaching from its website and social media. The 12 international branches of RZIM are independently evaluating their own ministry cultures and future plans.
Ministry knew about previous allegation
Top RZIM leaders in the US and Asia have known about allegations against Zacharias since at least 2008, when an Indian team member reported to the head of the Singapore board that Zacharias had been seen with a woman he wasn’t related to in a Singapore hotel. Zacharias was holding her hand and appeared to be intimate with her. Zacharias dismissed it as a misunderstanding, and the ministry did not investigate, according to internal documents obtained by CT.
The team member raised the issue again in 2012, along with questions about Zacharias’s solo trips to Thailand, where Zacharias owned two apartments—one for himself and one for a massage therapist. The ministry didn’t investigate then either. The Singapore board instead launched a full inquiry into whether the team member was spreading rumors about Zacharias.
“Directors agreed that derogative remarks of any kind by any of the parties must cease immediately as they do not glorify the Lord,” the Singapore board chair wrote in a 2012 email obtained by CT. “We are of the same conviction that brothers should reconcile where there have been misunderstandings. … The work of RZIM is making great impact on unbelievers and any public dispute will bring irreparable damage to parties concerned and the organization.”
Similar arguments were made at RZIM’s other international offices. Team members in India, the US, the UK, and Canada told CT that when they raised concerns, they were dismissed. Leadership pointed to Zacharias’s reputation. He was considered above reproach and beyond question.
RZIM spokeswoman Ruth Malhotra, in a 26-page letter to the US board about corporate complicity in Zacharias’s abuse, wrote that the leadership’s strategic response to allegations was to “delay, deny, defy, defame.” According to Malhotra, she raised questions in 2017, when Zacharias denied soliciting explicit sexual images from a woman in Canada. Instead of trying to answer her questions, a senior leader demanded to know, “Whose side are you on?”
After the investigation in 2021, the US board acknowledged mistakes and promised a review of the culture and leadership of the ministry.
“Our trust in Ravi’s denial of moral wrongdoing and in his deceptive explanations of emails and other records that became public was severely misplaced,” the statement said. “We also recognize that in situations of prolonged abuse, there often exist significant structural, policy, and cultural problems. It is imperative that where these things exist in our organization, we take focused steps to ensure they are properly diagnosed and addressed.”
The US board is anonymous, and the statement was not signed by individual members. It is not clear who wrote the statement or whether board members agreed with it unanimously.
RZIM’s 12 international offices are also evaluating their own culture and making decisions about the future. Leadership in the respective countries have to decide whether to shut down or continue, whether to remain affiliated with the US ministry or separate, and whether to keep the Zacharias name or abandon it.
The UK ministry and the Latin American ministry have each announced their intentions to separate and establish independent apologetics organizations. The Latin American board shut down its website after making its statement.
RZIM Spain is evaluating “next steps” but said it has received “many expressions of encouragement” to continue doing apologetics and evangelism in Spain.
The German-language branch of RZIM, operating in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, has announced team training on abuse and a review of its own organizational structure and culture.
“Looking back, we realize that we as the institute were positively biased towards Ravi Zacharias and that we also trusted the control mechanisms within RZIM too much,” the ministry said in an official statement. “We are extremely sorry for these failures.”
RZIM Canada is closing down. “We recognize the ongoing need for an apologetics-based approach to evangelism,” the Canadian board said. “Regrettably, we are of the conviction that it is not possible for RZIM Canada to fulfill this mandate within the current environment.”
RZIM Hong Kong, which serves Southeast Asia and Oceania, stated it is considering “all possible paths that would honour our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” and also said, “We apologise unreservedly for the hurt we have caused others through our misplaced trust in Ravi.”
The RZIM officers in India and Turkey have translated the US board’s apology and publicized the information about the investigation, but have not made individual public statements about the future of those ministries. RZIM Middle East does not appear to have made any public statements.
RZIM Romania and RZIM Singapore announced times of prayer and re-evaluation.
The Romanian ministry said it is praying “that God will heal any wound caused by the actions of Ravi Zacharias and any disappointment caused by this news. We put all our hope in His grace and continue to remain committed to searching and presenting #Truth.”
RZIM Africa said its top priority is to “Pray for, listen to and learn from victims and victim advocates, seek their forgiveness where appropriate, and take steps that emerge.”
Two African leaders personally reached out to one victim to apologize. The ministry is also encouraging others to come forward.
“Given the extent of Ravi’s deception and abuse,” the statement said, “we recognize that there may be many others who have suffered, and whose stories have not yet been told.”