The Roys Report [Chicago IL]
November 10, 2022
By Julie Roys
Several leading Christian apologists have released a statement, declaring that three former top executives of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)—Sarah (Davis) Phillips, Michael Ramsden, and Abdu Murray—are “disqualified” from ministry because of unrepentant abuse and deceit.
The apologists—William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, Mike Licona, Debbie Licona, and Paul Copan—said they invested about 1,000 hours investigating “serious injustices and abuses” by Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray against former RZIM employees.
After interviewing 25 people, studying “copious amounts of supporting documentation,” and consulting with experts, the apologists concluded that “abuse and deception” was part of the “organizational culture” at RZIM. The apologists list 18 examples of RZIM’s toxic culture, many stemming from leaders’ attempts to conceal the sex abuse scandal involving the late RZIM founder Ravi Zacharias.
Topping the list is the group’s finding that RZIM’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) of Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray “intimidated, mistreated, or retaliated against” RZIM staff members “who pushed back or asked legitimate questions” from 2017—2021. (Phillips was CEO of RZIM; Ramsden was president; and Murray was vice president and general counsel.)
Ramsden even threatened to extradite RZIM employees in the UK who asked questions about the allegations against Zacharias, the document states. Yet when asked about the alleged threats, Ramsden, a lawyer, reportedly responded, “What is ‘extradite’?”
Ramsden also reportedly denied being a part of the SLT, despite “extensive documentation and testimony” confirming his role as an SLT team member and president of RZIM.
The document also asserts that the SLT “participated in spiritual and emotional abuse in the ‘conciliation’ practices of Judy Dabler.” Dabler, the discredited founder of Live at Peace Ministries and Creative Conciliation, “was ‘The Enforcer’ brought in by Ramsden and (Davis) Phillips to reign in ‘errant troublemakers’ and bring them in line,” the document states.
“Multiple employees remain in therapy due to their experience during these ‘conciliation’ meetings,” the apologists write. “One employee’s therapist referred to what occurred as ‘psychological torture.’”
Despite these and many other documented offenses, Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray “have not displayed a godly sorrow nor demonstrated the fruit consistent with repentance for their actions,” the apologists wrote.
The apologists noted that Phillips, Ramsden, and Murray have publicly apologized for at least part of their role in the Ravi Zacharias sex abuse scandal and have “acknowledged that ‘mistakes were made.’” (One of the apologists, Sean McDowell, gave Murray a platform on his podcast last year to apologize and explain his actions. McDowell has since removed that podcast from online and apologized to former RZIM staff who objected to the Murray podcast.)
But the apologists added that the three “have not specifically owned their actions or expressed remorse to those they hurt. Nor have they repaired the damage they have caused. . . . Rather, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment amongst Ramsden, (Davis) Phillips, and Murray that they are ‘victims’ of those who went public with their concerns.”
The document concludes that Ramsden, Phillips, and Murray are “disqualified” and “not fit to be in ministry and leadership positions.” The apologists add that they “will not partner with them or endorse their work until the fruit consistent with genuine repentance is evident in their lives.”
Among the list of offenses cited by the apologists is a surprising revelation concerning the late apologist Nabeel Qureshi, who was widely regarded as Zacharias’ well-loved protégé.
According to “multiple sources” interviewed by the apologists, Zacharias became jealous of Qureshi when Qureshi began getting more speaking requests than Zacharias. Zacharias then spread false rumors that Qureshi was a “womanizer” and “an alcoholic,” the document states. Murray then met Qureshi in the Atlanta airport under false pretenses, and with Phillips present, fired Qureshi, the document states.
The Roys Report (TRR) reached out to Murray for comment, but he did not immediately respond.
Of the three former SLT members, only Murray remains in public ministry. Despite his role in the RZIM scandal, Murray published a book with Zondervan on September 27 called, “More Than a White Man’s Religion,” and the publisher currently hosts a website for Murray.
He was scheduled to speak at the Colson Center’s Great Lakes Symposium on Christian Worldview this summer. However, after The Roys Report (TRR) reached out to Colson Center President John Stonestreet, inquiring about Murray’s appearance, Murray was quietly removed from the program.
More examples of alleged abuse and deceit
The apologists state that the offenses listed are not “a comprehensive report of all that took place at RZIM, but rather a summary of the types of abuse and deception that were representative of RZIM’s organizational structure.” These include:
- When Ramsden discovered that information he had given RZIM staff was false, he “made no efforts to correct the record.” For example, Ramsden told RZIM staff that “no money had exchanged hands” with Lori Anne Thompson for a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Yet, once Ramsden learned that wasn’t true, he said nothing.
- The SLT maintains employees who went public with their concerns were wrong for doing so. Ramsden claims they were “part of ‘The Resistance’ to bring the ministry down.”
- Former RZIM employees who pushed Phillips “to handle certain questionable situations were reprimanded by her for insurbordination, accused of gossip or other spiritualized scolding by Ramsden and others, and sidelined for challenging leadership.” Witnesses of this behavior remain “afraid of retaliation or further trauma.”
- Former RZIM spokesperson Ruth Malhotra was forced to go on extended leave “due to pressure” from the SLT and Zacharias. According to “testimony and documentation,” Ramsden and Murray were concerned Malhotra had compiled a “dossier to take down the ministry.” Before Malhotra went on her leave, “all her work electronic devices were confiscated (including passwords).” At the same time, Zacharias “refused to turn over his devices.”
- The SLT engaged in a “smear campaign” against Malhotra and another employee who wished to remain anonymous. “Members of the SLT told other staff members that these two employees were emotional, disloyal, and untrustworthy.”
- Despite Phillips assurance that RZIM staff wouldn’t have to sign NDAs, RZIM required Malhotra, to sign an NDA to receive severance. Malhotra refused and received no severance. Similarly, former RZIM director, Carson Weitnauer, had to engage in “three months of difficult legal negotiations” to avoid signing an NDA.
- Several former RZIM employees remain in therapy because of the actions of the SLT. RZIM initially paid for counseling but has stopped doing so.
Though the focus of the apologists’ investigation was the SLT, the statement adds that the RZIM Executive Committee of the Board, which remains anonymous, “egregiously failed in its duties.”
“Not only did it fail to hold Zacharias accountable, it did not even look at the evidence in the Thompson matter prior to signing off on Zacharias’ statement of denial,” the apologists state. “We believe it failed in its fiduciary duty to Zacharias, RZIM, their donors and to the public. . . . We have not observed the signs of repentance from former or present RZIM Executive Committee members that would be appropriate in light of the extensive damage caused by their negligence.”
Phillips and Ramsden out of spotlight
For the past year, both Phillips and Ramsden have remained relatively silent and away from the spotlight.
In 2021, Sarah (Davis) Phillips launched a new ministry, called the Lighten Group, with former RZIM speakers, Alycia Wood, Xandra Carroll, and Lou Phillips whom Sarah recently married. However, Lighten confirmed that Phillips stepped away from leadership in Lighten last February. And in September, Lighten announced it is shutting down due to “growing financial challenges.”
Sarah’s husband, Lou Phillips, now works as the director of church and ministry relations for The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender.
TRR has been unable to determine Michael Ramsden’s current employment status. His Facebook page still lists him as President of RZIM and RZIM still exists as a legal entity, but its website states it is “down for maintenance.”
This article has been updated.