RZIM released the Miller & Martin investigation report into Ravi Zacharias’s sexual misconduct on Thursday, along with two statements. Substantial news coverage immediately followed from both religious and nonreligious outlets (Christianity Today, RNS, Washington Post, New York Times), so you know news outlets were given the report earlier but agreed to wait to publish until RZIM was ready. Here’s my take on the news.
What did the investigation report find related to sexual misconduct?
To summarize, the investigators looked into several forms of evidence. Much of it involved digital and paper trails: indeed, even without any interview evidence from therapists, I think the investigation found enough to prove sexual misconduct.
The first type of evidence inspected was phone records: notes, messages, and photos on Ravi Zacharias’s electronic device. These are hard to refute. The investigators found:
Contact information for over 200 massage therapists on his phones, many of whom lived overseas (p1)
Over 200 photographs of young women, many ordinary selfies but others increasingly provocative, including naked photos. He was communicating with many women at once; for example, he received photos from three different women over two days in July 2018. (p10)
Text messages depicting more than one romantic/amorous relationship between Zacharias and a young woman; they found two examples on a phone used in 2014. Messages included phrases like “Longing to see you again” and “I know more than ever you have become the love of my life” and “I love you my dearest”. The messages with one young woman also indicated a physical component - she wrote back, “I love you and kiss you everywhere” and told him she would “be fit and firm when I see you next month”. (p9-10)
Phone records and text messages showing Zacharias arranging massage treatments alone in his hotel room while traveling (p6)
Translations of amorous phrases in Thai and Mandarin, including “little bit farther”, “U R beautiful”, “I hope our love lasts forever”, “Your lips are especially beautiful”, “I love you darling” (p9)
A Jivan Wellness spa email address and notes with information about the spa and plans to have it support Wellspring ministry (p3)
Notes calling Touch of Hope a “humanitarian effort on the part of RZIM meeting short term needs for long term gains.” (p5)
RZIM financial/organizational records
The investigators also looked into RZIM’s records in some areas. While it’s always possible the books were falsified, these records are likely reliable. They reported:
Zacharias’s personal masseuse was paid through the ministry. Her paper job title did not reflect her actual work, which appears to have been providing massages to Zacharias. (p6)
Touch of Hope was run as a purely discretionary fund with very little oversight. (p5)
Documents provided by RZIM showed a significant portion of the Touch of Hope funds went to four women who were at some point Zacharias’s massage therapists. Two women attended massage therapy school via these funds. Another recipient was a massage therapist from Bangkok; $40,000 went to pay for her to attend a culinary school in the US. Funds were also used for monthly support. (p5)
Property records and references in Zacharias’s phone
As well, the investigators looked into property records and found:
Zacharias owned two apartments in Bangkok, bought in 2010 and 2011; he sold both in 2015 (p6)
Zacharias’s phone contained notes about these apartments and said he requested rental reimbursement from RZIM for his stays there. (p7)
Zacharias’s phone contained a massage therapist’s initials in an entry for one of the apartments; this unit appears to have housed this massage therapist. (p7)
Interviews with massage therapists
Finally, the investigators interviewed over a dozen massage therapists. Only one of these overlapped with the three therapists who had spoken to Christianity Today. They interviewed over 50 individuals total; some of these others would have been RZIM staff, one, we know, was Anurag Sharma, who co-owned the spas; and perhaps others. While these therapists’ reports are not “proven” via, say, video evidence, the reports given independently described a consistent pattern of behavior. While some may wish to imagine this is a vast conspiracy of lies, I don’t find that plausible.
NOTE: I know many have not been able to read the report itself—it is indeed troubling. I hope that this summary will not be too upsetting but please skip down to “What was the investigation hired to find?” if you need to.
Several therapists said Zacharias would frequently “try for more than a massage”. (p4)
Four therapists reported Zacharias would either touch himself (sexually) or ask them to touch him during massages. Two therapists obliged his request to masturbate him (he claimed he needed it for “ligamental” pain). (p4)
Five therapists reported that Zacharias touched or rubbed them inappropriately; two said he rubbed their breasts or genitals. (p4)
One of the interviewed therapists said that Zacharias began by getting to know her, then arranged for RZIM to provide her financial support, and then required sex from her. (p5)
She reported that he made her pray with him to thank God for the “opportunity” they both received. She said he called her his “reward” for living a life of service to God, and he referenced the “godly men” in the Bible with more than one wife. She said he warned her not ever to speak out against him or she would be responsible for the “millions of souls” whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged.
Some therapists reported Zacharias initially began by cultivating their trust, including hearing about their backgrounds and financial difficulties, before escalating his behavior. (p5)
Some therapists reported large tips and exorbitant gifts from Zacharias after these massages.
Some therapists reported a normal therapist-client relationship with Zacharias with no behavior they found inappropriate.
What was the investigation hired to find?
This is always the first question you need to ask whenever a church/org tells you they’re “investigating” something: “What is the scope of the investigation?” (Along with, “Who is investigating?")
It’s always necessary to limit investigation scope. Especially in the case of serial liars and abusers, you could spend your entire life chasing leads and still not cover everything. It’s good and important to prioritize. Often it is helpful to tackle one thing at a time. However scope is important context as you evaluate a report and think about what next steps are necessary in response.
The Miller & Martin report admits at the beginning:
The scope of our engagement did not extend to RZIM finances, possible retaliation against employees, or other aspects of the organization’s culture. This report comments on some of these issues as necessary to discuss sexual misconduct, but this was not an investigation into such topics. (p1)
The investigators also mention that they “did not set out to investigate [Touch of Hope] in depth”. Rather, the goal of this investigation was to find out: Did Ravi Zacharias commit sexual misconduct of the type reported in Christianity Today in September 2020 or not? The goal was not to:
- Exhaustively find out how much misconduct Zacharias committed
- Investigate misconduct of other types (credential fraud, financial misconduct, visa fraud, etc)
- Determine what types of crimes or charges would have applied to his misconduct
- Find out who or what other persons aided and abetted his misconduct
In fact, as a private investigation conducted with a fiduciary duty to the client (RZIM), the goal may very well have been not to get too involved in questions about RZIM’s involvement and/or complicity in the misconduct.
In my opinion, the investigation fulfilled its goal well. The question is: now what?
What other forms of misconduct were found?
Although the investigation was focused on sexual misconduct by Ravi Zacharias, it did touch on other forms of misconduct where they related to the sexual misconduct investigation. Four areas in particular are touched on:
- Financial misconduct and/or immigration misconduct
- Organizational misconduct
- Missing/withheld evidence
- Further sexual misconduct
Financial misconduct and/or immigration misconduct
The investigation confirmed that Ravi Zacharias used ministry funds to fuel his sexual misconduct endeavors, which included bringing women from overseas to the US.
The “Touch of Hope” fund was used to pay personal expenses for massage therapists who serviced Zacharias. Miller & Martin did not exhaustively cover how much of these funds were used, but it sounds like significant amounts were involved. For example, one therapist from Asia was given $40,000 to cover tuition at a US culinary school. One of the massage therapists who was provided financial assistance in this manner felt she could not refuse Zacharias’s demands for sex as a result.
A massage therapist was on payroll at RZIM with an on-paper job description that did not represent her actual work, which was providing massages to Zacharias. If RZIM sponsored her visa, there could be immigration fraud involved here.
Zacharias apparently requested rental reimbursals from RZIM for his stays at his own apartments in Bangkok.
Nonprofits generally have very strict rules against officers using nonprofit funds for personal benefit. We don’t know what else Zacharias used ministry funds for because that was not the topic of this report, but the IRS should be interested.
The investigation revealed multiple staff members were retaliated against for questioning Zacharias’s behavior. None of these staff members were identified in the report. However, it is clear that multiple staff members were aware of serious red flags in Zacharias’s behavior when questioned even gently about his decisions:
“A high-level RZIM staff member expressed concerns to Mr. Zacharias about [his traveling with a personal masseuse] and encouraged him to stop travelling with her. In response, Mr. Zacharias grew angry and barely spoke to this staff member for a long period of time. He was effectively “sent to Siberia,” as another staff member recalled. Their relationship never fully recovered.” (p6)
“Another former RZIM staff member reported similar treatment from Mr. Zacharias when he raised questions about Mr. Zacharias’s conduct in and solo travel to Asia. As a result, he was “demonized” by Mr. Zacharias, who accused him of spreading rumors.” (p6 footnote)
“Mr. Zacharias told certain members of his staff that the phone records and full, complete emails would exonerate him, but he did not give them access to these documents. Two high-level staff approached him directly asking for the phone records, since he claimed they would prove exculpatory. Both of these staff members told us Mr. Zacharias responded to this request with rage and threatened to resign from the organization.” (p7 footnote)
“We interviewed witnesses within RZIM who were not satisfied with Mr. Zacharias’s explanations [regarding the Thompson allegations], and some reported their belief that they were marginalized for raising questions.” (p8)
“Several RZIM staff reported to us his “shifting narrative” as emails and other relevant facts were publicly leaked and he was forced to explain them. Rather than fostering an environment of truth-seeking and transparency, Mr. Zacharias was strident and inflammatory. He described his critics as “nasty people” and “lunatics” who were engaging in “‘satanic-type’ slander and falsehood.” Some RZIM staff told us that he expressed frustration with having to issue an apology at all. He was able to convince many that not only was he innocent, he was the victim of malicious “evil.” At an all-staff virtual meeting in January 2018, after significant details of the Thompson communications had been made public, Mr. Zacharias offered explanations that many staff members found nonsensical. But some staff members reported to us that when they expressed doubts about Mr. Zacharias’s story, they were ignored, marginalized, and accused of disloyalty.” (p11)
It seems likely these staff were in a bit of a bind—who could they possibly escalate this to within RZIM? Ravi Zacharias was at the top of the organization. His wife was at the top of HR. Both were on the Board. We don’t know if any of these staff tried to escalate outside of the organization (say, to Christianity Today or other outlets) but if they did, nothing came of it, even after the Thompson allegations became public.
By contrast, the report also noted that some staff justified Zacharias’ behavior, despite knowing about his apartments in Bangkok, etc, stating they believed him “naive” and “innocent”:
Several staff knew about his personal masseuse, his involvement with Jivan Wellness, his apartment in Bangkok and frequent solo travel there, and other curious behavior, but they attributed all of this to Mr. Zacharias’s supposed naïve innocence. (p9 footnote)
Missing and/or withheld evidence
As the report said, the investigation’s goal was not to look into RZIM’s corporate culture. However, in the process of investigating Zacharias’s misconduct, they ran into roadblocks from then-chief culture officer Margie Zacharias.
(Note: Margie is not named in the report; she is referred to as the “Executrix” of the Zacharias estate. While it is technically possible someone else is being referred to here, I feel fairly confident this refers to Margie. Christianity Today reported that Margie is the one in control of the estate.)
Recall that two senior staff members were told that Zacharias’s phone records and email evidence had exonerated him. However, when they asked to see the evidence, he responded with “rage” and “threatened to resign.” (p7 footnote)
The Miller & Martin investigators were told that this evidence had been compiled by Zacharias’s lead counsel into a notebook, and that it was made available for review by an RZIM Board member and an RZIM public relations consultant (p8). The report did not name these two men, but Max Baker-Hytch was told these were Board member Bill Payne and PR professional Mark DeMoss. According to Baker-Hytch, Michael Ramsden told him these men called the evidence exculpatory; the phrase Ramsden attributed to DeMoss was “true blue” innocent. DeMoss denied characterizing the evidence this way but has not said what he did call it.
In any case, the RZIM Board appears to have believed the evidence was exculpatory, despite not seeing it themselves, to the point they were willing to make public statements on that basis. We can surmise, then, that either DeMoss or Payne told them so. (Which one was it?)
Naturally, the investigators asked to see this evidence. But when they asked for it, the Zacharias law firm did not provide any “substantive response.”
Furthermore, the devices provided by Margie Zacharias to the Miller & Martin investigators did not include the time period covered by the Thompson allegations (the report didn’t specify who provided the devices, but Nathan Zacharias posted on Instagram that it was his mother). The natural question is: what happened to the rest of them? Recall that at the time of the Thompson litigation, staff were told that Zacharias’s lawyers had been provided his devices and said there was nothing wrong on them. (Dan Paterson mentioned this in an interview as well.)
Therefore, the investigators wanted to know if Zacharias’s law firm had been able to extract data from the devices and what was found. They asked Margie Zacharias to cooperate with the investigation by authorizing the lawyers to provide this data. She refused. Why? Why refuse to provide the notebook and the devices if they were indeed so exculpatory?
Margie Zacharias has now resigned from the Board and her position at RZIM.
Further sexual misconduct indicators
The Miller & Martin investigation was not trying to find out exhaustively how much and what types of sexual abuse Zacharias had perpetrated. Their goal was to find out: yes or no, did he?
To that end, the investigators interviewed “over a dozen” massage therapists. All of the therapists they interviewed were in the US. Most of the descriptions of sexual misconduct provided by these therapists were in the context of massage therapy sessions.
However, the text messages retrieved from Zacharias’s phone described romantic/sexual relationships with women overseas. None of these women were interviewed. With over 200 massage therapist contacts in his phone, and extensive time spent traveling overseas, the extent to which Zacharias committed further in-person misconduct is likely substantial. In my opinion, RZIM needs to authorize Miller & Martin to report to law enforcement.
Note: Sex tourism for the purpose of abusing a minor is extremely, extremely illegal and can be prosecuted by the US even if the crimes were committed overseas. However, sex tourism involving adults is not. All of the women interviewed or described in the Miller & Martin report were adults.
Was Zacharias an addict trying to do better?
Many on initially hearing the rumors of sexual misconduct rushed to explanations that pitied Zacharias for “struggling” with sexual sin. However, the Miller & Martin report did not show a man struggling with an addiction.
If Zacharias had been working to stop the behavior, we would have expected to see messages indicating guilt/remorse and promises to stop followed by “lapses”; or we might see mass deletions of contacts (resolve to do better), followed by “slipping” and adding one or two. That is not what was found on Zacharias’s phone.
Instead, investigators found messages and photographs from a multitude of women. He was often corresponding with many at the same time. To each one, Zacharias used the same romantic phrases about being “beautiful” and his “love” for them. It defies reason to think he could have actually been in love with all of these women and “fell” into temptation. It is much more plausible that he was simply saying what he needed to say to get what he wanted.
Furthermore, Zacharias bought two properties in Bangkok and spent at least 256 days in one of them between 2010 and 2014 according to Notes on his phone (p7). He owned those apartments for about 4-5 years. One does not “slip” into property ownership.
What has RZIM’s response been?
RZIM released two statements along with the final report. The report is dated Feb 9, and earlier reporting in the Washington Post had printed that the report was set for release Feb 10. However, RZIM did not release it until Feb 11. We can’t know for sure what the delay was, but my guess is it had to do with finalizing the statements. The two statements were:
- Why Make Public a Private Investigation?
- Open Letter from the International Board of Directors of RZIM on the Investigation of Ravi Zacharias
My first reaction to these was: RZIM has someone new writing their statements. Compare the December 23 interim report statement (which also expresses that the misconduct allegations were credible and they pray for the victims) with the February 11 open letter—there’s just no way these are written/edited by the same people. The Feb 11 statement announced that Rachael Denhollander has been hired as a consultant, and that seems like the explanation for the new (much improved) tone to me.
I have been involved/followed in some detail two organizational/church misconduct situations. The first was the Sankey orphanage abuse case and the second was the Menlo Church pedophile volunteer situation. In both cases, once the situations hit major media coverage, the churches made contrite announcements, had the central employee resign, and thanked whistleblowers/advocates. However, in both cases, the internal posture was quite a bit more complicated.
Also, I received a brief email from RZIM yesterday regarding my requests for FY 2017 documentation et al—possibly in error, since it said they were going to be checking with their lawyer to see what they had to give me, if anything. (My name is Ruth, and their PR person is also named Ruth, so…)
All that to say… I tend to suspect the public statements aren’t quite the whole story at RZIM either.
What happens next?
Ravi’s wife Margie has resigned from the organization. His daughter Sarah is still CEO but has stepped down as Board Chair. No updates on daughter Naomi’s status. His son Nathan resigned last summer, I’m told. He seems indignant on his mother’s behalf based on his social media posts. He is not happy with how RZIM has handled this. I think that’s quite fair. From his perspective, his once-beloved and defended father has suddenly been thrown under the bus now that he is a liability instead of asset for the organization. It’s quite disorienting to get this treatment when you were expecting loyalty. He is experiencing in small part what abuse victims feel every time they are thrown to the wolves to protect an institution or offender.
According to insiders, a substantial downsizing is coming to RZIM. It’s not clear who will stay and who will go, but if they end up keeping the entire senior leadership cadre that covered up for Zacharias while letting go all the little guys… that says something. So far no Board members (except Margie) have resigned. Michael Ramsden and Sarah Davis still appear to be in the top leadership roles. So is Abdu Murray, as far as we know.
RZIM commits to a Guidepost Solutions organizational assessment
In any case, the leadership’s personal opinions matter less than the actions they’re willing (or not willing) to take. They have hired Guidepost Solutions to do a cultural/structural assessment. According to Rachael Denhollander, this assessment will include the mishandling of the 2017 Thompson case:
For those who have asked YES, the review into culture, structure, etc and past handling of allegations as laid out in the statement INCLUDES examining who may or should have known, including but not limited to, the Thompson case. This is an integral part of the commission.
It will also presumably address the mishandling of the Shirley Steward case—she reached out to RZIM Canada in 2014, ironically at the same time Zacharias began pursuing Lori Anne Thompson—as well as Steve Baughman’s evidence of credential fraud, which he began presenting in 2015.
Calling response insufficient, Zacharias Trust cuts ties with RZIM US
That sounds good, but The Zacharias Trust (RZIM UK branch) has announced it will be separating from the US organization. Their statement yesterday said:
However, we have sadly concluded that the response of the RZIM US Board does not go nearly far enough in terms of actions relating to leadership and governance. Very serious issues and systemic failings have been raised in recent months and confirmed by the Miller&Martin report. These demand accountability and urgent action beyond the measures outlined in the RZIM US statement.
Remember that back in December, they published part of a letter saying they were in conversation with RZIM US about specific reforms, which they hoped to have agreement upon before the findings were made public. It appears they were not able to agree.
- A profound apology to any victims and a commitment to engaging and listening to them to reach a point of reconciliation.
- Ensuring Zacharias Trust in the UK inputs into the public announcement that will be made when the investigation report is issued.
- A commitment to reform radically the governance, leadership and accountability of the RZIM organisation globally and to recognise the need to transform our culture by reconnecting to the Gospel values that underpin our organisation. We anticipate that there will be significant change across the global organisation.
- A prayerful and consultative reflection on how the ministry should move forward from this point, and if so, what changes are required. That consultation will include all staff, key partners and supporters.
Is a forensic audit coming?
It’s not clear to me how much Guidepost will look into financials & visa documentation, which I think is where the real US story is. Misuse of nonprofit funds is a serious legal matter and there is no way Ravi Zacharias did it without help. Same thing for visa fraud. There’s an international story here, as well—in my opinon, the information from Zacharias’s phones involving women in Thailand and other countries is likely to be of interest to international sex trafficking law enforcement.
As a first step, I think enough financial shenanigans have been uncovered by Miller & Martin that a forensic audit is called for. Miller & Martin only touched on the surface of this area, but if Ravi Zacharias was willing to misuse ministry funds for his sexual abuse, what else did he misuse them for? Did anyone else in leadership do so too? And what about the woman from Asia who was on payroll at RZIM as a project manager while her real job was massaging Zacharias? Did Zacharias use his ministry to bring her, and other massage therapists, into the US for the purpose of receiving sexual services? Who at RZIM helped with this?