Ravi Zacharias and His Strategy of Abuse

Ravi Zacharias and His Strategy of Abuse February 13, 2021

Hi and welcome back! I don’t know about y’all, but Casa Cas is officially snowbound today. So for Snowpocalypse Saturday, let’s turn our attention to that bombshell Ravi Zacharias report. Last winter Earlier this winter, the late evangelist’s ministry procured professional help to investigate all the abuse reports that had come out against him. A couple of days ago, they released their official findings. And oh boy, that report was stunning — at least to anyone who doesn’t understand Christian predators. In his strategies, Ravi Zacharias followed every single rule in their playbook. Today, let me show you the strategies pursued by Christian predators.

a haunted forest walks into a massage therapy clinic...
(Norbert Buduczki.) A haunted tree walks into a day spa…

(In this post, I make no accusations of my own against Ravi Zacharias. Rather, here I state my opinion, which I gained by reviewing information provided by the law firm RZIM hired to investigate accusations against their now-deceased leader. To my knowledge, Zacharias faced no criminal or civil trials regarding his conduct other than the case he brought against accuser Lori Anne Thompson, which was then settled in 2017.)

The Situation Report.

Ravi Zacharias spent most of his life as one of the most highly-esteemed evangelists in Christendom. He was born in India, moving from there to Canada in his 20s. By then, he was already a gung-ho Christian. He passed away in May 2020 after a long career in evangelism. A huge number of high-end politicians and pop-culture figures attended his funeral, where they all spoke glowingly of him.

Like most evangelists and apologists, Ravi Zacharias claimed to have crafted surefire responses to all of life’s big questions and that he could totally make Christianity make sense to anybody. His fans certainly thought these claims were true. In reality, I’d never heard of him or his ministry till several years into this blog’s lifetime, when I ran into a few of his raving Christian fans.

In 2017, he weathered an embarrassing scandal around his educational claims and settled an equally embarrassing sexting scandal with Lori Anne Thompson. I’m sure he breathed a huge sigh of relief when that was over with. After all, Thompson’s allegations — explosive as they were — represented only a tiny part of his overall abuse against women.

After his death, though, a bunch of his other victims came forward to accuse Zacharias of shocking hypocrisy and sexual predation. At first, his family and ministry reacted with shock and denial. They issued an official statement saying they didn’t believe a word of those accusations. But eventually, they hired a law firm to investigate.

Earlier this winter, those investigators released their initial report: yes, the accusations were completely credible. Here’s their letter about it.

Then, a couple of days ago they released their fuller report: this rabbit hole went a whole lot deeper than anybody had ever suspected.

The Basic Gist of the Report.

Ravi Zacharias’ family and ministry, RZIM, hired law firm Miller & Martin to conduct an investigation. In the New York Times writeup of the story, Miller & Martin interviewed “more than a dozen massage therapists” who’d treated Zacharias at two American spas he co-owned. Only a few spa employees seem to have escaped his predation.

One massage therapist there characterized their encounters as “rape.” During their association, he began providing her financial help — after which he began demanding sex as payment for it. She says he warned her never to report his behavior to anybody because if she did, she’d be responsible for sending “millions of souls” to Hell. (We’ll talk more about this threat tomorrow.)

As it happens, she wasn’t the only massage therapist he was supporting financially. The official report eventually reveals there were at least four such women. Unsurprisingly, he spent ministry money to support them.

But that’s not all.

In addition to physically preying on women in his American spas, he also preyed mostly-electronically on women overseas. Miller & Martin were able to check out his phones, which is where they found over 200 contact numbers belonging to massage therapists — and a bunch of selfies, including nudes, from women much younger than Zacharias.

Religion News Service adds a few details to this reporting, adding that there’s no real doubt that he was preying on women in Asia.

The Full Report.

Here’s the link to the full February 9 report. In it, Miller & Martin reveal that they didn’t pursue leads to overseas predation because they figured they had more than enough, what with the 200 phone numbers on Zacharias’ phones, to find the information they needed. Since their actual mandate involved just figuring out if Zacharias had “engaged in sexual misconduct” at all, that makes sense.

The investigators focused on the employees of Zacharias’ day spas. There, they found that some of Zacharias’ victims did manage to rein in their predatory boss. However, these women faced a never-ending battle. One described having to physically restrain his arms with a “sling” made of sheets to keep him from groping her. Of course, if Zacharias gained any compliance from his victims, he quickly escalated.

At least one of the massage therapists turned down Zacharias’ frequent offers to travel abroad with him. She feared not being able to get home again on her own if he pushed himself onto her there — like he constantly did in America.

The report says that Zacharias himself told a masseuse that whenever he was in Bangkok, “he spent his days writing and his nights receiving massage treatments.”

Just from 2014 to 2020, Zacharias texted and received photos from a great many women — especially in Southeast Asia. He’d tell his contacts that he loved them, buy them gifts, call them romantic pet names, and said stuff that indicated he had physical relationships with at least some of them. He even called a Bangkok woman “the love of his life.”

Whenever RZIM staffers tried to bring up how disastrous it could be for Zacharias to travel with these women and spend time alone with them, he got furious — at his critics. According to one informant, Zacharias “sent [one of those concerned staffers] to Siberia.”

The One Behavior Ravi Zacharias Changed After 2017.

Christianity Today wrote up the story as well, and this bit stood out to me in their reporting:

In fact, one day after Zacharias publicly stated in 2017 that he had learned a “difficult and painful lesson” over his communication with Lori Anne Thompson, he received more photographs from another woman, investigators found. That woman went on to send him nude pictures as well.

One thing did change, though. After the Thompson case, the investigators noticed that Zacharias did a better job of deleting his messages in ways that could not be detected or uncovered.

Indeed, the full report notes how Zacharias deleted photos and text messages from some women, leaving behind receipts of their existence but not the entire messages.

Ravi Zacharias was probably most grateful for the opportunity to better learn to cover his tracks. He probably thought he’d dodged quite a bullet — and died thinking his secrets were safe.

The Playbook of Christian Predators.

In this whole scandal, I noticed a few patterns of predation that seem common with Christian predators who work in ministry.

First, Ravi Zacharias sought out victims he could easily steamroll. He focused on women at his day spas because he owned the spas, making him their boss. Also, massage therapists and masseuses can get a reputation for being sex workers, for good or ill; though these occupations are not sex work, many consider them marginalized as such. So his victims were likely already vulnerable that way.

One American woman he supported financially told the investigators that he’d “elicited” information about her financial situation and faith. Then, he weaponized her answers: her faith to keep her quiet, and his financial support to keep her compliant.

Second, he counted on his reputation to keep his victims quiet. At least one victim didn’t come forward because she doubted anyone would believe her. She felt it’d be her word against that of the great and powerful Ravi Zacharias.

Indeed, when details began trickling out about Zacharias’ relationship with Lori Anne Thompson, he stomped on her easily. He convinced his staff that she was a demon-controlled nutjob attacking him for his Jesus Aura. When staffers expressed doubts in his bizarre explanations (and as mentioned, questioned the time he spent alone with massage therapists), he stomped on them too.

Third, he himself crafted the behavioral rules that would officially bind his behavior. That means he could easily work around them. He was the only authority in his life, with nobody able to oversee or rein him in.

Fourth, he focused on Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, many Southeast Asian countries — especially Thailand — have the reputation of being havens for sex abusers. This part of the world is also a top destination for sex tourists. I’m sure he found it quite easy to find victims there.

Fifth and most obviously, he knew Jesus would not stop him.

RZIM as a Broken System.

Ravi Zacharias ran a very long-lasting and profitable ministry in RZIM, but that’s not what makes a system functional and whole.

No, RZIM functioned — insofar as it did — as a broken system. That means that its top leaders were not focused upon the group’s stated goals and certainly didn’t follow the group’s stated rules. Instead, those leaders pursued covert goals of their own — and often at the expense of the group’s members. Their goals centered around power and self-gratification. They sought power so they could freely indulge in the behavior they most enjoyed.

That’s why Zacharias referred to one victim he supported financially as his “reward.” In a real sense, that’s probably exactly how he saw her. He’d spent his life getting to a point where he could prey upon women. Her compliance, which he surely knew was reluctant at best, represented the achievement of his ultimate goal.

Ravi Zacharias’ ultimate goal, of course, seems to have been power.

Absolute power. Unfettered power.

And he found it in evangelicalism.

Another Point on the Scandal Line.

Authoritarians seek power above all else. And to them, power is worth nothing if it is not flexed against the unwilling. Forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do, especially something deeply invasive like sex abuse, represents a demonstration of absolute power.

To authoritarians, as well, getting away with something deeply transgressive like sex abuse is like a drug-induced high.

If evangelicals would only learn to link authoritarianism to scandals, that’d be great. But they won’t. They’re authoritarian followers themselves!

So Ravi Zacharias joins a long, long list of evangelical leaders who have been revealed as hypocrites and sex abusers.

He won’t be the last one they discover, either — not by a longshot.

NEXT UP: We zero in on Ravi Zacharias’ extortion attempt against that one massage therapist — the one he warned would be damning millions to Hell if she revealed his abuse. I’ve been there myself with my Evil Ex, so I want to talk more about that aspect of this story. See you tomorrow!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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