- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries denies the claims, saying in a statement that the charges of sexual misconduct “do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades.”
The Evangelical non-profit, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) has opened an investigation into allegations that its late founder and namesake sexually harassed multiple massage therapists who worked at two day spas he co-owned.
Three women who worked at the businesses, located in a strip mall in the Atlanta suburbs, and only a 15-minute drive from the ministry’s headquarters in Alpharetta, told Christianity Today that Ravi Zacharias, who regularly received massage therapy to help manage pain caused by a 1985 spinal injury touched them inappropriately, exposed himself, and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of about five years (2005-2010). His business partner said he regrets not stopping Zacharias and sent an apology text to one of the victims this month.
The women said when Zacharias wasn’t traveling with RZIM, he came in for treatment two or three times a week. The three women knew Zacharias as the owner and a client as well as a Christian leader and famous author. Some of his books were sold in the store, and the employees read them so they could talk about them when he came in.
According to the women, Zacharias was kind and took interest in their lives. But over time, in the small private treatment rooms, Zacharias would make unwanted sexual advances, the three women each said independently. At first, they tried to ignore it, too embarrassed to call out a famous Christian minister. By their accounts, his inappropriate behavior only escalated.
“He would expose himself every time, and he would touch himself every time,” one of the women told Christianity Today. “It was where he went to get what he wanted sexually.”
Zacharias allegedly masturbated in front of one of the women more than 50 times, according to her. He told her he was burdened by the demands of the ministry, and he needed this “therapy.” He also asked her to have sex with him twice, she said, and requested explicit photos of her.
The allegations were first made in a YouTube video by a San Francisco-based lawyer and seminary student, Stephen Baughman, who claimed to have talked to a number of employees at the spas owned by Zacharias.
Zacharias was no stranger to allegations of impropriety. In 2017, Zacharias settled a lawsuit with a Canadian couple, who claimed the evangelist had a sexting relationship with Lori Anne Thompson, a married woman who he met through his speaking ministry. The settlement included the couple signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
After his death, Thompson posted a video online, asking to be released from the NDA.
RZIM denies the claims, saying in a statement that the charges of sexual misconduct “do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades.” The organization has hired a law firm “with experience investigating such matters” to look into the allegations, which date back at least 10 years. RZIM has started what it called an “independent external investigation” into the allegations. The findings will be reported to the ministry’s executive committee. “We at RZIM remain committed to the truth; it is the foundation of what we do and that has not changed,” the statement concluded. RZIM declined to answer any further questions about the inquiry.
Zacharias was born in India and raised in an Anglican family. It is stated by him in numerous interviews that his conversion to Christianity came while reading the Bible in a hospital after a fatal suicide attempt as a teen. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 20.
Zacharias came to fame after speaking at a Billy Graham conference in Amsterdam in the 1980s, and traveled the world as an evangelist and apologist, making reasoned arguments for the existence of God and the reasonableness of the Christian faith. His ministry, which sponsored other evangelists around the world, took in $32 million in donations in 2019, according to reports filed with the Evangelical Council for Financial accountability.
For years, Zacharias claimed to hold several doctorates and to have studied at both Oxford and Cambridge. But after bloggers questioned his lofty credentials, his official bio was amended to state that he held several honorary doctorates and to say that he studied at schools related to Oxford and Cambridge. His biographies also removed references to “Dr. Zacharias.”
He was the author of more than 20 books and was an ordained minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Zacharias died of cancer at age 74 on May 19, 2020 at his Atlanta residence from cancer in his sacrum. He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and their three children.