Famed Evangelist Ravi Zacharias engaged in sexual misconduct, his ministry says

Famed Evangelist Ravi Zacharias, seen here in 2016, engaged in sexual misconduct, his ministry says. By Ray Sanchez, CNN

(CNN) -- Ravi Zacharias, the prominent head of a global Christian organization who died in May, engaged in sexual misconduct that included "sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape," according to a statement from the ministry he founded summarizing the results of an investigative report.

Allegations came from four female massage therapists who said Zacharias "would either touch his genitals or ask them to touch his genitals."

Additionally, five massage therapists claimed he "touched or rubbed them inappropriately," and one reported "many encounters over a period of years that she described as rape," according to a 12-page report from the law firm Miller & Martin, which was hired by the ministry.

The law firm said it employed a private investigations firm that included former federal law enforcement officers. More than 50 people were interviewed, including more than a dozen massage therapists, according to the report.

A digital forensics firm examined four cell phones and a laptop used by Zacharias. Evidence was uncovered of "text- and email-based relationships with women who were not his wife," along with more than 200 photos of women, the report said.

Several women accused Zacharias of using ministry funds to give them financial support, eliciting personal information about their lives and employing religious language during encounters, according to the report.

Zacharias, who defended Christianity through books and lectures, died last spring at his Atlanta home at the age of 74 after battling sarcoma. He was a leading figure among Christian apologetics, an intellectual form of Christian theology that defends faith against doubters by invoking history and logic.

The Miller & Martin report detailed new allegations of misconduct against Zacharias. The report said the Christian leader's claims that during his marriage he "never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind" when confronted with similar allegations in the past were "misleading or false."

The board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries hired the law firm to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations last fall.

In September 2020, after Zacharias's death, Christianity Today published an article that cited three women who accused him of sexually harassing them at two spas he co-owned.

"We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation," the RZIM board said in a statement this week.

"Tragically, witnesses described encounters including sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape. We are devastated by what the investigation has shown and are filled with sorrow for the women who were hurt by this terrible abuse."

Accuser says she's 'deeply indebted to every victim and whistleblower'

The Miller & Martin report describes the case of Lori Anne Thompson, a Canadian woman who accused Zacharias of engaging in "sexually explicit online conversations" and exploiting "her vulnerability to satisfy [his] own sexual desires."

In April 2017, Thompson and her husband wrote Zacharias to demand "$5 million in exchange for a release of claims against him and the ministry." Three months later, Zacharias sued the couple in federal court for extortion. The couple and Zacharias settled the dispute confidentially in the fall of 2017, the report said.

Zacharias convinced the RZIM board that he was a victim of extortion and the matter was not investigated, according to the report. Witnesses within RZIM told investigators they were "marginalized for raising questions" about his explanations.

The RZIM statement this week said the investigative findings "caused us to think very differently" about Thompson's 2017 allegations.

"We believe Lori Anne Thompson has told the truth about the nature of her relationship with Ravi Zacharias," the board said. "It is with profound grief that we recognize that because we did not believe the Thompsons and both privately and publicly perpetuated a false narrative, they were slandered for years and their suffering was greatly prolonged and intensified. This leaves us heartbroken and ashamed."

In an email statement to CNN, Thompson said she and her husband "are deeply indebted to every victim and whistleblower who spoke for not only themselves, but also for us."

She called the law firm report and board statement "initial steps in what we anticipate will be long and arduous journey for RZIM towards institutional transparency and accountability."

The board, citing "a deep need for corporate repentance," said it has hired lawyer and advocate Rachael Denhollander to "educate and advise" the organization and serve as a liaison with survivors.

The board said it also hired Guidepost Solutions, a consulting firm, to evaluate RZIM's "structures, culture, policies, processes, finances, and practices."

"We want to help the victims of Ravi's abuse, and we want to thoroughly understand what has taken place in our organization so that we can do everything we can to make sure nothing like this happens again," the board statement said.

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