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The 'greatest apologist' Ravi Zacharias and his catastrophic betrayal

As a young man with a passionate love for Jesus, many of my dearest family and friends asked me difficult questions about Christianity. Because of these conversations, I felt compelled to resolve existential questions. Perhaps my supposed faith in God was no more than an outdated fairytale? Due to these pressures, I constantly studied and discussed apologetics with mentors and friends.

Carson Weitnauer
Courtesy of Carson Weitnauer

I was excited when I had the opportunity to personally meet Ravi Zacharias at a Christmas dinner in high school. After all, his book Can Man Live Without God? had persuaded me that atheism was an untenable position.

I subsequently wrote to Ravi for guidance while studying philosophy at Rhodes College and I visited his international ministry’s offices when I studied abroad at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Throughout 10 years of campus ministry, including seven years serving students at Harvard University, I often pointed to Ravi Zacharias. As a globe-trotting intellectual who persuaded elite leaders to place their faith in Jesus, he was an inspiration.

When my family moved from Boston to Atlanta in 2013, I was thrilled to begin working at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Working closely with gifted apologists, I thanked God for the impact of Ravi’s growing ministry on audiences throughout the world. Serving together with so many passionate evangelists, I celebrated near-daily reports of those whose lives were being transformed by the Gospel.

In August 2017, the ministry team at RZIM was informed that a greedy couple in Canada had identified Ravi as a target for extortion – and felt no scruples in falsely accusing Ravi. Taking advantage of his friendly, even naïve, approach to people, they had conspired together to defraud him of millions of dollars. Through prayer meetings and regular updates on these “Satanic attacks,” we managed to get through this trial with renewed unity and commitment to our mission.

As we sometimes heard troubling details that suggested Ravi was guilty of what he had been accused of, it was a relief to hear that his incriminating emails were taken out of context, that exculpatory material had been reviewed by the board, and that his courageous RICO lawsuit had put an end to their falsehoods with a non-disclosure agreement. We gave thanks that Ravi’s bold leadership had freed us to focus once more on the ministry God had called us to. Convinced of this narrative, I served at RZIM with great passion and joy, and then wept and grieved for weeks when Ravi’s health unexpectedly declined, followed by his death in May of 2020.

However, in September 2020, new evidence surfaced about Ravi’s relationship with Lori Anne Thompson. As I studied this information carefully – again and again and again – it slowly dawned on me that Ravi had personally and repeatedly lied to me and others in the ministry about his relationship with her. If true, it revealed that his RICO lawsuit was a malicious attempt to bully his victim into silence, and that Ravi had perjured himself in the effort.

More humbling and embarrassing was the realization that the public evidence was sufficient for me to have pieced together the truth in 2017. Anyone who has taken pride in their association with Ravi, and especially those who like me work at RZIM, will now experience that as a shame. I confess that my longing for the approval of others kept me from asking hard questions and accepting the painful truth much sooner. The way forward is to lament the betrayal, confess any complicity, receive the honor of being God’s beloved children, and resolve to live with a chastened faithfulness.

Just as I was awakening to an accurate understanding of the abuse uncovered in 2017, another bombshell came: credible, carefully researched reports appeared in Christianity Today and WORLD magazines, demonstrating that Ravi had committed criminal sexual abuse against at least three massage therapists in the mid-to-late-2000s. The reporting shared the testimony from multiple women, corroborated by their co-workers, from women who had nothing to gain from reliving these awful experiences and were not seeking to win monetary restitution through the courts. If true, these allegations suggest that Ravi’s abuse of Lori Anne Thompson wasn’t an isolated affair, but rather part of an ingrained pattern of life stretching over a decade or more. His constant traveling, especially overseas, now seemed ripe with foreboding possibilities.

As I discussed these revelations with colleagues at the ministry this fall, I have often felt discouraged. A senior leader took the initiative to email me, saying, “While I agree that we should remain transparent with the truth, I don’t think repeating potential lies or passing on judgment are qualities we want to embody at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.” And despite an obvious conflict of interest, members of the family have actively spoken out in Ravi’s defense, while Ravi’s daughter has guided us through this crisis with the unwavering support of the board and senior leadership. Yet the day after I asked her a series of questions about the non-disclosure agreement between the Thompsons and the Zacharias estate, two senior leaders challenged me on the propriety of my questions. Unfortunately, I have heard similar stories from other colleagues within the ministry. It is only a matter of time before their voices are heard.

While I believe most of my colleagues are not only talented but earnestly committed to serving God, we have been badly misled by our secretive board and senior leaders. If the damage to our witness can be repaired at all, it will take a humiliating acknowledgment of our complicity and shame, as well as an earnest and sacrificial repentance. We will need to implement new processes and learn how to build a culture that cherishes accountability, transparency, and humility.

The realization that Ravi Zacharias was not the greatest apologist of his generation – but rather one of its greatest frauds – has felt like a catastrophic betrayal. In dealing with this news, I have felt a sickening combination of revulsion and grief. In the midst of intense disappointment and anger, I have managed to find comfort in Jesus’ words in Matthew 23. His challenge to the well-dressed, sophisticated, and erudite religious leaders must have seemed unbelievable, even ridiculous, to his audience. These respectable leaders were whitewashed tombs? Really? Yet Jesus detested their foul falseness.

Devoted readers of the Lord of the Rings may remember the moment when Gandalf says to King Théoden, “Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.” Hearing the truth from a wise and trusted friend, Théoden rises from his chair and walks outside. Then Gandalf encourages him, “Your fingers would remember their old strength better, if they grasped a sword-hilt.” [1] As he does so, Théoden gains the clarity and power to expel the lecherous Wormtongue from his kingdom.

It is a shock for anyone who loved and admired Ravi Zacharias to accept the news that he was a sexual predator. Now unmasked as a uniquely charismatic manipulator, his deceptions were altogether convincing. We can still thank God for how His truth changed our lives, despite the hypocrisy of the one who preached it.

As Jesus took the unpleasant and unpopular step to expose hypocritical leaders, so we must not silence those who tell us the truth about Ravi’s egregious abuses. Instead, RZIM must change its name, remove Ravi’s material, repent for its many failures, and provide a restorative response to the harm that Ravi’s victims experienced. The depth of complicity by the board and senior leadership in this cover-up must be clearly established. Finally, an organization with credibility in the survivor community must be hired to do a thorough assessment of the organization and its culture, and their proposals for reform will need to be implemented.

If they want to avoid following RZIM’s example, Christian ministries and churches should rigorously evaluate how their systems and culture could prevent them from personally experiencing this crisis. May God give us the clarity and courage we need to become faithful advocates for the survivors of abuse — and to deter such abuse from occurring in the future.


[1] Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings (p. 126, 129). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Carson Weitnauer is Innovation and Ministry Partner Specialist, Zacharias Institute at RZIM in Alpharetta, Ga.  His writing can be found at reasonsforgod.org

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