Ravi Zacharias denies 'grooming' accusations: 'I have learned a difficult and painful lesson'

Ravi Zacharias is being forced to defend himself over allegations around a lawsuit involving a married woman who sent him nude pictures as well as against claims he misled supporters by exaggerating his academic achievements.

The Indian-Canadian is a well-known apologist for the Christian faith and travels around the world for speaking events. Zacharias, 71, has also written dozens of books on faith and heads Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), a worldwide organisation with an annual revenue of $24m that sponsors preachers and Christian academics around the world.

Ravi Zacharias, founder of RZIM, is one of the world's best known Christian apologists.

A statement on Sunday comes after allegations on a number of blog posts that Zacharias 'groomed' a married woman and then threatened to take his own life when she said she would tell her husband. An email exchange purportedly between the pair, with the addresses redacted, was posted online and seen thousands of times before being removed. It appeared to show Zacharias pleading with the woman not to tell her husband about an apparent affair and claiming if she did he would end his own life. 

But Zacharias, who has been married to his wife Margie for 45 years, said what started with friendly correspondence after meeting a couple at a speaking event in Canada escalated when the wife started sending 'extremely inappropriate pictures of herself unsolicited'. In Zacharias' account he said: 'I clearly instructed her to stop contacting me in any form; I blocked her messages, and I resolved to terminate all contact with her.'

The couple then demanded several million dollars from Zacharias in exchange for keeping their message exchange secret.

Zacharias sought legal advice and launched a legal suit which, on the couple's request, was settled through mediation rather than going to trial. The case was dropped last month when an agreement was made and both sides agreed to confidentiality.

'Unfortunately I am legally prevented from answering or even discussing the questions and claims being made by some, other than to say that each side paid for their own legal expenses and no ministry funds were used,' Zacharias' statement on Sunday read.

'I have learned a difficult and painful lesson through this ordeal,' he said. 'As a husband, father, grandfather, and leader of a Christian ministry I should not have engaged in ongoing communication with a woman other than my wife. I failed to exercise wise caution and to protect myself from even the appearance of impropriety, and for that I am profoundly sorry. I have acknowledged this to my Lord, my wife, my children, our ministry board, and my colleagues.

'Let me state categorically that I never met this woman alone, publicly or privately. The question is not whether I solicited or sent any illicit photos or messages to another woman – I did not, and there is no evidence to the contrary – but rather, whether I should have been a willing participant in any extended communication with a woman not my wife. The answer, I can unequivocally say, is no, and I fully accept responsibility. In all my correspondence with thousands of people in 45 years of ministry, I have never been confronted with a situation such as this, and God and my family and close friends know how grieved I have been.'

(RZIM)Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias is famed for his academic defence of the Christian faith.

In the couple's account, Zacharias deliberately pursued the relationship in order to take advantage of the woman. 'As a result of your actions, she eventually opened up her life to you to the point where you exercised a controlling influence over her as one with spiritual authority,' their attorney, Mark P Bryant, of Bryant Law Firm wrote in the demand letter, according to Christianity Today. 'Armed with that information and your excellent grooming skills, you chose to exploit her vulnerability to satisfy your own sexual desires.'

Raising concerns about Zacharias being a 'possible predator' and making suggestions of 'sexual misconduct', blogger Julie Anne Smith initially published the email chain before saying the woman had asked her to remove them

Zacharias ended his own statement saying he bore 'no ill will toward anybody' but insisting he had 'never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind' and had 'exercised extreme caution in my daily life and travels, as everyone who knows me is aware.

'I have long made it my practice not to be alone with a woman other than Margie and our daughters – not in a car, a restaurant, or anywhere else. Upon reflection, I now realize that the physical safeguards I have long practiced to protect my integrity should have extended to include digital communications safeguards. I believe – and indeed would counsel others – that the standards of personal conduct are necessarily higher for Christian leaders.'

The allegations comes after longstanding claims from a separate blogger resurfaced, suggesting Zacharias had exaggerated his own academic credentials and falsely implied he had earned a doctorate degree.

As recently as April 2017 RZIM referred to Zacharias as 'Dr' Ravi despite his doctorates only being honorary awards, according to the blogger Warren Throckmorton. He claims a systematic overrall of the RZIM website in recent days has removed all references to Zacharias as 'Dr'. 

In a separate statement from RZIM on Sunday, the organisation said: 'Neither Ravi nor his ministry has ever claimed he had an earned doctorate.'

It added: 'In earlier years, "Dr." did appear before Ravi's name in some of our materials, including on our website, which is an appropriate and acceptable practice with honorary doctorates.'

It went on: 'However, because this practice can be contentious in certain circles, we no longer use it.'

Atheist blogger Steve Baughman has claimed credit for forcing RZIM to adjust Zacharias' biography on their website and also accused him of exaggerating his roles at academic institutions including Oxford University, Cambridge University, and Alliance Theological Seminary.

For example a previous biography of Zacharias on the RZIM website stated he was a 'visiting scholar at Cambridge University' when in fact he took a sabbatical term at the theological college Ridley Hall, which at the time was affiliated with Cambridge University but is now just allied with Cambridge and affiliated with Durham University.

In response RZIM vowed: 'We will be more vigilant about editing and fact-checking at every stage.'

It added: 'Ravi's desire and our desire as an evangelistic ministry is to engage the honest skeptic, to take questions seriously, and to be as clear as possible in our communication. We therefore have restructured Ravi's biography to better reflect his 45 years as an itinerant evangelist and apologist with a passion and a calling to reach those who shape the ideas of culture with the beauty and credibility of the gospel.'

You can read RZIM's full statement on the allegations around his biography here: 

The veracity of some of the educational credentials—specifically the use of the "doctorate" designation—of our Founder and President, Ravi Zacharias, have been called into question. While Ravi personally does not brandish his credentials and routinely asks not to be referred to as "Dr. Zacharias"—even by employees—our organization bears his name and, as such, we would like to take this opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding.

Neither Ravi Zacharias nor Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) has ever knowingly misstated or misrepresented Ravi's credentials. When it has been brought to our attention that something was stated incorrectly with regard to Ravi's background, we have made every effort to correct it. Sometimes other entities—such as publishers or institutions where Ravi was speaking—have incorrectly presented aspects of his credentials. We were not aware of these errors when they were made; however, in some instances RZIM should have caught them and sought to have them corrected. We regret any and all errors, as well as any doubt or distraction they may have caused.

Currently, eleven RZIM team members have earned doctorates. Ravi is not one of them, nor has he ever claimed to have an earned doctorate. In fact, Ravi often states that he wishes he had done more formal studies, as he values and understands the importance of higher learning. Ravi has a Masters of Divinity from Trinity International University, and has also been conferred with ten honorary doctorates. Ravi is grateful for and humbled by where the Lord has taken him during his 45 years of ministry thus far.

In earlier years, "Dr." did appear before Ravi's name in some of our materials, including on our website, which is an appropriate and acceptable practice with honorary doctorates. However, because this practice can be contentious in certain circles, we no longer use it.

In addition, some confusion may have arisen from a difference in cultural norms, as we are a global organization with staff members based in sixteen countries. In Ravi's homeland of India, for example, honorific titles are customary and are used frequently out of respect for elders, including by the RZIM India team when addressing Ravi. Still, it is Ravi's custom to request for the inviting parties not to use "Dr." with his name in conjunction with any speaking events. Despite this, on occasion it has been our experience that we arrive to find promotional banners and materials welcoming "Dr. Ravi Zacharias." We will continue to do our best to ensure consistency; however, we recognize that certain aspects are sometimes beyond our control.

The nature of our work at RZIM can evoke criticism, sometimes fair—in which case we address it—but sometimes completely unfounded and without merit. For example, recently a couple of inquirers claimed to have information that Ravi was facing discipline from his denomination. This is simply false and has never been the case, and it serves as an example of why we choose not to address certain accusations that come our way.

We will be more vigilant about editing and fact-checking at every stage. Our hope is that this will enable us to focus on our primary calling of helping people to encounter the claims and person of Jesus Christ, and will enable others to focus on the strength and merit of our message.

Ravi's desire and our desire as an evangelistic ministry is to engage the honest skeptic, to take questions seriously, and to be as clear as possible in our communication. We therefore have restructured Ravi's biography to better reflect his 45 years as an itinerant evangelist and apologist with a passion and a calling to reach those who shape the ideas of culture with the beauty and credibility of the gospel. 


Here is RZIM's full statement about his lawsuit: 

In October 2014, I spoke at a conference in Canada. At the conclusion of my talk, I met a couple who expressed an interest in our ministry. The wife asked if I would reach out to her husband because he had questions about the Christian faith. As requested, I followed up by sending an email and a book to him, and invited him to consider attending one of our educational programs at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).

Some months later, I traveled with my wife and one of our daughters to another part of Canada for a speaking engagement. The couple attended this event and invited my wife and me to dinner at a local restaurant afterwards. That was the second and last time I was ever in the same room with either of them.

Subsequently, she began to contact me via the email address I had used to contact her husband after first meeting them. My responses were usually brief. Then, last year, she shockingly sent me extremely inappropriate pictures of herself unsolicited. I clearly instructed her to stop contacting me in any form; I blocked her messages, and I resolved to terminate all contact with her.

In late 2016, she sent an email informing me she planned to tell her husband about the inappropriate pictures she had sent and to claim that I had solicited them. In April 2017, together they sent me, through an attorney, a letter demanding money. I immediately notified members of my board, and as they advised, I personally engaged legal counsel.

In response to the demand for money, my attorneys filed a publicly available lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The other side requested mediation rather than going to trial. We agreed to mediation and we reached an agreement in November 2017 to resolve the matter and dismiss my lawsuit. All communication with both of them has concluded, and the legal matters have been resolved. However, at this time, unfortunately I am legally prevented from answering or even discussing the questions and claims being made by some, other than to say that each side paid for their own legal expenses and no ministry funds were used.

I have learned a difficult and painful lesson through this ordeal. As a husband, father, grandfather, and leader of a Christian ministry I should not have engaged in ongoing communication with a woman other than my wife. I failed to exercise wise caution and to protect myself from even the appearance of impropriety, and for that I am profoundly sorry. I have acknowledged this to my Lord, my wife, my children, our ministry board, and my colleagues.

Let me state categorically that I never met this woman alone, publicly or privately. The question is not whether I solicited or sent any illicit photos or messages to another woman—I did not, and there is no evidence to the contrary—but rather, whether I should have been a willing participant in any extended communication with a woman not my wife. The answer, I can unequivocally say, is no, and I fully accept responsibility. In all my correspondence with thousands of people in 45 years of ministry, I have never been confronted with a situation such as this, and God and my family and close friends know how grieved I have been.

In my 45 years of marriage to Margie, I have never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind. I love my wife with all my heart and have been absolutely faithful to her these more than 16,000 days of marriage, and have exercised extreme caution in my daily life and travels, as everyone who knows me is aware. I have long made it my practice not to be alone with a woman other than Margie and our daughters—not in a car, a restaurant, or anywhere else. Upon reflection, I now realize that the physical safeguards I have long practiced to protect my integrity should have extended to include digital communications safeguards. I believe—and indeed would counsel others—that the standards of personal conduct are necessarily higher for Christian leaders.

The Lord rescued me at the age of seventeen, and I promised to leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth. He entrusted me with this calling, it is His; any opportunities I have been given are from Him. My life is not my own, it belongs to God. As long as He gives me life and breath I will serve out this calling He has given me. I am committed to finishing well, using whatever years He grants me to share His love and forgiveness, truth and grace, with people everywhere who are looking for meaning and purpose and hope. I bear no ill will toward anybody. God is the God of healing, and He promises a new day. May that be true by His grace. 

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