Logo
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

New sexual misconduct claims surface about Ravi Zacharias

Famed apologist’s ministry and denomination pledge to investigate


Ravi Zacharias Emanuel Tanjala/Alamy

New sexual misconduct claims surface about Ravi Zacharias
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining. You've read all of your free articles.

Full access isn’t far.

We can’t release more of our sound journalism and commentary without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.

Get into news that is grounded in facts and Biblical truth for as low as $3.99 per month.

LET'S GO

Already a member? Sign in.

Warning: This report contains graphic accusations about sexual activity.

New, graphic accusations of sexual misconduct have emerged against recently deceased Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who died in May after decades as a globally renowned Christian speaker and writer.

Christianity Today reported the new accusations in which several women who provided regular massage therapy to Zacharias at spas he owned claimed he had touched them without their consent, masturbated in front of them, and asked for sex and explicit photos.

While CT’s reporting was based on unnamed sources, WORLD has spoken to the former manager of one of the spas, Anna Adesanya, who spoke on the record. She says a therapist had complained about Zacharias asking her for “more than a massage.” The accounts raise questions about a potential pattern of sexual harassment by Zacharias. He was 74 when he died of cancer earlier this year after 48 years of marriage to his wife, Margie.

The ministry Zacharias founded, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), issued a statement calling the accusations “false.” The ministry would not answer WORLD’s questions about the accusations but said it had commissioned an independent investigation.

The denomination where Zacharias was an ordained minister, the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA), said the new accusations “have raised concern” and it is assessing “additional steps” to take in light of the new information. Both the ministry and denomination had staunchly defended Zacharias’ reputation in 2017 and 2018 after the apologist was accused of initiating a sexting and phone sex relationship with a Canadian woman 30 years his junior.

Zacharias had previously acknowledged privately communicating with Lori Anne Thompson on an encrypted app, but said all of the explicit material she sent him was unsolicited and unwanted. He sued Thompson and her husband in 2017 and later settled with them out of court in a confidential agreement. He characterized her and husband Brad Thompson, who according to new information was a financial supporter of Zacharias’ radio broadcasts in Canada, as extortionists trying to ruin his reputation.

The latest accusations relate to Zacharias’ activity at two spas he co-owned at a strip mall in Alpharetta, Ga., near RZIM headquarters: Touch of Eden, which operated from 2004 to 2008, and Jivan Wellness, which operated from 2009 to 2015.

Christianity Today interviewed three massage therapists who worked at both Jivan and Touch of Eden at different times and who claim Zacharias sexually harassed them. The therapists, whom CT did not name, said Zacharias exposed himself and masturbated in front of them multiple times, and they said he touched them without their permission. One said he ran his hand up her leg to “the private area,” and another said he touched her breast and under her pants. One said he had requested explicit photos.

“He would expose himself every time, and he would touch himself every time,” one therapist told CT.

RZIM in a statement said the accusations “do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades” and they “pertain to businesses that were closed nearly a decade ago.”

WORLD spoke to an additional source, longtime spa manager Anna Adesanya, who worked at Jivan Wellness from 2009 until ownership changed in 2012. Adesanya told me Zacharias would come in regularly, maybe once a month. She remembered an incident around 2009 in which a massage therapist came to her and said she was uncomfortable treating Zacharias anymore because he had asked her for “more than a massage.”

Adesanya, who was unfamiliar with Zacharias’ apologetics ministry, said she took the information to Zacharias’ spa business partner, Anurag Sharma, and asked that they talk to Zacharias. She said the two met him at his office at RZIM, where Zacharias showed them his back X-rays as a way of explaining his need for therapy. Zacharias had spoken publicly about his chronic back problems from an injury decades earlier.

“He did not admit it—he became defensive,” said Adesanya. “He said, ‘Who is this girl, what is she trying to do to me?’”

After the meeting, Adesanya said, Sharma fired the therapist who had complained. Zacharias continued coming for regular spa appointments. (Sharma did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Adesanya said no other therapists complained to her about Zacharias during her tenure. But she said Zacharias only went to certain therapists and often brought his own massage therapist, an Indian woman, and they would occupy one of the rooms for therapy sessions. “I would often have to wonder, because they would be in that room for hours. At most you’re going to have a therapy session that’s going to last an hour and half , maybe two hours top,” Adesanya said. “It would exceed two hours, if not three. … But it was never anything that was spoken of.”

A former owner of Jivan Wellness, Juanita Bonds, noted she thought it unusual for a Christian leader to invest in a massage business. “If you said to me, a preacher is invested in a spa, I would think, ‘Why? Why did this man take an interest in a spa?’” said Bonds, who bought Jivan from Sharma in 2012. “I can’t make church and spa work no kind of way.”

When Sharma pitched the spa sale to Bonds, she said, he described how a celebrity like Zacharias had founded the spa with him and invested in it. He showed her a video of the grand opening, where Zacharias appears as one of the founders. While Touch of Eden featured a Bible verse on its website homepage, Jivan focused on general wellness practices including Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicinal system with roots in Hinduism.

Bonds said Zacharias had regular appointments at Jivan before she bought the spa, but he quit coming after she took ownership in 2012.

Immigration lawyer Steve Baughman was the first to claim, in a YouTube video, that Zacharias had abused women in the spas he owned.

A memorial service for Ravi Zacharias on Friday, May 29, 2020, in Atlanta.

A memorial service for Ravi Zacharias on Friday, May 29, 2020, in Atlanta. Brynn Anderson/AP

The women who accused Zacharias of sexual misconduct described a pattern, according to CT: They said Zacharias gained their confidence and learned their life stories, which included instances of sexual abuse.

That is also what Lori Anne Thompson claims Zacharias did to her.

Thompson and husband Brad met Zacharias at a donor event in 2014 and began communicating with the apologist by email, at first about Zacharias’ ministry. Soon Lori Anne Thompson was the only one communicating with Zacharias. In an account that she wrote later, she said that the situation escalated from a ministry relationship, in which she confided to Zacharias her background as a sexual abuse survivor, to one where he was requesting explicit photos of her and engaging in phone sex.

The Thompsons are now forbidden by a confidential settlement agreement from talking about what happened. But Lori Anne’s sister, Tamara Battiste, released Lori Anne’s pre-settlement account. Battiste also had phone records and email records between Zacharias and Thompson. Independent reporter and blogger Julie Roys first published those records, some of which WORLD has also obtained independently.

Battiste said her sister confessed the adulterous relationship to her in 2016. She said Zacharias would call Thompson constantly, request nude photos, and initiate phone sex.

RZIM, in a recent statement on these allegations, said Zacharias had never been alone with Thompson. But Thompson had never claimed they were alone. RZIM also said there was no evidence Zacharias had ever solicited photos from her. Thompson’s pre-settlement statement said Zacharias did ask for photos of her scantily clad, and she eventually progressed to sending him nude photos of herself. She said she deleted all of their email exchanges at the time “out of an earnest desire to protect him.”

In her account, Thompson acknowledged her complicity in engaging in the relationship but also felt a mix of “victimization, sin, shame, and sorrow.” She felt Zacharias had taken advantage of the knowledge that she had been sexually abused by her father, engaging in a paternal relationship that turned sexual.

As Roys reported and Battiste confirmed, Thompson went to Biblical counselors to try to save her marriage in 2016. After confessing the relationship to her counselors, she emailed Zacharias, saying she was going to confess to her husband. According to Battiste’s email records, Zacharias responded by apparently threatening to kill himself, saying, “If you betray me here I will have no option but to bid this world goodbye I promise.” Thompson’s account and Zacharias’ lawsuit both reference his suicide threat, although Zacharias’ lawsuit argued it was a threat over “his reputation being unfairly tarnished.”

Battiste said Thompson texted her about Zacharias’ threat when it happened, asking what she should do. Thompson’s counselors wrote directly back to Zacharias from her email account asking about his well-being, according to Roys’ records, and he responded to say he was fine.

Battiste, a former missionary to Africa, said that after seeing so much “corruption in ministry,” she no longer attends church, although she maintains a private faith.

“I would like to see a little bit of accountability,” she said.

Eventually, the Thompsons consulted a lawyer, who in 2017 wrote a private letter to Zacharias seeking a $5 million settlement and accusing him of taking advantage of Lori Anne while acting as a “spiritual guide.” The letter stated that after Lori Anne confessed the relationship to her husband, their marriage suffered and Brad became suicidal.

In response to the letter, Zacharias filed a federal lawsuit against the Thompsons. The lawsuit accused the couple of extortion and pointed to a previous lawsuit Brad had filed against a pastor as evidence that he was a serial extorter. It used excerpts of emails to paint Lori Anne as a manipulative woman who was scheming to ruin Zacharias.

The lawsuit also claimed the Thompsons were “experiencing significant financial distress” and had believed that “depicting an inappropriate relationship (in person, online, or otherwise) between Ms. Thompson and a prominent, pious individual like [Zacharias] would enable them to force the individual to pay an exorbitant sum of money under the threat of the disclosure.”

But tax documents, which WORLD obtained, show the Thompsons to be relatively prosperous, making about $443,000 the year Zacharias sued them and giving $50,000 of that to charity. That year Brad’s electrical business also gave $149,000 to ministries including UCB Canada, a Christian broadcasting company that had aired Zacharias’ broadcasts.

Yet the Zacharias lawsuit accused the Thompsons of “demonstrated criminal conduct” and said their “scheme” was “extreme, outrageous, and shocks the conscience.” It demanded compensation for Zacharias’ emotional distress.

Employment lawyer Ed Sullivan, who was not involved in the case but regularly handles such cases, told me demand letters like the Thompsons’ are normal. He said an attorney can put a specific settlement amount in a letter to show how confident he feels about the case. Usually, cases settle for about 20 percent of the demand, so if the Thompsons’ lawyer asked Zacharias for $5 million, that would communicate they likely wouldn’t settle for less than $1 million.

But he noted that a person with deep pockets can “fight a two-front war” by filing his own lawsuit, as Zacharias did. Even if you make $400,000 a year like the Thompsons, “you are going to have financial difficulties defending a lawsuit,” said Sullivan. That “drives your settlement strategy, and lowers the amount.”

After the Thompsons settled in 2017, Zacharias released a statement to CT defending his character. (The Thompsons’ lawyers maintain the statement violated their settlement’s confidentiality agreement.)

“In my 45 years of marriage to Margie, I have never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind,” Zacharias said at the time. “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.”

That statement is now in question with the accusations that he at least spent time alone with women at the spa.

The Christian & Missionary Alliance said it was assessing “additional steps” after the latest reports. In March 2018, the C&MA said Zacharias would retain his ministerial credentials in the denomination after it had conducted a “thorough inquiry” into the accusations involving Lori Anne Thompson. At the time, the denomination said it had interviewed those involved and reviewed “all available documentation and records … the available evidence does not provide a basis for formal discipline under the C&MA policy.” (Thompson told me the denomination never contacted her, but she reached out to the denomination after learning there was an investigation.)

Now the C&MA says it will look at any new information in relation to the spas or the Thompson allegations.

“These recent allegations about Mr. Zacharias have raised concern over the C&MA’s decision in 2018 to retain Mr. Zacharias’ ministry credentials,” said spokesman Peter Burgo in a statement. “This decision was made based on what was known about Mr. Zacharias’ personal behavior and ministry activities at that time.”


Emily Belz

Emily is a former senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City.

@emlybelz

COMMENT BELOW

Please wait while we load the latest comments...

Comments

Please register, subscribe, or login to comment on this article.