RZIM will end apologetics ministry
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries will become a grant-making organization, CEO Sarah Davis tells employees
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After weeks of internal turmoil, the apologetics organization Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) will essentially dissolve in its present form, CEO Sarah Davis told employees on Wednesday. An independent investigation released in February revealed extensive reports of abuse and sexual misconduct by founder Ravi Zacharias, who died last year at age 74.
“RZIM cannot—indeed should not—continue to operate as an organization in its present form. Nor do we believe we can merely rename the organization and move forward with business as usual,” said Davis, Zacharias’ daughter, in a a statement to the global ministry’s staff.
The organization had seen a decline in supporter donations, according to Davis, before it stopped accepting them altogether following the February report by law firm Miller & Martin. RZIM in the United States was a $26 million organization, according to the last public financial report it released in 2015.
“We have made the difficult decision to stop accepting donations,” read a March letter RZIM sent to those who tried to donate. “We are truly horrified and heartbroken after learning of the horrendous actions of our founder.”
Davis told employees the organization will no longer host a global speaking team with offices around the world. Instead it will become a grant-making entity focusing on giving to apologetics-related causes and supporting victims of abuse. Davis said RZIM would make grants to outside organizations as well as to its global affiliates that are separate from the U.S. headquarters. Layoffs of 60 percent of staff would begin Thursday, Davis said. She also promised that the organization would not require any employee to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
“We anticipate this transition to grant-making will be complete in four-to-six months, and when completed will be accompanied by leadership changes,” Davis told employees. The four to six months will also allow Guidepost, an outside consulting firm, to complete its review of the organization’s internal practices, she added.
The scandal over Ravi Zacharias’ misconduct prompted multiple staff members to resign in recent months, and international affiliates are breaking away. RZIM earlier this month began removing all of Zacharias’ content from its websites. The organization also announced a hotline and website for abuse survivors to call or report abuse online to Guidepost.
Vince Vitale, RZIM’s director of the Americas and the head of the Zacharias Institute—which is also dissolving as a brand—had first publicly suggested last month that the best course of action might be for the ministry to end in its “current form.”
Outside experts on abuse in ministries noted RZIM’s response was unusual and commendable for an organization in crisis. But they also tempered their praise in light of how the organization initially defended Zacharias and resisted investigating the claims against him.
“Walking away from millions of dollars is very difficult to do,” said Justin Holcomb, a professor who teaches on churches and sexual abuse at Reformed Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. “It’s one thing to make a statement. It’s another thing to follow through on the statement. … They forfeited the right to be trusted until it’s done.”
Holcomb suggested RZIM leaders bring in outside experts like Diane Langberg—a Christian psychologist who works with abuse victims—to help with grant allocation for victims, rather than allocating grants themselves.
“RZIM has an opportunity to actually be useful in providing hope and healing for survivors of abuse, as opposed to what their legacy is right now with regard to abuse,” he said. “This will require transparency. RZIM has not been transparent up until the recent reports.”
Davis’ statement reflects a personal divide in the Zacharias family. Her brother Nathan, formerly a video producer at RZIM, has repeatedly defended his father against the accusations of abuse on a blog he started. He wrote that he does not believe the Miller & Martin report, although it was based on evidence from Zacharias’ own phones and laptop as well as interviews with a dozen massage therapists. He has called the report “hearsay.”
In a recent blog post, Nathan wrote that the members of the leadership team, which includes his sister, weren’t paying the same price for their decisions as the employees who are being laid off: “They will have a future, they will have jobs, and their reputations will be intact as they receive praise for being so open and apologetic.”
As Holcomb watches what happens next at the ministry, he said he is encouraged by the tone of Davis’ remarks to employees.
“I love that they ended on repentance,” said Holcomb. “Godly repentance is very different from worldly sorrow. It looks like humility and restitution. … I like that they put this in writing so now hopefully their feet will be held to the fire.”
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