In May 2018, the senior leadership of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) gathered together with two more junior employees—RZIM’s public relations manager and spokeswoman, my longtime friend Ruth Malhotra, and global media director Nancy Gifford—at an offsite conference room for a three day “conciliation” meeting. The group had spent months together serving as an impromptu task force designed to deal with the fallout from claims by a Canadian woman named Lori Anne Thompson that Zacharias, one of the Evangelical world’s most-respected apologists, had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with her. She claimed he’d “groomed” her over a period of months and persuaded her to send him inappropriate pictures, including nudes.
The story had unfolded slowly within RZIM. One task force member wasn’t even aware of Thompson’s claims until months after they were made. But the story they heard from Zacharias had a certain brutal simplicity. Ravi—a person who’d lived an apparently exemplary public and private life—was the victim of a woman who’d preyed on his naivete and kindness, sent him unsolicited nude messages, and then demanded millions of dollars to maintain her silence.
In other words, there was a predator, and there was victim. The predator was Thompson. The victim was Zacharias.
Zacharias stuck to that narrative so ferociously that he sued Thompson and her husband, Bradley, claiming they violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act when she made her monetary demand. Zacharias claimed: “Defendants labored relentlessly to foster a relationship with Plaintiff in hopes of manipulating him into a compromising position.” When the alleged scheme to create a relationship failed, Zacharias claimed: “Defendants resorted to simply plying Plaintiff with electronic messages containing unwanted, offensive, sexually explicit language and photographs.”
In November 2017, Zacharias settled his suit. Within RZIM, employees were told a reassuring narrative. The RZIM board of directors (oddly enough, its members are anonymous, allegedly out of a desire to protect them from cultural or economic reprisals for their association with a Christian ministry) had “looked into everything.” Ravi’s denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, had conducted a thorough and complete investigation and had cleared Zacharias of wrongdoing. No money had exchanged hands between Zacharias and the Thompsons.
None of this was true. The board of directors had not “looked into everything.” In fact, Zacharias had flatly refused to hand over his personal electronic devices for examination. His denomination had not conducted a complete investigation. And Zacharias had agreed to pay the Thompsons $250,000 to settle his own lawsuit against them, and all parties were bound by a nondisclosure agreement.
Even worse, emails that later leaked into the public square not only strongly implied that there was far more to the relationship between Thompson and Zacharias than Zacharias had disclosed, they also contained what appeared to be an explicit suicide threat. After Thompson told Zacharias she was going to tell her husband about their relationship, Ravi responded, “You promised you wouldn’t Lori Anne. If [sic]. You betray me here I will have no option but to bid this world goodbye I promise.”
As these details became known within RZIM, discontent grew. Malhotra and Gifford consistently fielded questions for which they had no good responses. Compounding the challenge, Zacharias had been caught exaggerating his academic credentials. The public-facing members of the team were facing a credibility crisis, and they wanted answers. Yet as Malhotra and others probed for more information, they faced withering internal resistance.
In a 26-page letter Malhotra wrote and delivered to the chairman of RZIM early last week, she reflected back at her long ordeal at RZIM and described feeling “systematically marginalized, maligned, and misrepresented to others by key members of senior leadership” during her time on the Thompson task force.
According to Malhotra and at least one other person present at the task force meetings, RZIM president Michael Ramsden objected to her notetaking. RZIM general counsel Abdu Murray said her lingering questions meant that she had moved from being “skeptical to being cynical.”
When Malhotra continued to ask questions as she learned more about the gaping holes in the original story, Ramsden allegedly called her “tired and emotional” and suggested to the group that “she can’t handle” the stress and pressure of responding to the allegations.
Senior leaders would tell Malhotra and others that they should believe Zacharias because the senior leaders believed Zacharias. As one senior leader allegedly told the task force, “You just don’t know Ravi as well as I know him. If you had spent as much time with him as I have, you wouldn’t have these concerns.”
When Malhotra continued to press for answers she was told to “do the Matthew 18 thing” (referring to a scripture that admonishes believers to first confront a fellow believer personally before addressing their sin with others). At one point RZIM senior vice president Sanj Kalra pressed Ruth with a question, “Whose side are you on?” He allegedly accused her of “plotting to bring the ministry down.”
It’s against this backdrop that RZIM conducted its May 2018 “conciliation.” They brought in a Christian “conciliator” named Judy Dabler to facilitate dialogue. Almost immediately, however, it became clear to Malhotra that the gathering wasn’t intended to bring reconciliation. Instead, it was designed in part to allow the senior leaders to vent at Malhotra. As the tension escalated—and as Malhotra fought back tears in the face of attacks from her more-senior colleagues—Dabler allegedly turned to her and uttered crushing words. Malhotra, she said, was “one step away from complete and total insanity.”
Ultimately, senior leadership forced Malhotra to take a sabbatical in November 2018. Before she left for her leave, RZIM took from her all company technology and secured all relevant passwords (other employees were allowed to keep devices when they were on sabbatical). Zacharias, recall, had been permitted to keep his own phones safe from investigation. He never turned them over during his lifetime.
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SOURCE: The Dispatch, David French