Ministry of disgraced Christian evangelical figure can be sued for reimbursement of donations, court hears

The organization founded by disgraced evangelical Christian minister Ravi Zacharias can be sued by donors seeking reimbursement of their contributions, a federal district judge in Georgia has ruled.

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Inc., will be charged with obtaining donations ‘by fraud or deception’ because the ministry did not disclose the gifts were used to pay women who said Mr. Zacharias had them sexually assaulted. The Indian-Canadian-American minister died in 2020.

Margaret Zacharias, his widow, was dismissed as a defendant in the action, according to the order signed last week by Senior Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Mr. Zacharias’ fiery defense of evangelical Christianity has drawn audiences around the world, spawned numerous bestselling books and launched a ministry organization that raised $25 million in 2015 – last year the organization at nonprofit has filed information with the IRS.

Shortly before his death, several women who worked at Atlanta-area massage parlors co-owned by Mr. Zacharias came forward to report that he had sexually assaulted them. Another woman, Lori Thompson, earlier claimed Mr Zacharias had ‘groomed’ her for online sexual activity. Mr. Zacharias initially sued Ms. Thompson and her husband, but later paid the couple a $250,000 settlement that included a nondisclosure agreement, Religion News Service reported.

The accusations rocked the evangelical world and forced RZIM to commission an independent investigation into the actions of Mr. Zacharias. The investigator’s report, released in February 2021, precipitated the closure of the ministry as it tried to “refocus” on healing victims of sexual abuse.

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A second report in February said the loyalty of RZIM employees had “blinded them” to Mr Zacharias’ misconduct.

“We made a mistake by allowing [Ravi] Zacharias’ December 2017 statement to the press that “no ministry funds were used” in his legal action,” RZIM said in a statement after the latest report from investigative firm Guidepost Associates. “As the report points out, the department provided money to Zacharias, which was used to pay the settlement and expenses. While the payments were legal and properly accounted for, we were wrong to allow this inaccuracy to persist.”

Warren Cole Smith, an investigative reporter who runs MinistryWatch in Matthews, North Carolina, said the Zacharias case illustrates the potential problems that unchecked executive power can bring to a departmental organization.

“We are talking about significant organizational and cultural power, because Ravi [had] a following in the evangelical community,” Mr. Smith said. “That kind of power, influence and money can go to anyone’s head, I don’t care who you are. Ministry leaders must ensure that these safeguards are put in place themselves. »

RZIM has not yet responded to a Washington Times request for comment on the decision.

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