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Allegations mount in 2017 Ravi Zacharias illicit online relationship scandal

Allegations mount in 2017 Ravi Zacharias illicit online relationship scandal

Ravi Zacharias | Courtesy of Passion Conference/Phil Sanders

New information has been publicly released regarding the late apologist Ravi Zacharias and an alleged online sexual relationship that was first reported in 2017.

In a three-part installment last week from The Roys Report, the website of independent investigative journalist Julie Roys, new testimonies and emails were released suggesting an alternative version of events than those that were represented nearly three years ago when allegations emerged that Zacharias had been involved in an illicit online sexual relationship with a Canadian woman. Around this same time, the famed apologist's academic credentials and resume were also scrutinized amid questions he had inflated and misrepresented them.

Zacharias, who died in May after a battle with cancer, said in a Christianity Today article published in December 2017 that the woman had sent him unwanted, racy photos of herself and that it was part of a plot to extract millions of dollars from him and his ministry. 

Some have maintained that his words to the magazine were in violation of the settlement agreement he reached with the Canadian woman, Lori Anne, and her husband, Brad Thompson, which included a nondisclosure agreement forbidding both parties from speaking about it. 

According to Boz Tchividjian, an attorney and founder of Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E), who represented the Thompsons, his clients "made the very difficult decision to abide by the legally binding agreement even though Zacharias had apparently decided to do otherwise.”

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Christian counselors Jerry and Denise Basel, who helped Thompson in October 2016, spoke to Roys about the emails exchanged between Zacharias and Lori Anne. They believe the online communication reveals an abusive power dynamic given the 30-year age difference between the two and that it was tantamount to grooming.

“In many ways, she was kind of like a child in regard to him because of his age,” Jerry Basel told The Roys Report in part 1 of her series, which was published on Sept. 14.

“It just followed a pattern that we are familiar with in regard to abuse.”

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Denise Basel added, “It was just this slowly drawing Lori into something deeper. It seemed more innocent at the beginning, but it kept increasing.”

The Christian Post reached out to RZIM on Monday for comment on The Roys Report article, specifically to inquire about Basel's words and other issues raised in Roys' investigative report. In a letter sent to CP Friday night, the RZIM Board of Directors said: 

"In April 2017, Ravi Zacharias received a letter from an attorney representing Bradley and Lori Anne Thompson of Ontario, Canada, presenting allegations and threatening litigation by the Thompsons against Mr. Zacharias. The letter threatened that litigation was forthcoming, or, 'in the alternative of protracted and public litigation, the Thompsons will sign a release of you and your church and ministry in exchange for a certified check in the amount of $5 million dollars made payable to the Bryant Law Center, Lori Anne Thompson and Bradley Thompson within thirty days of today’s date and mailed to the above address.'

"In response to this demand letter, Ravi notified the board of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and personally filed a lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in August 2017. The Thompsons, through their attorneys, then requested to enter into mediation
to resolve the matter without going to trial. In November 2017, Ravi consented to resolve his lawsuit and the matter through mediation—a process that resulted in a resolution agreed to by both parties.

"In addition to these legal proceedings and the investigations underlying them, this matter was independently and rigorously investigated in 2018 at the initiative of the denomination that issued Ravi’s ministerial credentials, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. That investigation included multiple
interviews with the parties and a review of all available documents and records. The denomination concluded, '…the available evidence does not provide a basis for formal discipline…'

"As is widely known, Ravi Zacharias died May 19, 2020. Subsequently, some have called on his family and/or ministry to release the Thompsons from the confidentiality agreement they entered into with Ravi some two-and-a-half years prior to his death. Since RZIM was not a party to the agreement, it is unable to alter it, and his family does not feel it proper to alter it without Ravi’s knowledge or consent. Before he died, however, Ravi addressed allegations that he solicited inappropriate photos from Lori Anne Thompson or otherwise engaged in communications of a sexual nature with her in an 800-word public statement in December 2017. In that statement, he denied any sexually or romantically inappropriate conduct. He stood by that statement until his death. His denial is consistent with the character of the man we knew and worked alongside for years.

"Also since his death in May, allegations by Mrs. Thompson against Ravi have resurfaced in the public domain. This prompted calls for RZIM and/or the Zacharias family to conduct further investigation into this matter. In light of these developments, we, the Board of RZIM have reviewed the matter again and conclude the following:

1) Ravi Zacharias was never physically alone with Mrs. Thompson nor did he send her photos of himself.

2) There is no evidence that he solicited photos of her—an allegation Ravi vehemently denied in his public statement in December 2017. Furthermore, no evidence to the contrary has ever been presented.

3) Ravi addressed his communication with Mrs. Thompson in his December 2017 statement and we agree with him that it was wrong to have engaged in ongoing communication of a personal nature with a woman other than his wife.

4) We believe Ravi should have immediately disclosed the fact that Mrs. Thompson sent inappropriate photographs to him.

5) We have long had policies regarding physical safeguards to protect both our team members and leaders as well as those they come in contact with to prevent interactions that could ever prove harmful to either party. In 2018, we implemented electronic communication safeguards and policies for that purpose as well. We regret not having put the electronic communication safeguards in place sooner.

"We respect that there are those who disagree with us about this process and our current disposition. Finally, we reaffirm our commitment to the mission and work of RZIM—to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of culture with the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The online relationship began after the Thompsons met Zacharias at a 2014 luncheon in Canada he was speaking at. Brad had been invited to sponsor a table there as he had sponsored the airtime for Zacharias’ radio program on UCB Canada, according to The Roys Report.

According to letters that Lori Anne wrote and sent to third parties before the NDA, Zacharias was the one who suggested that the couple keep in touch with him though the apologist has said that Lori Anne made the suggestion. They began emailing each other and while Brad did not follow through, Lori Anne and Zacharias continued to communicate online. She shared details about her past, including stories about abuse by her father, and grew to trust the apologist as a fatherly figure. 

Their communication turned sexual in 2016 after Zacharias professed his love to her, Lori Anne wrote.

It wasn't until her sister, Tamara Batiste, and later her counselors called the relationship "grooming" that Lori Anne said she realized he engaged in "predatory" behavior.

When Thompson told Zacharias that she could no longer continue their relationship as she had come to believe it was a sin against God and told him that she had to tell her husband about their online activities, the apologist implored her not to do so and appeared to threaten suicide.

"You promised you wouldn’t Lori Anne. If. You betray me here I will have no option but to bid this world goodbye I promise," he wrote.

The Basels then sent an email to Zacharias that same evening, informing him that they were counseling Thompson and that she only intended to share what had transpired between them with her husband and no one else.

"We need some assurance from you that you will not harm yourself. Otherwise, we will find it necessary to contact 911 in your location. We await your prompt response. Thank you," the counselors wrote to Zacharias.

He replied moments later: "I am fine Thank you. I am just concerned about her. Thank you please tell her I am praying for her. She is very much in my prayers."

The Roys Report also obtained documents, invoices of gifts from Zacharias to Thompson, and phone records appearing to show their conversations, all of which substantiated Lori Anne's version of events. Roys obtained these from her sister, who had received them before the Thompsons signed the nondisclosure agreement that forbade them from speaking publicly.

Batiste shared the documents with Roys because she wanted to see her sister "freed from the shame and the torment of being painted as the perpetrator in this scenario."

Lori Anne has maintained that they signed the NDA under great duress and there is nothing she and her husband have that they do not wish to be disclosed. On May 21, she released a video two days after Zacharias died, asking Zacharias' family to release her from the NDA.

In 2017 when the allegations first surfaced, the apologist released a statement, saying he did not elicit any photos or messages and "clearly instructed her to stop contacting me in any form; I blocked her messages." He maintained that he never engaged in "any inappropriate behavior of any kind" during his marriage to his wife, Margie.

In Zacharias' lawsuit against the Thompsons, he claimed that Lori Anne had coaxed him into an illicit online affair and that the Canadian couple was attempting to extort money.

This particular claim was bolstered by a previous lawsuit Brad filed against Maranatha Christian Reformed Church, his former church in Belleville, Ontario, several years earlier, asking for $1 million in damages. Brad alleged in that dispute that Pastor John Visser had abused his position of influence in a counseling relationship in order to advance his and his family's business interests through obtaining loans and investments from him.

When reporting on the allegations against Zacharias in 2017, Christianity Today reported that Visser "was temporarily suspended, but his church and denomination ultimately stood by him.”

While Visser was permitted to return to pastoring after a 90-day suspension, it was only after he agreed to find outside oversight for his counseling ministry.

The governing body of the denomination said in its conclusion of an investigation it had conducted in 2012 that Visser was “guilty of abuse of the office of a minister” and had, regarding the Thompsons, "abused his office for inappropriate ends and/or self-interest by soliciting and/or allowing a counselee ... to invest in companies that (Visser) and his family owned.”

Brad loaned approximately $355,000 to Visser’s two companies over the course of several years and one of those companies reportedly went bankrupt, according to The Roys Report, which verified the financial transactions. Upon realizing he was not going to be paid back, Brad filed a lawsuit against Visser and the church to try and recoup his money, asking for $1 million, at his attorney's suggestion.

Contrary to what was alleged in Zacharias' lawsuit, Brad and Visser never arrived at a settlement agreement. Brad told Roys he ultimately scrapped the lawsuit since Visser went bankrupt.

In the legal dispute against Zacharias, the Thompsons sent a demand letter — convinced that was the only way to be taken seriously — for $5 million to RZIM, allegedly at the recommendation of their lawyer.

Though Brad is reportedly a successful businessman and had no financial need for the money, his attorneys thought that the higher amount was reasonable since Zacharias' ministry had so much money that he could likely find a donor who could pay $1 million. At the time, the #MeToo movement was exploding and prominent mass media figures and Hollywood moguls were paying out especially large sums to alleged victims.

“As Lori Anne and I found out more about predation and grooming and the amount of victims that predators have ... we knew we had a moral responsibility, or a godly responsibility, before the Lord, not to do nothing,” Brad told Roys, explaining his reasons for sending the letter demanding a $5 million settlement.

“We both felt a burden. We knew it could possibly kill us to come forward. But it could possibly kill someone else if we stayed silent.”

In 2018, after reviewing the accusations regarding his credentials and relationship with Lori Anne, the Christian & Missionary Alliance (which ordained Zacharias) decided not to discipline him, saying "available evidence does not provide a basis for formal discipline under the C&MA policy."

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