By Rosie Dawson
As the evangelical world continues to digest the extent of the abuse and deception carried out by the Christian apologist and evangelist Ravi Zacharias, the global organisation that bears his name faces multiple allegations of cover-ups. And the fallout is being experienced in the UK.
RZIM has “affiliates” in several parts of the world, and its UK centre is in Oxford, where the organisation is known as the RZIM Zacharias Trust. The International group, RZIM, is the principal funder of the trust in Oxford, which had an income of £4.6m in the year to September 2020.
In 2004, the Zacharias Trust set up the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA), which offers academic and leadership courses for Christian evangelistic ministry.
The Religion Media Centre has learned that three members of RZIM’s global media team, based at the UK headquarters in Oxford, have either resigned or been made redundant after they expressed misgivings about the leadership’s continued elevation of its founder.
Zacharias died in May 2020 at the age of 74. RZIM launched an investigation into his conduct after new allegations about sexual misconduct surfaced in August.
An independent report by the law firm Miller & Martin found that he had sexually abused women at two spas in Atlanta, Georgia, and engaged in numerous other instances of sexual abuse and misconduct over many years. Allegations that he had a sexting relationship with a Canadian woman, Lori Anne Thompson, were found to be true.
Several UK sources claim that two members of the senior team, the global media director Nancy Gifford, and the vice-president and president of OCCA, Amy Orr-Ewing, had both been sidelined because of the critical questions they had raised about the handling of the case.
Dr Max Baker-Hytch, a senior tutor at OCCA, said many staff found it hard to understand why Ms Gifford, who was also the team’s director, was made redundant at the end of September.
“Nancy Gifford raised serious concerns about the handling of the Lori Anne Thompson allegations in 2017-18. The official explanation of a restructuring made no sense especially at a time when the ministry’s stated priority was digital transformation.”
In October, while the Zacharias investigation was continuing, RZIM held its annual fundraising event, known as Founders’ Weekend, in Florida and online.
Members of the media team say they were required to make videos that eulogised Zacharias for the event.
Dr Baker-Hytch said when he questioned whether it was appropriate to do so, a member of the RZIM senior leadership team said, ‘If we throw Ravi under the bus, the donors will walk away’.” Another person told him: “I have no sympathy for these people who won’t do their jobs.”
Content producer Rio Summers told the RMC: “We confronted the RZIM senior leadership on the integrity of doing this and of fundraising while Ravi was being investigated for sexual abuse. We were told that it was to be business as usual. The implication was that if we didn’t do our jobs then other people in the organisation would lose theirs and be unable to pay their mortgages.”
A colleague resigned in protest. Ms Summers was made redundant in January 2021.
The Zacharias Trust and the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics announced last week that it was severing all ties with RZIM and would be forming a new organisation. Amy Orr Ewing tweeted that she was heartbroken at the recent events and backed this decision.
The RMC has approached RZIM for comment but has yet to hear from them.
The stories from Oxford mirror complaints in America, that employees of RZIM sought in vain to get senior leaders to take their concerns about Zacharias seriously.
On 6 February, Ruth Malhotra, RZIM’s public relations manager, wrote a 26-page letter to Chris Blattner, the new chairman of the ministry’s board.
She alleged that the senior leadership manipulated the board to defend the behaviour of Zacharias and their own actions in failing to confront it.
She gave a detailed account of the way that her claims were dismissed. She was called “tired and emotional”, “cynical” and “one step away from complete and total insanity”.
The board was chaired by Zacharias and then by his daughter, Sarah Davis. She recently handed over the reins to Mr Blattner, one of RZIM’s main donors and a retired energy company executive from Minnesota.
Michael Ramsden, once a lecturer in law at Sheffield University and a founding member of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, moved to Atlanta last year to become president of RZIM.