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Former RZIM VP's new ministry board says he's 'qualified' for ministry after investigation

Abdu Murray
Abdu Murray speaks at the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in February 2020. |

The board of a ministry co-founded by a former senior vice president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries has defended its president after a group of apologists released investigation findings claiming that he and two other former RZIM leaders are "not fit to be in ministry and leadership positions."

The board of directors for Embrace the Truth, the apologetics ministry co-founded by former RZIM Senior Vice President Abdu Murray, says it disagrees with the conclusion of an investigative report released last week. The report declared that Murray, along with Ravi Zacharias' daughter Sarah (Davis) Phillips and former top RZIM executive Michael Ramsden "have not displayed a godly sorrow nor demonstrated the fruit consistent with repentance for their actions."

"A self-appointed tribunal of university professors and apologists issued a statement earlier this month that requires our response," the Embrace Truth board said in a statement shared with The Chrisitan Post. "The authors of the statement decided amongst themselves that Abdu Murray's response to the facts surrounding his former employer's inexcusable actions has been insufficient for him to continue to serve the Lord through this ministry or through the proclamation of the Gospel and his testimony in pulpits, and other public venues. We profoundly disagree."

The apologists, William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, Mike Licona, Debbie Licona and Paul Copan, felt called to investigate alleged abuses perpetrated against former employees of the once-respected apologetics ministry who claimed they received abusive treatment for advocating on behalf of the late Zacharias' reported sexual abuse victims.

The apologists say the investigation report is based on 1,000 hours of research, interviews with 25 people, some on multiple occasions, and "copious amounts of supporting documentation." The apologists also "consulted with experts on abuse and institutional response to abuse, including Dr. Wade Mullen."

The investigation followed a report from Atlanta law firm Miller & Martin that was made public in 2021 detailing serious allegations of sexual misconduct by Zacharias, who died of cancer in 2020.

The report addressed claims Zacharias engaged in "sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse and rape," including sexual abuse of several massage therapists who treated Zacharias over the years. Zacharias had also faced allegations in 2017 that he engaged in an illicit online relationship with former follower Lori Anne Thompson.

In February 2021, former RZIM spokesperson Ruth Malhotra submitted a 26-page letter to the RZIM board chair that alleged RZIM leadership failed to hold Zacharias accountable and mistreated those pressing for more transparency regarding the allegations against Zacharias. 

The apologists claim that Phillips (RZIM CEO), Murray and Ramsden (RZIM president) "intimidated, mistreated, or retaliated against" RZIM staff members "who pushed back or asked legitimate questions" from 2017 to 2021 about Zacharias' behavior. 

"We heard testimony and received documentation stating that [senior leadership team] members chastised employees for asking questions. Subsequent to being chastised, some employees were asked if RZIM was a good fit for them," the apologists' report claims. "Many were eventually terminated. Though we cannot prove that anyone was terminated for pushing back and asking questions, the environment at RZIM was such that this would have been a reasonable inference."

While the apologists acknowledge that the three RZIM leaders admitted "mistakes were made," they contend that Murray, Phillips and Ramsden "have not specifically owned their actions or expressed remorse to those they hurt."

"Nor have they repaired the damage they have caused," the apologists conclude. 

Murray is the only of the three currently serving in the public eye as a ministry leader. Embrace the Truth refuted the claim Murray, who joined RZIM in late 2015 and rose to an executive role in 2019, has not repented for his actions. 

"We find the characterization of Mr. Murray as an individual who has 'not displayed godly sorrow nor demonstrated the fruit consistent with repentance for their actions,' to be wholly unfounded, if not absurd," the statement from the board reads. 

"Mr. Murray has readily and publicly admitted his own failures and shortcomings, including his trust in Mr. Zacharias and his role in initially defending him against allegations that were later proven to be true. Moreover, Mr. Murray has proactively sought the forgiveness of certain parties that suffered hurt at the hands of Mr. Zacharias, and then subsequently himself, and he has spent numerous hours in conversations with the board, his senior pastor, and various other spiritual advisors to learn from these experiences."

The statement adds that Murray sought to reconcile with certain parties, which Embrace the Truth paid all the costs associated with those efforts, including counseling and reconciliation.

"Certain individuals have accepted his heartfelt apology, and those relationships have graciously been restored in a God-honoring manner," the Embrace the Truth statement adds. "Understandably, other relationships are still in the process of being restored even as Mr. Murray continues his genuine efforts to do so."

The apologists concede in their report that "Murray has made some efforts toward reconciling with a couple of former employees since we first confronted him more than a year ago."

"But we assess that his efforts to date fall short of the biblical requirements for Christian leaders," the apologists contend. "Rather than providing a transparent accounting of their behavior, Ramsden, (Davis) Phillips, and Murray have excused or minimized their roles in various ways. But documentation and testimony have repeatedly rebutted claims they have made, either directly to us or in public arenas."

The Embrace the Truth board members have partnered with the senior pastor of Murray's home church to hold him accountable and ensure he is fit for leadership.

"Most importantly, Mr. Murray has demonstrated a significant level of godly sorrow for the pain his own actions and/or inactions may have caused others," the board states. 

"In conclusion, we affirm without equivocation that Abdu Murray is fully qualified to be in ministry. We can personally testify to the sincere efforts he has undertaken to correct wrongs while learning valuable lessons along the way. In light of all of this, we cannot in good conscience discourage him from continuing to pursue his call to preach the Good News of Jesus through public ministry."

In September, Murray published More Than a White Man's Religion. The book's preface details a transitional season in which Murray embarked on nearly a year of no public ministry. 

"I was writing this book and asking myself if I had been walking in step with Jesus — the one I follow and the one whom this book focuses," he wrote. "The difficult answer I have wrestled out of myself through prayer and tears is this: not always."

The Embrace the Truth statement didn't address the claim made by "multiple sources" interviewed by the apologists that Phillips and Murray were involved in the firing of late RZIM apologist Nabeel Qureshi after Zacharias allegedly grew jealous of Qureshi and spread claims that he was a "womanizer" and "alcoholic." A month after Qureshi's termination, he was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. 

"Shortly after Qureshi was fired, Mike Licona questioned Murray regarding the reasons for the firing. Murray stated that it was because Qureshi was arrogant and had a problem with women," the apologists wrote. "We suspect the rumor originated with Zacharias and was repeated by those who blindly trusted Zacharias. Given the meteoric rise of Qureshi's ministry and the accompanying understandable struggle with overconfidence and pride, we believe mentoring would have been more in order than firing."

In a statement to Premier last week, Naomi Zacharias defended her sister, Sarah (Davis) Phillips, claiming that the report included "many categorically false statements." She added that the group of apologists who authored the report had "neither church or organizational authority" nor "the expertise to investigate things of this nature."

"In what once began as claimed advocacy for truth and women, specifically, they now use their unique platform to inflict pain, destruction, and frankly a relentless pummelling on a woman who has already suffered heart-shattering loss and trauma they can't possibly understand," Naomi Zacharias stated. 

"Instead of coming alongside her and working to bring healing, as Christ did, and helping her to somehow live, they issue yet another statement that attempts to humiliate, destroy, present lies as fact, and prevent her from surviving. Last I checked, she isn't applying to work with them."

Murray said in an interview with Josh and Sean McDowell, streamed online last May but no longer available on YouTube, that the late apologist deceived him and others. Murray detailed why he believed the late apologist's version of events when accusations were made public and apologized for how he and the ministry handled the allegations as they arose. 

"We really cannot afford to elevate ministry above people or certainly above Jesus," Murray said, speaking about what he learned amid the gradual exposure of Zacharias that took place the past few years. "I think that we have this mentality in ministry that somehow ministry is itself sacred, that ministry is itself untouchable. And so, when an allegation of abuse happens, we find it unbelievable because these people could not possibly have done it."

Murray, who co-authored the book, Seeing Jesus from the East: A Fresh Look at History's Most Influential Figure, with Zacharias, said that he considered Zacharias' "unblemished record" as proof of his trustworthiness at the time.

Once more damning information emerged, "my thinking should have given way"… "to a more critical examination," Murray admitted. "But the reality of it was that I didn't want it to be true."

"You have to be ever-vigilant," Murray reiterated, "[G]uard your own heart. ... Is this true or are you claiming it's false because you don't want it to be true? I think that's a big part of why a lot of people were able to believe [Zacharias'] side of the story. They just could not possibly fathom it. But I think we have to embrace the truth no matter how inconvenient it is."

In addition to heading Embrace the Truth, Murray is also active as a public speaker. 

The Roys Report reported that Murray was scheduled to speak at the Colson Center's Great Lakes Symposium on Christian Worldview this summer but was quietly removed from the program after Roys requested a comment. 

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