RZIM apologist who wrote book with Ravi Zacharias admits shortcomings, says he was deceived

Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016.
Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016. | Courtesy of Passion Conference/Phil Sanders

An apologist who worked closely with Ravi Zacharias and co-authored a book with him said he was deceived by the late apologist who was embroiled in several sexual abuse allegations that were substantiated by an independent investigation released earlier this year. 

In an interview with Josh and Sean McDowell that was streamed online Friday, Abdu Murray, who has been in the leadership of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries since 2017, explained why he believed the late apologist’s version of events when accusations were made public, and apologized for how he and the ministry handled making statements when the allegations 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.

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“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.”

Yet the Bible says otherwise, he continued, as many who had a calling from God committed terrible acts.  

Murray co-authored Seeing Jesus from the East: A Fresh Look at History's Most Influential Figure with the late apologist, which was released weeks before Zacharias died after a battle with cancer in May 2020. 

When asked what contributing factors led so many to believe Zacharias’ deceptions for so long, specifically regarding what happened with Brad and Lori Anne Thompson — the Canadian couple at the center of much of the scrutiny of the apologist when allegations of sexual misconduct first emerged in 2017 — Murray said he could not answer for what others thought, but that he considered Zacharias’ “unblemished record” as proof of his trustworthiness. 

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

Zacharias had portrayed the Thompsons' as a couple who were attempting to extort money from him and denied any inappropriate interactions with them, especially Lori Anne, whom he groomed into an illicit online relationship. Zacharias subsequently filed a racketeering (RICO) lawsuit against the couple. 

Adding to his belief that Zacharias was trustworthy was that he believed in and employed women who wanted to study and do apologetics, and he wanted them to be in leadership positions across RZIM. 

Zacharias presented an “I’m not going to hide ... let the truth be known” approach to the allegations in 2017, Murray said, noting that he first learned of them when the RICO legal action was announced in the organization. 

“This is the actions of an innocent man,” he said, recalling his thinking at the time. 

“I’ve since learned something very important ... that this can be a tactic to silence people.”

Once more damning information emerged, “my thinking should have given way,” Murray said, “to a more critical examination, but the reality of it was that I didn’t want it to be true.”

Emails obtained by The Christian Post show that Murray wrote to Zacharias in November 2017 to give him encouragement because he believed the allegations amounted to a spiritual attack on the ministry, given its effectiveness worldwide in reaching people for Christ.  

Murray elaborated in the interview with the McDowells that realizing that the allegations of misconduct against Zacharias were true presented another irony — that he came to faith in Christ, not wanting the Gospel message and claims of the Christian faith to be true. 

“When I came to faith, I did so despite my desire for it not to be true. I’ve often said that I value truth over comfort. But the reality is this, it’s that even though you’ve done that in your life, and I did that in my life, it doesn’t mean you can’t be vigilant all the time now.”

“You have to be ever-vigilant,” he reiterated, “guard 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.”

The RZIM leader admitted that he was skeptical when additional charges emerged in August 2020 from massage therapists who had repeatedly interacted with Zacharias over the course of several years. But regardless of how uncomfortable it was, he and others within the ministry pushed for an independent investigation and they wanted the truth.

RZIM hired the Atlanta firm Miller & Martin to conduct the review, and its full report was published in February. 

During the interview, Murray also addressed a statement that was circulated in the media and attributed to him about him wanting to hire a rough Atlanta ex-cop to investigate women who made sexual misconduct allegations against the late apologist with the goal of discrediting them.  

What actually happened, Murray said, was that he was asking a lawyer, Brian Kelly, about potential investigators who were reputable. Kelly told him and the only one he knew of was “a rough Atlanta ex-cop who doesn’t have a light touch.”

When he relayed that to the RZIM team in a meeting amid mounting questions about Zacharias’ conduct, Murray recalled saying that they “could not go that route” and advocated not using such a person. 

In an email to CP on Tuesday, Steve Baughman, an attorney and author of the book, Cover-Up in the Kingdom, who brought Zacharias’ sexual misconduct and misrepresentation of his academic credentials to light, said he believes Murray when he said he didn't suggest they hire a rough ex-cop to investigate the women who accused Zacharias of abuse, and that it's a particularly ugly thing to be falsely accused of doing.

Yet, Murray’s reputation is widely known as “Ravi’s pitbull,” he maintained.

“Despite his recent mea culpa, RZIM insiders have revealed that Murray pressured team members who questioned Ravi, he wanted to use attorney-client privilege to keep ugly information from the public, he put a positive spin on Ravi’s 2016 written suicide threat to Ms. Thompson, he defended Ravi for the false statements in the press release announcing the lawsuit settlement, and more,” Baughman said. 

“Abdu Murray can now plead blindness. But his blindness was knowingly and willingly self-inflicted. Abdu made it his mission to snuff out the red flags.”

Since the release of the Miller & Martin report earlier this year, RZIM has announced that it's changing the ministry's name and restructuring to become a grant-making organization supporting evangelism and abuse victims, laying off the majority of its staff.

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