RZIM whistleblower details 'toxic' culture of manipulation, mockery in letter to board

Ravi Zacharias speaks at an open forum at the University of Florida, 2019.
Ravi Zacharias speaks at an open forum at the University of Florida, 2019. | YouTube/RZIM

A public relations staffer who worked closely with the late apologist Ravi Zacharias is blowing the whistle on the "toxic" culture that existed within his ministry, which she said inhibited her from acting with integrity.

In a 26-page Feb. 6 letter to the RZIM board that was shared with writer David French of The Dispatch, Ruth Malhotra, the public relations manager and spokesperson for the ministry, detailed the various ways in which she was misled and how she was put into compromising positions given how questions were being raised as evidence of the late apologist's misconduct continued to emerge. 

Last week, the Atlanta law firm Miller & Martin released its final report of the independent investigation it conducted into Zacharias' behavior, finding that he had engaged in serious acts of sexual misconduct, including "sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape." 

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Yet the investigation was limited in scope to Zacharias' actions with massage therapists employed at a spa he co-owned in Georgia and also in a number of southeast Asian nations. 

The late apologist first started being exposed in 2017 for inflating his academic credentials and grooming a Canadian woman, Lori Anne Thompson, online. Zacharias subsequently sued the woman and her husband for racketeering, claiming they were attempting to extort money from him. 

In the months that followed, Malhotra was left to field questions about the apologist and the integrity of the ministry for which she had no good answers. But when she pressed her colleagues for more information, she said she encountered internal resistance. In her letter to the board, she wrote that within the organization, she felt “systematically marginalized, maligned, and misrepresented to others by key members of senior leadership.” 

The ministry leaders assured the staff of the narrative Zacharias had put forward, that he, not the Thompsons, was the victim of a nefarious scheme. 

In May 2018, the RZIM senior leadership met with their global media director, Nancy Gifford, and Malhotra in an offsite conference room for a three-day “conciliation” meeting. But the meeting turned out to be a tense session where senior leaders vented at Malhotra and the outside conciliator they had hired, Judy Dabler, allegedly told her that she was "one step away from complete and total insanity."

Zacharias' daughter, Sarah Davis, subsequently asked Malhotra to go to Dabler’s center by herself for a week of "intensive sessions." 

“I don’t want to force my hand on this, but I’m prepared to do so,” Davis reportedly told Malhotra.

Dabler ended up not being able to work with her and she was instead referred to another counselor with knowledge of her approach and the RZIM situation. This other counselor assured Malhotra that she had been "a victim of gaslighting" and that Dabler should not be considered "a safe place." 

"I came to find out later that the false narrative about me — the idea that I could not be trusted and my motives were cause for concern — had been circulating amongst our wider staff; it was propagated by senior leadership, including during Founders’ Weekend 2018. [RZIM President] Michael Ramsden told several attendees at Founders’ that he and the senior leadership were 'concerned' and 'unsure' about my intentions, partly because 'Ruth keeps records of everything,' and he warned them to 'be careful' around me," Malhotra wrote in her letter to the board. 

"I believe that the leadership’s treatment of me in 2017 and 2018 was unacceptable and revealing of the toxic environment at RZIM that has existed for far too long. In summary, what senior leadership subjected me to was personally traumatizing (effects of which I am still painfully working through), publicly shaming (amongst the Task Force and in front of outside consultants), and potentially spiritually abusive (an aspect I am further exploring with counselors and pastors experienced in this area). I have reasons to believe that I am not the only RZIM staff member who has suffered due to the approach and actions of senior leadership, and I pray that when possible my colleagues’ voices will be heard and acknowledged as well."

She also recounted how troubled she was to see senior leadership and Zacharias mock the Thompsons and jokingly speculate about when their marriage might end. To date, though the ministry has apologized to the Canadian couple, Zacharias' family has not released them from the nondisclosure agreement that happened as a result of the lawsuit. 

Writing on Twitter Sunday, Thompson said that throughout the entire ordeal she has "literally felt publicly stripped, flogged, called cruel names, made to carry a crushing cross, and then hung on it while people cast their lots. Now I know for facts — I was. I’m dumbfounded."

She went on to call Malhotra "a HERO."

CP reached out to Malhotra for further comment but did not receive a response.  

In conjunction with the release of the full report last week, RZIM issued a statement saying that their hearts were "shattered," and apologized for their actions in handling what had transpired and that they were going to support Zacharias' victims in a variety of ways.  

"We are shocked and grieved by Ravi’s actions. As Ravi Zacharias was the founder of our ministry and the leader of our staff, community, and team, we also feel a deep need for corporate repentance."

The revelations, the internal discord at RZIM, the late apologist's long-running pattern of sexual abuse, and the deceitful manner in which he covered his tracks have prompted Christian writers and leaders to reflect on how ministries are structured.

"When family members of founders occupy the controlling heights of an organization, they are placed under immense strain and face an obvious conflict of interest when their father is accused of misconduct. Rigorous, independent investigations should be mandatory when accusers come forward. Compliance with reasonable investigatory requests (such as turning over phones and other communications equipment) must be required. Governing boards should be powerful, independent, and transparent," offered French in is article detailing Malhotra's experiences. 

"Nondisclosure agreements — especially in Christian ministries — are poisonous and enable additional abuse. Do not trust instincts over evidence. Never say, 'I know this man, and he would never do anything like this.' The goal of any organization facing claims of abuse should be discerning truth, not discrediting accusers. All accusers should be treated immediately — publicly and privately — with dignity and respect," he said. 

"The zeal to protect the leader and punish or discredit the accuser can also rest in a particular brand of arrogance. 'My ministry is necessary.' 'Souls are at stake.' 'Look at all the good we’re doing.' In reality, God will accomplish His purposes, with or without any of us, regardless of our gifts or talents."

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