(RNS) — The evangelical nonprofit named for the late Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias will launch an investigation into allegations of misconduct against its founder, according to a major Christian publication.
Christianity Today magazine reported that three women who worked as massage therapists at spas co-owned by the Christian evangelist claimed that he repeatedly masturbated and exposed himself during massage sessions and made unwanted sexual advances.
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries denied the allegations in a statement to Religion News Service.
“We, the family and ministry teammates of the late Ravi Zacharias, can say the allegations now being made against Ravi do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades—we believe them to be false,” the statement said. “These allegations pertain to businesses that were closed nearly a decade ago. These allegations were never made during Ravi’s lifetime, but were first presented to a third party more than three months after his death.”
RZIM has started what it called an “independent external investigation” into the allegations. The findings of the investigation will be reported to the ministry’s executive committee.
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The allegations against Zacharias were first made in a YouTube video by Stephen Baughman, a San Francisco-based lawyer and seminary student. Baughman claimed to have talked to a number of employees at the spas owned by Zacharias.
In 2017, Zacharias settled a lawsuit with a Canadian couple, who had claimed the evangelist had a sexting relationship with Lori Anne Thompson, a married woman who supported his ministry. The settlement of the lawsuit, which had been filed by Zacharias, included the couple signing a nondisclosure agreement.
After Zacharias died in May, Thompson posted a video online, asking to be released from the NDA.
According to Christianity Today, Zacharias co-owned a pair of spas in the Atlanta area, including one called Touch of Eden, which closed in 2008. The other was called Jivan Wellness and was run in the same location as the first spa.
A video of the grand opening of Jivan Wellness features images of Zacharias speaking at the event, along with comedian Jeff Foxworthy, former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, Zacharias’ daughter Naomi, megachurch pastor Johnny Hunt and several politicians.
The spas were not far from the headquarters of RZIM and Zacharias allegedly went there several times a week. The three former employees said that the misconduct lasted from 2005 to 2010.
Zacharias, who came to fame after speaking at a Billy Graham conference in Amsterdam in the 1980s, traveled the world as an evangelist and apologist, making reasoned arguments for the Christian faith. His ministry, which sponsored other evangelists around the world, took in $32 million in donations in 2019, according to reports filed with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
For years, Zacharias had claimed to hold several doctorates and to have studied at both Oxford and Cambridge. After bloggers questioned his credentials, his official bio was amended to mention that he held several honorary doctorates and to say that he studied at schools that were related to Oxford and Cambridge.
He was the author of more than 20 books and was an ordained minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
(This story has been updated.)