More on the Ravi Zacharias day spa scandal

Get up to speed here.

In this podcast interview, Christianity Today reporter Daniel Silliman explains how he investigated this story.

Several evangelicals who followed Ravi Zacharias were upset with me today for blogging about this story. Here is how the Christianity Today editors are responding to similar criticism.

Emily Belz of World Magazine has done her own reporting and has uncovered new details. Here is a taste of her piece:

WORLD spoke to an additional source, longtime spa manager Anna Adesanya, who worked at Jivan Wellness from 2009 until ownership changed in 2012. Adesanya told me Zacharias would come in regularly, maybe once a month. She remembered an incident around 2009 in which a massage therapist came to her and said she was uncomfortable treating Zacharias anymore because he had asked her for “more than a massage.” 

Adesanya, who was unfamiliar with Zacharias’ apologetics ministry, said she took the information to Zacharias’ spa business partner, Anurag Sharma, and asked that they talk to Zacharias. She said the two met him at his office at RZIM, where Zacharias showed them his back X-rays as a way of explaining his need for therapy. Zacharias had spoken publicly about his chronic back problems from an injury decades earlier. 

“He did not admit it—he became defensive,” said Adesanya. “He said, ‘Who is this girl, what is she trying to do to me?’” 

After the meeting, Adesanya said, Sharma fired the therapist who had complained. Zacharias continued coming for regular spa appointments. (Sharma did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Adesanya said no other therapists complained to her about Zacharias during her tenure. But she said Zacharias only went to certain therapists and often brought his own massage therapist, an Indian woman, and they would occupy one of the rooms for therapy sessions. “I would often have to wonder, because they would be in that room for hours. At most you’re going to have a therapy session that’s going to last an hour and half , maybe two hours top,” Adesanya said. “It would exceed two hours, if not three. … But it was never anything that was spoken of.”

Read the rest here.

What went on with Ravi Zacharias?

Ravi Zacharias died in May 2020. I paid tribute to him briefly in this New York Times obituary. Zacharias was a popular apologist for the Christian faith. But I had no idea that he was also in the day spa business until I read Daniel Silliman’s reporting at Christianity Today. It’s not pretty.

Here is a taste:

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) has opened an investigation into allegations that its late founder and namesake sexually harassed multiple massage therapists who worked at two day spas he co-owned.

Three women who worked at the businesses, located in a strip mall in the Atlanta suburbs, told Christianity Today that Ravi Zacharias touched them inappropriately, exposed himself, and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of about five years. His business partner said he regrets not stopping Zacharias and sent an apology text to one of the victims this month.

RZIM denies the claims, saying in a statement to CT that the charges of sexual misconduct “do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades.” The organization has hired a law firm “with experience investigating such matters” to look into the allegations, which date back at least 10 years. RZIM declined to answer any further questions about the inquiry.

Read the rest here.

How the White House Responded to the Call to Change the Names of Military Bases

Fort Bragg

We covered this here. The U.S. Army is willing to discuss renaming Fort Bragg, one of ten bases named after Confederate military leaders.

Donald Trump, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, refuses to consider the change:

“Winning, Victory, and Freedom?” These bases are named after men who fought against their country and lost.

Trump’s use of the word “heritage” here is revealing. When people use the word “heritage” they are often talking more about the present than the past. The purpose of “heritage,” writes historian David Lowenthal, is to “domesticate the past” so that it can be enlisted “for present causes.” It is a way of approaching the past that is fundamentally different than the discipline of history. History explores and explains the past in all its fullness and complexity. Heritage calls attention to the past to make a political point. Since the purpose of heritage is to cultivate a sense of collective or national identity, it is rarely concerned with nuance, paradox, or complexity. As Lowenthal writes, devotion to heritage is a “spiritual calling”–it answers needs for ritual devotions.

This, of course, is why so many people in the South love to talk about their “heritage.” Confederate heritage operates through a series of rituals–the celebration of Confederate heroes, the waving of the Confederate flag, and glorification of white supremacy.

The renaming of these bases does not take anything away from the soldiers who fought our World Wars. Like the Bible photo-op at St. John’s Church, this is just another Trump appeal to his white base in an election year. And he has played this monument card before. Let’s remember when Trump tried to defend Confederate monuments in the wake of the Charlottesville race riots.

And then Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tries to explain:

McEnany reads Trump’s tweet and says “we spent some time working on that.” So this was not an off-the-cuff tweet from Trump, it was a premeditated statement. Trump, McEnany, and the rest of the staff worked hard to compose it.

At the 10:30 mark, McEnany says:

He [Trump] does stand against the renaming of our forts, these great American fortresses where literally some of these men and women who lost their lives–the went out to Europe and Afghanistan and Iraq, and all across this world to win world wars on behalf of freedom. A lot of times, the very last place they saw was one of these forts. And to suggest that these forts were somehow inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to the men and women who the last bit of American land they saw before they want over seas and lost their lives were these forts.

This is crazy. No one is saying to get rid of these forts. It is nonsensical to connect this kind of name change with “the very last place” a soldier saw before they went off to war. We can begin by mentioning that many of these soldiers sent to fight in the wars McEnany lists above were African Americans. I am sure many of their families are thrilled about the proposed name changes.

She picks it up again at the 23:30 mark and spins it into an attack on Joe Biden.

What would the late Ravi Zacharias think about this sophistry? What would the man most associated with the cross hanging from McEnany’s neck think about this?

I have noticed a new kind of public figure has emerged during the age of Trump, but I am sure some of my historian friends will tell me that this kind of person has been around for a long time. These are men and women who sound articulate, but are not really making any sense.

*The New York Times* Obituary for Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias speaks at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Glad to contribute a couple of comments to this. I know some of my evangelical friends will be impressed that I am quoted before Tim Tebow. 🙂

Here is Steven Kurutz:

Ravi Zacharias, an evangelist and author who became an important voice for Christians by making a rational argument for the existence of God and vigorously defending the faith against atheists, relativists, Buddhists and other challengers, died on May 19 at his home in Atlanta. He was 74.

Mr. Zacharias suffered from cancer, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries said.

Unlike other influential evangelists such as Billy Graham, Mr. Zacharias did not have an outsize public persona, court politicians or host revivals in stadiums around the world. Rather, he practiced an intellectual form of Christian theology called apologetics that dates back to the Apostle Paul.

Mr. Zacharias believed the way to counter an increasingly secular culture was to make a logical case for theism, and to explain why Christianity above all other religions is best equipped to answer life’s fundamental, existential questions. His ministry’s motto is: “Helping the thinker believe. Helping the believer think.”

Mr. Zacharias laid out his arguments in more than two- dozen books, including “Can Man Live Without God?” (1994) and “Why Jesus?” (2007), through his radio program, “Let My People Think” and in speaking appearances around the world.

He rose to prominence in 1983, when Mr. Graham invited him to speak at a conference for evangelists in Amsterdam. His non-Western background (he was born in India) set Mr. Zacharias apart from American evangelical preachers, and gave him a certain authority as someone exposed to religious pluralism.

“Ravi was a kind of philosopher for the church,” said John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College, a private Christian school in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “His primary audience was conservative evangelicals with college degrees who wanted to give some kind of rational, empirical defense of their faith in the workplace, at the water cooler, with the people they sat next to on the plane.”

High-profile followers include Tim Tebow, the former NFL quarterback and professional baseball player. He formed a friendship with Mr. Zacharias, and in early May, as the preacher battled cancer, posted a tribute on Instagram, saying, “I think it’s really important in life to have heroes, and especially in the faith, and one of my heroes of the faith” is Mr. Zacharias.

Read the rest here.

Ravi Zacharias, RIP

Ravi Zacharias speaks at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Zacharias speaking at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, September 17, 2013 (Wikimedia Commoms)

I must admit that I have not read much of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. I have a few of his books, but for whatever reason I have not opened them. Nevertheless, I realize that he was an important thinker for millions of American evangelicals. Here is Sarah Pulliam Bailey at The Washington Post:

Ravi Zacharias, an Indian-born preacher who rose to prominence in a predominantly white evangelical subculture and who wrote popular books and lectured widely at colleges to make an intellectual defense of the Christian faith, died May 19 at his home in Atlanta. He was 74.

The cause was complications from an aggressive form of bone cancer, according to a statement from Zacharias International Ministries, the evangelical organization he founded in 1984 and is based in the Atlanta suburbs.

The Rev. Zacharias published and edited more than 25 books, and he was a frequent presence in university lecture halls. His international travels as well as his radio and television show “Let My People Think” extended his reach globally.

He did not get involved in political campaigns but befriended leaders in politics, particularly conservative Republicans. He mentored the son of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations. Before his death, President Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, lauded him for reinforcing her faith. He also was close to baseball player Tim Tebow.

“His fan base included leaders in many in high-profile places, yes, but he’s one of those rare evangelical leaders from his generation who is actually known for being an evangelical who evangelized, rather than an evangelical who did politics,” said Michael Wear, who worked in faith-outreach for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Rev. Zacharias, ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1980, came to wide attention three year later, at age 37, when he preached at the invitation of evangelist Billy Graham at a conference in Amsterdam.

He soon became one of the most sought-after evangelists to promote apologetics, or the defense of Christianity, and began building a ministry based what he called intellectual arguments for evangelical belief rather than direct appeals to faith.

Read the rest here. Rest in Peace.