In September 2018, I interviewed Steve Baughman about some concerning allegations pertaining to the conduct of widely revered Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. In that interview (which I strongly suggest you read before proceeding with this article), Mr. Baughman outlined evidence for some very concerning behavior, including claims that Mr. Zacharias has consistently fabricated details about his academic history as well as that he engaged in sexually predatory behavior.
Given that it has been more than a year since Mr. Baughman’s book Cover-Up In the Kingdom was released, I decided it was time to return to our conversation in order to find out how evangelicals have received Mr. Baughman’s evidence as well as whether there are any pertinent updates to his concerning case against Mr. Zacharias.
RR: Steve, thanks for agreeing to do a “part-two” for this interview. To begin with, can you talk about how Cover-Up in the Kingdom has been received? Did Mr. Zacharias respond to it? How has it been received by evangelical leaders?
SB: Thank you for being one of the few Christians to take the Zacharias deceptions seriously. To borrow a line from David Hume, my book basically “fell stillborn from the press.” The religious press would not touch it and it garnered precisely zero reviews other than yours, (with a few mentions by relatively obscure bloggers). That said, hundreds of copies are out there and this seems to have generated a behind-the-scenes discussion in various evangelical circles. A prominent Canadian religious broadcaster wrote me and said she read the book in one sitting and that it is “teaching us a tough and needed lesson, and God’s work in our lives is better because of it.” I’m not sure what she means, though. Her network continues to carry Ravi’s show. When I inquired of the network they said Ravi pays his bills and has not violated the broadcaster’s ethical code. So the information is out there, but it seems to have no effect on business as usual.
RR: I can’t say that I’m surprised. Writing a book like that is a thankless task. Not many atheists will be sufficiently motivated to pick it up because many will just say, “I told you apologists are liars for Jesus!” Meanwhile, what Christian wants to sit and read a chronicle of the sins of one of their favorite apologists? Not many, it turns out.
But sometimes you’ve got to write something just because it is important to you. I actually parted ways with my literary agent when I told her I wanted to write a book defending atheists. She told me “That won’t sell!” and she was right. But I’m still proud of Is the Atheist My Neighbor? Well, Cover-Up in the Kingdom fulfilled a similar service.
Now I know that you’ve continued to research Zacharias in the last two years. What more have you discovered since writing the book?
SB: I have three of your books. So I know that at least some of them sell. 🙂
Yes, I fully expected a collective yawn from atheists. Crooked preachers are sooo “dog bites man” for them. But I remain astonished at the response of the evangelical word. Still, it is important to me to document the record as best as I can. Some day historians of 21st century American evangelism will perhaps see how important Ravi Zacharias is as an example of dishonesty in places where we might not expect it.
As for my more recent discoveries, sadly, there are many. We clearly have not scratched the surface with the demonstrably false claims Mr. Zacharias has made.
A new discovery for me is that Ravi presented himself for years as having earned a BA from the University of New Delhi. This appeared in numerous early newspaper announcements for his preaching events. We also see it in his faculty bio at the 2012-2013 Southern Evangelical Seminary catalogue, (page 83.) The truth is that Ravi left the University after his first year. (Neither Ravi nor SES have responded to my several requests for comment.)
In his memoirs, Walking from East to West, Ravi describes his near brush with a Vietcong ambush in 1971. “The bodies of the four passengers were strewn across the side of the road, bullet-riddled and dead.” That is what he said in the 2005 book. But in 1971, a few months after the event, he told his student newspaper at the Ontario Bible College that he saw “a bullet riddled car and a blood soaked body.” So the body count had quadrupled. (I was able to confirm with the newspaper that their report was based directly on the written account Ravi had provided them.)
In various places Ravi recounts a very touching scene where his father sat in the front row with tears streaming down his face as Ravi received his first honorary doctorate. The problem is that by the time of Ravi’s first honorary doctorate (Houghton College 1980) his father had been dead for a year.
While some of these are relatively trivial, they do reveal that Ravi Zacharias has very low regard for factual accuracy. This is ironic for the man who so often recounts his “bed-of-suicide” promise to God; “I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.“
And speaking of that alleged suicide attempt, a year or so ago I began investigating the story, which Ravi has told millions and millions of people over the decades. It is a dramatic tale of God‘s intervention in the life of a very special 17-year-old who had attempted to take his own life.
Ravi’s story has grown so much with the passage of time (and with the death of eyewitnesses) that we have good reason to suspect that it is fabricated. (Last week I documented my findings here.) This, of course, is not a trivial matter.
Ravi’s ministry has not responded to my inquiries. His brother, Ramesh, actually reported me to the Toronto Police after I asked him for comment on Ravi’s suicide story.
This is getting long so I will stop there.
RR: Okay, so I’m going to give you a question that I’m guessing you’ve heard before, but here goes: why are you so obsessed with Ravi Zacharias? Why don’t you just leave him alone?!
What say you?
SB: It’s funny, that question (or something close to it) is probably the question I’ve been most often asked by Ravi defenders. In hundreds of comments made to me over the past four years I can probably count on two hands the times Christians have actually wanted to engage me on the evidence. It’s almost never been “No! He really was a ‘professor at Oxford’” or “No, the suicide threat he made to cover up his online misconduct is a forgery!” Instead it has been about my motives.
I find that unfortunate, but I understand it. Ravi Zacharias represents something precious to so many people. In situations like that it is much more comfortable to focus on the messenger.
And, to date, not a single factual claim I have made about Ravi has been refuted.
I should leave it at that. Still, with the proviso that what follows below contains nothing whatsoever (note italics and underlining) relevant to the deceptions of one of the most influential living evangelists, here goes:
Mea culpa about this being an obsession, at times, and at times maybe even bordering on being unhealthy. None of that changes the importance of the story. (Nobody accuses the Boston Globe’s Spotlight unit of being “obsessed” with Catholic pedophilia.) When I was first taken in by Ravi’s powerful preaching in early 2015 I had no idea what was in store. Each new discovery of a false Ravi claim made me more convinced that this famous man was a serial deceiver. More important, as Evangelism, Inc. ignored my findings over and over, I realized that this is about much more than Ravi Zacharias.
Ravi’s denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, covered it up and issued a press release that was carefully crafted to say absolutely nothing. Prominent Southern Baptists gave Ravi a lifetime ministry award, and the Southern Baptist Convention had him speak to their annual convention in Dallas. HarperCollins Christian Publishing announced a new book deal for Ravi months after he paid hush money to settle his sexting lawsuit. Christianity Today published Ravi’s press release verbatim and did not bother following up about the explosive matter of the suicide threat he made to silence Ms. T. Etc. The system seemed rotten to the core. And, nobody was investigating it. If I dropped the story it would never be told. So I pursued it.
As you know, Randal, I am very interested in philosophical and theological discussion of God’s existence and the truth of Christnainty. Ravi corrupts this important dialogue with his fake credentials and his general lack of integrity. And evangelical power brokers have enabled him along the way. And they continue to do so. (I am told his new book comes out this month.) Noting all this for the record is, I think, a worthwhile pursuit.
Now, even more irrelevant to the growing mountain of evidence against Ravi Zacharias, nobody should assume that I spend my whole life sitting around thinking about the man. The year I published my Ravi book I also completed a book of Gospel guitar arrangements and recorded an album of banjo solos, plus took care of my business as a partner in a law firm. Three minutes ago I received an email informing me that my new Celtic guitar book is nearing completion (with a reputable publisher.) And more.
Nobody should care what I am doing with my life, but they can google me if they do. I would prefer, however, that they google “Ravi Zacharias credentials and sexting lawsuit” and then start behaving as though integrity in apologetics matters.
Finally, Randal, thank you for caring.
You can support Steve Baughman in his work by ordering Cover-Up in the Kingdom here.