December 15, 2017
First, I want to be clear that the only suicide emails I refer to here are the ones dated October 29, 2016 that were provided to me by Julie Anne Smith, a Christian blogger who works with victims of clergy abuse. Ms. Smith told me that she received the emails in January or February of 2017 from Lori Anne Thompson (LAT), the woman with whom RZ had the online relationship. She also tells me that the image of the emails is a Word doc that had been copied-and-pasted from the original email, which she never saw and which LAT told her was destroyed.
Ms. Smith told me that LAT provided the emails in the course of seeking support for difficulties she was having as a result of feeling she had been abused by Mr. Zacharias. The emails were only a very small part of the communications between LAT and Ms. Smith, and were not provided in the context of any discussion of contemplated legal action.
The first public reference to Mr. Zacharias’ suicide threat appears in a letter to RZ dated April 27, 2017. The letter was from LAT’s attorney, Mark Bryant, to RZ and was marked “Personal and Extremely Confidential.” The letter outlined LAT’s grievances against RZ and contained this paragraph written by Attorney Bryant:
“In an email following many lengthy telephone conversations with you (we have copies of your emails and the call register) Lori Anne informed you of her decision to tell Brad about this misconduct. You responded by email that you would end your life and ‘bid this world goodbye’ if she confessed and outed you to her husband. You later admitted that this was not true and we have independent confirmation of many of these discussions by an anonymous third party.”
This letter was made a matter of public record when RZ’s attorney attached it to the federal complaint as Exhibit 1 when RZ filed his lawsuit on July 31, 2017. (See these links for RZ complaint and this Exhibit)
Here is what the emails say:
4:38:00 PM EDT: RZ says “Are you going to tell him it’s me?”
48 seconds later, with no apparent communication in between, RZ sent another email saying “”You promised you wouldn’t Lori Anne. If. You (sic) betray me here I will have no option but to bid this world goodbye I promise.”
On Nov 9, 2017 the parties settled their federal lawsuit and, apparently, are bound by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that renders them unable to comment on the suicide emails.
If those emails are authentic, RZ has been far more involved with LAT than he is letting on. If they are forged, RZ remains accountable for his academic credential deception, which I and others have documented, but he emerges as far more credible as regards the dispute between himself and LAT. A journalist for a Christian publication told me this week that his/her editors are reluctant to publish the emails without some forensic confirmation.
I consider the emails to be explosive and have made a big deal about them in my videos and writings. So I confess that I was a bit rattled yesterday when someone I take to be well-informed about computers emailed me to tell he that he thought they were fake. He pointed out that the image we have appears to have been manipulated. The words “From”, “Date”, “To” and “Subject” are bolded in the first one but not in the second. (see the image at the top of this post)
I have taken some time to collect my thoughts about the suicide emails and I share them below in the hope that it will encourage others, especially the religious press and the Boards of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and RZ’s other self-named ministries to look into and shed light on this most serious allegation.
Here is why I believe that Ravi Zacharias threatened suicide in order to suppress the online affair he was having with a married woman.
The best defenses I can think of on behalf of RZ are not that great. Here they are. (I imagine there are others and I encourage those with further defense suggestions to share them widely, and with me. Feel free to accuse me of not trying very hard or of being a bad defense attorney. All I really care about is us getting to the bottom of this, assuming we are not already there. And I think we are.)
No anti-RZ inference should be drawn from RZ’s refusal to comment on the suicide email. LAT cannot comment either. That’s all a part of the settlement agreement. For all we know LAT’s lawyer, Mark Bryant, insisted on confidentiality to protect his client because she had forged the suicide emails. RZ would love to talk about all this, but he cannot.
It would have been very simple to forge the image that purports to be a copy of a suicide threat email sent by RZ. All it takes is word processing skills and a computer. In fact, we know that the image cannot be an exact copy of an email. It appears to have been manipulated.
RZ is an intelligent man with a stellar reputation who also knows that he has enemies who would like to destroy him. It is unlikely that he would put a suicide threat in writing and send it via email to a woman with whom he was experiencing relationship conflict.
The world is full of people who will do wicked things for money. We have no reasons to think the Thompsons are not such people. We also know that Brad Thompson once sued his pastor for damages.
The fact that Mr. Bryant demanded $5million from RZ for what his clients had supposedly suffered is outrageous.
I find the defense arguments very unpersuasive. Here is why:
It is unclear why, if the emails were forged, the Board at RZIM, which has a fiduciary obligation to the Ministry, not to RZ, has not thoroughly investigated and publicly demonstrated the inauthenticity of the suicide threat allegations that so seriously tarnish the Ministry’s reputation. As far as I can tell, the Board has been publicly silent on the matter.
It is unclear why RZ did not deny the suicide threat allegations as soon as they went public. In his federal complaint RZ expresses concern for his reputation and rebuts in detail the serious allegations made in Attorney Bryant’s letter. But he makes no mention of the suicide email.
A forged suicide threat being used to extort money would have strongly supported RZ’s legal theory of racketeering and extortion. But he did not mention it in his complaint.
Insofar as a Word Doc purporting to be an image of RZ’s email would be easy to refute by forensics, it is unlikely that an educated person like LAT would believe she could get away with so crude a forgery.
It is unlikely that an educated person like LAT would not be cognizant of the fact that forging a suicide email and using it to demand money could subject her to very serious criminal penalties under Canadian and U.S. law.
As anyone who has copied and pasted between formats knows, it is not hard to think of innocent reasons for the bolding differences in the two emails and the fact that they are clearly not exact copies of an email screen. When I just now tried to copy and paste an email from my iPhone 6 it only allowed me to copy the content, not the time, date, subject. Had I wanted to send the the former and the latter together I would have had to figure out another way to paste them together. That would have been an innocent act, and would not have affected the content.
In any event, it is likely that if LAT had tried to forge an email and use it to demand big money she would have done a better job. Stay tuned on this issue.
UPDATE: This just in from Julia Anne Smith. When you forward from an icloud mail it “the from/date/to/subject and title are bolded.” “So she copied and pasted a forwarded message.” Did this issue just disappear?
On Dec 3, over three weeks after the legal settlement, RZ issued a statement denying the accusations that LAT had made. But according to Christianity Today, when it came to the suicide emails, “Zacharias declined to comment to CT on the image of the emails showing the apparent suicide threat, citing the nondiosclosure agreement.” I consider RZ’s post-NDA willingness to publicly deny certain serious allegations while invoking confidentiality regarding the suicide threat to be evidence of guilt.
The email images did not appear mysteriously from nowhere. They were provided by LAT to a Christian advocate for victims of clergy abuse, a woman named Julie Anne Smith who runs the Spiritual Sounding Board blog. (I only point out that Ms. Smith is a Christian to preempt the suggestion that an atheist posse is out to get RZ.) Ms. Smith says that LAT provided the emails to her in January of February of 2017, months before Mr. Bryant’s demand letter. They were not provided in the context of any discussion about legal action but in the course of a support relationship for one who felt she had been taken advantage of by a powerful man.
Ms. Smith told me that she had been in email contact with LAT after the settlement and that LAT had given no indication that she wished their prior communication not be shared. Had LAT forged the emails, surely she and her lawyers would have been vigilant in demanding that Ms. Smith not to make them public. A decent lawyer would have discouraged Ms. Smith by informing her that she could be liable for the tort of public disclosure of private information if she had released that information over their objection. But neither LAT nor her lawyers took any steps to ensure that Ms. Smith did not release the emails.
It is now amply clear that RZ has been a risk taker for decades. Just last week the respected Christian theologian and apologist John Stackhouse told Christianity Today that he had been worried for 20 years that RZ would eventually get outed for “inflating his academic credentials.” Dr. Stackhouse also said that RZ’s questionable credential claims have been “quietly mentioned” by evangelicals for decades. RZ continued to take serious reputational risks for well over a year after I began to make his false credential claims public in the summer of 2015. (See my article “The Christian Industrial Complex Shields its Own.” That in a matter so central to his public reputation RZ was a reckless risk-taker increases the likelihood that took risks with LAT.
It is unclear why RZ would agree to a confidentiality agreement that prevented him from denying such a serious and false charge as threatening suicide to suppress an online affair. But he did. Given his Dec 3, 2017 press statement, either the NDA allowed RZ to deny certain allegations (but not the suicide threat) or he violated the NDA, selectively.
It is unlikely that Attorney Bryant would claim in a personal and confidential letter to RZ to have a copy of a suicide threat email if RZ had not written it. It is also unlikely that Attorney Bryant would claim in that private letter to have logs of “lengthy telephone conversations” if such conversations had not happened.
RZ began his online relationship with LAT in late 2014. He does not say when he began receiving the nude photos, but it is clear that he did not report it to his Board until LAT’s lawyer contacted him with a legal threat in late April of 2017. While this is not directly relevant to the suicide emails, it undermines RZ’s claim that he made a serious attempt to terminate the by then sexually charged online relationship. By going along with LAT he raised the reputational stakes and made extreme measures, like a suicide threat, more attractive.
The fact that Brad Thompson previously sued a pastor bothered me. But then I looked into it. it turns out that BT’s pastor had engaged in, and was eventually disciplined by his church for, improper financial conduct, to wit: encouraging BT to invest in the pastor’s family business. Incidentally, I have sued a few people over the years and each time I am reminded that litigation is not a process that generally rewards or is kind to liars and opportunists. I cannot speak for BT’s litigation experience, but mine would make me much more reluctant to try what some folks think BT and LAT pulled on RZ.
The fact that Attorney Mark Bryant of the Bryant Law Center in Paducah, KY, demanded $5,000,000 from RZ for the suffering his clients had endured is indeed truly ridiculous. The fact that Attorney Mark Bryant’s demand letter was so sloppily written suggests that he never believed he had a strong legal case against RZ. He just wanted to wave that suicide email and the threat of “public litigation” at RZ to score some big bucks. Unfortunately for RZ none of this makes him less guilty.
Would I feel more comfortable if we had original emails with headers and a forensic report establishing that RZ wrote them? Of course. Am I bothered that the only image we are able to present to the public at this time is not an exact copy of the email RZ sent? Of course. (Well, UPDATE, see item 6 above.)
But as any trial lawyer knows, no matter how just and true our case is, the universe does not always deal us the perfect evidentiary hand. There is no such thing as a case without wrinkles, especially when you have able opponents whose agenda it is to make your every step as difficult as they possibly can. Wrinkles can be especially problematic when your able opponents don’t play by the rules of honest and open public discourse.
None of that need weaken our belief in the claims we make to judges, juries, and to the public. In the Ravi Zacharias matter, by far the best account of the evidence is that the risk-taking evangelist did what so many powerful men do with weaker women, and then made a dumb move in covering it up. Try as they could, his Boston and New York lawyers were unable to quarantine their client’s suicide email.
I know that many Christians eagerly await the forensic and investigative reports from Boards of RZ Inc. showing that I am wrong. I hope that each of these people will contact RZIM at firstname.lastname@example.org and urge them to get right on it.