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Betrayed Trust, Part Three: Ravi Zacharias Claimed Accusers in Sexting Scandal Were Extortionists, But Evidence Indicates Otherwise

Betrayed Trust, Part Three: Ravi Zacharias Claimed Accusers in Sexting Scandal Were Extortionists, But Evidence Indicates Otherwise

By Julie Roys
September 22, 2020

Are Brad and Lori Anne Thompson extortionists who entrapped Ravi Zacharias in a sexting scandal for monetary gain? Or, are they victims of Zacharias--an alleged sexual predator, who preemptively sued them when they tried to hold Zacharias accountable?

This question is central to a 2017 sexting scandal involving Zacharias and Lori Anne Thompson, and evaluating new evidence reported in Parts One and Part Two of this series.

The new evidence portrays Zacharias as a predator who groomed Lori Anne Thompson so he could exploit her sexually.

Yet a piece of evidence that seemingly contradicts this narrative is a demand letter the couple's lawyer at the time, Mark Bryant, sent to Zacharias in April 2017.

The letter claimed that Zacharias had "caused irreparable harm to the Thompson family." And it stated that instead of "protracted and public litigation," the Thompsons would sign a release of Zacharias and his ministry for "the amount of $5 million dollars."

Four months later, Zacharias replied with a federal lawsuit, accusing the Thompsons of "coaxing him into an inappropriate online relationship" as part of a months-long scheme to extort money from him.

Adding to the portrayal of the Thompsons as extortionists, the lawsuit mentioned two incidents from the Thompson's past.

One, it stated that Brad Thompson had previously sued a pastor and his church, claiming that the pastor had used his position to coerce Mr. Thompson into making "ill-advised loans and investments." According to Zacharias' lawsuit, Thompson dismissed his suit against the pastor in 2010 "after the parties entered into a settlement."

Secondly, Zacharias' lawsuit alleged that "sometime after the settlement, the Thompsons began experiencing significant financial distress," thus providing additional motive for their alleged extortion scheme.

However, a closer examination of these events, and the circumstances around them, casts doubt on the claims in Zacharias' suit.

The Lawsuit Against Maranatha

In 2008, Brad Thompson, an industrial contractor and business owner, sued Pastor John Visser and Maranatha Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Belleville, Ontario, for almost $1 million in damages.

According to Christianity Today's 2017 article on the sexting scandal, the lawsuit was dropped. And the "pastor was temporarily suspended, but his church and denomination ultimately stood by him."

But this isn't accurate.

Visser's denomination did not stand by him. They simply gave him a 90-day suspension, rather than deposing him, which was the recommendation of the CRC's Judicial Code Committee, which investigated Visser in 2012.

The CRC Synod concluded that Visser was "guilty of abuse of the office of a minister." And regarding the Thompsons, the Synod found that "Pastor Visser abused his office for inappropriate ends and/or self-interest by soliciting and/or allowing a counselee . . . to invest in companies that (Visser) and his family owned."

Ultimately, the denomination allowed Visser to return to the pastorate, but only after submitting to the denomination's demand that Visser find outside oversight for his counseling ministry.

I spoke with Brad Thompson about what happened between him and Visser. (Though Brad said he and Lori Anne couldn't talk about their relationship with Zacharias due to their NDA, he said he and Lori Anne are free to talk about anything else. They also can speak about specific accusations Zacharias made in his 2017 statement about them.)

Brad said both he and Lori Anne came to Christ as adults from broken backgrounds, and were attracted to Visser's church because of its healing ministry and "heavy shepherding" model. (Lori Anne has written more in-depth about the couple's experience at her blog.)

Brad said both he and Lori Anne went to Visser for counseling. And Brad said it was in the context of this counseling relationship that Visser coaxed Brad into loaning him money repeatedly.

Over the course of several years, Thompson said he, and companies he owns, loaned about $355,000 to Visser's two companies, one of which went bankrupt.

Ian deGroot, Thompson's accountant who used to serve as the treasurer for Maranatha, corroborated Thompson's story. DeGroot said bankruptcy filings showed Visser's company owed around $800,000 to about a dozen members of Maranatha or their businesses, including the Thompsons. DeGroot also provided documentation of Thompson's loans to Visser's businesses.

Thompson said when he realized that Visser wasn't going to pay him back, he filed a lawsuit against Visser and the church to try and recoup his money. (Thompson said his lawyer suggested suing for $1 million because plaintiffs normally get half of what they request and Thompson would also incur legal fees.)

Thompson added that he and Visser never reached a settlement as Zacharias' suit alleged. Instead, Thompson said he dropped the suit because Visser went bankrupt.

Thompson said he could have still pursued the suit against the church and the denomination. But instead, he and Lori Anne decided to work within the CRC denomination to try and bring accountability.

"Significant Financial Distress"

Both Brad Thompson and Ian deGroot laughed when I asked if Thompson was in "significant financial distress" after his alleged "settlement" with his pastor, as Zacharias' lawsuit alleges.

Similarly, Tamara Battiste, Lori Anne Thompson's sister, said: "Thompson is a millionaire . . . They do not need money. They have never needed money."

Tax returns the Thompsons gave show that from 2010--2017, the Thompsons made between $193,000--$552,000 each of those years. In 2017--the year the Thompsons sent the demand letter to Zacharias-- the couple made $443,000.

The couple also gave generously to charities and ministries during those years. In 2015, the Thompsons donated more than $102,000 to charity. In 2016 and 2017, the couple donated about $50,000/year to charity.

James Hunt, CEO of UCB Canada--the largest Christian broadcasting network in Canada--said Brad Thompson was one of UCB Canada's major supporters prior to 2017.

Hunt said Thompson sponsored the airtime for Ravi Zacharias' radio program on UCB Canada. Hunt said that's why Thompson was invited to sponsor a table at the luncheon where Brad and Lori Anne met Zacharias.

Over the years, Hunt said he's gotten to know Thompson well and described him as an "honorable guy" and "someone of integrity."

Why the Demand Letter?

If the Thompsons weren't in financial distress, why did they send a demand letter to Zacharias for $5 million?

According to Brad, he and Lori Ann's motives were to stop Zacharias from preying on other vulnerable women.

"As Lori Anne and I found out more about predation and grooming and the amount of victims that predators have . . . we knew we had a moral responsibility, or a godly responsibility, before the Lord, not to do nothing," Brad said.

Brad said the couple weighed several options. One, was going directly to the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). However, the couple quickly dismissed the idea because they believed Ravi Zacharias, his wife, and his daughter, Sarah--who's now CEO of RZIM--were all members of RZIM's board.

"What kind of accountability is there in a board when it's all your own family?" Thompson asked.

RZIM no longer publishes the names of its board members. However, in 2014, when RZIM last published an IRS form 990, Zacharias, his wife, and his daughter, Sarah, were on the board. I reached out repeatedly to RZIM, asking who was on its board in 2017, but RZIM did not answer my question.

Thompson said he and Lori Anne also considered going to the New York Times or some other major publication. But the couple decided against it because he said they both were struggling with thoughts of suicide and couldn't handle the public humiliation that would bring.

However, the couple said they did release their statements to several bloggers because they were confident word wouldn't spread to their hometown in Ontario.

Yet Thompson said he and Lori Anne both felt the only way to make Zacharias take them seriously was to send the demand letter. He said their lawyer, Mark Bryant, suggested the $5 million figure and the couple trusted his judgment.

Thompson said Bryant argued that someone like Zacharias, with a $30--$40 million ministry, could probably find a donor who would pay $1 million. Plus, in 2017, it was at the height of the #MeToo movement when victims of high-profile figures like Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein were receiving large payouts.

James Hunt of UCB Canada said he had numerous conversations with Brad Thompson around the time of the demand letter and Zacharias' lawsuit and said he never got the impression that the money mattered to Thompson.

"The only reason he put some kind of price tag on it was so that the claim would be taken seriously rather than just dismissed," Hunt said. "It was more to create a level of awareness, rather than it just being swept under the carpet. . . . It was that there would be some level of exposure and transparency to the truth and the validity of what happened."

"I was just so in shock," Thompson said. "And there's so much trauma and so much pain." Yet he added, "We both felt a burden. We knew it could possibly kill us to come forward. But it could possibly kill someone else if we stayed silent."


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