But I can't do it alone
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I need people. I realized the best way to prove that point is to post what I haven't been able to do on my own. This would be a video. A tragic tale of abuse in the Church. It could exist, but I can't do it alone.
[Open Melissa looking down at the earth; holding a shovel. A person sees Melissa, and walks up.]
Person:You know he’s already dead, right?
[Camera changes view. It’s Ravi Zacharias’ grave. (Ravi Zacharias was an apologist in the Evangelical church. He was also exposed as a serial sexual abuser of women and a liar.]
Melissa: Yes, but the theology isn’t.
Person: Then fight the theology.
Melissa: [Looking away from the earth and to the person.] That’s what I’m doing. [Lifts shovel and gets one dig in.]
[Fig Tree’s worship area, Melissa sitting behind table]
Melissa: To say this is about Zacharias is to focus on the hill upon a mountain. Zacharias was created within a system that allowed his actions to persist: a symptom to a much bigger illness. It is the small piece of mold when the entire house is being attacked.
Zacharias was born in India to Anglican parents, and in 1966 he and his family immigrated to Canada. That’s what I believe is 100% true. Beyond that, his history is a sliding scale of accuracy. From the different articles I read, it appears his father was extremely overbearing. He wanted the best for Zacharias, and Zacharias kept skipping school.
Based on the little bit of information we have, I actually can relate to his dad! Really! I know what it is like to want the best for a child, and that child only sees the immediate gratification of the moment. How parents handle those situations vary greatly. As parents, we are continually second guessing ourselves. Do we back off and let the choices made lead to their own consequences, or do we step in before we believe it’s too late? For us, it’s somewhere in the middle. Choosing battles. Some are not worth fighting, some are.
For Zacharias’ dad, it appeared they were all worth fighting.
[Cut to graveside]
Person: Why do you keep saying, “appeared”? Did it happen or did it not?
Melissa: Well, in some way it did happen, but stories have tellers. When an event happens people come out of the woodwork to tell their versions. There is only one version of all his stories: His. That’s problematic. Even the story of Christ has four different storytellers. When you only get a single teller, something is not going to be right.
Person: He told his story. Why wouldn’t you believe it?
Melissa: [Jams shovel into the ground and leans on it] I do believe it. His story contains abuse, which means I’m going to take his word until new information is known, but I’m going to take it with a grain of salt. Like, this morning, I got up because the alarm on my watch went off. I went to make coffee, and I realized I didn’t want to clean my k-cup so I used disposable k-cups. I had four cups of coffee, and wrote some while I drank it.
Melissa: You don’t question that story?
Person: No, why should I?
Melissa: That’s the point. First, I haven’t shown myself to be a liar or duplicitous. Zacharias has. But, even with that, I purposefully changed a piece of my story this morning. I did use my refillable k-cup.
Person: [Rolls eyes.]
Melissa: My story is innocent; his are not. He claimed his dad would have killed him had his mother not stepped in. Stories like that have multiple tellers. No one cares how I take my coffee in the morning aside from the fact that I try not to add to our global trash. That’s why I use the word, “appeared.” I want to tell the story he told, but I want to make it clear that the story itself had no way to be verified or checked.
Person: Fine, but no one cares. Do you believe his dad was too overbearing?
Person: Then nothing else matters.
Melissa: [Shakes head sadly, pulls shovel out and begins to dig]
Melissa: This event where Zacharias would be beaten by his dad, and saved by his mother would lead him to try to take his own life. He would sneak into a science class and steal a vial specifically marked poison. He would take it home, lock himself in his bathroom, and drink it. The servant at the house would find him, and take him to the hospital where his life was saved. He would tell readers that he believed his parents never knew he tried to take his life because they would never talk to him about it.
[Cut back to graveside]
Person: Hard stop.
Person: A kid of… how old was he?
Person: A kid of 17 is taken to the hospital, having ingested something marked poison, by someone who worked in the family house, and we’re to believe the parents never knew?
Person: [Horrified at self] I don’t want to suggest someone telling a story about a suicide is fake.
Person: But a hospital would tell his parents something. Why is Ravi in the hospital? As a parent, I would want to know! First there’s the servant…
Melissa: Zacharias says he believes the servant never told them.
Person: He “believes”? He didn’t ask the servant. “Hey, my parents are choosing to pretend this didn’t happen. What did you tell them when they asked you why I was in the hospital?”
Melissa: Apparently not.
Person: Apparently not! Of course apparently not! Then, what hospital doesn’t inform the parents that, AT THE VERY LEAST, their son’s stomach was pumped?! Maybe the parents need to know about potential liver damage from drinking POISON!
Melissa: I hate myself that I’ve asked those very same questions.
Person: What did the servant say when he shared this story?
Melissa: Zacharias shared this information first in 2000, 23 years after the event. No one stepped up at that time to corroborate the event.
Person: So his story is the only one. I’m getting what you were saying about multiple stories. If an event happened, it happened to more than one person. It’s not just his story. The story belongs to everyone who was part of it.
Person: What’s that noise for.
[Return to worship area]
Melissa: While Zacharias’ story was the only story, he had more than one version of it. In 2000 he spoke of an individual reading John 3 to him at the hospital bed. By 2006 the reader becomes his mother, and she is reading John 4:16. Stories naturally change over time, but not in these drastic ways.
What’s the most problematic is how he would later use suicide in his adult life.
Person: [Shaking head and looking down] Now I feel bad for Zacharias, and I also feel dirty because I’m questioning his story. [Noticing where Melissa was digging.] Wait! You haven’t been digging up Ravi Zacharias at all! You’ve been putting the dirt on the grave, not taking it off!
Melissa: Of course not. He’s dead. What good would that do?
Person: Then what have you been digging up?
[Melissa points to the right of the grave. There is another tombstone: Laurie Anne Thompson.]
Person: That doesn’t make sense. She’s still alive.
Melissa: I know. Why do you think I’m digging?
Melissa: Lori Anne Thompson was an ardent Zacharias follower. You might have called her a disciple. This is where everything becomes difficult. The Brad Thompson, Lori Anne’s husband, had always been a huge fan of Zacharias’ work. It was in 2014 Lori Anne was introduced and they both finally met him when they sponsored a table at a businessmen's luncheon where Zacharias was the keynote speaker. They exchanged email addresses. Then, in June of 2015 the couple were invited to a private event. That’s when the three of them began an email chain between the three of them. Lori Anne opened her heart during this time, and shared her own childhood trauma… [looking conflicted]
Melissa: Zacharias’ story of abuse was not questioned or researched. It was simply accepted as truth. Meanwhile, what happened to Lori Anne Thompson does have multiple tellers because her story wasn’t accepted. Zacharias used her trauma to groom Thompson. He convinced her to do things that a Christian leader should never ask a follower to do.Things that were sexual in nature. There came a point where Thompson realized she was being sexually abused, and (with the help of a professional counseling organization) she attempted to cut ties, speak openly to her husband to hopefully move on.
Person: That’s not the end of the story, is it?
Melissa: [sadly shakes head.]
Melissa: When Thompson sent the message that would cut ties, Zacharias did not respond well. He first wanted to know if he would be implicated.
Reader 1: [text message on screen] Are you going to tell him it’s me?
Melissa: Then seconds later, he asked to meet just one last time.
Reader 1: [Text message on screen.] Can we not meet at lest [sic] once before you do this? Please please
Melissa: He then weaponizes suicide to try to shut her down.
Reader 1: [Text message on screen] You promised you wouldn’t Lori Anne. If. You betray me here I will have no option but to bid this world goodbye I promise. [“Later” written on the screen] Little did I know that was the most dark and accursed day of my life. You will not hear from me again
Melissa: All this time he didn’t realize she hadn’t written this message privately. She had added her counselors to the conversation as third party observers. They stepped in on her behalf.
Reader 2: [Text message on screen.] We are Lori Anne’s counsellors and she is currently receiving intensive counselling with us to find healing and restoration for her marriage. It is not her intent to share what has happened to anyone except her husband–which is necessary for any hope of marital restoration. And we are bound by confidentiality. We need some assurance from you that you will not harm yourself. Otherwise, we will find it necessary to contact 911 in your location. We await your prompt response. Thank you.
Reader 1: [Text message on screen.] I am fine Thank you. I am just concerned about her. Thank you please tell her I am praying for her. She is very much in my prayers
Melissa: Abusers groom their victims by telling them they are special, isolating them from everyone else, and giving something that will damage them too if they attempt to leave the abuse. If you were previously abused, you become an easy target for future abusers. It is extremely difficult to out sexual abuse, because the act of sexually abusing stains the person who is being abused. “You’ll get in trouble too,” is an easy way to keep sexual victims quiet. Once Thompson was willing to out herself to find healing, it took away Zacharias’ power. Zacharias then weaponized suicide in an attempt to gain back control. Lori Anne was not the only victim he used suicide to maintain control. There were others, and the others gave him back control when he threatened to take his own life.
Person: He weaponized his own brokenness?
Melissa: [while digging] Yep. Brokenness breaks. Always. If there is one thing I do not doubt, Zacharias was a broken individual who never found healing. That’s how victims transform into abusers. Oftentimes, it’s their own victimhood that is weaponized to create new victims in a tragic cycle of woundedness. But we’re not done here…
[Begin transition to worship, but hard transition back to graveside.]
Person: Stop. Just say it to me.
Melissa: [Stops shovelling] Long story short? Zacharias stated that he didn’t ask for anything from Lori Anne of a sexual nature. The Thompsons were aghast at how he completely changed his own history, and sued him for $5 million in damages. Zacharias responded by counter suing the Thompson’s for defamation. Zacharias then went on a pity tour just telling everyone who would listen that Lori Anne was a bad person, and he was the righteous one. Today, it’s really hard not to believe Lori Anne, because women came out of the woodwork after his death to tell similar stories.
Person: What happened with the lawsuit?
Melissa: [Picks up shovel, goes to dig, but there is a ‘clunk.’] No! No! No! [Goes to see what she hit. It’s a huge piece of concrete with the letters NDA written on it.] This happened. [Melissa places hand on concrete.] You can’t fight people who have the media on t heir side, and Zacharias had some big ones willing to let him come on and smear the Thompson name through the mud. The Thompson’s could have won their lawsuit, but Zacharias used his connections and power, to make the cost too high. They signed a non-disclosure agreement, to have both lawsuits dropped. Now, even in his death, she can’t speak openly about what happened. I can’t dig her out, because she can’t dig herself out. Not until Zacharias’ wife lifts the NDA. She won’t do it.
Person: That sucks. Here. [Hand’s Melissa a sad react.] This one really moved me. Keep up the good work! [Walks away, says to self.] Wow! I’m going to be thinking about that one for days.
Melissa: Thank… you. [Takes the sad react and drops it on Lori Anne Thompson’s grave. Talks to grave] Those reacts are like memorial flowers. They won’t fix what has happened, but they make those around them feel better about themselves. At least they did something. True, that something didn’t actually do anything except make themselves sleep better at night. Doesn’t really help you though. [Looks at camera.] That is how it ends. Not with answers. Not with justice. With reactions. The world dies with upvotes, because upvotes, loves, sads, and angrys are comfortable. They give us a chance to feel we did something when we did nothing at all. A family is buried under this NDA and we are doing nothing. Well, I am doing something, but I’m nobody.
[Cut to black]