OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics was established in 2004 to raise up the next generation of evangelist-apologists. By 2021, around 350 emerging evangelists from around the world had studied on the OCCA one-year programme. This course equipped each of them to share and defend the gospel message and to come alongside others to help them with their intellectual objections and heartfelt concerns about the Christian faith. The course focused on effective evangelism, academic excellence, and spiritual formation. More than 120 people also studied on the OCCA Business Programme, designed to equip senior business leaders similarly.
Many dozens of those who trained at OCCA became full-time evangelists in various parts of the world. The UK charity also launched other global ministry projects, including the REBOOT youth apologetics programme and the Festival of Thought programme for business communities in the world’s major cities.
OCCA’s relationship to RZIM
OCCA traces its roots back to the RZIM Zacharias Trust, which was set up in 1997 as a UK charity and was part of the RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) network.
The aim of this global ministry was two-fold: to ‘help the thinker believe and the believer think’. National and regional organisations were planted across the globe to extend this ministry. Until 2021, the UK charity received most of its funding from the US ministry, as did the other global partners. There are many good things that we celebrate from our time as part of a world-wide fellowship of ministry partners.
Response to the actions of Ravi Zacharias
Ravi Zacharias, the founder of RZIM, was a well-known evangelist and apologist. He died in May 2020. In 2017 allegations were made against Zacharias by a Canadian woman, who described how he had groomed her over the course of two years. Zacharias denied this and claimed to be the true victim. He filed a lawsuit against the woman in the US, which resulted in her being silenced. Although the identity of the woman is widely known, we have chosen to respect her privacy by not naming her here. Our desire is to honour her, not marginalise her in any way.
Whilst some of the global team, including some at OCCA, raised concerns about the allegations, these should have been pursued more aggressively. We are deeply sorry for our failings at that time.
Four months after Zacharias’s death, a series of new allegations emerged in an article published by the American magazine Christianity Today. RZIM commissioned a formal investigation which concluded that Zacharias had engaged in predatory sexual and spiritually abusive behaviour in North America and Asia for many years.
This was shocking and devastating news for those who worked in the global RZIM ministry, including us in Oxford. Many people have been deeply damaged by these actions and by an unhealthy celebrity culture that placed Ravi on a pedestal. These revelations have been a source of deep sorrow and lament for us.
Following the release of the US law firm report on the allegations in February 2021, OCCA became independent of RZIM.
There are many questions that we are asking at OCCA as we seek to learn from our past. What part did we play in upholding a culture that allowed a Christian leader to be exempt from accountability? What does it mean for us to take responsibility for our own blindness and indirect complicity so that similar abuses can be prevented from happening again? How do we learn to recognise and eschew power abuse and manipulation, especially within a spiritual context? How is it that the voices of victims come to be silenced so often, and how can we become an organisation that is a safe place for victims?
As a ministry, we are taking several steps as we reflect, repent, and learn from the past. We recognise that there have been other unhealthy cultural dynamics in the past, which we are committed to changing. We want to be unafraid of standing up to abuse and of bringing things into the light. We are seeking to develop a posture of openness, humility and faith in a God who transforms through love and justice.
We have sought advice and counsel from specialists in organisational abuse dynamics. Their insights have shaped a series of discussions around team culture and the values that should be that are central to OCCA going forward. We have also sought independent advice from Christian Safeguarding Services. Our updated safeguarding policy protects whistle-blowers and enables any team member to speak out on matters of concern.
There is still grief to process and much to learn. OCCA is committed to pursuing wholeness in Jesus Christ, which is vital as we seek to continue to commend Him to others.
While this has been a painful journey for OCCA, we acknowledge that those most deeply affected by Ravi’s abuse are the victims, their families, and communities. We also grieve the wider impact that these events have had on the body of Christ and those exploring faith.
We recognise that whilst we are not a “survivors” ministry, we have been unalterably shaped by abuse and trauma. We commit to ensuring our response is not limited to Ravi Zacharias, but as a trauma informed organisation we continue diligently to make our organisation a healthy and safe place for everyone with whom we work.
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