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Gateway Church founder Robert Morris resigns days after reported molestation victim speaks out
Photo by Willie J. Allen Jr. for the Washington Post

Gateway Church founder Robert Morris resigns days after reported molestation victim speaks out

The Board of Elders blasted for 'minimizing the crime' has walked back comments and issued a new statement.

Robert Morris, the founding pastor of the popular Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, resigned Tuesday after admitting to engaging in "inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady."

Blaze News previously reported that the "young lady" in question, who was allegedly 12 when the sexual abuse began, is Cindy Clemishire, now 54.

"It was kissing and petting and not intercourse, but it was wrong," Morris said in a statement to the Christian Post. "This behavior happened on several occasions over the next few years."

"It went on for many years," said Clemishire, troubled by the pastor's apparent revisionism. "He says there was no sexual intercourse, but he did touch every part of my body and inserted his fingers into me, which I understand now is considered a form of rape by instrumentation. I was an innocent 12-year-old little girl who knew nothing about sexual behavior."

"I was 12 years old. I was a little girl. A very innocent little girl," added Clemishire.

The Board of Elders of the megachurch revealed in a statement Tuesday that it had accepted Morris' resignation.

"In addition, the Board has retained the law firm of Haynes & Boone, LLP, to conduct an independent, thorough, and professional review of the report of past abuse to ensure we have a complete understanding of the events from 1982-1987," said the statement.

The elders appeared eager to walk back the phrasing of their internal June 14 statement, where they wrote, "Pastor Robert has been open and forthright about a moral failure he had over 35 years ago when he was in his twenties and prior to him starting Gateway Church. He has shared publicly from the pulpit the proper Biblical steps he took in his lengthy restoration process."

'They're basically lying and minimizing the crime.'

The elders added in their initial statement, "Since the resolution of this 35-year-old matter, there have been no other moral failures. Pastor Robert has walked in purity, and he has placed accountability measures and people in his life."

On Tuesday — after Clemishire suggested "they're basically lying and minimizing the crime" — the elders noted that they previously "did not have all the facts of the inappropriate relationship between Morris and the victim, including her age at the time and the length of the abuse."

They claimed that they were previously commenting under this misapprehension that Morris' "extramarital relationship, which he had discussed many times throughout his ministry, was with 'a young lady' and not abuse of a 12-year-old."

'He told her to close her eyes.'

"We are heartbroken and appalled by what has come to light over the past few days, and we express our deep sympathy to the victim and her family," added the elders. "For the sake of the victim, we are thankful this situation has been exposed."

Clemishire recently shared her story with the Wartburg Watch, a watchdog blog that details incidents of abuse within various churches. Clemishire indicated that she only fully came to grips with what she was subjected to as a child after watching a description of predatory grooming on television.

Clemishire noted that decades ago, a young traveling evangelist, then in his 20s, befriended her parents, and over time became a family friend whom she regarded as "safe and friendly." That safety and friendliness proved illusory on Christmas night 1982 when the evangelist, Robert Morris, allegedly molested her.

Morris allegedly "told her to lie down on her back and touched her stomach. He told her to close her eyes. Then he touched her breasts and felt under her panties. He warned her: 'Never tell anyone about this because it will ruin everything.'"

Blaze News previously noted that the alleged molestation, which included digital penetration, apparently continued until March 1987, at which point Morris was a pastor at Shady Grove Church, which would eventually become the Gateway Church – Grand Prairie Campus.

Clemishire's father reportedly found out what was going on and called the head pastor of Shady Grove to report Morris. He apparently gave the head pastor an ultimatum: have Morris leave the ministry or deal with the police.

Morris left the ministry for two years and would later suggest in his 2011 book "From Dream to Destiny" that he had done so on account of an excess in pride.

According to the Wartburg Watch, Morris' wife, Debbie, allegedly called up the victim after her husband's ouster and told Clemishire, then still a minor, that she "forgave her."

'We must be consistent in our efforts to protect Texas kids.'

Texas state Rep. Nate Schatzline (R) was one of the many who called on Morris to resign, noting that while he believes in "restoration, the details that have recently come to light are deeply disturbing and are unacceptable for anyone, especially a spiritual leader. I wholeheartedly condemn these actions and any attempt at covering them up."

Schatzline, himself a pastor, added, "We must be consistent in our efforts to protect Texas kids, and that starts with exposing it regardless if they are a leader in the church. These actions demand public exposure, should never be tolerated, and any person who harms a child should and must be held accountable."

BlazeTV host Allie Beth Stuckey noted on X, "Child molestation isn't just a sin, it's a crime. This should've been handled by civil authorities, which God gave us to keep evil in check. Instead, it was brushed under the rug after he was 'restored.'"

Clemishire has indicated the statute of limitations for criminal or civil action has almost certainly run out.

"Let's set something straight: repentance and restoration does not include restoring an accused abuser to a leadership position (if, in fact, the claims against him prove true)," added Stuckey.

In a Tuesday letter obtained by KDFW-TV, Clemishire noted that she would have preferred for the church elders to have fired Morris rather than let him resign.

Clemishire indicated further in her letter that while it was Morris who molested her, those in his orbit added insult to injury. When she asked Morris to reimburse her for the counseling she needed "as a result of this abuse," Clemishire said his attorney "attempted to blame [her] for the abuse." She added that at least one Gateway elder was aware of Morris' sexual abuse of a minor but chose to believe the pastor's account of events.

"This is just the beginning," wrote Clemishire. "I wholeheartedly and sadly believe I am not the only victim. I encourage anyone who has been sexually victimized by a leader of Gateway Church to take the bold step forward and say something. Now is the time."

Clemishire said to the congregation of the church, "My heart is equally broken for you. Please remember our faith is in Jesus, not an institution or a man in the pulpit. Keep your faith!"

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.
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