Gateway founder Robert Morris confesses to past 'inappropriate sexual behaviour'

Robert Morris, senior pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, speaks at The Gathering, a "solemn assembly" on Sept. 21, 2016.(Photo: The Gathering 2016)

(CP) Robert Morris, founding pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, which attracts an estimated 100,000 worshippers weekly, has confessed to "inappropriate sexual behaviour with a young lady" more than 35 years ago while he was a young pastor after a woman accused him of sexually abusing her over multiple years beginning when she was 12.

"When I was in my early twenties, I was involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady in a home where I was staying. It was kissing and petting and not intercourse, but it was wrong. This behavior happened on several occasions over the next few years," Morris said in a statement to The Christian Post after Gateway Church was asked about the allegations.

"In March of 1987, this situation was brought to light, and it was confessed and repented of. I submitted myself to the Elders of Shady Grove Church and the young lady's father. They asked me to step out of ministry and receive counseling and freedom ministry, which I did. Since that time, I have walked in purity and accountability in this area," Morris added.

He explained that he returned to ministry in March of 1989, two years after his abuse was exposed with the blessing of the survivor's father and the elders of his church. He further noted that he and his wife met with the survivor and her family in October 1989.

"I asked their forgiveness, and they graciously forgave me," Morris said.

Morris' accuser, Cindy Clemishire, first told The Wartburg Watch that he began sexually abusing her on Dec. 25, 1982, and continued with the abuse for four-and-a-half years after that. When contacted by CP on Saturday, the 54-year-old grandmother confirmed the details in the report but insisted she was no "young lady" when Morris began abusing her.

"I'm, of course, just appalled," Clemishire told CP on Saturday about his description of her as a "young lady."

"I was 12 years old. I was a little girl. A very innocent little girl. And he was brought into our home. He and his wife, Debbie, and their little boy, Josh, and trusted and preached at the church that my dad helped start and then began grooming all of us to do this, which took me decades to wrap my brain around as an adult," she said.

"It went on for many years. He says there was no sexual intercourse, but he did touch every part of my body."

Clemishire told The Wartburg Watch that she and her family first met Morris at a youth revival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1981 when he was a 20-year-old travelling evangelist. At the time, he was married to his wife, Debbie, and they had their son, Josh.

She said Morris began preaching at her church regularly on Sundays after he was invited to do a youth revival in her hometown of Hominy, Oklahoma. Her family and the Morrises quickly became friends. They were invited into their home and often went on trips together.

On Christmas night in 1982, Clemishire said the safety of the relationship with Morris and his family ended for her when they visited her home and he allegedly asked her to visit him in his room that night. 

Clemishire claims Morris repeatedly abused her in Texas and Oklahoma, and he often told his wife that he was merely "counselling" her during the abuse.

When she turned 16, Clemishire said Morris would take her out in his car and try to have sexual intercourse.

"By this time, Morris was a pastor at Shady Grove Church, which would eventually become Gateway Church-Grand Prairie Campus," The Wartburg Watch report said.

Clemishire eventually confided in a close friend, who encouraged her to tell her family. When her father found out, he told the lead pastor at Shady Grove Church that if Morris did not "get out of ministry," he would get the police involved. That threat forced Morris to step away for two years.

Morris would return to Hominy with his wife and televangelist James Robison. They told Clemishire's father that he wanted to return to ministry, and "at that point, her father washed his hands of Morris and no longer interacted with him," The Wartburg Watch said.

Clemishire made it clear to CP that Morris did not get her father's blessing to return to ministry.

"My father never ever gave his blessing on Robert returning to ministry! My father told him he's lucky he didn't kill him. I am mortified that he is telling the world my dad gave his blessing! Of course, we forgive because we are called to biblically forgive those who sin against us. But that does not mean he is supposed to go on without repercussions," she said.

Clemishire said that when she retained an attorney in 2005 to file a civil lawsuit, Morris' attorney suggested she caused the abuse on herself because she was "flirtatious." She said she asked for $50,000 to cover the cost of her counselling stemming from the abuse. She said they offered her $25,000 if she signed a non-disclosure agreement, but she refused.

For years, she explained to CP, she has been warning churches and pastors who would listen to her story about Morris because she does not believe she is the only one. She also argued that he should not be serving in ministry and should step down.

"I don't think he ever should have been allowed to be in the ministry. We would never allow someone to go teach in a school ... work in a daycare or be a doctor if anybody had done these things. And I have a very difficult time believing I'm the only one," Clemishire said.

Elders at Gateway Church told CP in a statement that Morris was transparent with them about his past and they believe he has been biblically restored to ministry.

"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 said.

"The two-year restoration process was closely administered by the Elders at Shady Grove Church and included him stepping out of the ministry during that period while receiving professional counselling and freedom ministry counselling," they said.

"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. The matter has been properly disclosed to church leadership."

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