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Robert Morris Resigns From Gateway Church After Misleading Statement on Abuse of Minor

Robert Morris, founder and senior pastor of Gateway Church, resigned from the North Texas-based megachurch Tuesday. The resignation comes days after he was accused of sexually abusing a then-12-year-old girl in the 1980s.

Cindy Clemishire, a now 54-year-old Oklahoman woman, accused Morris of sexually abusing her when she was 12 years old in 1982. The allegations were publicized June 14 by religious blog The Wartburg Watch. Clemishire told the blog the abuse continued for 4.5 years. Morris confessed to “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a “young lady” in the days that followed but did not specify her age. An internal June 14 statement sent by church elders to Gateway staff, and later posted to X, said Morris had been “open and forthright about a moral failure he had over 35 years ago.”

Now, according to a statement released June 18 by the Board of Elders of Gateway Church, they “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 her abuse.” The board accepted Morris’s resignation from Gateway Church the same date.

“The elders’ prior understanding was that Morris’s extramarital relationship, which he had discussed many times throughout his ministry, was with ‘a young lady’ and not abuse of a 12-year-old child,” according to the statement. “Even though it occurred many years before Gateway was established, as leaders of the church, we regret that we did not have the information that we now have.”

One of Gateway Church’s locations at 4209 Basswood Blvd. pictured on June 18, 2024. (Alberto Silva Fernandez | Fort Worth Report)

Morris started the Southlake-based Gateway Church in 2000. Since then, the network has expanded to several Tarrant County campus locations in Fort Worth, Southlake, Grand Prairie and North Richland Hills. The Gateway Church Network also installed Landon and Heather Schott as lead pastors of Mercy Culture Church in Fort Worth.

The elders of Mercy Culture Church said in the statement Tuesday that for years Morris had shared about a “moral failing” in the early years of his marriage and had “submitted to a restoration and recovery process.”

“However, the age of the girl involved and the length of the time of these events were never disclosed,” according to the statement. “Abuse in any form, cannot be tolerated or covered up anywhere, especially in the church.”

Mercy Culture Church has two locations in Tarrant County, 1701 Oakhurst Scenic Drive and 2000 E. Loop 820. (Matthew Sgroi | Fort Worth Report)

Morris said in his June 14 statement that the “situation was brought to light” in 1987 and he was asked by the Elders of Shady Grove Church, now the Grand Prairie campus for Gateway Church, to step out of ministry and receive counseling. Two years later, Morris said he stepped back into ministry “with the full blessing” of the elders and Clemishire’s father.

Experts, former Gateway staff react to church’s reckoning

John Potter, a clinical professor with Southern Methodist University and active practitioner in dispute resolution and conflict management, said churches aren’t exempt from situations regarding sexual abuse. The best thing an organization can do, Potter said, is to deal with the problem as soon as possible.

“They (Gateway Church) had this process that they thought was the right thing to do, and maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t,” Potter said.

The Board of Elders of Gateway Church said in the statement that the church is using a law firm to conduct an independent, thorough and professional review of the report of past abuse.

Bob Hamp, a licensed marriage and family therapist and co-owner of Think Differently Counseling, suggested the church would benefit from receiving training from abuse advocates and counselors “whose purpose in the situation is to bring healing and restoration to the victim.” Hamp served on staff at Gateway Church between 2005 and 2014.

“People in the counseling world, people in the abuse advocacy world, understand how to respond to abuse in a way that brings healing and restoration to the victim and families and loved ones of the victim,” Hamp said. “People in the legal field are simply looking for how to protect the church from liability.”

Shannon Thomas is a licensed clinical social worker and is the owner and lead therapist of Southlake Christian Counseling. For six months she worked as the administrative assistant in the family and marriage ministry for Gateway Church. She and her former colleagues are sharing a “deep grief” over the news.

“There’s also a shame that I’ve started to see. And we’re going to have to really work, all of us therapists that are in the community, working with these real survivors of betrayal,” Thomas said. “This is devastating to people.”

Thomas said she believes that there is a future for Gateway Church. However, the June 14 statement where Morris refers to then-12-year-old Clemishire as a “young lady” has caused harm in the community, she said.

“Robert has and the elders, though unfortunately, have gaslit the congregation for decades as to the true nature of that moral failing, and it’s time to call it what it was, and that was a molestation, and it has to be dealt with in the brevity of that word,” Thomas said.

Morris had previously announced plans to step down from his role as senior pastor of the church. He nominated his son, James Morris, to the elders in February 2022 to be his successor. As of now, James Morris is set to begin his role as Gateway Church’s senior pastor in spring 2025.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or visit the Online Hotline, y en español en rainn.org/es.

Editor’s note: This article was republished from Fort Worth Report under a Creative Commons license.

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