Pastor Robert Morris confesses to ‘moral failure’ after woman claims he began molesting her at age 12

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

Correction Appended 

Robert Morris, founding pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, which attracts an estimated 100,000 worshipers weekly, has confessed to “inappropriate sexual behavior 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.

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“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 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.”

Clemishire said in her report to 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 traveling 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 that fateful Christmas night in 1982, Clemishire said the safety of the relationship with Morris and his family ended for her when they visited her home.

“The Morris family came to visit and spend some time there. Cindy sat in the back seat of the car with Robert. He asked her to visit him in his room that night. She shared a room with her sister. Cindy, an innocent twelve-year-old girl, movingly described what she was wearing. She was wearing pink pajamas with bloomer pants. She wore underwear underneath. She had a snap-up robe on,” The Wartburg Watch said.

“She thought nothing of visiting a family friend in their bedroom. He 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,” the report noted.

Clemishire claims Morris repeatedly abused her in Texas and Oklahoma, and he often told his wife that he was merely “counseling” 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 report said.

Clemishire eventually confided what was happening to her to 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 didn’t “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. 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.

The survivor 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 explained that she retained an attorney in 2005 to file a civil lawsuit but 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 counseling 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 doesn't believe she's the only one who suffered his abuse. She also argued that he shouldn't 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 counseling and freedom ministry counseling,” 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.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article published on June 15, 2024, quoted The Wartburg Watch as stating that televangelist James Robison accompanied Morris and his wife to Hominy, Oklahoma, to speak with Clemishire’s father. The Wartburg Watch has corrected its report to clarify that Robison did not join the couple on that trip nor did he participate in any meeting Morris had with his victim and her family. He also did not know that Morris had sexually assaulted Clemishire. 

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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