Robert Morris' book recounts his stepping away from ministry in '80s, but only for 1 month, coinciding with abuse of 12-year-old girl

Gateway Church Senior Pastor Robert Morris.
Gateway Church Senior Pastor Robert Morris. | Screengrab: YouTube/TBN

Despite statements from elders of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, and their founding Pastor Robert Morris suggesting that he stepped away from ministry for two years to undergo a carefully monitored restoration process following a "moral failure" — sexually abusing a girl over multiple years in the 1980s beginning when she was 12 — he was back in ministry just one month after he was confronted about the abuse.

The 62-year-old Morris made the admission in his 2011 book,Dream to Destiny. The description he provides in the book coincides with the timeline of the molestation confirmed by himself, his accuser, Cindy Clemishire, 54, and the elders of Gateway Church.

Morris revealed that he got a job with televangelist James Robison’s prayer center a month after he stepped away from ministry in the 1980s after the “Lord orchestrated the circumstances for me to step out of ministry.” Prior to those circumstances, which he did not disclose in the book, Morris admitted he was struggling with pride — not a sexual attraction to a pre-teen girl.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

After a month away from ministry, Morris stated that he felt he had dealt with his pride sufficiently to make a comeback. He said he was having a hard time finding work with the skills he developed as a preacher and had only been able to get hired as a security guard.

“After a month of working nights as a security guard at Motel 6, I felt I had made great strides toward humility. I decided that perhaps I was ready to return to ministry. So I checked back with James Robison’s ministry to see if they had any job openings. I was happy to discover that they needed a morning supervisor at their prayer center, from 5 A.M. to 2 P.M.,” Morris wrote. “That sure sounded better than the ‘graveyard shift’ I had been working at the Motel 6. So I took the job.”

Morris revealed that only 10 months after he became saved at age 19, the now 80-year-old Robison, the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, took him under his ministry and quickly made him an associate evangelist. The meteoric rise of his star on the preaching circuit after that, he said, made him prideful.

“Things had happened pretty fast after I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ at the age of 19. Only 10 months after being saved, I met James Robison, and he asked me to start traveling with him, speaking to junior and senior high school assemblies. So I had not even been a Christian for a year when I began to travel and preach the gospel. Pretty heady stuff for someone so young (and even younger in the Lord!),” Morris recalled.

“Though I started out speaking at public schools, it wasn’t long before I was preaching at crusades. Eventually, James was even gracious enough to give me a title: associate evangelist. Wow—I was only 20 years old, but because of my association with James, I was already involved in television, preaching to large crowds, and even had a title to prove that I was a bona-fide evangelist! It seemed to me that the favor of God was on everything I touched. What a destiny lay before me! What could stop me now?” he asked.

Life Outreach International did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Christian Post on Monday.

After Clemishire made her abuse by Morris public last Friday, the megachurch pastor would admit that it was his “inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady” that temporarily stopped his ministry.

“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.

In Dream to Destiny, Morris confessed that while being accountable to his wife Debbie and his friends in the area of his sexuality “has not been easy, … it has proved to be a good and healthy thing."

“When I decided to make myself accountable to Debbie, we had been married about seven years. I sat her down and said to her, ‘I need to come clean with you about my past. You know that I have an immoral past—but I want to tell you everything about my past.’ Then I told her everything. Now I have a very bad past, and I thought she would be shocked. I was actually afraid she would leave me. I was afraid she would say, ‘You’re a pervert’—and then leave,” he wrote.

Morris said when his wife responded with love and compassion he admitted to her that he had a habit of looking and lusting after other women.

“I told her that I had a habit I needed to break—a habit of looking. And I asked for her help. I made myself accountable to her. ‘I don’t want to look, but I need some help,’ I said. ‘Will you help me? If you see me looking, I want you to pray for me. I want you to talk to me about it. And I want you to call me on it.’ I had no idea how quickly my request would be answered,” Morris wrote.

“Soon after that we took a vacation and were at the swimming pool. Needless to say, that is a very hard place not to look! Sure enough, a lady walked by me, and I was looking. The next thing I knew, Debbie had reached over and pinched me right where no person should ever be pinched—on the back of my arm. She grabbed my skin in a very painful squeeze, looked into my eyes with intense determination and asked with great seriousness in her voice, ‘Do I need to pray for you?’”

Clemishire first told The Wartburg Watch that Morris 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, 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.”

Since his return to ministry after the abuse of Clemishire, Morris went on to start Gateway Church in 2000, which has 100,000 weekly attendees across nine campuses in Dallas-Fort Worth and online. His television program also airs in over 190 countries, and his radio program, “Worship & the Word with Pastor Robert,” airs in more than 6,800 cities his website says.

Morris also serves as chancellor of The King’s University and has written many books, including The Blessed LifeDream to DestinyThe God I Never Knew, and Grace, Period.

In their statement to CP, Gateway Church elders said 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.”

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 married, 20-year-old traveling evangelist. 

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.

She detailed how Morris first molested her on Christmas Day in 1982 and warned her to “never tell anyone about this because it will ruin everything.”

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

Though Morris claims Clemishire’s father approved of his return to ministry, the survivor disputes his account.

"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.

Morris was never criminally charged for the alleged abuse. 

Clemishire told The Wartburg Watch 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,” Clemishire said. “And I have a very difficult time believing I'm the only one.”

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

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.