Robert Morris scandal: James Robison refutes claims he met with victim's family, knew she was 12

Gateway Church Pastor Robert Morris speaks on March 21, 2020.
Gateway Church Pastor Robert Morris speaks on March 21, 2020. | Gateway Church/Screengrab

Days after Robert Morris resigned from Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, televangelist James Robison has refuted reports he accompanied Morris to meet with the family of the woman who claims she was abused at age 12.

Robison, with his wife Betty by his side, addressed the allegations in a video posted on X late Friday. He vehemently denied any prior knowledge of the meetings between Morris and the victim's family or of the victim's age during the abuse in the 1980s.

Morris, who resigned Tuesday from his megachurch attracting around 100,000 worshipers weekly across its campuses, has admitted to "inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady" over 35 years ago. Morris' confession followed allegations that he sexually abused Cindy Clemishire over multiple years, starting when she was just 12.

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"People have been asking questions about my relationship with Robert. … Some people are claiming that I was present when Robert met with the victim's family in 1987, and I knew the girl's age when these incidents took place. This is false. … It is, in fact, a lie," said Robison, the president of Life Outreach International.

James Robison, the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, speaks at The Gathering held at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, September 21, 2016.
James Robison, the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, speaks at The Gathering held at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, September 21, 2016. | Screenshot:The Gathering

The televangelist said that the victim corrected the record after the initial news report. Robison stated he possesses a statement from the victim's attorney affirming that he was not present at any meetings Morris had with the victim's family. He also mentioned that he only learned about the victim's age after news reports emerged last week.

"I was stunned," he said. "I was aware that Robert had had moral failures in his past. But I had no idea it was crime involving a child. This is totally unacceptable. The way Robert handled it was absolutely incorrect. It was wrong. Abuse of a child should not be tolerated. I would do anything to appeal to Cindy and her family. Betty and I are praying for everyone who's been hurt by these terrible events."

In his 2011 book, Morris recalled how he began to travel with James Robison within a year of becoming a Christian. Morris said he eventually earned the title of associate evangelist at age 20. Morris added that he got a job with Robison's prayer center about a month after he stepped away from ministry in the 1980s because "Lord orchestrated the circumstances for me to step out of ministry." He didn't disclose the circumstances leading to the temporary departure from ministry but admitted that he struggled with pride. 

"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," he wrote. "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." 

Clemishire first alleged to The Wartburg Watch that Morris began sexually abusing her on Dec. 25, 1982, and continued for four-and-a-half years. She confirmed those details with The Christian Post. She stressed the severity of the abuse, which included inappropriate touching and penetration.

In a statement to CP before his resignation, Morris confessed to being involved in "inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady in a home where I was staying," which continued over years. Saying it only involved "kissing and petting and not intercourse," he admitted he was in the wrong.

He claimed the situation had been brought to light in 1987 and that he repented and stepped away from ministry roles to undergo counseling, alleging he had returned to ministry in 1989. 

Clemishire pushed back on Morris' description of the events, saying she was only 12 when it started, that he touched every part of her body and even digitally penetrated her. She also denied that her father gave the blessing for Morris to return to ministry. 

The Wartburg Watch had previously reported that Robison accompanied Morris and his wife to Oklahoma to speak with Clemishire's father. The outlet corrected its reporting to clarify that Robison didn't join the couple on that trip nor participated in any meeting Morris had with Clemishire or her family. 

Clemishire said 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.

On Friday, the Gateway Church Board of Elders sent a letter to members addressing the situation. The church reiterated its claim that it was not aware of Clemishire's age when the alleged abuse occurred and pledged full cooperation as it has hired a law firm to investigate Morris' behavior between 1982-1987. 

"Regrettably, prior to Friday, June 14, the current Elders did not have all the facts," the letter reads. "The Board of Elders is deeply committed to walking in integrity and finding the truth,  Having this inquiry done by an independent and unbiased outside law firm is best practice."

In a statement released Tuesday night by her lawyer, Clemishire claimed that she informed Gateway leadership of the allegations in an email she sent in 2005 directly to Morris' email address. She stated that former Gateway elder Tom Lane responded to the email.

Richard Harmer, a spokesperson for Lane, told The Dallas Morning News that Lane did respond to one of Clemishire's emails but was only forwarded a specific message by Morris' assistant that didn't include a reference to her age. Harmer stated that Lane had never seen any other emails.

On social media Friday, Lane posted a statement saying he was unaware of the "severity and specifics" of the allegations and was led to believe it involved consensual infidelity with a "young lady."

It was Lane's understanding at the time that Morris underwent a two-year restoration period overseen by the elders of Shady Grove Church in Grand Prairie. When Clemishire came forward in 2005, Lane believed that the necessary restoration actions had already taken place and the situation was "appropriately resolved." 

"Given the facts that have now emerged, it is evident that more could have been done to support and protect Cindy, and for that, I am deeply sorry," Lane said. 

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