Tearful Gateway Church elder who has 6 daughters apologizes to Robert Morris accuser, Cindy Clemishire

Non-staff Gateway Church Elder Tra Willbanks apologizes to abuse victims on Sunday June 23, 2024.
Non-staff Gateway Church Elder Tra Willbanks apologizes to abuse victims on Sunday June 23, 2024. | YouTube/ Gateway Church

Tra Willbanks, a longtime Gateway Church elder and father of seven, including six girls, tearfully apologized to Cindy Clemishire and other victims of sexual abused Sunday in the wake of claims by the 54-year-old grandmother that Robert Morris, the recently resigned founder of the Texas megachurch, sexually abused her for four-and-a-half years in the 1980s beginning when she was 12.

“Firstly, I'd like to express my personal compassion for Cindy Clemishire. I can't imagine carrying a burden like that for so many years, and I want to say to you, Cindy, I'm so sorry. I'm also very sensitive to anyone else in this room or anyone who is listening who [has] experienced abuse,” Willbanks said.

“I know that there are many in this room at our other campuses and many watching online who have their own horrific abuse story and I want to speak to you. I'm so sorry. I'm just so sorry. I cannot imagine the pain and the emotions this past week has stirred inside of you as you felt betrayed. And on behalf of the elders, we're sorry,” he added.

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Morris, who had been in ministry for more than four decades, resigned from the church he founded just days after Clemishire publicly reported that the megachurch pastor began sexually abusing her on Dec. 25, 1982, sparking national outrage.

Gateway elders argued in their announcement of Morris’ resignation that they did not know all the facts behind Clemishire’s abuse allegation, but she contends that they did, and believes he might have more victims beyond her.

"The leadership at Gateway received actual notice of this crime in 2005 when I sent an email directly to Robert Morris' Gateway email address. Former Gateway elder, Tom Lane, received and responded to my email, acknowledging that the sexual abuse began on December 25, 1982, when I was 12 years old," Clemishire said in a statement released last Tuesday night by her attorney Boz Tchividjian.

Gateway Church Elder Tra Willbanks addresses congregants on Sunday June 23, 2024.
Gateway Church Elder Tra Willbanks addresses congregants on Sunday June 23, 2024. | YouTube/Gateway Church

"Again in 2007, my then attorney Gentner Drummond (the current Attorney General of Oklahoma) sent a letter to Robert Morris with the hope that he would help reimburse me for the thousands of dollars I had expended in counseling as a result of this abuse. His attorney acknowledged the dates as well and then attempted to blame me for the abuse," she insisted. "At the very least, both the Gateway pastor and at least one elder had specific notice that I was sexually abused beginning when I was 12 years old. Gateway had the information but intentionally decided to embrace the false narrative Robert Morris wanted to believe."

Willbanks, who says he has been a non-staff elder at Gateway Church since 2014, and has attended the church for 18 years with his family, insisted that he did not know Morris was accused of child sex abuse.

“I'm going to try to speak to you from my heart today, so I wrote my thoughts down to make sure I say exactly what I want to say. My wife, Shelley, and I have seven children, including six girls. As a father, what has happened is extremely disturbing, and I'm experiencing a wide range of emotions, like you. As an elder, I did not know the truth, and frankly, like so many of you, my wife and I are shocked, devastated and grieving,” Willbanks said.

Pastor Robert Morris is founder of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas.
Pastor Robert Morris is founder of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. | YouTube/ Pastor Robert Morris

“As I said before, I'm a father of six girls and this has been a difficult thing to explain to them this past week. Our family, this past week, like all of you, has shed tears, had heavy conversations, and we've been in deep prayer. We've prayed for Cindy Clemishire. We prayed for her family. We've prayed for the entire Morris family. We're praying for you and we're praying for our staff and our whole church family,” he added.

In the announcement of Morris' resignation, Gateway Church elders said they retained the law firm of Haynes & Boone, LLP, to "conduct an independent, thorough, and professional review of the report of past abuse to ensure we have a complete understanding of the events from 1982-1987."

Willbanks assured congregants that the church is cooperating with that review and as the results are ready, they will be presented to the church.

While noting that he did not know what the future held for Gateway Church, he also recounted to congregants the many ways in which the fellowship of the church has ministered to their needs.

“So what about the future of our church? Frankly, this past week, I've just been trying to get through each day and there are a lot of unknowns,” Willbanks said.

“The truth is, I don't know what God's plans are, but I know that I'm going to continue to worship the Lord. And I'm going to worship the Lord in this place. Jesus said I will build my church,” he added.

“I want to remind you this is His church. This is Jesus' Church, and the elders are humbly and firmly submitted to what He wants to do with this church.”

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

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