Pastor Robert Morris resigns from Gateway Church after child sex abuse allegation

Pastor Robert Morris had admitted to “inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady.” Church elders say they weren’t told the age of the person involved.

FILE - Pastor Robert Morris.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Robert Morris has resigned as senior pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, three days after confessing to engaging in “sexual behavior” with a child over the course of a few years in the 1980s.

The board of elders at Gateway made the announcement Tuesday in a statement to NBC News.

“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,” the church leaders said in their statement, noting that they had not known the victim’s age or the length of the alleged abuse. “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.”

The megachurch also announced it had hired the law firm Haynes & Boone to conduct an independent review of the allegations to ensure elders had a complete understanding of what happened.

Morris, a former member of President Donald Trump’s spiritual advisory committee, had long told a story to his congregation and church leaders about a “moral failure” involving sexual sin when he was a young minister in his 20s.

Last week, Cindy Clemishire, now 54, revealed in a post on the church watchdog site The Wartburg Watch that she was 12 when Morris first sexually abused her in 1982. The alleged abuse continued for more than four years, Clemishire told NBC News on Monday.

Gateway and Morris responded to Clemishire’s allegation by releasing statements on Friday and Saturday acknowledging that Morris had engaged in “sexual behavior with a young lady” and stating that the “sin was dealt with correctly by confession and repentance.”

Clemishire released a statement Tuesday saying she had “mixed feelings” about Morris’ resignation. 

“Though I am grateful that he is no longer a pastor at Gateway, I am disappointed that the Board of Elders allowed him to resign,” she said in the statement. “He should have been terminated.” 

Clemishire added that she had repeatedly disclosed the abuse to church leaders and pastors, including at Gateway, but it was not until she spoke publicly that action was taken.

Morris did not respond to a message requesting comment.

Gateway officials did not respond to a message from NBC News on Tuesday asking why church leaders issued a statement referring to Clemishire as a young lady after she’d publicly revealed she was a child when the abuse began.

Morris is known for his efforts to advance conservative Christian morality through government and Republican politics. As news of the allegations against him spread in national media, some of his allies have distanced themselves from him.

A spokesperson for Trump said Morris was not working with the presidential campaign. And Texas state Reps. Nate Schatzline and Giovanni Capriglione, both Republicans representing areas where Gateway has campuses, issued statements condemning Morris’ actions. 

“Pastor Morris must be held accountable,” Capriglione wrote shortly before Morris’ resignation was announced. “The pain he has caused cannot be erased, and he should face the consequences of his crimes. I stand with any victims and will continue to fight for their rights and safety.”

In their official statement, Gateway elders expressed remorse over their handling of the situation.

“For the sake of the victim, we are thankful this situation has been exposed,” the statement said. “We know many have been affected by this, we understand that you are hurting, and we are very sorry. It is our prayer that, in time, healing for all those affected can occur.”

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