NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gateway Church congregants, former staff react to Robert Morris sexual abuse allegations

The new Gateway Southlake sanctuary.
Business Wire
/
The Beck Group
The new Gateway Southlake sanctuary.

Jared King and his family have been going to Gateway Church for 11 years. He appreciated the Christian worship music and the community he built with other congregants.

However, the day before the church’s Father’s Day morning service, King watched breaking news about the senior pastor being accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl in the 1980s.

“We normally go to church at 11 a.m. on Sundays, and we already made a decision. We weren’t going to Gateway,” King said.

Robert Morris, founder and senior pastor of Gateway Church, resigned days after the allegations were publicized. Morris had confessed to “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a “young lady” but didn’t specify her age.

An internal June 14 statement sent by church elders to Gateway staff, and later posted to X, said Morris had been “open and forthright about a moral failure he had over 35 years ago.” On June 18, the Board of Elders of Gateway Church said they “did not have all the facts,” including the age of the victim and the length of the abuse and accepted Morris’ resignation from Gateway Church that day.

Gateway congregants, former staff and government officials shared how the events have left an impact on the community.

King said he’s frustrated with the “lack of transparency” church elders have had with congregants. He said he doesn’t know yet if he will return to Gateway Church.

“I’m all for redemption, but you can’t have someone that’s a child pedophile be a leader in the church, period. That’s just uncalled for,” King said. “It’s a complete nightmare.”

King said he believes the Board of Elders who knew the details of Morris’ history should resign. He also said he wouldn’t be supportive of attending the church if Robert Morris’ son and daughter, who are pastors at the church, were to lead the congregation.

Morris had previously announced plans to step down from his role as senior pastor of the church. He nominated his son, James Morris, to the elders in February 2022 to be his successor. As of now, James Morris is set to begin his role as Gateway Church’s senior pastor in spring 2025.

Shannon Thomas remembers watching Morris’ teachings on DVD before moving to Southlake with her husband in 2006. A big factor in relocating was to be a part of the Gateway community, she said. For six months, she worked as the administrative assistant in the family and marriage ministry for Gateway Church.

When Thomas, a licensed clinical social worker, found out that Morris was accused of sexually abusing then-12-year-old Cindy Clemishire, she remembers feeling “thoroughly disgusted.”

“The congregation was for so long to have been led to believe that, yes, there was this moral failing, but we all thought it was with an adult,” Thomas said. “I think the shocking part is that all these years, that key factor was left out.”

Bob Hamp, a licensed marriage and family therapist, served on staff at Gateway Church between 2005 and 2014. Hamp said he was “heartbroken” when he found out about the news.

“If this were handled as a legal issue 35 years ago, none of these conversations would be happening,” Hamp said. “Rather than have the church handle it and restore Robert Morris back to a platform, it would have been more like, ‘Let’s get the police involved.’”

Community leaders, government officials go public

Laura Downey Hill was Southlake’s first woman mayor between 2015 and 2021. She said that Morris’ actions have left an impact on Southlake families who have been longtime attendees of Gateway Church.

“Gateway has always been very proud of their Southlake address and the gravitas that comes with that, and they’ve done great things for the community,” she said. “Now they’ve damaged the community so severely, and I hurt for my community.”

John Huffman, who served as Southlake’s mayor from 2021 to 2024, also published a statement on X and said the fallout of the events is “so wide-reaching because the church grew and embraced an international brand.”

State Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, posted a statement on X condemning Morris’ actions. In March, Schatzline became an ordained pastor at Mercy Culture Church, where the Gateway Church Network installed its lead pastors.

“While I believe in restoration, the details that have recently come to light are deeply disturbing and are unacceptable for anyone, especially a spiritual leader,” Schatzline said.

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said in his statement on X that Morris “must be held accountable for his actions.”

“The pain he has caused cannot be erased, and he should face the consequences of his crimes,” Capriglione said.

Gateway Church and Cindy Clemishire seek legal assistance

The Board of Elders of Gateway Church said in the statement that the church is using the Haynes & Boone, LLP law firm to conduct an “independent, thorough and professional review of the report of past abuse” from 1982 to 1987.

“We are heartbroken and appalled by what has come to light over the past few days, and we express our deep sympathy to the victim and her family. For the sake of the victim, we are thankful this situation has been exposed,” the board said in its statement.

Boz Tchividjian, an attorney representing Clemishire, released her statement in response to Morris’ resignation and the June 18 statement by the church elders. Clemishire said she questions why the investigation is not examining Morris’ entire tenure at Gateway Church.

“This is just the beginning. I wholeheartedly and sadly believe I am not the only victim,” Clemishire said.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or visit the Online Hotline, y en español en rainn.org/es.

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or @marissaygreene. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member and covers faith in Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Report.