Robert Morris warned sex abuse accuser she could be sued for seeking compensation, emails show

Two decades before Pastor Robert Morris publicly admitted last week to engaging in “sexual conduct” with a child and resigned from Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, his accuser confronted him and sought relief, according to copies of emails obtained by NBC News.

“Twenty-three years after you began destroying my life, I am still dealing with the pain and damage you caused,” Cindy Clemishire, 35 at the time, wrote to Morris on September 20, 2005. , according to partially redacted emails provided to NBC News by his attorney.

“I want some sort of restitution. Pray about it and call me.

Morris responded two weeks later.

“Debbie and I truly care about you and sincerely want God’s best for you,” he wrote, referring to his wife, Debbie Morris, according to the emails. Robert Morris wrote that he had long since confessed his sins to Clemishire’s father and believed he had “obtained your pardon and that of your family.”

Morris ended his response with a legal warning.

“My lawyer advises me that if I pay you money under threat of reporting, you could be criminally prosecuted and Debbie and I do not want that,” he wrote. “If you need more information, ask your attorney to contact mine.”

Morris’ email was the final exchange in a series of messages that year between Clemishire, Morris and a former Gateway alum, Clemishire said. The emails, spanning April to October 2005, appear to reveal Clemishire’s attempts to convince Morris — who later became a prominent evangelical figure who served on former President Donald Trump’s spiritual advisory committee — to l to compensate for the trauma she says she inflicted. she was a child.

“Men with over 100 counts of child molestation go to jail,” Clemishire wrote to Morris in one of the messages. “Men who are pastors of churches facing over 100 counts of child molestation are going to prison and paying punitive damages. You didn’t have to do that either.

Cindy, the accuser, at age 12, with her older sister. (Courtesy of Cindy Clemishire)

At the request of a retired pastor, Clemishire went public with his allegations against Morris last week in an article published by The Wartburg Watch, a website focused on exposing abuse in churches. In the post and in a subsequent interview with NBC News, Clemishire accused Morris of molesting her for years, starting at her Oklahoma home on Christmas night 1982, when she was 12 years old.

Morris has not been charged with a crime. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Last weekend, Morris and Gateway elders first responded to Clemishire’s allegations by acknowledging in statements that Morris had multiple sexual relationships with a “young woman” when he was in his 20s and asserting that he had been transparent about his sin and had repented. On Tuesday, after days of backlash from church members and elected officials, Gateway’s board of elders announced it had accepted Morris’ resignation.

“Elders previously understood that Morris’ extramarital affair, which he had spoken about repeatedly throughout his ministry, involved a ‘young woman’ and not abuse of a 12-year-old child,” the leaders said. the church in their press release.

Clemishire and his lawyer, Boz Tchividjian, argue that Gateway alumni should have long ago investigated Morris’ account of a consensual relationship.

Gateway officials did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. The council of elders announced this week that it had hired a law firm to investigate the matter.

Robert Morris, center, founding pastor of the Gateway megachurch, during a service at the church in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ilana Panich-Linsman / The New York Times / Redux file)

Emails from 2005 reveal that at least one Gateway Church elder, Tom Lane, knew that Clemishire had been in contact with Morris and requested compensation. The emails, however, do not indicate whether Lane, who has since left the church, knew that Clemishire was accusing Morris of child sexual abuse. The initial email sent by Clemishire is missing from the channel shared with NBC News; Clemishire’s attorney said she could not locate him.

In a statement to NBC News on Friday, Lane said that until Clemishire went public with her story last week, he “did not fully understand the severity and specifics of the sexual abuse she suffered, and I do not didn’t know either that she was 12 when the abuse started.

Lane’s spokesman, Richard Harmer, said in an email that Lane was under the impression that Clemishire was under 18, but old enough to consent to a sexual relationship with Morris, who was allegedly early in the around twenty. (The age of consent in Oklahoma, where the abuse allegedly took place, is 16.)

“I am deeply saddened by the pain endured by Cindy Clemishire and by the recent revelations regarding Pastor Robert Morris,” Lane said in his statement. “My deepest condolences go out to Cindy and I pray that her suffering is fully recognized and validated.”

In April 2005, Lane wrote to Clemishire on Morris’ behalf, after Clemishire initially contacted him in the email that NBC News had not seen. Lane asked to speak with him and Clemishire responded that she wanted to address the matter directly with Morris.

Lane later wrote that he and other Gateway alumni wanted Clemishire to “find help and healing.”

Lane told Clemishire that Morris had been “completely open with the elders of Gateway Church about his past and particularly his indiscretion toward you.” He said Morris and his wife treated Clemishire with “caring concern, but their responses apparently did not bring the healing you seek.”

“The “blessed life” that Robert speaks of in his book and that you refer to in your email is not a life of perfection but a life of submission and obedience to God, something in which he has made diligent effort to walk, both in failure and failure. success, for over twenty years,” Lane wrote to Clemishire. “Robert and Debbie did what they could to help you heal. Our church believes in healing, forgiveness and restoration of all individuals. We would love to help you find that healing for your life.

Emails shared by Clemishire’s attorney do not include a response from him to Lane’s message.

In a statement, Tchividjian, Clemishire’s attorney, questioned why Lane and other Gateway alumni didn’t investigate Morris’ claims.

“It seems like it was better for them to just accept his vague account rather than pursue the truth about a sexual offense perpetrated against a minor,” Tchividjian said. “Gateway leaders had a responsibility to find out what happened and not blindly accept his words. »

Five months after Lane’s message, on September 9, 2005, Clemishire again wrote directly to Morris.

“I’m giving you one last chance to call me,” she wrote. “You really have no idea how devastating it will be if you don’t do it. I don’t want Tom or anyone else to contact me. It’s your problem, not his.

A week later, Morris wrote to say he was praying about how to respond, and he followed up several days afterward to ask what Clemishire wanted.

Clemishire responded less than two hours later: “I have suffered most of my life from the emotional damage you inflicted on me. If you want to know what I want, call me.

Morris never called, Clemishire said, although she said she spoke briefly with her attorney to discuss setting up a meeting with Morris but never followed through.

In her final response included in the messages Clemishire shared, Morris told him she was wrong to believe he benefited from keeping what happened between them a secret.

“You see the blessings that God has poured out on my life and you conclude that it is because I hid my past,” Morris wrote.

“God doesn’t work that way. He will not be ridiculed by deception.

CORRECTION (June 21, 2024, 8:29 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article incorrectly described Richard Harmer. He is Tom Lane’s spokesperson, not his lawyer.

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