Pastor Robert Morris’ lawyer blamed a 12-year-old girl for initiating sexual contact

July 9, 2024
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Clemishire went public with her accusations last month in a post published by the church watchdog site The Wartburg Watch. Morris responded with a statement admitting to “inappropriate sexual behavior” and saying he had long ago confessed and repented. Gateway Church leaders initially said Morris had been “open and forthright about a moral failure he had over 35 years ago” but later said they did not know Clemishire was a child at the time.

Within days, Morris resigned as senior pastor of the megachurch he started in 2000, and Gateway elders hired an outside law firm to investigate the matter.

Lawrence Swicegood, a Gateway spokesperson, said church leaders had not seen the 2007 letters between Drummond and Sharpe. Swicegood said that before Clemishire went public with her story last month, “the current Elders did not have all the facts.”

Gateway sex abuse scandal

While the internal review is underway, four Gateway officials have agreed to take leaves of absence from the board of elders, the church announced last month. One is pastor James Morris, Robert Morris’ son. The three others served on the board of elders during the critical period from 2005 to 2007 when Clemishire was seeking damages.

“Gateway Church is committed to protecting people — first and foremost children and the most vulnerable,” Swicegood said in an email. “Abuse simply cannot be tolerated.”

Clemishire, now 54, sees the 2007 letter from Sharpe as part of a pattern of Morris and his associates’ attempting to make her feel guilt and shame for what he did to her.

“They don’t look at a child as someone to protect,” Clemishire said.

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

Clemishire said she struggled for years with “profound confusion” over what Morris did, believing for nearly two decades that she was to blame. She said Morris molested her more than 100 times over 4½ years. After the first encounter on Christmas in 1982, Clemishire said, “it just progressed to a lot of kissing and touching and inserting fingers into my body.” She said Morris pressured her to have intercourse, but she refused. Morris has acknowledged “kissing and petting” and argued that the number of incidents was a fraction of what Clemishire alleges.

Clemishire said that in the mid-2000s, after years of counseling and after having watched a television interview about grooming and sex abuse, she realized what happened to her was a crime.

She began writing to Morris at his Gateway Church email address in 2005, asking that he compensate her for the trauma she says he inflicted. In 2007, she hired Drummond to make a formal demand, according to documents provided to NBC News by Boz Tchividjian, the lawyer she hired last month. 

On Jan. 30, 2007, Drummond wrote to Sharpe on behalf of Clemishire, using her legal name at the time, Cindy Clemishire McCaleb. Drummond detailed the sexual abuse Clemishire says she suffered from 1982 to 1987 and how Morris “led her to believe that they were having a special relationship that had to remain secret.”

“Morris convinced Ms. McCaleb that she was responsible for what he did to her,” Drummond wrote, “and he convinced her that she was the offender.”

Drummond attached a draft of a lawsuit he said Clemishire planned to file if Morris failed to respond within 15 days.

“Reverend Morris began sexually assaulting Ms. McCaleb, who was then twelve years old.”

Gentner Drummond, Jan. 30, 2007

Sharpe responded a week later, on Feb. 6, 2007, with his letter casting Clemishire as the one who initiated sexual contact with Morris.

“It was your client who initiated inappropriate behavior by coming into my client’s bedroom and getting in bed with him, which my client should not have allowed to happen.”

J. Shelby Sharpe, Feb. 6, 2007

Sharpe also claimed in the letter that Clemishire “acted inappropriately with two other men who stayed in her home between 1982 and 1987,” when she was between the ages of 12 and 17. And Sharpe wrote that Clemishire had “confessed her conduct” to Glenda Faulkner, a woman who attended Shady Grove Church near Fort Worth, Texas, in the 1980s, when Morris was a pastor there. 

Faulkner, now Glenda Faulkner-Woodliff — a licensed counselor who later attended Gateway — did not respond to messages requesting comment.

In an interview, Clemishire disputed Sharpe’s characterizations. She said two other men touched her inappropriately at her home when she was a child, but she said she did not initiate those interactions. In one instance, Clemishire said, it was Morris who instructed her, when she was 13, to go into a bedroom at her childhood home where another traveling evangelist was staying. Once she was inside, she said, the man, whom she declined to name, began to kiss her but eventually pulled away and told her she was too young.

In another instance, in 1986, Clemishire said, another man who was staying with her family climbed on top of her while she was sleeping on a sofa bed next to his 3-year-old daughter. She believed he planned to rape her, but she said the man suddenly got off of her.

“I really think God intervened,” Clemishire said. “God made him feel like someone was walking by, and he just rolled off of me and left.”

It was that incident, Clemishire said, that eventually led her to confide in Faulkner-Woodliff, also a family friend. Faulkner-Woodliff asked whether anyone else had ever touched her that way, Clemishire said. Clemishire then reluctantly explained what Morris had done to her, she said. Afterward, Clemishire said, Faulkner-Woodliff insisted that she tell her parents.

That’s how, in March 1987, her father learned that Morris had been sexually abusing her, Clemishire said. She said her father was enraged and contacted Olen Griffing, the senior pastor at Shady Grove Church, to demand that Morris step out of ministry.

Clemishire remembers getting a call from Morris’ wife, Debbie, a few days later. 

Debbie told her, “I forgive you,” she said.

“I’ll never forget that,” Clemishire said. “They wanted me to believe that I — me, the child — was responsible for what happened. And they’ve never stopped trying to make me believe that.”

Griffing, now in his 80s, later served as a pastor and elder under Morris at Gateway Church. He did not respond to messages.

Clemishire’s older sister was living with her family in 1987 and corroborated Clemishire’s account of conversations that took place that year among her sister, her parents, Faulkner-Woodliff, Griffing and the Morris family.



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