Rick Warren Shreds Robert Morris over Sexual Abuse Allegations as Fallout from Scandal Escalates

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The fallout continues after Robert Morris resigned from Gateway Church over furor following allegations he molested a 12-year-old girl in the 1980s.

Prominent Christian author and retired pastor Rick Warren isn’t mincing words in his condemnation of the reports about Morris. Warren posted to X saying, “I’m angry & disgusted to hear of Robert Morris’ sexual abuse of a child & heartbroken for Cindy Clemishire. To sexually use a 12 yr old child, then continue it for yrs, is not merely an ‘inappropriate relationship.’ It’s a crime.  Sexual child abuse is an evil punishable by law. One can’t just confess when caught & move on with no consequences.”

Daystar Television Network announced this week that it had removed all of Morris’ programming from its network, with Gateway Church elders separately launching an investigation into the claims against their former leader.

“We are deeply grieved and saddened by the recent and very serious allegations against Pastor Robert Morris involving the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old minor,” Daystar said in a statement. “In light of these events and a recently released statement by Gateway’s Elders, Daystar’s leadership has made the decision to remove all of Pastor Robert Morris’ programming from our broadcasting schedule.”

Recapping What Unfolded

As CBN News previously reported, Morris, 62, who resigned from Gateway on Tuesday, offered an initial statement on the allegations against him in which he again used the term “young lady.”

In that statement to The Christian Post, Morris described what he said was “inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady” in a home he stayed in during his 20s. “It was kissing and petting and not intercourse, but it was wrong,” he said.

The preacher went on to state that the behavior happened on “several occasions” over a number of years. Morris said the situation was “brought to light” in 1987. He said he confessed, repented, sought counseling, and returned to ministry two years later with the support of the victim’s father.

For the record, the accuser, Cindy Clemishire — now 54 — has denied the latter claim.

“I submitted myself to the Elders of Shady Grove Church and the young lady’s father,” Morris said. “They asked me to step out of ministry and receive counseling and freedom ministry, which I did. Since that time, I have walked in purity and accountability in this area.”

This statement ignited a further firestorm after Clemishire and others pushed back on the language used and as additional details about the allegations against Morris were revealed.

Elders at Gateway initially issued a statement addressing the claims made against Morris, pointedly referring to the preacher’s “moral failure.”

“Pastor Robert has been open and forthright about a moral failure he had over 35 years ago when he was in his twenties and prior to him starting Gateway Church,” the elders’ first statement read. “He has shared publicly from the pulpit the proper Biblical steps he took in his lengthy restoration process.”

The elders said the matter had been disclosed to church leaders.

However, after Morris resigned, the church said in a second statement that it did not previously know the scope or details of the allegations against the preacher.

“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 [the] abuse of a 12-year-old child,” it read. “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.”

Clemishire has again disputed these claims, stating that she emailed Robert Morris’ Gateway email address in 2005 and delivered details about the alleged crimes.

“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,” she said in a statement through attorney Boz Tchividjian, grandson of the late evangelist Billy Graham.

Clemishire continued, “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.”

Bob Hamp’s Response

As details continue to unfold, shock is reverberating. Bob Hamp, the former executive pastor of pastoral care at Gateway Church from 2005 to 2014, responded to the Morris scandal by imploring the church to have important conversations about abuse and power dynamics.

In the wake of the Morris news, Hamp published an extensive post on X explaining, in detail, how he hopes people react to the situation.

“The purpose of that post was to say, listen, we ought to deal with whatever happened at Gateway Church and … the years prior. We ought to deal with that in spirit and in truth,” he told CBN News. “But if we don’t have the bigger conversation, this will happen again, and this will happen again, and this will happen again.”

He expounded upon his X post this week in an extensive interview.

Though the Morris scandal sparked the post itself, Hamp said he has watched this same dynamic play out repeatedly with other faith leaders who have failed and purportedly committed horrific acts.

“We’ve got names like Ravi Zacharias, and there are many people who still don’t know what happened there because of the work of that hierarchical institution to hide that from most people’s eyes,” he said. “There are still people, when I talk to them, they say, ‘What happened with Ravi? He’s my hero.’”

Zacharias, a revered apologist and founder of Ravi Zacharias Ministry, died in 2020 after a cancer battle. But, after his death, his ministry released a report acknowledging purported serial sexual misconduct.

Despite heartbreaking scenarios like this one, Hamp believes changes are afoot.

“I think that there’s kind of an upending of the structures that have always held, and some of those structures need to be upended,” Hamp said. “The conversations need to, first of all, be one where we consider the idea that, if the truth is going to set us free, we first of all have to let it pierce our denial.”

He continued, “If the truth is going to set us free, we first of all have to let it shine light on the story we’ve been telling ourselves, instead of the story that’s actually happening.”

Hamp said his time working in the abuse advocacy world has led him to realize even victims sometimes don’t realize they’ve been targets of abuse.

Listen to the latest episode of “Quick Start”

“We have this stereotype picture of abuse of a man in a white tank top beating somebody, and leaving bruises, and they wear sunglasses and a scarf,” Hamp said. “But, in reality, most abuse is psychological first and foremost.”

Understanding Abuse Dynamics

One of the key actions in abuse, he said, is for the perpetrator to try and make the victim responsible for what unfolded — a dynamic he has termed the “misassignment of responsibility.”

“So, in the case of sexual abuse, the abuser makes the victim responsible for the abuser’s drives,” Hamp said. “And then they make the victim responsible for the abuser’s choice — ‘I did this because you’re beautiful. I did this because you’re bad. I did this because you’re good’ — and then they make the victim responsible for the secret.”

He said the tragedy at the core of this process is that the victim truly comes to believe he or she is responsible for what happened.

Hamp spoke more specifically about some of the unique circumstances and dynamics that unfold inside the church, with pastors often being elevated to a special status in the eyes of congregants.

“You’ve got these large platforms, whether megachurch or kind of global ministry kind of things, that afford people increasingly unaccountable power,” he said. “And by power, I don’t mean spiritual power. I mean the power to influence organizations and people.”

Hamp continued, “That’s a meaningful difference. Spiritual power stops storms and evicts demons. Human power just hires and fires people.”

The higher these people are propelled, the more room for problems, especially if there are underlying issues at play. If left unattended, these issues can infest other facets of the organization or church.

“That increasing the level of human power, whatever may be unfinished in the soul of a leader, the higher you propel them on a platform, the more those unfinished things affect everything underneath it,” Hamp said. “That’s part of the nature of a hierarchical organization… that the top of the organization broadcasts down through the organization its mental, emotional, and relational health levels.”

Understanding ‘DARVO’

One of the acronyms often used in the advocacy world is DARVO, which stands for “deny, accuse, and reverse the victim and offender.” Hamp has seen this unfold in the world and in church communities.

“That’s something that you see in any relationship or structure where abuse takes place because one of the elements of abuse is always a power differential,” he said. “The one person who’s the abusive person has power over the abuse victim or victims.”

Hamp continued, “And that position of power allows them to dictate not only what happens, but also the narrative that takes place around what happens.”

Getting back to the “special status” that can sometimes be attributed to religious leaders, Hamp said some abusers in the church might take on the belief they’re deserving of “special privilege [or] special protection” due to the many people they’ve helped.

Hamp said these individuals might internally proclaim, “Even if I hurt people, I’ve helped more than I’ve hurt. So, protect me while I continue to hurt and help people.”

Understanding these dynamics is incredibly important, he said. Hamp also spoke further about language, noting that using terms like “inappropriate relationship” in an abusive context is improper.

“The concept of relationship would suggest mutuality between two people where both of them brought something to the situation,” he said. “But an inappropriate relationship is not the same thing as abuse.”

Oversimplifying Sin

As for whether someone should be placed back in ministry after abuse, Hamp said there are too many people who say, “Well, we’re all sinners. We should just forgive them and put them back in a place of ministry.” Such an argument, he said, doesn’t take into account all that’s unfolded.

“You wouldn’t put a tiger in a place of ministry to a hen house,” he said. “It’s just not a fit.”

Hamp added, “You put … someone who has predatory proclivity in a situation where they’ve got a power differential over a lot of people, that’s kind of like putting an alcoholic in a bar and suggesting that they … don’t touch any alcohol. They might be able not to, but they’re churning on the inside.”

Minimizing sin and overlooking legal implications is another potential issue of concern when churches deal with complex and troubling cases.

In the end, Hamp hopes understanding these insights will help Christians stem abusive tides before they wash away churches and congregations.

***As the number of voices facing big-tech censorship continues to grow, please sign up for Faithwire’s daily newsletter and download the CBN News app, to stay up-to-date with the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.***

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