July 19, 2024

A Texas megachurch said on Tuesday it had accepted the resignation of its senior pastor after he admitted to sexually abusing a child in the 1980s.

The church has also launched a formal, legal investigation into the matter.

Robert Morris, a founding pastor of Dallas-based Gateway church and one of Donald Trump’s former spiritual advisers, admitted to religious publication the Christian Post on Saturday that he had been involved in “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a girl he inaccurately referred to as “a young lady” for several years, between 1982 and 1987, starting when she was 12.

Although Morris said he confessed his behavior to the church back in 1987, Gateway church said in a statement to the Guardian on Tuesday that it “did not have all the facts of the inappropriate relationship between Morris and the victim, including her age at the time and the length of the abuse”.

“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. 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 statement said.

Morris’s accuser told the Christian Post that while she had forgiven the pastor for the sexual abuse, she did not believe he should have returned to ministry.

The church’s statement added: “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. 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.”

Gateway’s board has retained the law firm Haynes & Boone LLP to conduct a review of past abuse reports in order to have “a complete understanding of the events”.

The move was commended by local community members.

Nate Schatzline, a conservative state house member who represents parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said in a statement that the details about Morris’s past abusive behavior are “deeply disturbing and are unacceptable for anyone, especially a spiritual leader”.

Schatzline added that “in spite of the abuse committed by a man, I still believe the local church is the hope of the world”.

“John 10:10 says the enemy comes, ‘to kill, steal and destroy’. My prayer is that the people of God will not allow the abhorrent actions of a man to affect their love for God, His Church, and His people.”

Notably, Morris was appointed to Trump’s evangelical advisory board for his 2016 presidential campaign. Morris also participated in a roundtable discussion with Trump and faith leaders at Gateway in 2020.