Gateway church leaders face congregation after Morris resignation

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Gateway leaders face congregation for the first time since Morris resignation

June 24, 2024 -

Pastor Robert Morris applauds during a roundtable discussion at Gateway Church Dallas Campus, Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Pastor Robert Morris applauds during a roundtable discussion at Gateway Church Dallas Campus, Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Pastor Robert Morris applauds during a roundtable discussion at Gateway Church Dallas Campus, Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Since the Christian Post broke the scandal on June 15 regarding Gateway Church Senior Pastor Robert Morris, much has been written and said. Rev. Morris has resigned; his church’s leaders have expressed their remorse; numerous other Christian leaders have condemned the sins he reportedly committed.

Yesterday morning, a Gateway Church elder asked the congregation to pray for Morris’s accuser and her family, the entire Morris family, and Gateway Church staff members.

Like most news outlets, we do not typically name victims of sexual abuse, but Cindy Clemishire has made public her story, stating that she was sexually abused by Morris from the ages of twelve to sixteen. Morris has not been criminally charged, so her statements are being treated as “allegations” by the media. But if this is what happened, here is a part of the tragedy that I cannot stop thinking about:

Where was God when this horrific abuse was occurring?

This is far from an isolated question.

Do we believe what we teach?

A youth pastor was arrested last week near Lubbock, Texas, on two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of aggravated sexual assault. When Paul Pressler, one of the architects of the Southern Baptist Convention’s “conservative resurgence,” died recently at the age of ninety-four, reports reminded us that he was accused of raping a fourteen-year-old boy; at least seven other men also came forward with their own sexual abuse allegations against Pressler.

These are just recent examples of the “clergy abuse scandal” that has rocked his denomination and so many others. Like a massive ongoing earthquake, its fault lines are reaching across our secularized culture.

This is one reason so many young people are leaving the church. In Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, ethicist Russell Moore writes:

We are now seeing evangelicals walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches.

But my point today relates not to Christians who are justifiably angry and disillusioned with other Christians. I am focusing instead on non-Christians who are asking why they should consider our faith when many of our faith leaders have acted in such horrific ways.

We claim that our God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. If this is true, he knows what is happening when a Christian leader abuses a child. In fact, he knew this would happen long before it did. His omnipotence would seemingly enable him to act in any way he wishes. And the fact that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) would compel him to defend such innocent victims.

Why, then, doesn’t he?

If God won’t protect the innocent

My immediate theological response is to point to the fact of human free will.

God created us to love him and each other (Matthew 22:37–39), but real love must be a free choice, so God has given us freedom we can use for good or for evil (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19–20; Joshua 24:15; Revelation 3:20). If the Lord prevented every sin, we could not be free. One could argue that if God protected the victims of clergy sexual abuse, he would have to protect the victims of every crime of any kind, rendering freedom null and void.

Yes, but God does sometimes prevent the consequences of misused freedom. For example, when King Herod planned to execute Simon Peter, the Lord sent an angel to liberate the apostle and save his life (Acts 12:6–11). When Paul’s enemies plotted his murder, the Lord used the apostle’s nephew and the Roman authorities to spare him (Acts 23:12–31).

Why then does God not protect all other innocent victims, especially those who are abused by people who claim to serve him?

I cannot begin to speak for these victims or to understand their pain or that of those who love them. As a grandfather of four young children, I cannot let myself imagine what I would feel if they were harmed in such horrific ways.

And I can understand the skepticism of those who see this tragic issue as a reason to question or reject our faith. If our God will not protect the most innocent and vulnerable from abuse perpetrated by his purported representatives, why should we trust him to be who we say he is?

“Please remember our faith is in Jesus”

It has taken most of today’s article to outline the issue, so we’ll look for answers tomorrow as we continue this painful but essential conversation. For today, I want to close on a note of hope.

Cindy Clemishire has far more right to ask today’s questions than I do. And yet, she has written:

To the congregation of Gateway Church and the countless who have followed Robert Morris online, my heart is equally broken for you. Please remember our faith is in Jesus, not an institution or a man in the pulpit. Keep your faith!

Jesus was the completely innocent victim of his enemies (Hebrews 4:15). In the midst of his crucified agony, he asked a question any such victim could ask: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But then he found the faith to pray,

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

Let us pray for the faith to have such faith today.

Monday news to know:

*Denison Forum does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in these stories

Quote for the day:

“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” —St. Augustine

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