What’s happening to megachurch pastors in Dallas?

This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on June 25, 2024.

Megachurch pastors in Dallas are starting to drop like flies.

On June 9, Tony Evans stepped away for an unspecified period of time from the 10,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, a church he started in his living room and led for 48 years, explaining vaguely that he fell short of a standard “a number of years ago.”

One week later, Mike Buster resigned as executive pastor of the 45,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church with one week’s notice to the congregation. Senior Pastor Jack Graham announced to the congregation on Father’s Day, June 16, that Buster was resigning and there would be a reception for him the next Sunday. That is highly unusual in a Baptist church, especially for someone who served as the pastor’s righthand man for 35 years.

Both Buster and the church have denied any wrongdoing is behind the resignation — in response to undocumented whispers of financial wrongdoing and an FBI investigation. But the suddenness of the announcement and the resignation has raised eyebrows.

Then four days after that, Robert Morris left his role as pastor of the 100,000-member Gateway Church after 24 years of ministry due to a multi-year assault on a girl who was 12 at the beginning. These assaults reportedly happened during the 1980s.

The Morris resignation was such big news that eclipsed either of the other two big-name resignations that dot the Dallas map from south to north.

Tony Evans

While Evans and Buster plan to continue being members of their church, Morris’ plans remain unclear. He originally attempted to be vague like Evans, but eventually the truth came out and the public realized the situation is much more severe than first imagined.

Gateway Church is the ninth largest church in America and the largest church in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. It has a reported weekly attendance of 25,000 people across its nine Metroplex campuses. Ironically, one of those campuses is located in a North Dallas property previously owned by Prestonwood.

Gateway is a nondenominational Pentecostal-style church based in Southlake, Texas, a highly conservative area that has been Ground Zero for the Christian nationalist movement to take over school boards and ban books. Morris has played a role in that effort.

These three churches have a combined membership of 155,000 people. And these three men have a combined pastoral experience of 107 years. But all three men are gone in just the last three weeks.

Close observers have asked, “What is going on in Dallas?”

While each case is different — and one has no documented evidence of abuse — the three together demonstrate the powerful influence of megachurches and the lack of transparency that permeates their culture.


Ruining everything

On Friday, June 14, The Wartburg Watch published Cindy Clemishire’s allegations against Morris of sexual assault. According to Clemishire, Morris was a 20-year-old traveling evangelist in 1981 who regularly preached at Clemishire’s church, stayed in her family’s home and vacationed with her family.

Clemishire was 11 years old when Morris first appeared in her life.

Cindy Clemishire

Then on Christmas night 1982, Morris allegedly assaulted her in his bedroom and warned her, “Never tell anyone about this because it will ruin everything.”

Clemishire says Morris continued to assault her until March 1987. According to Wartburg Watch, up until this point, “Morris wanted to make out and engage in heavy petting.” But when Clemishire turned 16, she alleges he attempted to have sexual intercourse with her.

After Clemishire shared her story with a friend, she decided to tell her parents. Then her dad called the head pastor of their church and threatened to call the sheriff if Morris wasn’t fired. So Morris resigned and reportedly stayed away from ministry for two years.

During this time, Morris’ wife called on Clemishire to “forgive” her for her supposed role in being sexually abused by Morris. Clemishire spent the next decade in counseling. And when she asked for $50,000 in a civil suit to reimburse her for her counseling costs, Morris’ attorney claimed Clemishire was to blame for being “flirtatious” and offered her just $25,000 in exchange for her signing a non-disclosure agreement.

Thankfully, Clemishire refused to sign the NDA. But one wonders how many other women Morris’ attorney was able to convince to sign NDAs over the decades. In any case, the attempt by Morris to create distance between Clemishire’s story and public awareness is a pattern that permeates the megachurch approach to justice.

Continue reading at Baptist News Global.

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