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Gateway Church elder says accepting resignation of pastor in sex abuse scandal was ‘difficult’ decision

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Gateway Church elder says accepting resignation of pastor in sex abuse scandal was ‘difficult’ decision

Four days after they learned of decades-old child sex abuse allegations against their senior pastor, Robert Morris, hundreds of Gateway Church employees filed into an auditorium in Southlake, Texas, on Tuesday to learn his fate.

Some staff members appeared solemn as they found their seats. Others looked angry. One attendee pulled out her cellphone and secretly hit record. Later, she shared the audio with NBC News and described the meeting in an interview. A second person who attended confirmed her account and the recording’s authenticity.

Kenneth W. Fambro II, a real estate executive who serves on Gateway’s board of elders, struggled through tears as he delivered the news that employees had come to hear: Morris, one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders, was resigning from the church he’d founded 24 years earlier.

“This,” Fambro said of accepting Morris’ resignation, “has been one of the most difficult decisions in my life.”

The recording of Fambro’s remarks reveals the deeply conflicted feelings of church leaders as they come to terms with the knowledge that their founding pastor — the man who’d built Gateway into one the largest megachurches in America and served on former President Donald Trump’s spiritual advisory board — had confessed to engaging in “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a child.

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Fambro opened Tuesday by acknowledging that he and other church officials had long known that Morris had admitted to sexual misconduct when he was young. It was a story Morris told so often over the years from the pulpit and in one-on-one meetings that “you can get kind of numb” to it, Fambro said, according to the recording.

“Pastor Robert did a phenomenal job of being open and transparent about his transgressions and his past, his moral failures,” Fambro said, speaking on behalf of the elders board, which is charged with governing the church. 

“What we did not know was that she was 12 years old.”

Cindy Clemishire, the woman who accused Morris of molesting her as a child, disputed the notion that Morris had been transparent. In a statement to NBC News, she said she was disturbed that Gateway elders struggled over whether to remove him from leadership.

“What is so difficult about accepting the resignation from a man who repeatedly sexually abused a little girl for almost five years and then lied about it?” Clemishire said after having reviewed a transcript of the recording provided by NBC News. “Why wasn’t he terminated?”

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Clemishire and her lawyer, Boz Tchividjian, contend that she contacted Morris and church officials with her allegations in 2005 and 2007 and that Gateway’s board of elders should have long ago investigated Morris’ version of events. (Fambro began attending the church in 2006 and became an elder in 2014, according to Gateway’s website.)

Morris hasn’t been charged with a crime and didn’t respond to messages requesting comment.

The allegations were made public Friday in a post published by The Wartburg Watch, a website focused on exposing abuse in churches. Clemishire, 54, described in the post and in a subsequent interview with NBC News how Morris had molested her for years beginning on Christmas night in 1982, when she was 12.

Initially, Morris and Gateway’s elders responded Friday and Saturday by acknowledging in statements that Morris had several sexual encounters with a “young lady” when he was in his 20s and saying he had been transparent about his sin and had repented.

“Since the resolution of this 35-year-old matter, there have been no other moral failures,” the elders said in a message to employees Friday.

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But some Gateway parishioners and staff members viewed the statement itself as a moral failure. Why had church leaders described the alleged sex abuse of a 12-year-old with euphemisms?

Fambro didn’t address that question in his remarks Tuesday, and he and other church elders didn’t respond to messages requesting comment. A spokesperson for Gateway also didn’t respond.

The person who made the recording of Tuesday’s staff meeting said she shared it with a reporter because she believes the board of elders is “gaslighting” employees about its initial defense of Morris and needs to be replaced. NBC News isn’t naming the woman because she fears retaliation.

Pastor Robert Morris greets President Donald Trump as he arrives for a discussion at the Gateway Church Dallas campus in 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

At the meeting, Fambro defended the board of elders, which he said had been fielding criticism from members who felt leaders had taken too long to respond to the crisis.

He said leaders had deliberated during multiple hourslong meetings Monday and Tuesday and were following the guidance they’d long gotten from their now-former senior pastor. 

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“If you’ve been here long enough, you’ve heard Pastor Robert say, ‘Before we can move, we need to hear God,’” Fambro said. 

Fambro also told employees he and the other elders “have great compassion” for Clemishire and don’t condone what happened to her.

“You won’t hear us try to explain it away,” Fambro said. 

But, he added, that doesn’t mean “we don’t love Pastor Robert, that we’re not defending him.”

He then spoke extensively about the profound impact Morris had on his life and on the lives of tens of thousands of church members. Fambro encouraged the audience not to let the revelations of child sex abuse make them lose sight of the good that God had done — and would continue to do — through Gateway and Morris.

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“So yes, there is an anointing on this house. Yes, there is an anointing on Pastor Robert,” Fambro said. “But both/and, yes? There was some stuff that was done. They both can exist.”

Fambro asked the staff to pray for Morris’ family, including his son James Morris, who is associate senior pastor and had been scheduled to succeed his father upon his planned retirement next year. 

Robert Morris is still pulling for Gateway, Fambro said, which was why he is stepping down.

“Pastor Robert wants to see Gateway Church succeed in the body of Christ,” Fambro said. “Pastor Robert wanted to resign to not be a distraction.”

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years
Shoppers crowd Seoul’s Myeongdong district, but analysts expect South Korean domestic spending to deteriorate © Hon Wah Oong/Dreamstime

South Korea’s economy unexpectedly contracted in the second quarter on cooling consumer spending despite stronger exports, increasing expectations of an interest rate cut in the coming months.

Gross domestic product in the April-June quarter shrank 0.2 per cent from a quarter earlier in seasonally adjusted terms, according to the Bank of Korea, while analysts polled by Reuters forecast a 0.1 per cent rise.

This marks the sharpest contraction in six quarters, following 1.3 per cent growth in the first quarter.

Private consumption fell 0.2 per cent and construction spending dropped 1.1 per cent, while exports rose 0.9 per cent.

Capital Economics expects domestic spending to deteriorate, prompting the Bank of Korea to cut interest rates in October, but cautioned that there was an increased chance of a rate cut in August.  

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

Left: Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling, Right: John Wink

Nate Smallwood for NPR


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Nate Smallwood for NPR

PITTSBURGH – Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling of Moon Township, a municipality that sits a few miles northwest of Pittsburgh, smiles as a server at local staple Primanti Brothers delivers a sandwich stacked higher than a double AA battery.

The story that locals like Madonna-Emmerling tell is that this Pittsburgh-style sandwich – layered with coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries – was created so that local blue collar workers could drive large trucks and eat with one hand while on a shift.

The sandwich ties back to her family’s history – and that of many other residents in the area – of working in the steel industry and other blue collar jobs, many of which disappeared long ago. Her father was an auto worker involved in the local union. That led to her now working as a community organizer and “multi-hyphenate” political pot stirrer, she said.

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When there were talks of closing a local school, she protested. She’s president of the library board and fought to keep a LGBTQ book on the shelves. She’s run for public office and trained activists to knock on doors at election time to shore up votes for Democrats.

But selling locals on President Biden at the top of the ticket has proven a struggle. His poor showing at the June debate with former President Donald Trump zapped a lot of energy. Then came the attempted assassination on Trump in nearby Butler, which caused a lot of “whiplash” in this area where many voters don’t adhere strictly to one party or the other.

“People are a little bit checked out. People are very tired. And we’re just trying to say, ‘OK , you’re going to be tired about the top of the ticket, but there’s still work to do,’” Madonna-Emmerling said, noting that some door-knocking efforts were slowed down after the shooting out of respect for Republican voters.

She couldn’t quite see a way forward.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

Nate Smallwood for NPR

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But then came the historic news that Biden was dropping out and making way for Vice President Harris to take his place. While she wasn’t necessarily calling for Biden to drop out, Madonna-Emmerling said she feels like his decision may prove a consequential one in Pennsylvania, which will again prove key to winning the White House.

“It was a literal exhalation, shoulders lowering,” Madonna-Emmerling said. “We’ve stopped the bleeding.”

More and more volunteers, she said, have called her in recent days about voter outreach efforts since Biden’s move.

“Plug in, let’s go,” she told them. “Get on the train. We’re all going together to the top.”

Their involvement in getting more voters to turn out could make all the difference in Moon Township, and other suburbs that surround Pittsburgh, which historically have voted for Republicans.

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Trump won most of Moon Township’s 13 voting precincts in 2016 when he carried the state, according to Allegheny County Election Results data. And though most precincts again went his way in 2020, Democrats and Joe Biden picked up support in the town, when almost 2,000 more people voted. The same happened in small counties across the state, between here and Philadelphia and helped Democrats win the swing state back.

With the vice president now in the race, a new NPR poll found that the presidential race has hit a bit of a reset. Trump and Harris are now statistically tied, and some independent voters now say they are undecided,

Madonna-Emmerling feels that Harris’ campaign has injected new energy into Democrats, and she feels that the vice president’s background as a prosecutor is a winning combination and makes her an “ideal suburban candidate.”

Polling in the immediate aftermath of Biden’s endorsement for Harris shows she has more work to do with suburban voters, but also has more opportunity with folks in these areas who may now be undecided.

“Often in the suburbs, people want someone who is pro-public safety, pro-police,” Madonna-Emmerling said, adding that many in the area have family who are former military now working in law enforcement. “That can be a really hard barrier to overcome sometimes. And when you can say this is a clear case of a prosecutor against a felon, it’s a home run.”

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But across town, a local Republican says, “We’ll see …”

Moon Township’s elected Republican tax collector John Wink, speaking to NPR from his backyard on a slightly muggy afternoon, said he believes the luster of Harris replacing Biden at the top of the ticket will wear off in the coming weeks.

“We’ll see if that lasts,” Wink said. “I think she’s a terrible candidate. When she actually ran for president, she couldn’t get votes.”

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

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The core issues that Wink said he feels matter most to voters in this part of Pennsylvania – how they are currently experiencing inflation and securing the U.S.-Mexico border – still favor Trump.

Wink, who serves on the GOP’s state committee, has lived in the Pittsburgh area since he was two years old. His father was once mayor of Hampton Township, north of the city. Wink said he started working on campaigns, stuffing envelopes and putting mailers together for candidates, as early as 15 years old.

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And his wife serves on the library board alongside Democrat Madonna-Emmerling.

Residents and voters here are by and large happy with how the town is run, regardless of the party affiliation of those running the local government, he feels. The roads are well maintained and the police force is good, he added.

It’s Pennsylvania’s status as a swing state, closely watched by national politics, that makes living here interesting from a political perspective, Wink said.

“I’m glad Pennsylvania is a swing state, much more interesting than if it was one way or the other,” Wink said. “It’s a whole lot more fun.”

One of his gauges for how elections might go is looking at campaign signs in front yards.

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“I kind of thought Trump was in trouble in 2020 because I was seeing too many Biden signs, much more so than in 2016, where there were very little in the way of Hillary signs,” Wink remembered.

His verdict right now? It’s too early. There aren’t that many signs out yet, Wink said, but he’s still confident Trump will win.

So what are the keys for Trump and Harris here?

Wink said many local Republicans are excited to vote for Trump again, though he said he wished the party had nominated a younger candidate.

He would’ve liked to see Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley be the nominee. But Trump won the primaries, and Wink plans to vote for him.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

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As for whether Moon Township and areas nearby will vote for Trump or Harris, if she becomes the nominee as expected, Wink and Madonna-Emmerling have a similar view.

Families and seniors on fixed incomes here are struggling with the cost of groceries and other costs of living. Under Trump, “things were humming along pretty well,” Wink said, and if Republicans can communicate that message and get their lower-propensity voters to turn out, the election will be theirs.

Madonna-Emmerling thinks voters here will want a candidate to be honest and relatable and Harris fits the bill.

She says people in this community work hard and care about their families and those around them. Speaking authentically to that could motivate those among them who are non-voters to head to the polls.

“Don’t be fake,” Madonna-Emmerling advised. “We have a strong bull**** detector.”

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The audio version of this story was produced by Taylor Haney and edited by Gabriel Spitzer.

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Kering warns on profits after Gucci sales fall almost 20%

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Kering warns on profits after Gucci sales fall almost 20%

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Kering, owner of Gucci and Saint Laurent, warned on Wednesday that its operating income could fall by as much as 30 per cent in the second half of the year, compounding the woes at the French luxury company.

One of the biggest names in luxury, Kering was a laggard compared to peers LVMH and Hermès during the pandemic-era boom and its performance has only worsened as the industry as a whole has slowed.

Kering said sales at Gucci, its biggest brand accounting for half of revenues and two-thirds of profits, have fallen further with a turnround under a new designer having so far failed to gain traction.

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Second-quarter sales at top brand Gucci fell 19 per cent on a like-for-like basis compared to one year earlier, including “a continuing marked decrease in Asia-Pacific”, Kering said.

Group sales in the three months to June 30 dropped 11 per cent to €4.5bn, and fell short of analysts’ expectations.

Operating income dropped 42 per cent in the first half of the year to €1.58bn, in line with expectations compiled by Reuters after the company guided sharply lower at its last results.

A recurring operating margin of 17.5 per cent in the first half was significantly lower than during the same period last year, which the company attributed to “negative operational leverage”.

“In a challenging market environment, which adds pressure on our top line and profitability, we are working assiduously to create the conditions for a return to growth . . . While the current context might impact the pace of our execution, our determination and confidence are stronger than ever,” said Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault.

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Kering has said it is continuing to prioritise long-term investment in its brands despite strained demand.

Gucci is still rolling out product lines from its new designer Sabato de Sarno, which the group said were being well received by customers.

But it is not the only brand that is struggling. At Saint Laurent, Kering’s second-largest label, sales fell 9 per cent on a like-for-like basis in the second quarter, accelerating a trend from earlier in the year.

Bright spots were Bottega Veneta, where sales rose 4 per cent in the second quarter, and the company’s eyewear division, where they increased 5 per cent. 

Kering’s shares have fallen more than 23 per cent so far this year to trade at €300 each, giving it a market capitalisation of around €36.6bn.

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This is a far sharper sell-off than industry bellwether LVMH, after Kering shocked investors in April with a sharply lower profit outlook for the first half of the year. 

Controlled by the Pinault family, Kering had already issued a rare profit warning for the luxury industry in March amid falling sales, especially in the crucial Chinese market.

Smaller luxury companies Hugo Boss and Burberry, also in a turnround, have recently warned on profits. 

“More bad news and downgrades,” said Luca Solca, analyst at Bernstein. “The Kering guidance for the first half of the year is de facto materialising.”

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