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Ex-seminary staffer back in national news

DALLAS (BP)–James Simmons, as he was known at a Baptist seminary, was featured in an hour-long report by TV veteran Connie Chung on ABC’s “Downtown” Aug. 15, during which his previous life as Church of Christ minister Wesley Barrett “Barre” Cox was explored.

Simmons/Cox, along with his former wife, Beth, and his daughter, Talitha, were among those interviewed by Chung.

Simmons was a student and later a staff member at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., from 1990-2000, and was identified as Cox last December as he was being called as pastor of a predominantly homosexual and lesbian church in Dallas.

Cox’s wife, Beth, and daughter, Talitha, had believed him to be dead after his mysterious disappearance on July 12, 1984. At that time he was a youth minister at MacArthur Park Church of Christ in San Antonio and was working on a doctoral degree in art at Texas Tech University. After finishing a summer class on the Lubbock campus, he was on his way home when his car was found abandoned and ransacked on a rural road outside Abilene. Cox’s daughter was six months old at the time of his disappearance.

Chung questioned Cox and others concerning his story of being beaten to unconsciousness in 1984 and allegedly waking from a coma with amnesia in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital, as well as his alleged assumption of the name, birthdate and Social Security number of Texas rancher James Simmons.

Others interviewed during the program included Cox’s mother-in-law, older brother George, friends and members of several churches where Simmons/Cox had been active.

The ABC program investigated the story for six months and uncovered at least two individuals who corroborated Simmons’ account of amnesia — a tow truck driver in Memphis who told of a car similar to one in which Simmons said he was found unconsciousness and a West Virginia minister who later befriended Simmons.

Also during the program, Simmons’ daughter recounted the pain and upheaval she experienced in childhood after her father’s disappearance. Both Simmons, who has described himself as a celibate homosexual, and his daughter acknowledged to Chung the distance that still separates them.

Currently, Cox, who still calls himself James Simmons, is pastor of the newly formed Faith Community Church in Garland, Texas, having left his initial Dallas congregation, White Rock Community Church, in deference to some members’ doubts concerning the truth of his claims.

An investigation is underway concerning the alleged identity theft. Cox, who claims to remember nothing following his alleged beating in 1984, says he took the name “James” because the family who allegedly found him was studying that New Testament book at the time. He says he took the name Simmons after seeing it on a hardware store sign when he once was asked for his name. However, no police or hospital records in Memphis match his account.

Simmons was Golden Gate’s campus housing director at the time of his resignation in December. After arriving at the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary in 1991, he was elected body president in 1993 and 1994 and earned two master’s degrees.

Seminary officials knew nothing of Simmons’ past.

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  • Debbie Moore