DALLAS (BP)–A former staff member of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary said no one at the seminary knew he was a homosexual during his 10 years there.
James Simmons identified himself as a celibate homosexual in a Jan. 20 news conference at the predominantly homosexual church in Dallas that selected him as pastor in December.
Simmons, 49, subsequently faced a personal firestorm when he was identified as Wesley Barret “Barre” Cox who had not been seen since disappearing on a Texas farm road in 1984 and leaving behind a wife and six-month-old daughter in San Antonio, Texas. Simmons had said he had amnesia since being savagely beaten and left for dead in the trunk of a junked car near Memphis, Tenn., in 1984.
Simmons’ story has received widespread media attention, from the Associated Press and New York Times and TV’s “Today” show.
At Golden Gate Seminary, Simmons told the Jan. 20 news conference in Dallas, “They knew I had worked with the gay community doing HIV counseling, although if I had come out to them, they would have been obliged to dismiss me.”
Simmons was Golden Gate’s campus housing director at the time of his resignation in December. In 1991, after arriving at the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary, he was elected body president in 1993 and 1994 and earned two master’s degrees.
Simmons expressed regret for the furor that has faced his new congregation, White Rock Community Church in Dallas, which has been characterized as a “predominantly gay and lesbian congregation” in media reports.
“Many church members have been outed as a result of this media circus, and for that I apologize,” Simmons told the news conference, which was attended by about 50 members at the church, along with his brother and sister from his previous life as Barre (pronounced Barry) Cox, a young Church of Christ minister and Texas Tech doctoral student in art education.
Simmons told the news conference, “I will take four weeks off to give the church time away from the media and to give me time to be with my family. It will give the church time to reconsider its call.”
Simmons acknowledged, “I don’t know if I would believe myself if I heard this story,” which includes him using a Texas farmer’s name, Social Security number and birthdate — and causing two IRS audits of the farmer in the late 1980s. But, Simmons asked, “If I made up this story, why would I come back to Texas, where I’d try to get away from to begin with?”
Simmons said, “I feel confused. I feel uplifted. I feel surprised. I feel frustrated. I have so many questions. There will always be questions.” He concluded the news conference by saying, “Pray for me in the coming weeks, that I can be the best dad, the best husband, the best pastor, the best Christian as I can.”
Simmons preached Sunday morning, Jan. 21, at the church and was greeted at the end by hugs and well wishes from many of the nearly 300 worshippers. The service, Cox told the Associated Press, “was a pastor’s dream as far as a first Sunday goes.”
Simmons had a three-hour closed-door meeting with about 120 church members to answer their questions Friday night, Jan. 19. Various church members told the media they remained supportive toward Simmons, and some voiced enthusiasm over the opportunity to be supportive of their new pastor.
Simmons said he has spoken several times with his wife, with whom his marriage was ended when Cox was declared legally dead in 1991, and his daughter, now 17, who live in the Nashville, Tenn., area. Simmons said he plans to meet with his former wife and daughter.
Simmons’ identity as Cox was first noticed by a White Rock church member when Simmons preached there in mid-December in view of a call. The member contacted his mother, who made some inquiries and then contacted Cox’s mother, now 80 and living in east Texas.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JAMES SIMMONS (low res photo only).