DALLAS (BP)–A vote of confidence fell short Feb. 23 for a former Baptist seminary staff member who surfaced in Dallas as the new pastor of a predominantly homosexual congregation and found himself in the national spotlight when he was identified as a husband and father missing since 1984.
James Simmons, as he was known at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in the San Francisco area — Wesley “Barre” Cox, as he was known before his 1984 disappearance — had asked for the vote of confidence as the new pastor of White Rock Community Church in Dallas.
Simmons/Cox received 106 of 182 votes cast by the congregation Feb. 23, short of the two-thirds vote of confidence he himself had set, the Dallas Morning News reported. He told the congregation he would resign at the end of February, the newspaper reported, but would stay as a member of the church.
Simmons, who described himself as a celibate homosexual, had assumed the Dallas pastorate Jan. 21 after resigning as campus housing director at Golden Gate Seminary effective Dec. 31.
“It is I who have been blessed in coming to Dallas,” Simmons was quoted as saying Feb. 23. “I will, in another ministry, continue to serve God in small ways. God has been very good to me. He will provide me with a ministry and a setting.”
Simmons, 49, was identified as Wesley Barret “Barre” Cox after preaching at the Dallas congregation in view of a call in December. A member of the congregation had recognized him as the young Church of Christ minister and doctoral student who had disappeared on a Texas farm road in 1984, leaving behind a wife and six-month-old daughter in San Antonio, Texas. The member contacted his mother, who made some inquiries and then contacted Cox’s mother, now 80 and living in east Texas. News of his identity was first published Jan. 8.
In the intervening years, 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. His story received widespread media attention, from the Associated Press and New York Times and TV’s “Today” show but could not be confirmed by police or hospital officials in Memphis.
At Golden Gate Seminary, Simmons told a 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.”
In 1991, after arriving at the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary, he was elected student body president in 1993 and 1994 and earned two master’s degrees and joined the staff as campus housing director.
Simmons, in the Jan. 20 news conference, expressed regret for the furor that has faced his new congregation. “Many church members have been outed as a result of this media circus, and for that I apologize,” Simmons said. The news conference was attended by about 50 members at the church, along with his brother and sister from his previous life as Cox.
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 at the news conference he had 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 planned to meet with his former wife and daughter.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JAMES SIMMONS (low res photo only).