Longform

The Unbelievers

Page 6 of 6

"I want to thank Pastor Brown from West Virginia, who took me under his care in the late summer of '84, Miss Goff from Charlottesville, who took care of me for the first few years of my life..."

As he wrapped things up, he said, "I'm sure there will be questions for the rest of my life about what happened, what will happen, how much [memory] I retained, how much I will get back. I would appreciate your prayers as I go through this next few weeks and months."

If the media didn't get the message they should be praying rather than picking apart his story, Simmons gave them a brief statement the next day, after his first Sunday sermon: "The spirit of the Lord was here. I pray you will continue to pray for me as I make adjustments with my wife and daughter and extended family."


Given the congregation's widespread support for Simmons, opposition is a delicate matter, the dissenters say.

"It pleases me my congregation is so loving and compassionate, but I don't think they see the reality," says Jones, who has been a member since 1995. "The fact is, he is our new pastor, and people are rallying around. It is difficult to question him without questioning people's faith."

Jones and others says the dissenters are waiting for Simmons to present clear evidence, or for new revelations to emerge that might further discredit his story. With no new proof to offer, Simmons has been trying to schedule meetings with known doubters, attempting to bring them around one by one, several sources say.

At present, no criminal or civil legal actions--such as a lawsuit for missed child support--have emerged that would force Simmons to make his case outside the church. Last week, the Social Security Administration said it had conducted a brief investigation into the theft of the rancher's identity and will take no action against Simmons.

Wes Davis, an agency spokesman in Dallas, said the agency has problems with Simmons' story, but the statute of limitations has passed on issues of falsifying records, and a law against identity theft was enacted only two years ago and is not applicable to this case.

Davis said it would be up to the rancher whose tax returns were audited to make a criminal complaint, and he has said he wants to let the matter drop. The spokesman also said the agency would help Beth Cox obtain an "equity and good conscience" waiver to the requirement that she repay the $400- to $600-a-month death benefit she and her daughter collected after Cox was declared dead.

"Nobody is after him," says Craig McDaniel, the public relations consultant.

Beth Cox, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and her attorney did not return calls for comment. Simmons, Jeffrey Brown, and Sharon Blair, the current head of the deacon board, declined requests for interviews.

Church sources say Simmons flew to Tennessee for a brief visit with his ex-wife and daughter last weekend. It would have been the first time he met his former family, people he claims he does not know.

Meanwhile, church sources say Simmons was busy moving into a modest house in East Dallas--a 1,250 square-foot 1950s bungalow--and settling into a job for which the church budgeted a salary of roughly $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

If Simmons stays put, several dissenters say they will have no choice but to withdraw from the church, a decision that would leave them with few places to go. There are no other evangelical churches in Dallas where they would be accepted with open arms, and other gay and lesbian congregations practice a more liberal theology than White Rock. Orrell referred to it as "that Mother God stuff." The White Rock church was formed in 1991 by a splinter movement from the Cathedral of Hope, Dallas' largest gay congregation.

"It would be nice if we could go to the nearest Baptist Church and sit together and not worry about people staring and making comments," Blackwell says. "But that's what we'll do, as long as they're teaching God's word. There is a name for Mr. Simmons or Mr. Cox or whatever he is calling himself. He is what is called a false teacher. In God's church, people should never sit under a false teacher."

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec