Dr. James B. Nelson was born on May 28, 1930, in Windom, Minnesota. He
received a B.A. degree from Macalester College and B.D. (1957), M.A.(1959), and
Ph.D. (1962) degrees from Yale University. He was ordained as a clergy in the
United Church of Christ (Congregational) in 1958 and served as assistant
minister of First Congregational Church UCC in West Haven, Conn., from 1957-59
and as minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Vermillion, South Dakota,
from 1960-63. Jim married Wilys Claire Coulter who was also ordained in the
United Church of Christ. Jim & Wilys Claire had two children: Stephen Joseph
and Mary Elizabeth.
In 1963, Nelson was appointed as Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at
the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and became a full professor
in 1968. Nelson was among the first religious professionals--along with the Rev.
Jim Siefkes--to engage in the University of Minnesota's Program on Human
Sexuality, beginning around 1972. Nelson, his wife Wilys Claire, Siefkes
and others developed a seminary component of this program that became a national
model of seminary sexuality education, including a strong LGBT component. Nelson
served on the Task Force on Human Sexuality in the United Church of Christ from
1974 to 1977. Jim and Wilys Claire were among the early members of the United
Church Coalition for LGBT Concerns (as it is now called).
Nelson moved into the national spotlight with the publication of an article
"Homosexuality and the Church," in Christianity and Crisis magazine in
1977. This article developed a typology of theological-churchly responses
and made a case for full acceptance of LGBT persons. The article was later
reprinted in many other venues and referred to in numerous other writings. His
book Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology
(Pilgrim Press 1978) provoked new Christian attitudes and approaches to human
sexuality and homosexuality.
Nelson wrote prolifically over the next two decades on the subjects of
sexuality and homosexuality from a Christian perspective with dozens of chapters
in books and articles in periodicals in the U.S. and the U.K. His other books
include: Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Sexuality and Religious
Experience (Pilgrim 1983); The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality and
Masculine Spirituality (Westminster 1988); Body Theology
(Westminster/John Knox 1992); Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for
Theological Reflection (Westminster/John Knox 1994), edited with Sandra P.
Longfellow and published later in Spanish; and Humanly Speaking (United
Church Board for Homeland Ministries 1995).
Nelson also spoke and lectured extensively at conferences and at other
seminaries across the U.S. as well as around the world. He was visiting scholar
at Oxford University from 1969-70 and at Cambridge University from 1976-77.
Nelson was honored with an Excellence in Teaching Award from the General Synod
of the UCC in 1989 and an Award of Distinction from Yale Divinity School in
Nelson served on the board of directors of the Sex Information and Education
Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) from 1978 to 1986. In the late 1980s and early
1990s he served on three Minnesota state commissions related to HIV/AIDS. He was
a founding board member of the Center for Sexuality and Religion (beginning in
1989). In 1989-91 he was the theological consultant to the Presbyterian General
Assembly's Special Task Force on Human Sexuality. This task force's report
was turned down by the General Assembly because of its strongly affirming stance
Nelson retired from United Theological Seminary in 1995. In recent
years he served on the UCC's Task Force on Transgender Issues. He also serves on
the editorial board of Theology and Sexuality (an Anglo-American journal) and
presented the keynote address at the conference launching this journal in Great
Britain. He wrote the Foreword to Crossing Over: Liberating the
Transgendered Christian by Vanessa Sheridan (Pilgrim Press 2001) and a
prepublication review and book jacket endorsement of Transgender Good
News by Pat Conover (New Wineskins Press 2002).
(Information for this biographical statement provided by Jim