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 1997.
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 towards homosexuality.
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).
Nelson died on October 15, 2015, in Tucson, Arizona surrounded by family and friends.
(Information for this biographical statement provided by Jim Nelson.)