J. Benjamin Roe, Jr. grew up in Methodist parsonages in Arkansas and Nebraska. He was born in Illinois to Joe and Enid Roe at the end of his father’s seminary years. The family moved back to Arkansas where his parents grew up and his father served several churches. He had polio at age two and a half years, and because of asthma, the family moved to western Nebraska when he was four. He was confirmed in the Methodist Church in Big Springs, where his dad was pastor. He graduated from Ainsworth High School after involvement in band, chorus, and science fairs. His faith was developed at home, in church, and in MYF retreats and summer camps in Nebraska. Early experiences with sexuality gave him a lifelong curiosity and motivation to learn about it, including getting his dad to arrange for the “Sex and the Whole Person” Methodist youth curriculum at the Ainsworth church.
Ben attended Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, exploring physics, music education, and finally pre-theology. He was inspired by the 8th Quadrennial Methodist Student Movement national conference held in Lincoln, and became active in the MSM and later the University Christian Movement. He graduated with a B.A. in religion and music in 1969. He met his future spouse Maggie there, and after they married, they moved to Claremont, California, where he attended Claremont School of Theology. He worked in the “communications lab” on campus, learning about and maintaining videotape, film, and audio equipment. He graduated in 1975 with a D.Min. degree with a concentration in ethics. His professional project compared Methodist and Unitarian sexuality education programs for youth. During his last two years, he and Maggie lived in Los Angeles, where she attended UCLA School of Library and Information Sciences and he worked at a cable television company, doing videotape production and playback.
They moved back to Nebraska, where he served as an associate minister in a five-church “larger parish” near Fairbury and education minister at another cooperative parish near Lincoln. While at these appointments (and after) he served on the Nebraska Conference Committee on Human Identity and Relationships which developed and provided human sexuality education programs for youth and older adults.
After becoming aware of his attraction to a former (male) seminary friend, he sought counseling help, eventually identifying as bisexual. He and Maggie participated in counseling for a couple of years, adjusting to a new reality. Celebrating this led to a special 10th anniversary marriage renewal ceremony with a small group of friends and two favorite women pastors.
His introduction to the gay community came from a class at Claremont, which offered a choice of doing a paper or attending a program at the National Sex Forum at Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco. He took the latter, and he and Maggie were treated to a rich expansion of knowledge about sexuality and how people felt about it. One panel had gay, lesbian, and bi participants which enriched what reading he had done for the class.
In the process of exploring his bisexuality several years later, he connected with Affirmation, the United Methodist LGBT caucus, through a man in Kansas and found out about the Dayton gathering in the spring of 1978. He attended and was introduced to Joan Clark and Michael Collins in particular, and began his involvement with the organization. After that, Maggie went with him to the Indianapolis gathering in late 1979. They attended a number of other gatherings over the years, including Washington, D.C., Dallas, St. Louis, San Francisco and Chicago. They attended the first Reconciling Congregation Program convocation in Chicago in 1987 (driving there in a snow storm!) and a number of them since. He served briefly on the board of RCP and as webmaster for their website.
Another major introduction to the gay community came when a young adult gay man in his first parish found out his interest in sexuality and asked for help. This led to finding and talking with folks in the gay community in Lincoln and introducing this young man to the gay culture in Lincoln.
After Ben and Maggie moved to Lincoln, they both became involved with LGBTQ folks in an interdenominational house church they helped found called “Community of Grace.” In addition to that they supported folks working on hosting the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus concert at First Plymouth Congregational UCC Church in 1981. That was a powerful experience and inspired them to work with the movement in Lincoln, including a gay crisis help line, and the Citizens for Human Rights, an organization which led a drive to add sexual orientation to the human rights ordinance in Lincoln (it failed but educated a lot of folks along the way).
After realizing that local church ministry wasn’t exactly the best fit for him, he sought career counseling. Out of this grew a proposal for a counseling, education, and advocacy ministry agency called Ministry In Human Sexuality (MHS). He was appointed to this work and during the next seven years provided counseling to a number of individuals and couples, worked on teams developing and providing education experiences for youth and adults on sexuality education, and disability and sexuality. He attended the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, obtaining an Instructor in Human Sexuality certificate., and taught the human services department’s human sexuality class at Southeast Community College for several terms. He helped found an ecumenical team on ministry with homosexual persons and their families, and a PFLAG chapter with Maggie. As a part of that ecumenical team, he helped coordinate three conferences in Nebraska dealing with homosexuality and families. He presented papers at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln’s Building Family Strengths conferences on mixed orientation marriages, and sexuality and disability. He wrote regularly for a publication in Lincoln called The Single Life, and occasionally for Open Hands.
Since the end of MHS in 1988, he worked at a company manufacturing air pollution monitoring systems, as an executive secretary, an applications programmer, and a trainer on a Unix-based data acquisition system. He surrendered his clergy credentials in 1996 and retired in 2010 after nine years as a communications staffer at the Rocky Mountain Conference. In retirement, he maintains the web sites of Affirmation and the Western Methodist Justice Movement, and was an editor for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition publication at the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences. He served the Mountain Sky UM Foundation as an administrative assistant for a year.
He has been an advocate for the Reconciling Congregation Program then Reconciling Ministries Network. He has been to several General Conferences, including 1970 (as a page), and then as an advocate with Affirmation and RCP/RMN for greater inclusion at the 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2019 Conferences. He’s served on the Affirmation National Council and the Leadership Team of the Western Methodist Justice Movement.
During the 2000s, he wrote and organized support for a number of petitions to the Rocky Mountain Conference encouraging greater inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ persons in the UMC, some of which were sent to General Conferences. He also organized and participated in panels on bisexuality for PFLAG.
Ben and Maggie moved to Denver from Lincoln in 1988 and became involved in Warren UMC, a Reconciling Congregation (the vote was taken right after the Judicial Council told them they couldn’t call themselves that!). He held a number of leadership positions there, including chair of a mission-vision team and trustees. When that church was no longer viable and closed in 2014, they found the progressive and reconciling Arvada UMC, and moved there in 2020. At AUMC, he has served on a stewardship team and SPRC, and has performed in several instrumental groups.
His continuing interest in and study of human sexuality brought him to understand that gender and sexuality are non-binary continua, with all kinds of gradations and complications! He now
celebrates attractions to persons regardless of their gender. His experience with a 50+ year marriage has strengthened his appreciation of long-term committed relationships, especially egalitarian and justice-seeking ones.
His hobbies are amateur radio, music enjoyment and occasional performance on the French horn, and astronomy. He lives with the late effects of polio and is mobile in a 3-wheel scooter (since 1991). He has had a web site for some years, now at JBenjaminRoe.com. Most of what he has written appears on this site.
Selected Writings and Publications
- Sexuality and Teens Videotape production, Claremont, California, 1973.
- Professional Project for D.Min.: “A Theological Conversation With Two Sex Education Programs For The Church,” 1975.
- Sermon: “The Gift of Sexuality,” Jefferson County Larger Parish, 1977.
- Proposal for a Ministry In Human Sexuality, 1980.
- Regular columns in The Single Life, Lincoln, Nebraska, from October 1985-June 1987, on Forgiveness, Intimacy, Relationships, Sexuality and Wellness, Constructive Conflict Resolution, Consent, and Disability.
- “The Family of God,” Manna for the Journey, 1986.
- “My Church Has Lost Spiritual Gifts,” The Nebraska Messenger, (United Methodist), 1986.
- “Spiritual Gifts Lost.” Open Hands, 1986.
- “Sexual Ethics,” Issue Introduction, and Co-Editor, Open Hands, 1989.
- “My Bi-Story,” by “Tom Adams” Open Hands, Fall, 1991.
- “Issue Coordinators Reminisce,” Open Hands, 1995.
- “Diversity, Privilege, and Faith: Studying Connections,” Open Hands, 1995
- “Eucharistic Prayer: The Great Thanksgiving,” RMN: Shaping Sanctuary, 1997.
- “Community Of Grace: An Experience In Church At The Margins,” for Historical And Contemporary Perspectives On Justice And Peace Struggles: Lesbian, Gay, And Bisexual Issues Iliff School of Theology, 1997 (plus documents from the organization)
- “Toward a Christian Understanding of Bisexuality,” Open Hands, 1998.
- “Test Your ‘Bi-Q’: A Sexual Orientation Worksheet,” Open Hands, 1998.
- National Coming Out Day speeches, 2004, 2010.
- “Thoughts on GC2008,” Editor's Notebook, RMN Katalyst 2008
- “Homosexuality Generates Lively Discussion,” Love Your Neighbor News, 2012.
- “Love In Conflict—and On Trial,” Love Your Neighbor News, 2012.
- “Thoughts on spirituality and disability,” Post-Polio Retreat, 2014.
- “Sexuality and Spirituality,” Love Your Neighbor News, 2016.
- “What Do We Know About Sexuality?” Love Your Neighbor News, 2016.
- “Affirmation in the '80s: A Reflection,” Comments at For Everyone Born Convo, St. Louis, 2018
- “Our Strangely Warmed Hearts,” Book Review, 2019
- “Resources on ‘Homosexuality,’ Selected Resources Organized by the Wesley Quadrilateral,” 2019
- “What To Do? Stay or Leave?” 2019; in Affirmation Newsletter, 2020
- Sexuality and Disability training process, UN-L Building Family Strengths Symposium, Lincoln, 1982.
- “Mixed Orientation Marriages--Issues and Possibilities for Gay/Straight Marriages,” UN-L Building Family Strengths Symposium, Lincoln, 1985.
- “Sexuality, Sensuality, and Wellness,” UN-L Building Family Strengths Symposium, Lincoln, 1985.
(This biographical statement provided by Ben Roe.)
Biography Date: November 2020