The Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, since July 2017. A prominent civil rights activist and minister, Ben came to the ACLU of Ohio with outstanding civil liberties and non-profit management credentials.
He formerly served as vice president of the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries, a national association of 70 corporations and 400 communities, facilities and programs, including major health care providers, lifespan retirement and affordable housing communities, family and children’s services, and more. He led in the areas of executive management, strategic planning, governance, marketing and communication.
From 2011-2016, Ben served as executive minister of the United Church of Christ‘s Local Church Ministries and as an elected member of the UCC’s four-person Collegium of Officers. In this role, he led efforts to equip, encourage and support the UCC’s 5,100 congregations nationwide. He is the first openly gay person to serve as a national officer of a mainline denomination.
Ben worked for the UCC’s national headquarters, beginning in 2000, first as Justice and Witness Ministries’ communications minister and, later, as editor of United Church News and the UCC’s news director. In 2007, he was named the UCC’s communication director, a position he held until his election as a national executive officer in 2011.
Ben has written more than 500 articles on issues of faith, justice, civil rights, and public policy, earning him more than 60 awards.
Ben earned a B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky. He completed graduate studies in public administration and public policy at Murray State University, and received his M.Div. degree in 1991 from Vanderbilt University Divinity School. In 2001, he earned his D.Min. degree from Chicago Theological Seminary, where the school’s Board of Trustees awarded him its Distinguished Alumni Award in 2014.
Prior to coming to the UCC’s national offices, Ben was a local church pastor for 12 years, including eight years as pastor of Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky., a congregation that grew from 12 elderly members to a vital, justice-focused congregation of more than 300 people. In 1992, he was the founding co-chair of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, now the state’s most visible LGBT rights organization. He served on the board of the ACLU of Kentucky.
Ben received the UCC’s Courage in the Struggle Award at the 1997 General Synod, in recognition of his life-long commitment to justice advocacy.
Ben is a board member of The National LGBT Task Force in Washington, D.C., and the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art and is a former trustee at Andover Newton Theological School. A graduate of Cleveland’s Civic Leadership Institute, he is a member of the Cleveland Leadership Center, the City Club of Cleveland, and the Columbus Metropolitan Club.
In addition to the United Church of Christ, Ben also holds ordained ministerial standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Ben and his spouse, Jim Therrien, live fully in two Ohio cities, with a residence in downtown Columbus and a home in Cleveland’s Edgewater neighborhood.