The Ancestors Welcome The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, 68, Minister of Harvard’s Memorial Church
This nearly hour-long talk is on misuses of power by the clergy, and it was recorded in 2008. I think that it is really topical now.
This was one Republican that I respected. I disagreed with him, but I liked him. Then he became a Democrat. And now he’s gone.
From the Harvard Crimson:
Reverend Peter J. Gomes (rhymes with HOMES) who oversaw Memorial Church for the past three and a half decades, died Monday evening after suffering a brain aneurysm and heart attack. He was 68.
His death was announced in an e-mail to members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship and confirmed by a staff member at the Harvard University Choir.
Gomes was hospitalized at Massachusetts General Hospital this past December after suffering a stroke. He was later moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.
Friends reported as recently as this January that Gomes was recovering and in good condition.
They said that he hoped to return to Harvard and deliver the Easter sermon at Memorial Church.
In 2009, Gomes received a pacemaker after stumbling as a result of dizziness during a speaking appearance at St. Lawrence University in New York.
By all accounts, Gomes—who was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at the Harvard Divinity School—maintained a tremendous presence at Harvard as well as around the country.
And Reverend Gomes, a Baptist theologian, was gay. He came out publicly in 1991, after officiating at the inaugurals of Reagan and Bush I. It turned out that they weren’t his kind of Republican.
Gomes surprised many when he revealed in 1991 that he was gay, and since then had become an advocate for wider acceptance of homosexuality in American society. However, he stated that he remained celibate.
A lifelong Republican, Gomes offered prayers at the inaugurals of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. However, in August 2006 he moved his registration to Democrat, supporting the gubernatorial candidacy of Deval Patrick, who would later become the first African-American elected governor of Massachusetts. In 2008 Henry Louis Gates featured Gomes and his family on the PBS documentary African American Lives 2. A DNA test showed that Gomes is related to the Fulani, Tikar, and Hausa peoples of West Africa. Gomes is also descended from Portuguese Jews through his paternal grandfather who was born in the Cape Verde Islands.
His father was a naturalized American who became a cranberry bog farmer. His mother had graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, and was a member of the black upper middle class. Gomes always knew that he was going into the clergy. His father, however, had hoped that his son would do “honest work,” meaning that Gomes would follow him as a cranberry bog farmer. Gomes later said, “[…] I have spent the rest of my life trying to persuade father I was doing honest work.”
Interesting. What a contrast with the likes of Bishop Eddie Long, who is also a Baptist minister. Yet, it saddens me that Gomes may have continued celibate until his death, not knowing physical love from another. For many, celibacy isn’t a choice for them.
Then, in 1991, he appeared before an angry crowd of students, faculty members and administrators protesting homophobic articles in a conservative campus magazine whose distribution had led to a spate of harassment and slurs against gay men and lesbians on campus. Mr. Gomes, putting his reputation and career on the line, announced that he was “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.”
When the cheers faded, there were expressions of surprise from the Establishment, and a few calls for his resignation, which were ignored. The announcement changed little in Mr. Gomes’s private life; he had never married and said he was celibate by choice. But it was a turning point for him professionally.
“I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he told The Washington Post months later. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays.”
He was true to his word. His sermons and lectures, always well-attended, were packed in Cambridge and around the country as he embarked on a campaign to rebut literal and fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. He also wrote extensively on intolerance.
“Religious fundamentalism is dangerous because it cannot accept ambiguity and diversity and is therefore inherently intolerant,” he declared in an Op-Ed article for The New York Times in 1992. “Such intolerance, in the name of virtue, is ruthless and uses political power to destroy what it cannot convert.”
I became aware of Reverend Gomes on Sixty Minutes; they will probably profile him this weekend from that segment.
Gomes had planned to retire in 2012, and then he would write a memoir. He was known as one of the foremost Christian preachers in the United States, Britain, and perhaps, the world, rising to preach his first sermon at 12. He published ten volumes of his sermons, with a forceful baritone, it was said, that was reminiscent of both James Earl Jones and John Houseman, but he was particularly lauded for the one he preached in the wake of the attack and destruction of the World Trade Centers on September 11. Brilliance came easily to Gomes who attended Bates College and Harvard Divinity School. An unabashed Anglophile, Gomes also matriculated for a time at the University of Cambridge, and was awarded an honorary fellowship from Emmanuel College, where the Gomes Lectureship is established in his name. Gomes was ordained an American Baptist minister by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1968, when he was 26, and he remained a member of First Baptist, and occasionally delivered sermons there until his death.
He wasn’t too shy to promote his books on The Colbert Report, either. And he hated the very idea that he was simply a “gay minister.” Such easy labeling, he felt, diminished everything that he was, and he wasn’t just gay.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Besides his sermons, he is known for his books, The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need (2002), Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (2003), and The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News (2007).
Part of his benediction to a graduating class in 1998 went double for him, it appears: “God grant you life until your work is done, and work until your life is over.”