Gomes was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Orissa (White) and Peter Lobo Gomes. His father was from the Cape Verde Islands and his mother was African-American. DNA testing revealed that he was likely descended from the Fulani, Tikar, and Hausa peoples of West Africa, and that his patrilineal line likely leads to some Sephardic Jewish ancestry. He was baptized as a Roman Catholic, but later became an American Baptist.
After earning his AB from Bates College in 1965 and STB from Harvard Divinity School in 1968, Gomes was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts, (where he occasionally preached throughout his life). After a short tenure at Tuskeegee, he returned to Harvard, where in 1970 he became Pusey Minister in Harvard's nondenominational Memorial Church, and in 1974 was made Plummer Professor of Christian Morals.
Gomes was a leading expert on early American religiosity. On faculty at both Harvard's Divinity School and its Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Gomes taught graduate and undergraduate courses — his History of Harvard and Its Presidents explored the interplay between shifting religious attitudes and changes in national (and educational) politics in America — and served as faculty adviser of the Harvard Ichthus.
In 2000, he delivered The University Sermon before The University of Cambridge, England, and The Millennial Sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, England; and he presented The Beecher Lectures on Preaching, in Yale Divinity School.
Gomes was also a visiting professor at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Profiled by Robert Boynton in The New Yorker, and interviewed by Morley Safer on 60 Minutes, Gomes was included in the premiere issue of Talk magazine as part of its feature article, "The Best Talkers in America: Fifty Big Mouths We Hope Will Never Shut Up."
Hospitalized after a stroke in December, 2010, Gomes hoped to return to Memorial Church in time for the following Easter. He died on February 28, 2011.
Speakers at his memorial service at the Memorial Church on April 6, 2011, included Derek C. Bok, a former president of Harvard University; Drew Gilpin Faust, president of the University; and Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts.
Listed by Time Magazine in 1979 as one of "seven stars of the pulpit", Gomes fulfilled preaching and lecturing engagements throughout the United States and Great Britain,
In 2009, he represented Harvard University as lecturer to The University of Cambridge, England, on the occasion of its 800th anniversary.
Gomes published a total of ten volumes of sermons, as well as numerous articles and papers. He was well known for his sermons, particularly for one he delivered in the immediate wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks — a sermon poignantly referenced by Governor Deval Patrick at Gomes's memorial service on April 6, 2011.
He was author of two bestselling books, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart and Sermons, the Book of Wisdom for Daily Living. The Right Reverend Lord Robert Runcie, 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury, England, ecclesiastical head of the Anglican Communion, said of Gomes's The Good Book that it "offers a crash course in biblical literacy in a nuanced but easy-to-understand style", which is also "lively"; Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called it "Easily the best contemporary book on the Bible for thoughtful people".
His last work, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, included extensive commentary and observation on the interrelations of Church and State throughout history and particularly in recent US history.
In 1991 Gomes identified himself publicly as gay, though adding that he remained celibate, and became an advocate of acceptance of homosexuality in American society and particularly in religion:
I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia... I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays. Same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson described Gomes as an integral contributor to the cause of marriage equality.He maintained that "one can read into the Bible almost any interpretation of morality ... for its passages had been used to defend slavery and the liberation of slaves, to support racism, anti-Semitism and patriotism, to enshrine a dominance of men over women, and to condemn homosexuality as immoral" as paraphrased by Robert D. McFadden in the New York Times (March 2, 2011).
Gomes was a registered Republican for most of his life, and offered prayers at the inaugurals of United States Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In August 2006, he changed his registration to the Democratic Party (United States), supporting the candidacy of Deval Patrick, who was that year elected the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. (Gomes and Partick had become friends during Patrick's undergraduate days at Harvard.)
Burial: Vine Hills Cemetery, Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, USA, Plot: Gomes family plot
Because it was the example of the black civil rights movement which made the gay liberation movement possible, it is especially appropriate that one of the most eloquent philosophers of liberation in the nineties was the Reverend Peter J. Gomes, a black gay Baptist with an "Anglican over-soul" who was the chief minister at Harvard University. He also happened to be a Republican who delivered the benediction at Ronald Reagan's second presidential inauguration.Further Readings:
Gomes outed himself to the Harvard community in 1991, after a conservative campus publication cited everyone from Freud to the Bible to prove that gay life was "immoral" and "pitiable."
"Gay people are victims not of the Bible, not of religion, and not of the church, but of people who use religion as a way to devalue and deform those whom they can neither ignore nor convert," Gomes declared. Then he identified himself as "a Christian who happens as well to be gay... These realities, which are unreconciliable to some, are reconciled in me by a loving God, a living Saviour, a moving, breathing, healthy Holy Spirit whom I know intimately and who knows me."
Gomes offered an elegant argument that there is no intrinsic conflict between a Judeo-Christian God and a homosexual. In The Good Book, which Gomes published in 1996, he pointed out that when the Bible was written, its authors "never contemplated a form of homosexuality in which loving, monogamous, and faithful persons sought to live out the implications of the gospel with as much fidelity to it as any heterosexual believer. All they knew of homosexuality was prostitution, pederasty, lasciviousness, and exploitation. These vices, as we know, are not unknown among heterosexuals, and to define contemporary homosexuals only in these terms is cultural slander of the highest order." --The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser
The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart by Peter J. Gomes
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: HarperOne (April 30, 2002)
Amazon: The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
The Bible and the social and moral consequences that derive from its interpretation are all too important to be left in the hands of the pious or the experts, and too significant to be ignored and trivialized by the uninformed and indifferent.
Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology by Patrick S. Cheng
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Seabury Books; 1 edition (March 4, 2011)
Amazon: Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology
Contextual theologies have developed from a number of perspectives - including feminist theology, black theology, womanist theology, Latin American liberation theology, and Asian American theology - and a wide variety of academic and general introductions exist to examine each one. However, Radical Love is the first introductory textbook on the subject of queer theology.
In this lucid and compelling introduction, Cheng provides a historical survey of how queer theology has developed from the 1950s to today and then explicates the themes of queer theology using the ecumenical creeds as a general framework. Topics include revelation, God, Trinity, creation, Jesus Christ, atonement, sin, grace, Holy Spirit, church, sacraments, and last things, as seen through the lenses of LGBT theologians.
Out of the Shadows, into the Light: Christianity and Homosexuality by Miguel A. De La Torre
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Chalice Press (June 2009)
Amazon: Out of the Shadows, into the Light: Christianity and Homosexuality
Conducting a nonthreatening and accessible conversation about an issue that is presently tearing many churches and denominations apart, Out of the Shadows, into the Light focuses on communication in hopes of creating reconciliation for the Christian community.
With views from multiple perspectives, Out of the Shadows, into the Light shows how leading a congregation to discuss this controversial topic can lead to better understanding and facilitate reconciliation in a church.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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