Who Was Peter Gomes?*

He was born May 22, 1942 and passed away on February 28, 2011.  He was an American preacher and theologian, a professor at Harvard Divinity School and Minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church, highly regarded as one of America’s great preachers. 

Gomes was born in Plymouth Massachusetts, the only child of Orissa and Peter Lobo Gomes.   His father was from the Cape Verde Islands and his mother was African-American.  He was baptized a Roman Catholic but later became an American Baptist.  He was ordained by the First Baptist church of Plymouth and after a two-year tenure at Tuskegee Institute, he returned to Harvard where he became a professor and minister. 

In 1979 Gomes was listed in Time Magazine as “one of the stars of the American church pulpit”, fulfilling preaching and lecturing engagements throughout the United States and the United Kingdom.  He published ten volumes of sermons as well as numerous articles and papers.  He had two best-selling books, The Good Book and The Book of Wisdom for Daily Living.

Gomes was a registered Republican for most of his life, offering up prayers at the inaugurations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  According to those who knew him, he was never easy to label.   Conservative evangelicals criticized the liberalism he displayed during his tenure at Harvard’s Memorial Church yet one of his most cherished photos in his office was his picture of the Reverend Billy Graham.

Gomes has stated 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.”  He once described himself as a “cultural conservative” but in 1991 he “stunned” the Harvard Community and made national news when he came out as a homosexual.  In 1991 the Harvard campus was beginning a long process of understanding the role that gay people have within society and Gomes said “I don’t like being the main exhibit, but this was an unusual set of circumstances, in that I felt I had a particular resource that nobody else there possessed.  I have always been seen as a black man but now I’m seen as a black gay man—the Yankee part, the Republican part, the Harvard type—all that stuff confuses people who have a single stereotypical lens.”

Gomes was highly regarded by many.  He was named Clergyman of the Year by the organization Religion in Life.  He was named “one of the seven most distinguished preachers in America” by Time Magazine .  He received thirty-nine honorary degrees and was an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.   Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates writes “no one epitomized all that is good about Harvard more than Peter J. Gomes.”   William Graham, dean of the Harvard Divinity School says “Peter has been a powerful presence in the University for more than four decades.”  

As I transition from the works of John Stott to the complex discussion of the role of LGBTQ+ people in the church, the first book I will turn to is Gomes’ book The Good Book.  The practical reason is that Gomes’ book is sixteen chapters long and the other two are 10 [DeYoung] and 13 [Sprinkle].**

My denomination is struggling with this issue, with 1,800 churches choosing to disaffiliate with the United Methodist Church over this very issue.***

The goal is to learn, to understand this issue, acknowledging that it is too complex to encapsulate in just three books, but I am going to try anyhow.  My process is to go from one book to another, keeping readers focused on the process by referring to where I am in the discussion.

In my next post, I will begin with the front matter of The Good Book what Gomes calls “Apologia.”

*Peter John Gomes also just happens to be the first author in this new series dedicated to understanding the role of LGBTQ+ people in the church.  Gomes was homosexual.

**Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?;  Preston Sprinkle  People to Be Loved

***as of December 7, 2022…

Disclaimer:  I am a learner like you.  I am not a seminary trained theologian.  I have a PhD in communication but not in theology.  I am a Sunday School teacher.  I do have a “natural curiosity” about my faith.  I want to learn more and through my learning, I want to grow closer to God.  I volunteer in several places at my church but I am not a paid staff member.  Officially, I do not represent the church.  As Thom Rainer would say, I try to be a good “Church Member” but that is really all I am–a member of the church, like you.

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