Peter John Gomes: May 22, 1942–February 28, 2011

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Rev. Peter John Gomes (May 22, 1942 - February 28, 2011) was a United States preacher and theologian, and a professor at Harvard University's Divinity School.

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Born May 22, 1942, in Plymouth, Massachusetts from a Cape Verdean father and a mother from Boston and said he was baptized Catholic.[1]

Gomes graduated from Bates College in 1965 and Harvard Divinity School in 1968. He also spent time at the University of Cambridge and was an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where the Gomes Lectureship is established in his name.

In adult life, Gomes' accent drew strongly from the British Received Pronunciation (RP) accent family's intonations, rhythms and diction and was one of Gomes' most easily distinguishing characteristics.[2]

Gomes was ordained as an American Baptist Churches minister by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1968. Gomes remained a member of First Baptist and occasionally preached there until his death.[3]

A DNA test showed that Gomes is related to the Fula, 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.[4]

Career affiliations

Peter Gomes served since 1970 as Pusey Minister in the nondenominational Memorial Church of Harvard University and as one of Harvard's official interfaith chaplains (Harvard having shed its original Boston Unitarian roots centuries before) as distinguished from his portfolio in his own denominational affiliation and that of the many denominational chaplains at the University.[5]

Academically, since 1974 Gomes held the chair of Plummer Professor of Christian Morals. Among the Harvard community's ministers, Gomes' erudite style and polished presence were often contrasted with the casualness of Universalist minister Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill, who in the tradition of older English-descent Universities was another idiosyncratic presence at events and within its institutions, and a fellow recipient of the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal, awarded to both ministers for contributions to African American culture. At Harvard, Gomes served as faculty adviser of the Harvard Ichthusand taught the popular course Religion 1513: "History of Harvard and Its Presidents".[6]

Gomes was also a visiting professor at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Theology, theography, social advocacy and politics

Gomes was a leading expert on early American (US) religion. And regarding ancient texts, Gomes frequently 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 the New York Times.[7]

Widely regarded as one of America’s most distinguished preachers,Template:Who Professor Gomes fulfilled preaching and lecturing engagements throughout the United States and Great Britain. His New York Times and national best-selling books, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart and Sermons, the Book of Wisdom for Daily Living, were published by William Morrow & Company. The Right Reverend Lord Robert Runcie, 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury, England, ecclesiastical head of the Anglican Communion said of Gomes' 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".[8]

He published in total ten volumes of sermons, as well as numerous articles and papers. Rev. Gomes was well-known for many of his sermons, but particularly for one he delivered in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.[9]

His most recent work, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, includes extensive commentary and observation on the interrelations of Church and State throughout history and particularly in recent US history. On September 15, 2008 he appeared on The Colbert Report to promote his book. During this interview, he also stated that he was baptized Catholic and claimed gospels are "a dime a dozen."

1991: public stand against homophobia

Gomes surprised many when he publicly revealed in 1991 that he was gay,[10]

From that time became an advocate for wider acceptance of homosexuality in American society. In the case of his own sexual practices, he stated that he remained celibate]]. "I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he declared. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays."[11] Same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson described Gomes as an integral contributor to the cause of marriage equality.[12]

A Republican until 2006, Gomes offered prayers at the inaugurals of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. 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.

Late career and death

In January 2010, Rev. Gomes announced he was planning to retire from Harvard in 2012.[13]

He suffered a stroke on December 10, 2010 and was hospitalized.[14] [15] He hoped to return to the pulpit of Harvard's Memorial Church, possibly even in time to give the Easter 2011 sermon.[16] He died from a brain aneurysm and heart attack on February 28, 2011 at the age of 68[17].

Honors and tributes

  • 2008 Honorary Doctorate awarded by Westfield State College
  • 1998 Clergy of the Year as named by Religion and American Life



  1. The Colbert Report interview
  2. Harvard commencement and matriculation speeches and public addresses 1980s-2000s
  3. John C. Drake, 'Conscience of Harvard' marks 40 years of ministry The Boston Globe (Plymouth, MA), 2008-06-02.
  4. The Past Is Another Country, African American Lives 2. [ American Lives 2|credits=Henry Louis Gates, Jr.|network=PBS|airdate=2008-02-13|number=4.
  6. Harvard course catalogs
  7. McFadden, Robert D. [1]
  8. [2]
  9. Outer Turmoil, Inner Strength
  10. Lively, Kit. Reading "The Good Book": Harvard's Powerful Preacher Provides Spiritual Guidance, The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 10, 2007). Retrieved May 15, 2007.
  11. The Washington Post article
  12. Influential Gay Rev. Dies at 68
  13. Template:Cite news
  14. Template:Cite news
  15. Template:Cite news
  16. "Gomes Hopes to Return in Spring" Harvard Crimson (January 26, 2011)
  17. Template:Cite news


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External links

Adapted from Wikipedia, accessed March 2, 2011.