Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Peter Gomes: Gay black Harvard minister preached "scandalous gospel"

“The Rev. Peter Gomes, of Plymouth, 1942 – 2011” by Jon Dorn

Peter Gomes was a gay black Baptist minister at Harvard and one of America’s most prominent spiritual voices against intolerance. Gomes reportedly hated being labeled “gay minister,” yet he used his national celebrity to make the religious case for LGBT people. He died one year ago today at age 68 on Feb. 28, 2011.

A man of many contradictions, Gomes became a Democrat in 2007 after decades as a conservative Republican. He even gave the benediction at President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 and preached at the National Cathedral for the inauguration of Reagan’s successor, George Bush.

Gomes (May 22, 1942 - Feb. 28, 2011) was born in Boston to a black African immigrant father and a mother from Boston’s African American upper middle class. He grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, earned a divinity degree at Harvard University, and taught Western civilization at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for two years before returning to work at Harvard in 1970. Four years later he became the first black to hold the historic position of chief minister to Harvard. He held the positions of Pusey minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church and Plummer professor of Christian morals for the rest of his life.

He came out publicly as “a Christian who happens as well to be gay” at a student rally in 1991 after a conservative student magazine at Harvard published a condemnation of homosexuality.  “I now have an unambiguous vocation -- a mission -- to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he later told the Washington Post. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the 'religious case' against gays.”

In his 1996 best-seller, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” he showed how the Bible was misused to defend homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.

His 2007 book “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?” went on to show that Jesus was a subversive whose radical gospel always overturns the status quo.

Among Gomes’s many admirers is artist Jon Dorn, who drew the portrait at the top of this post. Dorn is a cartoonist, filmmaker, and Master of Fine Arts student at Emerson College in Boston. He also serves on the Plymouth Cultural Council.

Gomes’ blend of scholarship, wisdom and accessibility is expressed in a few selected quotations:

“Hell is being defined by your circumstances, and believing that definition.” -- Peter Gomes

“The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me do?’” -- Peter Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“To some, the temporal triumph of the Christian community in the world is a sign of God's favor and the essential righteousness of the Christian position. The irony of the matter, though, is that whenever the Christian community gains worldly power, it nearly always loses its capacity to be the critic of the power and influence it so readily brokers.” --Peter J. Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“The battle for the Bible, of which homosexuality is the last front, is really the battle for the prevailing culture, of which the Bible itself is a mere trophy and icon. Such a cadre of cultural conservatives would rather defend their ideology in the name of the authority of scripture than concede that their self-serving reading of that scripture might just be wrong, and that both the Bible and the God who inspires it may be more gracious, just and inclusive than they can presently afford to be.” -- Peter Gomes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart

Books by Peter Gomes include:

The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?
Sermons: Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living

The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need

Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living


Related links:

Remembering Peter Gomes: Black, Gay, Baptist Preacher (Queering the Church)

Rev. Peter Gomes: The Accidental Gay Advocate (Irene Monroe at HuffPost)

Gay, Black, Republican, Baptist Preacher, Rev. Peter Gomes, 1942-2011 (Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches)

Rev. Peter J. Gomes Is Dead at 68; A Leading Voice Against Intolerance (New York Times)

Peter Gomes video Would Jesus Support Gay Marriage? (also posted below)

This post is part of a new effort to add authors and theologians to the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


Mary in Austin said...

Peter Gomes was a great man. He also had a fine sense of humor. At the IgNobel Prize Ceremonies one year he appeared on-stage as God, playing with a huge set of fuzzy dice,

Kittredge Cherry said...

Great story! Mary, thanks for sharing it. What a funny parody of Einstein’s claim that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Einstein and many of the rest of us might be surprised to see God as African American too.

Trudie said...

Thanks for bringing this post "in memoriam". As an additional comment, I'll append part of the poem Ray wrote last year:

Just recently I heard that Peter Gomes had died.
This world has lost a good man, a wise man,
An intelligent man, a gay man, a holy man –
This world has lost a man who made a difference.
This world has lost a friend.
May you rest in peace, Dear Peter.
I have a new saint in heaven with whom to pray!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Ray’s poem about Peter Gomes provides a moving tribute. Thanks for posting an excerpt here, Trudie. I remember that you and Ray had the privilege of becoming friends with him when all of you were teaching at Tuskegee in the 1960s.

I urge you and Ray to also share his poem on another website: LGBT Religious Archives. They just added a new feature that allows anyone to add their own remembrances of people listed there. Here’s how they explained it in their newsletter today:

“Is someone posted there who was an important mentor, colleague or friend of yours? Do you recall significant experiences with or knowledge of that person that would amplify her/his biographical info? If so, go to that page in the Profiles Gallery and click on the "Tell Us Your Experience" link in the Remembrances box in the upper right corner. Then type the information or experience you would like to record with this person's profile. All entries are reviewed by LGBT-RAN staff before posting. Posting Remembrances for persons who are deceased is particularly helpful.”

Trudie, you lived a lot of this history, so you may want to share memories of others too.

Here is a direct link to Peter Gomes’ profile there: