In the growing ranks of out and open gay or lesbian clergy, Peter Gomes was an anomaly: he was raised Catholic, but became a Baptist pastor. He was also African American, and a Republican. Not, in short, an obvious fit with the popular image of an American gay man. But (and this is important) he was able to recognize and publicly acknowledge his sexuality, and to reconcile it with his faith. This is an important reminder for us that there is no conflict at all between a gay or lesbian orientation and religious faith, or with conservative political philosophy. The only conflict is with those influential people in some churches and in some political circles who seek to impose their own interpretations of Scripture, or their own political prejudices, on everybody else – in disregard of the fundamental Gospel message of inclusion and justice, and the conservative principle of non-interference in private lives.
I have no personal knowledge of the life or work of Rev Gomes, other than the inspiring title of his book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?“. (The Gospel message is indeed scandalous, and should be read much more carefully by those who in their ignorance use it to promote their modern conceptions of so-called “traditional” family values, or untramelled capitalism).
Instead of extensive researching and writing a full assessment of Rev Gomes myself, I simply draw your attention to reports elsewhere.
Here’s Candace Chellew-Hodge, at Religion Dispatches:
When I first met Rev. Peter Gomes in 2009 he looked terribly out of place. There he was, the keynote speaker at the Gay Christian Network conference, looking regal in his bowtie and Sunday best, standing amidst a sea of young people dressed down in jeans, shorts, and t-shirts. [Listen to the speech at bottom of post — ed.]
While he may have looked out of place, he was hardly uncomfortable. The Harvard professor and minister was rock star to these young gay, mostly Evangelical, Christians. They fawned over him, asked for his autograph, and took snapshots with him. I admit, I did my fair share of fawning, and got my own souvenir photo.
Gomes was gracious, kind, self-effacing, and profoundly funny. His demeanor was regal, but gentle, and approachable. His easy laugh and sly smile were infectious and put you immediately at ease. Hearing his speech to those assembled at GCN was to talk a walk on the grounds of Harvard in the Springtime. He was a breath of fresh air – and he brought the fragrant words of the Gospel alive to us.
-Read more at Religion Dispatches
At Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry points to the value in another of his books:
I light a memorial candle for Peter Gomes, a Harvard minister and African American gay man who came out in 1991, becoming a prominent voice supporting religious rights of LGBT people. He died Feb. 28 at age 68.
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.
Then there’s this, from the extended obituary at the Harvard Gazette, on Gomes’ coming out as gay in 1991, and the value he saw in confounding stereotypes:
Gomes published eleven volumes of sermons as well as numerous articles and papers. In 1996, he published “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” which became a best-seller. Gomes described it to theBoston Globe as a book about the Bible “for the average intelligent lay audience, not for seminarians or Divinity School colleagues.” In it, Gomes analyzes the historical efforts to misuse the Bible to marginalize Jews, blacks, women, and gays.
A self-described cultural conservative, Gomes stunned the Harvard community and reluctantly made national news when he came out as a homosexual in 1991 in response to gay bashing on campus. “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,” he told The New Yorker in 1996.
“I’m always seen as a black man and now I’m seen as a black gay man. If you throw the other factors in there that make me peculiar and interesting — the Yankee part, the Republican part, the Harvard type — all that stuff confuses people who have to have a single stereotypical lens in order to assure themselves they have a grasp on reality,” he said in an interview with the Boston Herald in 1996.
-Read more at Harvard Gazette
Some of Rev Gomes’ Books:
- The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
- Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living
- The Good Life : Truths That Last in Times of Need
- The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?
- In memory of Peter Gomes, gay Harvard pastor and author (jesusinlove.blogspot.com)
- ‘Harvard’s Pastor’ Rev. Peter Gomes Dead 68 (npr.org)
- “Influential Harvard Minister Peter J. Gomes Dies At 68” and related posts (huffingtonpost.com)
- “Rest in peace Peter Gomes” and related posts (episcopalcafe.com)
- Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Harvard Minister, Dies at 68 (nytimes.com)