THE RELEVANT QUEER: Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Theologian and Author

Reverend Peter J. Gomes, circa 1990s. Photo Stu Rosner.jpg
Reverend Peter J. Gomes, circa 1990s. Photo Stu Rosner

“I now have an unambiguous vocation a mission —to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia.”

TRQ: Peter J. Gomes Born May 22, 1942

Theologian and author Reverend Peter John Gomes, the first black person to serve as chief minister to Harvard University, was born in May 22, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father Peter was born in the Cape Verde Islands while his mother Orissa was a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music. 

From an early age, Gomes expected to become a minister. He delivered his first sermon in a Baptist Church at the age of 12. Gomes graduated from Plymouth High School in 1961 and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from the abolitionist-founded Bates College. 

“It does not take a great deal of imagination or courage to believe that God is on your side when you are prospering or winning; it takes a great deal of courage and imagination to believe that God is on your side when you are suffering or losing.” — Peter J. Gomes

He attended Harvard and earned his divinity degree in 1968. Afterwards, he taught Western civilization at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for two years before returning to Harvard as Pusey minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church, and Plummer professor of Christian morals.

When a conservative campus newspaper published homophobic articles that lead to hate crimes against gay men and lesbians on campus, Gomes stood in support of angry students, faculty and administrators. Gomes declared himself “a Christian who happens as well to be gay. Those realities, which are irreconcilable to some, are reconciled in me by a loving God.” Coming out changed the course of the reverend’s career.

“I’m always seen as a black man and now I’m seen as a black gay man.” — Peter J. Gomes

Gomes became known as a “gay minister” who used his spiritual voice to fight intolerance. Aware that the Bible has been used to defend slavery, support racism, spread Anti- Semitism, and oppress women, Gomes condemns using religious texts to stigmatize homosexuality as immoral. 

His best-selling The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, urged readers to embrace the spirit of scripture rather than the letter.

“The Bible alone is the most dangerous thing I can think of… You need an ongoing context and a community of interpretation to keep the Bible current and to keep yourself honest. Forget the thought that the Bible is an absolute pronouncement.” — Peter J Gomes

Becoming something of a Republican celebrity, the conservative Gomes gave the benediction at President Reagan’s second inauguration and delivered a sermon at President George Bush’s inauguration. However, in 2006 Gomes became a Democrat and supported Massachusetts’ first black governor, Deval Patrick.

Reverend Peter John Gomes died on February 28, 2011 from complications arising from a stroke. Gomes never married and was celibate by choice.

Mandela_Machel_signing_book.jpg
The Rev. Peter J. Gomes (from left), Harvard President Neil Rudenstine, University Marshal Richard Hunt, and Nelson Mandela watch as Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, the former First Lady of Mozambique, signs Harvard’s guestbook. Mandela and Machel visited Harvard on Sept. 18, 1998 for a special convocation honoring Nelson with an honorary degree. Mike Quan/Harvard Staff Photographer
The Rev. Peter J. Gomes with Ronald F. Thiemann, John Lord O'Brian and Ralph B. Potter Jr.  in the Memorial Church, at the Divinity School’s 181st convocation in 1997. Kris Snibbe, Harvard Staff Photographer
Ronald F. Thiemann (from left), Harvard Divinity School dean and John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, speaks with Ralph B. Potter Jr., professor of social ethics, and Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, at the Divinity School’s 181st convocation in 1997. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
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In the wake of days like Sept. 11, says the Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, “You begin to wonder what does last, what is permanent. When there is something that challenges, as this did, people then are forced to ask basic questions.” Justin Ide/Harvard Staff Photographer
The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, 1965. Photo Bruce Davidson for The New Yorker
The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, 1965. Photo Bruce Davidson for The New Yorker
Reverend Peter J. Gomes, circa 1990s. Photo Unknown
[96-12-08 — With “The Good Book,” Rev. Peter Gomes wants to raise the level of biblical discourse. PHOTOGRAPHER: ANACLETO RAPPING / Los Angeles Times Reverend Peter Gomes, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School, has written his first book about the Bible. Gomes photographed at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on 12/2/96.Mandatory Credit: Anacleto Rapping/The LA Times] *** []
Reverend Peter J. Gomes and Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe greet one other after Commencement 1996, when both received Bates honorary degrees. Photo by Marc Glass ’88:Bates College
Reverend Peter J. Gomes and Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe greet one other after Commencement 1996, when both received Bates honorary degrees. Photo by Marc Glass ’88/Bates College
Peter J. Gomes attends Conde Nast Literacy Partners Gala Dinner Dance on May 4, 1998 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater in New York City. Photo Ron Galella via Getty Images
NEW YORK CITY – MAY 4: Peter J. Gomes attends Conde Nast Literacy Partners Gala Dinner Dance on May 4, 1998 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine presents a silver urn to the Rev. Peter J. Gomes at “A Collation on the Delta,” a celebration on Nov. 14, 1999 honoring Gomes for his 25 years as minister in the Memorial Church. Photo by Marc Halevi
Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine presents a silver urn to the Rev. Peter J. Gomes at “A Collation on the Delta,” a celebration on Nov. 14, 1999 honoring Gomes for his 25 years as minister in the Memorial Church. Photo by Marc Halevi
Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, in 1996. Jon Chase, Harvard Staff Photographer.1
Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, in 1996. Jon Chase, Harvard Staff Photographer
Reverend Peter J. Gomes, circa 1990s. Photo Stu Rosner.jpg
Reverend Peter J. Gomes, circa 1990s. Photo Stu Rosner

About the Authors

Troy Wise is currently a PhD student at UAL Central St Martins and teaches fashion and graphic design at London College of Contemporary Arts. His background is in marketing and is founder and co-editor of Image Amplified. He lives in, and is continually fascinated by, the city of London.

Rick Guzman earned his most recent MA at UAL Central St Martins in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries. He currently holds two MA’s and an MBA in the New Media, Journalism and International Business fields. Co-editor at Image Amplified since its start, he lives in London, is fascinated by history and is motivated by continuing to learn and explore. 

Sources:

NY Times

Q Spirit

Harvard News

NPR

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