Peter J. Gomes

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Peter John Gomes (May 22, 1942 – February 28, 2011) was an American preacher and theologian, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and Pusey Minister at Harvard's Memorial Church — in the words of Harvard's president "one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction."[1]


Gomes was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the only child of Orissa, née White, and Peter Lobo Gomes.[2] His father was from the Cape Verde islands and his mother was African American. DNA testing revealed that he was likely descended from the Tikar from Cameroon and Fulani and Hausa peoples of West Africa, and that his patrilineal line likely leads to some Sephardic Jewish kohen ancestry.[3] He was baptized as a Roman Catholic, but later became an American Baptist.[4]

Gomes, a Plymouth High School graduate, worked as a houseman to help pay for his education.[5] After earning his AB from Bates College, a coed liberal arts institution, in 1965 and BD from Harvard Divinity School in 1968, Gomes was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts, (where he occasionally preached throughout his life).[6] After a two-year tenure at the Tuskegee Institute, he returned in 1970 to Harvard,[7] where he became Pusey Minister[8] in Harvard's nondenominational Memorial Church, and in 1974 was made Plummer Professor[8] of Christian Morals.

In 2000, he delivered the University Sermon at the University of Cambridge and the Millennial Sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, and presented the Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School.[9]

Gomes was also a visiting professor at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Profiled by Robert Boynton in The New Yorker, and interviewed by Morley Safer on 60 Minutes, Gomes was included in the premiere issue of Talk magazine as part of its feature article, "The Best Talkers in America: Fifty Big Mouths We Hope Will Never Shut Up."[10]

Gomes was a long-time and well-loved member of Plymouth's Old Colony Club, where his memory is still honored with an annual event.

Hospitalized after a stroke in December, 2010,[11][12] Gomes hoped to return to Memorial Church in time for the following Easter.[13] He died on February 28, 2011 of complications from a stroke.[1][14]

Speakers at his memorial service at the Memorial Church on April 6, 2011, included Derek C. Bok, a former president of Harvard University; Drew Gilpin Faust, president of the University; and Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts.[10] On April 20, 2012, as part of the Harvard Foundation Portraiture Project, artist Stephen E. Coit[15] unveiled his portrait of Gomes standing in the library of the Signet Society, where it now hangs.[16]

Theology, theography, social advocacy and politics[edit]

External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Gomes on The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart, September 21, 1997, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Gomes on Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, May 6, 1998, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Gomes on The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, November 26, 2007, C-SPAN

Listed by Time Magazine in 1979 as one of "seven stars of the pulpit",[17] Gomes fulfilled preaching and lecturing engagements throughout the United States and the United Kingdom.

In 2009, he represented Harvard University as lecturer at Cambridge University on the occasion of its 800th anniversary.

Gomes published a total of ten volumes of sermons, as well as numerous articles and papers. and two bestselling books, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart and Sermons, the Book of Wisdom for Daily Living. The Right Reverend Lord Robert Runcie, 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury, England, ecclesiastical head of the Anglican Communion, said of Gomes's 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".[18]

His last work, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, included extensive commentary and observation on the interrelations of Church and State throughout history and particularly in recent US history.

In 1991 Gomes identified himself publicly as gay, though adding that he remained celibate,[19] and became an advocate of acceptance of homosexuality in American society and particularly in religion:

I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia... I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays.[20] Same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson described Gomes as an integral contributor to the cause of marriage equality.[21]

He 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 Robert D. McFadden in the New York Times (March 2, 2011).

Gomes was a registered Republican for most of his life, and offered prayers at the inaugurals of United States Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In August 2006, he changed his registration[citation needed] to the Democratic Party (United States), supporting[clarification needed] the candidacy of Deval Patrick, who was that year elected the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. (Gomes and Patrick had become friends during Patrick's undergraduate days at Harvard.)

According to a book on Martin Luther King Jr., Gomes "was never easy to label. Conservative evangelicals, for instance, were quick to criticize the liberalism he sometimes displayed during his long tenure as the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University—and yet a photograph of Reverend Billy Graham, hero to evangelicals across the world, towered above all others on the shelf behind Gomes’s stately office desk."[22]

Honors and tributes[edit]

The Gomes Chapel, named after Peter J. Gomes, chaplain of Harvard University and Bates class of 1965. The chapel is modeled after King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

He was a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and a sometime Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.[27]

He was a former acting director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University; he was past president of Harvard's Signet Society; and a former trustee of Bates College, Wellesley College and the Public Broadcasting Service.[27] He was past president and trustee of the Pilgrim Society in Plymouth, Massachusetts.[10]

New England College; Waynesburg College; Gordon College; Knox College; University of the South; Duke University; The University of Nebraska; Wooster College; Bates College; Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion; Trinity College, Bowdoin College; Berkeley Divinity School at Yale; Colby College; Olivet College; Mount Holyoke College; Furman University; Baker University; Mount Ida College; Willamette University; SUNY-Geneseo; Westminster Choir College of Rider University; Ursinus College; Wagner College; Lesley University; Williams College; Virginia Theological Seminary; Morris College; The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Hamilton College; Union College; Tuskegee University; Lasell College; General Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York; Lafayette College; Augustana College; Westfield College; Washington and Jefferson College; and St. Lawrence University.[29]

  • 2009: Gomes gave the Lowell Lectures of Massachusetts and was named an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University (England), where "The Gomes Lectureship" was established in his name.[30]


Gomes published numerous articles and papers, as well as at least a dozen books (some of them best-sellers),[clarification needed] including:[10]


  1. ^ a b "Rev. Peter J. Gomes dies at 68". Harvard Gazette. 1 March 2011. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
  2. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (March 1, 2011). "Rev. Peter J. Gomes Is Dead at 68; A Leading Voice Against Intolerance". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (2008-02-13). "The Past Is Another Country". African American Lives 2. Episode 4. PBS.
  4. ^ "Interview with Peter J. Gomes". The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. 15 September 2008. Retrieved 1 October 2011.
  5. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (2011-03-01). "Rev. Peter J. Gomes Is Dead at 68; A Leading Voice Against Intolerance". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  6. ^ Drake, John C. (2008-06-02). "'Conscience of Harvard' marks 40 years of ministry". The Boston Globe. Plymouth, MA: The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
  7. ^ "Peter Gomes, Harvard minister and author, dies at 68",, March 1, 2011.
  8. ^ a b McFadden, Robert D. (2011-03-01). "Rev. Peter J. Gomes Is Dead at 68; A Leading Voice Against Intolerance". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  9. ^ "Explore the Divinity School Library | Yale University Library". Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  10. ^ a b c d e Harvard University Memorial Church bulletin April 6, 2011
  11. ^ "May stroke not silence this ringing Harvard voice". WBUR. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  12. ^ "Reverend Peter Gomes Hospitalized After Stroke". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2010-12-26.
  13. ^ "Gomes Hopes to Return in Spring" Harvard Crimson (January 26, 2011)
  14. ^ Worland, Justin C. (March 1, 2011). "Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Minister in Memorial Church, Dies". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved March 1, 2011.
  15. ^ Stephen Coit, "New Faces", Harvard Magazine May–June 2013.
  16. ^ Stephen Coit, "Remarks Given at Signet Event in Honor of Peter J. Gomes on the Occasion of Unveiling His Portrait, April 20, 2012".
  17. ^ "American Preaching: A Dying Art? - TIME". 2008-03-07. Archived from the original on 2008-03-07. Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  18. ^ "HarperCollins Publishers: World-Leading Book Publisher". HarperCollins. Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ The Washington Post article
  21. ^ Influential Gay Rev. Dies at 68. Archived 2011-03-03 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Long, Michael G. (2012). Martin Luther King Jr., Homosexuality, and the Early Gay Rights Movement: Keeping the Dream Straight?. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-137-27551-6.
  23. ^ "* Peter Gomes '65 receives Benjamin Elijah Mays Medal". Bates College News. 8 June 1998. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  24. ^ "Rev. Peter J. Gomes dies at 68". Harvard Gazette. 2011-03-01. Retrieved 2020-01-17.
  25. ^ Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. "Peter Gomes: W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Recipient- 2000". Harvard University. Retrieved 2020-09-01.
  26. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (2008-02-05). "Famous Black Lives Through DNA's Prism". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-17.
  27. ^ a b "Rev. Peter J. Gomes dies at 68". Harvard Gazette. 2011-03-01. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  28. ^ "Order of St John | The Gazette". Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g "The Reverend Peter John Gomez" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  30. ^ "Peter J. Gomes". Harvard Gazette. 2015-07-16. Retrieved 2019-05-07.

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