Peter J. Gomes

Peter J. Gomes

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 son 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]

After earning his AB from Bates College in 1965 and STB from Harvard Divinity School in 1968, Gomes was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts, (where he occasionally preached throughout his life).[5] After a two-year tenure at Tuskeegee, he returned in 1970 to Harvard,[6] where he became Pusey Minister in Harvard's nondenominational Memorial Church, and in 1974 was made Plummer Professor of Christian Morals.

Gomes was a leading expert on early American religiosity. On faculty at both Harvard's Divinity School and its Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Gomes taught graduate and undergraduate courses — his History of Harvard and Its Presidents explored the interplay between shifting religious attitudes and changes in national (and educational) politics in America — and served as faculty adviser of the Harvard Ichthus.

In 2000, he delivered The University Sermon before The University of Cambridge, England, and The Millennial Sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, England; and he presented The Beecher Lectures on Preaching, in Yale Divinity School. [7]

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."[8]

Hospitalized after a stroke in December, 2010,[9][10] Gomes hoped to return to Memorial Church in time for the following Easter.[11] He died on February 28, 2011.[1][12]

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.[8] On April 20, 2012, as part of the Harvard Foundation Portraiture Project, artist Stephen E. Coit[13] unveiled his portrait of Gomes standing in the library of the Signet Society, where it now hangs.[14]

Theology, theography, social advocacy and politics

Listed by Time Magazine in 1979 as one of "seven stars of the pulpit",[15] Gomes fulfilled preaching and lecturing engagements throughout the United States and Great Britain,

In 2009, he represented Harvard University as lecturer to The University of Cambridge, England, 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".[16]

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,[17] 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.[18] Same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson described Gomes as an integral contributor to the cause of marriage equality.[19]

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 (March 2, 2011).New York TimesRobert D. McFadden in the

Gomes was a registered Democratic Party (United States), supporting 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.)

Honors and tributes

  • 1998: The Benjamin Elijah Mays Medal, Bates College[20]
  • 1998: Clergy of the Year, by Religion and American Life.
  • 2000: W. E. B. Du Bois Medal recipient at Harvard University[21]
  • 2008: Gomes and his family were featured by Henry Louis Gates on the PBS documentary African American Lives 2.
  • 2010: Gomes gave the Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture; Harvard University elected him Honorary President of the Alpha-Iota Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.[8]
  • Gomes served as a trustee of The National Cathedral School, Washington, D.C.; as Harvard University trustee of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and a trustee of the Roxbury Latin School and of Bates College. He was a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and a sometime Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

He was a former acting director of The W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research, Harvard University; he was past president of the Signet Society; and a former trustee of Bates College, Wellesley College and the Public Broadcasting Service. He was past president and trustee of the Pilgrim Society in Plymouth, Massachusetts.[8]

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.

  • 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.


Gomes published numerous articles and papers, as well as at least a dozen books (some of them best-sellers), including:[8]

  • The Good Book: Reading the Bible with mind and heart (2002);
  • Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (2002);
  • The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need (2003);
  • Strength for the Journey: Biblical wisdom for Daily Living (2004);
  • The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's so good about the Good News? (2007);
  • A Word to the Wise, and Other Sermons Preached at Harvard (2008).


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Peter Gomes, Harvard minister and author, dies at 68",, March 1, 2011.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d e Harvard University Memorial Church bulletin April 6, 2011
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Gomes Hopes to Return in Spring" Harvard Crimson (January 26, 2011)
  12. ^
  13. ^ Stephen Coit, "New Faces", Harvard Magazine May-June 2013.
  14. ^ Stephen Coit, "Remarks Given at Signet Event in Honor of Peter J. Gomes on the Occasion of Unveiling His Portrait, April 20, 2012".
  15. ^ Religion: American Preaching: A Dying Art?
  16. ^ Harper Collins website
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ The Washington Post article
  19. ^ Influential Gay Rev. Dies at 68.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Du Bois Institute website

External links

  • Find A Grave profile
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
    • , September 21, 1997.The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart interview with Gomes on Booknotes