Task Force mourns death of the Rev. Peter Gomes

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mourns the death of the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, an openly gay Harvard minister, theologian and author, who died yesterday at the age of 68.

Statement by the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

In many Christian circles, when a person of faith passes, the pastor will speak of them by quoting Jesus, ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ Sometimes this phrase is over used. But today, truer words were never spoken. Rev. Peter Gomes epitomized one who lived his life seeking to be a good and faithful servant — of the God he loved. He sought to live in passionate relationship with the Scriptures — not engaging them as a monolithic, final word, but as a beloved companion to be grappled with, challenged by and by which to be guided but not bludgeoned.

For those of us who are religious and affirm the dignity of all persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Rev. Gomes was a light and a model. His passionate sermons, his incomparable work with the Scriptures and his visible love of God and God’s creation will be greatly missed.

Statement by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey:

In the passing of Rev. Peter Gomes, the world has lost a mind, a voice, an advocate, an artist of words rarely seen in this day and age. Rev. Gomes was certainly among the most talented, powerful orators I’ve ever had the joy of listening to, or ever will. His theological interpretations, his wit, his politics, his view of justice challenged even the most capable of those opposed to any of his views. Rev. Gomes spoke eloquently and frequently in support of marriage equality in Massachusetts during that state’s fierce struggle to protect the right of same-sex couples to marry.

He came out as a gay man when it was scandalous for clergy of his position and caliber, of any caliber, to do so. And yet, he did so with a clarity and grace that provided theological shelter for many a young person struggling with their sexuality. At the time, he said, ‘I am a Christian who happens as well to be gay. … Those realities, which are irreconcilable to some, are reconciled in me by a loving God.’

I had the honor of attending a small, raucous, dignified dinner party he hosted at his home at Harvard for some of us who were graduating from the Kennedy School of Government in 2001. There, he showed his rare ability to take one, small topic — in this case, a lesson on how to give and receive a proper toast — and turn it into a feast for the ears. Rev. Gomes, to your voice! To your voice.

Members of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, convened by the Task Force, also issued the following statements:

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Co-director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER):

Peter Gomes was an original. From his weekly teas to his courageous coming out he lent a bright and brilliant spirit to Harvard and the world. His quest to make the Bible accessible to everyone and his lively preaching made him a popular theologian in the best sense of the term. Long may his spirit inspire!

Bruce Knotts, Executive Director, Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office:

I refer to The Good Book all the time and to the life and work of Peter Gomes, who inspired the work I do. Two references in The Good Book that stick with me are that the Bible was written thousands of years ago in dead languages in ancient times very different from our own and yet, people make statements with dogmatic certainty that this is what the Bible says and means. He compared this to the U.S. Constitution which was written just about 200 years ago in English and we can’t agree on what it means and we debate the meaning of the Constitution all the time in all the courts of the land. If we can manage to disagree about the meaning of the U.S. Constitution which was written just 200 years ago in English, how much more do we need to approach all sacred literature with caution and not dogmatically pronounce on what it means in the 21st century.

Peter also mention the repentance of the Southern Baptists in 1995 for their role in promoting slavery and racism.  He wondered how long it would take some to repent for their sins of homophobia.  It would be nice if repentance could come before more than a hundred years have to pass.   “Finally, Peter’s life as an African American with Republican roots and who was a deeply Christian gay man makes a profound statement in itself.

Rev. Elder Nancy L. Wilson, moderator, Metropolitan Community Church:

Dr. Peter Gomes was brilliant, funny and unflappable. His famous hospitality at high teas at his home in Cambridge, his accessibility to students and faculty, were folklore. He made profound contributions in breaking barriers of race and sexual orientation, with confidence and pastoral skill.

As an author, preacher and teacher, he inspired, and changed lives. Even as we complete African American history month, we have lost an African America who made history, and who changed forever how we view the Bible.

Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of City of Refuge Community Church UCC:

In The Good Book, Rev Dr Peter Gomes made a lifelong impact on my understanding of biblical interpretation when he coined the phrase ‘bibliolotry’…when our worship of the Bible exceeds our worship of God. He freed me to lovingly, fearlessly and  critically examine scripture with lenses that search for liberating truth. He will be greatly missed and I will be eternally grateful for the courage of this brilliant out Gay scholar.

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke:

Catholics certainly know the power of vocation, and many of us found great hope in the way Rev. Gomes lived out what he called his “unambiguous vocation—a mission—to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia.” We have lost a role model, a path maker, a pioneer in the faith movement. May he rest in peace in the arms of God.

Bob Gibeling, chair, Southeastern Synod ELCA Welcoming Task Force, member NRLR Steering Committee:

Dr. Peter Gomes’ life and work stand as powerful testimony to God’s unconditional love. He has influenced a broad range of people to better understand the Bible and its references to same gender relationships. I have used his concept of “Bible Idolatry” in many presentations that have resonated with Lutherans who seeks to understand God’s will from a perspective of grace not legalism. We will miss him greatly.

Michael Schuenemeyer executive director, United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network:

Rev. Gomes inspired so many of us and changed the world with the depth of his theology, the power of his words and the passion of his spirit.

Sharon Groves, Director, Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program

As one of this country’s most formidable preachers and renowned scholars, Rev. Gomes was instrumental in shaping how a new generation approaches the Bible and the discussion of sexuality. Gomes deftly demonstrated in the pulpit and on the page how the Bible has systematically been used as a tool of both liberation and oppression.  More than any other theologian, he has painstakingly shown the ways the Bible has kept marginalized people down when employed as a tool to justify racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia.

But Gomes did more than rail against religious bigotry; he offered a way for religious people to claim their faith and their sexuality. When people of faith are routinely told that they are sinful and presented with the choice of the closet, ex-gay ministries, or leaving religion altogether, Gomes has been a healing voice. In his 1996 bestseller, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, he taught people to pay attention to the spirit of the Bible rather than viewing it as a convenient shield for their prejudices.

Without Gomes, there would never be a Religion and Faith program at the Human Rights Campaign because our work is predicated on the work of theologians of his brilliance, audacity and heart to provide us with a language and an interpretive lens to re-imagine our relationship with our faith. He was a paradigm-shifter that gave religious and secular leaders alike a way to see how the dream of equality for all people had a resounding place among the faithful. He will be deeply missed.

Justin Lee, Executive Director, The Gay Christian Network:

Rev. Gomes was a brilliant and deeply devout man of God who spoke out against injustice because his faith compelled him to do so. He touched so many lives, and he will be dearly missed.