March 1, 2011 / 5:58 PM / 8 years ago

Peter Gomes, preacher and author, dies at 67

BOSTON (Reuters) - The Reverend Peter Gomes, a prominent preacher, author and professor at Harvard University who participated in the inauguration of two U.S. presidents, has died at age 68, the university said on Tuesday.

The Reverend Peter Gomes, Pastor of Memorial Church at Harvard University and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard, speaks in support of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples and against a proposed amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage during a rally inside the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston February 10, 2004. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Gomes died at a Boston hospital on Monday from complications arising from a stroke in December.

“Peter Gomes was an original. For 40 years, he has served Harvard as a teacher in the fullest sense — a scholar, a mentor, one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in a statement.

An American Baptist minister, Gomes had served at the nondenominational Memorial Church of Harvard University since 1970 and was a member of both the Divinity School faculty and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard.

In 1979 Time magazine called Gomes “one of the seven most distinguished preachers in America.” He amassed 39 honorary degrees and was an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.

Gomes was the first black minister of the Memorial Church, and after coming out as homosexual in 1991 in response to gay-bashing on the Harvard campus, became a voice for increased tolerance in society.

“The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’” Gomes wrote in his 2008 book “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News.”

“He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.”

Gomes participated in the inaugurations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and was regarded as a lifelong Republican and conservative.

He switched his affiliation in 2006, however, to support Democrat Deval Patrick, who became the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. Gomes preached at Patrick’s inauguration.

Gomes penned such best-sellers as “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” which examined efforts to use the Bible selectively to discriminate against blacks, Jews, women and gays.

“If Jesus came today, the people he would be most interested in dealing with would be homosexuals, racial minorities,” Gomes said in a 2007 interview on NPR.

“It’s Jesus who redefines who the ‘other’ is. There is no other, as far as Jesus is concerned.”

His book “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus” mulled the interplay of church and state.

“Whenever the Christian community gains worldly power, it nearly always loses its capacity to be the critic of the power and influence it so readily brokers,” Gomes wrote.

He was born in Boston in 1942, and grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. His father was from the Cape Verde Islands and his mother from Boston.

He graduated from Bates College in Maine in 1965 and from Harvard Divinity School in 1968, and was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth the same year.

From 1968 to 1970, Gomes was an instructor and director of the Freshman Experimental Program at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, before returning to Harvard.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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