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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Rev. Gomes Passed Away

Rev. Peter J Gomes
(1942 - 2011)

I was visiting the campus of Harvard University for the first time. It was the summer of 1987. There were several firsts. The first time I was in America. The first long walk I was taking outside the home where I was hosted (the apartment of my son and my daughter-in-law, in Watertown, MA). I reached, in this first long walk, the city of Cambridge (it was a forty minutes walk). The first place to be seen in Cambridge was Harvard Square. So the first time in Cambridge, the first time at Harvard, the first American university to visit.

I entered the campus of the university and I joined a group of tourists, stopping in front of various buildings and listening to their stories. A very momentous visit. I came back often in those places, and each time I discovered more things, with more stories. And Harvard Square became one of the places that I love most in the world.

Maybe one time I will tell here my stories about Harvard Square. I have now stories of my own. my wonderful experiences I lived there, my great discoveries.

Let's come back to the day I was there for the first time, visiting together with the group of tourists the campus, passing by the most important buildings and learning the stories.

We entered a large church, it was the University chapel, Harvard Memorial Church. This was another first for me, the first church in America I was visiting. I asked what was the denomination. I expected to be an Episcopal church, it looked like. I was told it was a non-denominational church. Everybody was welcome, regardless of religious convictions, and the service was organized with the intention to respect everybody's faith. It was my first contact with a religious attitude based on inclusiveness: mutual respect instead of mutual exclusion.

After many years I heard about Reverend Peter J. Gomes, the minister of the Harvard Memorial Church: a distinguished theologian who maintained that our approach to the Bible was always mediated through our culture. That is why the Bible was used along the human history to teach mutually exclusive ideas: defending slavery and considering slavery immoral, enshrining male dominance and defending the dignity of woman, supporting and fighting racism, condemning homosexuality and including in all dignity any human being in the Church of God. We tend to understand the Bible through the lens of our cultural and historical context. And Rev. Gomes went so far as to condemn the Bibliolatry: worshiping the Bible rather than worshiping God, making the Bible an idol.

Each of us have her or his own religious convictions, and many of us are very far from the way taken by Rev. Gomes; many of us are in total opposition to such views. But I think we can admire a man of profound courage in his convictions.

Well, it is much more to say about Rev. Gomes. He was far from offering a linear picture of himself, to be easily accepted. He was the only black, gay, Republican preacher at Harvard most people have ever met. The oddest thing about an oddity, said he once, is that there are so few oddities like you.

Peter Gomes passed away on February 28.

(Church in America)


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