On Peter Gomes and His Many Friends: A Remembrance
All of this was tested in 1991 when Peter announced he was a gay man. It was a difficult, confusing, and even dangerous time, and many who had counted Peter as their friend would do so no longer. Yet one thing was clear. While many in the Christian community no longer felt that they could be Peter's friend, he always remained solidly theirs.
Second, Peter was a friend of God.
What I really want to say, though, is that Peter loved his Lord, Jesus Christ. Of course it would be easy to say, especially in this bastion of skepticism and spin, that Peter was merely playing a role carved out for him. That his gospel-centered preaching and writing were merely a part of him doing his job. But . . . no. Peter knew, believed, and loved Jesus. It came out in his preaching and in countless other ways as well.
I remember on more than one occasion when I was a graduate student myself, working on a paper in the church basement late at night. I would hear the huge Fisk Organ start up and Peter, who must have assumed he was alone in the church, played and sang Love Lifted Me! at the top of his lungs. Sometimes he would go on playing Baptist hymns from memory for over an hour, singing to the God he loved.
Henry Louis Gates remembered Reverend Gomes for the New Yorker this week, but he was mistaken on one point. Professor Gates wrote that Peter could inhabit a variety of identities because he "anchored himself to none." Instead, I believe that Peter could put on his other identities as the occasion demanded precisely because he knew his true identity as a child of God and a follower of Jesus.
Third, and more personally, he was my friend.
Peter never approved when he'd catch me riding my bike in Harvard Yard. It offended his sense of decorum. And my California style never did make sense to his Puritan sensibilities. But Peter was a good friend to me for nearly thirty years.
Peter was a gracious host, whether in his office or at his home. I have fond memories of sitting at his dinner table with John Stott, Tony Campolo, and other Christians famous, infamous, and nameless alike. His warmth, humor, and love of good food made us all feel welcomed and well cared for.
When I would ask for an appointment to see him in his office he would inevitably greet me with the same question, "Now, dear boy tell me how can I help you?"
And he always did. Whether we were co-sponsoring a series of revival meetings or digging our way out of some mess, Peter provided the wisdom, institutional memory, and strength of conviction to provide real help. On a more personal note, when my wife left and wouldn't come back from California, Peter mourned with me and checked in along the way. Then he rejoiced over my marriage to Tara and the birth of our boys.
The University, the Christians on campus, and I lost a good friend this week, when God brought one of his friends home. May God rest his soul.