Phi Beta Cons

The Rev. Peter Gomes, R.I.P.

The longtime professor and minister of Harvard’s Memorial Church passed away Monday after suffering a stroke. He had occupied the pulpit there since 1974. Politically, Gomes was a complicated figure. In his early career he was something of a Republican celebrity, and he delivered the benediction at Ronald Regan’s second inauguration. In those days, he stood out as one of only a handful of nationally prominent black conservatives, not to mention one of the few Republicans at Harvard. In the early Nineties he announced publicly that he was gay, and he eventually became known for his advocacy on behalf of a host of liberal causes. He joined the Democratic party in 2006.

A gifted Baptist preacher with a booming baritone, Gomes was named one of America’s “star” preachers by Time at the age of 37. Never quite shedding all of his conservative identity, he sometimes referred to his left-leaning hometown as “The People’s Republic of Cambridge.” And while he identified himself as gay, he said he intended to live out his life in celibacy: “I do not have a partner, I have never had a partner, and I don’t expect ever to have one,” he once said. “I think I am vocationally called to the single life.”

Gomes was 68.

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