The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, a Harvard minister, theologian and author who announced that he was gay a generation ago and became one of America’s most prominent spiritual voices against intolerance, died on Monday in Boston. He was 68.
One can read into the Bible almost any interpretation of morality, Mr. Gomes liked to say after coming out, for its passages had been used to defend slavery and the liberation of slaves, to support racism, anti-Semitism and patriotism, to enshrine a dominance of men over women, and to condemn homosexuality as immoral.
He was a thundering black Baptist preacher and for much of his life a conservative Republican celebrity who wrote books about the Pilgrims, published volumes of sermons and presided at weddings and funerals of the rich and famous. He gave the benediction at President Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural and delivered the National Cathedral sermon at the inaugural of President George H. W. Bush.
At Harvard, Mr. Gomes was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at the School of Divinity and the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church, a nondenominational center of Christian life on campus. For decades, he was among the first and the last to address undergraduates, greeting arriving freshman with a sermon on hallowed traditions, and advising graduating seniors about the world beyond the sheltering Harvard Yard.
Then, in 1991, he appeared before an angry crowd of students, faculty members and administrators protesting homophobic articles in a conservative campus magazine whose distribution had led to a spate of harassment and slurs against gay men and lesbians on campus. Mr. Gomes, putting his reputation and career on the line, announced that he was “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.”