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Posted at 1:49 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

An appreciation: the Rev. Peter Gomes

By Stephen Stromberg

The Rev. Peter J. Gomes died Tuesday, sending thousands who had the privilege of his company over the decades of his ministry in Cambridge, Mass., into mourning. By the time I met Gomes -- at one of his famous teas in his over-the-top house on Kirkland Street -- he had spent years challenging fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, particularly those used to justify racism or homophobia. His remarkable combination of religious belief with an eager acceptance of doubt, ambiguity and nuance had become a defining characteristic of his intellectual life -- and, of course, the openly gay minister's personal life, too.

One of my favorite stories from my time in Cambridge came to me second-hand, from a friend who had dinner with Gomes and some fellow students. He ordered some wine, and as the waiter asked whether all the students at the table were 21 -- not all were -- Gomes vouched for them. "I am the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals," he said. "I wouldn't lie."

This was so emblematic of Gomes, who surely saw no contradiction between flouting this rule and living an honest life, between taking religious codes seriously and admitting that the faithful can interpret them in wildly different ways, between appreciation for tradition and openness to novelty. You don't have to agree with all of his scriptural interpretations, sermons or op-ed pieces to appreciate the conscience and self-questioning that informed -- and strengthened -- his beliefs. Would that we would all be so conscientious.

By Stephen Stromberg  | March 1, 2011; 1:49 PM ET
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Peter was an inspiration to everyone who ever knew him. While I wasn't sure about my faith in God during college, I never questioned my faith in Peter's faith, which counted for alot.

Posted by: patty17 | March 1, 2011 4:24 PM | Report abuse

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