Archive for Friday, April 24, 2009

A breath of scandal: Renowned scholar to lecture in Lawrence

The Rev. Peter Gomes, a Harvard University professor, speaks during an event last year at Stanford University. Gomes, who is in high demand as a speaker nationally, will be in Lawrence this weekend as part of Kansas University’s visiting scholar in religion program.

The Rev. Peter Gomes, a Harvard University professor, speaks during an event last year at Stanford University. Gomes, who is in high demand as a speaker nationally, will be in Lawrence this weekend as part of Kansas University’s visiting scholar in religion program.

April 24, 2009


Past Event
“Transformation and Non-conformity: A New Christian Identity"

A discussion with KU visiting religion scholar Peter J. Gomes.

  • When: Monday, April 27, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: The Kansas Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence
  • More on this event....
Past Event
"Being Who You Are" with KU Visiting Religion Scholar Peter J. Gomes

  • When: Sunday, April 26, 2009, 2 p.m.
  • Where: Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive, KU campus, Lawrence
  • Cost: Free
  • More on this event....

The Rev. Peter Gomes has a verifiable big mouth. Ten years ago, he was featured in a “Talk” magazine article titled “The Best Talkers in America: Fifty Big Mouths We Hope Will Never Shut Up.”

He’s still talking, and talking and talking, and this weekend he’ll lend that famous voice box to Kansas University as the school’s visiting scholar in religion. The Harvard preacher and professor will give two talks Sunday for the public — a lecture at 2 p.m. at the Lied Center and an informal dialogue with the public at 7 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church.

And what’s he talking about these days? Mostly, it’s one word.


As in “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus,” his recent book.

He didn’t pick the wording — an editor did that — although Gomes has the type of vocabulary one would expect from a man with a Harvard education and 38 honorary degrees. In the two years since the book was published, he’s been around the country and on shows such as “The Colbert Report” discussing that single word.

“I think in America, scandalous means sex. And they think that I had some insight into the sex life of Jesus, of course I have no insight into such a thing,” says Gomes of the curious folks at his talks. “If he ever had a sex life, I don’t know about it. And if I did, I’m not sure I’d write a book about it.”

That editor may have wanted to sell books, but Gomes has been able to do that pretty well himself without sexy wording in the title. His first book, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart” was a “The New York Times” bestseller when it was printed in 1996 and his other books, “Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living” (2002) and “The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need” (2003) and “The Backward Glance and the Forward Look” (2005) did fine in their own right.

In fact, Gomes has made a career recently of putting the Bible and Jesus in a different light. It’s this educational quality that had him long on the “wish list” to be the visiting scholar says Curtis Marsh, the director of KU Info and the man responsible for facilitating the visiting scholar program.

“He has a very strong reputation for being not just a preacher, but a fantastic scholar in his field. Which is of course the primary factor that attracts people like that to us. He is widely regarded as one of America’s most distinguished preachers,” Marsh says. “So he’s just going to really just knock people out with some his lectures that he will be giving while he is here. Plus, he will challenge our thinking and give us some very unique perspectives on the world of religious studies.”

Gomes also has been known to challenge thinking by just being himself. A Baptist and longtime Republican, he spoke at the inaugurations of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s. A few years later, in 1991, upset over a critique of pro-homosexual politics by a conservative Harvard student journal called “Peninsula,” he came out as a gay man, proclaiming on the steps of The Memorial Church where he preaches, “I am a Christian who happens as well to be gay.” Conservative students at the school demanded his resignation, but Gomes stayed put as the Harvard Divinity School’s Plummer Professor of Christian Morals.

Some would call that scandalous, but Marsh, for one, would not. Of course, he says that if anyone does find Gomes scandalous — say, maybe the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church — and decides to protest any of Gomes’ events, visit organizers will be prepared. Though Gomes himself is hardly concerned.

“Oh, Fred Phelps! What a hooey he is. He was supposed to come picket me at Baker University, and he didn’t show up,” says Gomes, referencing his last trip to Kansas, the 2002 convocation at Baker in Baldwin. “And he’s come to Cambridge a couple of times. No, I think I can deal with Fred Phelps and his family. I’m not worried about that.”

No scandal there.

That leaves the title of his book to be the most scandalous thing he has to worry about.

“Most people want to know what’s so scandalous about what Jesus had to say,” he says. “They seem to be surprised when I say that it was scandalous then and scandalous now that you’re supposed to be nice to people. People still find that a bit surprising in that it is that it’s high-risk behavior and so on and so forth. But that is what he did talk about a lot and so I thought I’d talk about it too.”

Yes, niceness. Gomes plans on addressing this scandalous material during his lecture at the Lied Center, titled “Being Who You Are.”

“I think I’m supposed to be talking out of the basis of my book about Christian identity and how to cope in a crazy world — how do religious people manage to identify themselves in this kind of world?” he says.

Ironically, it’s the most asked question he gets from his students at the Harvard Divinity School.

“Well, my divinity students all want to know what should they do with their lives,” he says. “They’re all so confused about vocation and ministry and so on and so forth. I tell them to go with their best guess. I have a phrase that I often use which is, ‘When in doubt, believe.’ And so I tell them that, and they often thank me for it.”

Marsh says he expects those who go to Gomes’ seminar to be thankful for the chance to see the celebrated minister.

“I think there are two primary reasons that he attracts people all over the world to his programs,” Marsh says. “One is that he has a very unique perspective on the world of religion, whether it be Christian morals or world religion and the other is that he is ... an extraordinary communicator. So not only does he have an amazing message, but he presents it in a very unique way as well. So an evening or time spent at a program with Peter Gomes is both highly educational and entertaining.”


average 9 years, 1 month ago

God in Leviticus also said that eating shellfish was sinful. Paul of Tarsus said that women speaking in church was wrong. I'm only as curious whether he recognizes the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality as whether the shrimp-loving female Methodist pastors I've known recognize their biblical condemnations.

DoUntoOthers 9 years, 1 month ago

I have read several of his books. He is very bright and inciteful and if one would keep an open mind about what the Bible might mean he/she could learn something.

lawthing 9 years, 1 month ago

The bible also says that getting a tattoo or any markings upon the body is sinful.

The number of condemned grows!

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 1 month ago

Shellfish in the old law was a dietary matter, and much needed for the time.

Paul's words on gender issues are widely misunderstood.

Homosexuality, however, is a matter of morality that has always been about man's refusal to acknowledge God's soverignty. It is a twisting of gender that comes as a result of losing our connection to our heavenly Father.

Comparing shellfish to homosexuality simply reveals your lack of understanding and/or you unwillingness to acknowledge God's authority.

Peter Gomes' scholarship did not lead him to accept homosexuality. He's just like all the rest of us: he can rationalize anything away if he's too afraid to confront his own issues. 40 or 50 degrees doesn't change a man's heart.

We read "Harvard", and we all cave in at once. Think for yourselves people, and learn from the Bible with your own eyes.

Fred Phelps is wrong. God loves gays. He also gave His son so that they could live free of the bondage of sin. Homosexuals are in bondage. They need to be freed from that bondage.

MichaelC 9 years, 1 month ago

Homosexuals are in bondage - nice quote old fella.

dandelion 9 years, 1 month ago

So what does Jesus say about homosexuality? I don't want to hear what his buddies said. What did Jesus say. It seems like their are a whole lot of Christians who just ignore what Jesus said. They only concentrate on his death, not his teachings. And don't tell me that God told the writers of the Bible what to say. That's nonsense.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 1 month ago

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. Or beastiality. Or incest. Does Jesus himself have to make a direct reference to something for it to be wrong?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 1 month ago

And the first gay singles ad I've ever seen on the JW is being displayed as I type this.

It does make me wonder-- Are there any websites where single deities can hook up? (and just for the record, I'm not a deity-- not that there is anything wrong with being a deity, mind you.)

denak 9 years, 1 month ago

The Bible does not condemn homosexuality as we know it today. The Holiness Code in Leviticus does not say homosexuality is a sin. It says it is an abomination. The word, abomination, is not synonamous with sin. Abomination simply means "ritually unclean." The Holiness Code, as well as most of the Old Testment, should be read for what it is, both a religious text but also a text on "nation building" The ancient Isrealites looked to the other cultures around them, and created laws that were different from the Assayrians, Babylonians, Egyptians,etc, in order to create an identity seperate from the dominant cultures of the times.

The New Testement does not condemn homosexuality as we know it today. The few references to homosexuality are not condemnations against the loving committed relationships and sexual identity that we know homosexuality to be today. It is a condemnation against Roman practices such as combat rape, sexual slavery and the Roman practice of "mentoring" that was prevelant at that time.

If Jesus were to come back today, he would no recognize what we call homosexuality today. It did not exist in his time anymore than what we call marriage today existed in his time.


OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 1 month ago

"It is a condemnation against Roman practices such as combat rape, sexual slavery and the Roman practice of “mentoring” that was prevelant at that time."

Romans 1:27 - "the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another"

Consumed with passion "for one another" does not equate to rape. The statement basically says that what homosexuals are doing is unnatural. Your statement is just another cultural spin intended to make it easy for us to continue to ignore that we have a problem.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 1 month ago

"Your statement is just another cultural spin intended to make it easy for us to continue to ignore that we have a problem."

"We" may have a problem, but for many, the problem is that you and people like you are such busybodies.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 1 month ago

"the problem is that you and people like you are such busybodies"

You assume things about my motivation that apply to many, but not to me.

Strontius 9 years, 1 month ago

People make the Bible say whatever they want it to say. There's no "objective" way to read or interpret the Bible.

Jock Navels 9 years, 1 month ago

jesus loved me in a dirty way. I gave myself to him, and now he never calls.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 1 month ago

"There's no “objective” way to read or interpret the Bible."

How many "subjective" ways can you read Romans chapter 1? It is one of the plainest passages in the Word. There is no "interpretation" needed for a passage like that. The people who complain about interpretation and application need to open a Bible and really read Romans chapter one. If you say "who cares what it says in Romans" then you are admittedly rejecting the Bible, which is clearly your right. But if you read Romans 1, and you consider the Bible to have validity, you cannot come to any conclusion other than "homosexuality is not natural".

Not natural. Not healthy. Not holy. Not part of God's design.

Ask an M.D. if homosexuality is "normal" and you'll get a broad range of answers. Ask those same doctors if an anus is well suited to have a penis inserted in it and you'll hear every one of them say "it ain't made for that... not a good idea from a health perspective". In other words: not intended by nature; not natural - which means not part of God's design.

We have a problem that needs to be examined; not normalized and rationalized. When the APA removed homosexuality as a mental disorder, they did so without one page of new research. They did it soley in the name of correctness and popularity... and we are suffering for their mistake. Then, along the same vien, the APA de-pathologized sexual addiction in the DSM-3 RIGHT AS the country was experiencing an exponential growth in pornography addiction. Again: they have an agenda toward de-pathologizing sexual behaviors only for the purpose of political correctness, not because it's good/right/healthy. The day will come when we begin an open debate regarding pediphelia and whether or not "love" can exist between men and boys. In OUR lifetimes this will happen because of the precidents we are setting today around sexuality.

tinytim 9 years, 1 month ago

First, the bible wasn't originally written in English. It has been translated from Hebrew (Aramaic) and Greek. It was also written for a completely different generation and civilization than ours. Thus, the need for interpretation. And rabbis and other ministers have been interpreting scriptures for as long as we have had them. Only idiots think that the bible is "clear."

Second, homosexuality doesn't equal anal sex. Some heterosexuals engage in anal sex, and many gay men do not engage in anal sex. Oh, and let's not forget that lesbians are homosexuals, too.

Quin 9 years, 1 month ago

Why must so many people reduce the most influential philosophical and cultural framework in the western world to a discussion of opinions on what one should and shouldn't do with a bit of human anatomy, instead of listening to the ideas that are being shared by one of the great theological minds of the 21st century?

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