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Category: Religion

Peter Gomes, who preached tolerance at Harvard, dies at 68

The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, a nationally influential Baptist minister and an advocate for tolerance who oversaw Harvard University's Memorial Church for more than 30 years, has died. He was 68.

Gomes died Monday of complications from a stroke, according to a statement from the university.

"Peter Gomes served Harvard with unparalleled dedication, wisdom and creativity for more than four decades," President Drew Faust said. "He was an original, a teacher in the fullest sense — a scholar, a mentor, one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction."

Gomes described himself as a cultural conservative but stunned the Harvard community in 1991 when he said he was gay in response to harassment against gays on campus.

He published 11 volumes of sermons, as well as books, including 1996's "The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart," in which he analyzed how people have used the Bible to marginalize Jews, blacks, women and gays.

He condemned those who used the Bible to justify racism, oppression and homophobia but also steadfastly defended the text's message.

Gomes was a professor at Harvard Divinity School who most recently taught classes on the history of Harvard and its presidents, interpreting the Bible, and an introduction to preaching. A speech he delivered at Harvard can be seen in the YouTube clip above.

He participated in the inaugurations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also participated in the first inauguration of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

On campus, he was a valued adviser to generations of students and a trusted friend of faculty members across the spectrum.

"No one epitomizes all that is good about Harvard more than Peter J. Gomes," said professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.

In 1979, Time magazine called him "one of the seven most distinguished preachers in America," and in 1998 he was named Clergy of the Year by the organization Religion in American Life.

Gomes was born in Boston and raised in Plymouth, Mass. He received a bachelor's degree from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and a divinity degree from Harvard.

He returned to Harvard in 1970 as assistant minister of the nondenominational Memorial Church, the center of Christian life on campus, and was named minister in 1974.

-- Associated Press

Samuel Ruiz, Mexican bishop who helped mediate peace talks in Chiapas, dies at 86

Samuel Ruiz, a Roman Catholic bishop famed as a defender of Mexican Indian rights and best known for helping mediate peace talks with the leftist Zapatista rebels in the southern state of Chiapas in the 1990s, has died in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, from a long-standing pulmonary ailment. He was 86.

Bishop Felipe Arizmendi, who took over Ruiz's diocese, confirmed his death Monday.

Arizmendi says Ruiz's remains will be returned to Chiapas for a memorial service. Ruiz is survived by a nephew.

Ruiz earned the affection of the state's largely Indian population and allowed some aspects of Indian religious practices to permeate his diocese -- irritating conservatives.

A complete obituary will follow at

-- Associated Press

Photo: Samuel Ruiz, bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, in 1999. Credit: Janet Schwartz / AFP/Getty Images

Jewish folk singer Debbie Friedman dies at 59

Debbie Friedman, a folk singer who set Jewish prayers to contemporary music and created songs that are sung in synagogues throughout the world, has died. She was 59.

Debbie Friedman died Sunday at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, said Jerry Kaye, a family spokesman.

Friedman had returned to California from England, where she was teaching and performing, before going into the hospital on Jan. 3 with breathing problems diagnosed as pneumonia, Kaye said.

"It turned into some sort of infection," he said. "She was a musician and a composer and traveled a great deal and fatigue is a normal course of that lifestyle."

Friedman began composing songs in high school, and her first albums came out in the 1970s. She combined traditional Jewish liturgies with folk music style, using lyrics in Hebrew and English.

"She was looking for ways to better understand them herself and by doing that, she made it so much more available to anyone," Kaye said.

Folk music was a natural approach.

"She grew up in the heyday of folk music and came from the Twin Cities, St. Paul, [Minn.], the home of Bob Dylan, that whole crowd," he said.

Her songs are heard in Reform synagogues, some Conservative synagogues and even in some Orthodox houses of worship, Kaye said.

"Twenty-five years ago, North American Jews had forgotten how to sing," Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement. "Debbie reminded us how to sing, she taught us how to sing. She gave us the vehicles that enabled us to sing."

Friedman made some 20 albums and performed at Carnegie Hall and around the world.

At the time of her death, she was working on a new album and teaching at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's School of Sacred Music.

She moved back to California last summer to live closer to her mother and sister and taught at the school's Los Angeles campus but had planned to return to New York briefly to teach a course, according to the school's website.

"It was kol isha (the voice of women) for col isha (every woman) that inspired me to write inclusive music," Friedman said in a statement cited on the website. "It is beneficial not only for women, but for men and children as well. ... The more our voices are heard in song, the more we become our lyrics, our prayers, and our convictions."

Kaye said Friedman is survived by her mother, Freda Friedman of Laguna Hills, and two sisters, Cheryl of Laguna Hills and Barbara of St. Paul, Minn.

A funeral was scheduled Tuesday at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana.

More later at

-- Associated Press

Photo: Debbie Friedman

One year ago: Oral Roberts

Oral Oral Roberts, who popularized the idea of a "prosperity gospel" while becoming one of the most well-known evangelists in the country, died one year ago. He was 91.

Roberts garnered his popularity through international broadcasts, evangelistic crusades similar to those of  Billy Graham and appearances on entertainment shows. He also founded Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., in 1965.

In the 1970s, Roberts' prime-time TV specials drew 40 million viewers, and he appeared frequently on talk shows hosted by Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin.

By 1980, Roberts was recognized by 84% of Americans, close behind the sitting U.S. president and fellow evangelist Billy Graham and 40 points ahead of the next religious figure.

Roberts, who put great emphasis on faith healings in his broadcasts and crusades, helped integrate Pentecostalism into mainstream Christianity worldwide. The charismatic branch of Christianity, of which Pentecostalism is a part, grew from an estimated 20 million to 600 million adherents worldwide during Roberts' seven decades of ministry.

"Twentieth century history of Christianity will name Oral Roberts as the voice that brought the Pentecostal movement to be taken seriously by mainline Christianity," said Robert H. Schuller, founding pastor of the Crystal Cathedral.

At the time of his death, however, Roberts' ministry and celebrity had been in decline for years, a drop-off accelerated by a prophecy the preacher made that "God will call me home" unless $8 million was raised for scholarships to Oral Roberts University by March 31, 1987.

The money was raised, but by then Roberts had become a figure of ridicule to many inside and outside the Christian world.

Despite negative publicity and declining TV ratings, by the mid-1980s Roberts' organization was raising more than $100 million annually and employing 2,300 people. His son Richard continues his father's work through Oral Roberts Ministries.

For more on the charismatic preacher's life and ministry, read The Times' Oral Roberts obituary. Also, see a photo gallery of his life.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Oral Roberts at a Downey tent revival meeting in 1957. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Fresno Bishop John Steinbock dies at 73

Bishop John Steinbock, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno and a former auxiliary bishop of Orange County, has died. He was 73.

Steinbock died Sunday at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, church officials said. Steinbock told church officials and parishioners in August that he had lung cancer, the Fresno Bee reported. He was also treated for facial cancer in the last year.

Steinbock had been the diocese's bishop since 1991. The diocese includes about 1 million parishioners in Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera, Merced, Mariposa, Kern and Inyo counties.

Born in Los Angeles on July 16, 1937, Steinbock was ordained in 1963 at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles, according to the diocese's website.

He was named associate pastor of St. Vibiana's in 1973 after serving at three East Los Angeles parishes.

In 1984, Steinbock was named the first auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Orange and was named the diocese's administrator after the death of Bishop William R. Johnson in 1986.

Bishop Norman F. McFarland of the Reno-Las Vegas diocese was named to succeed Johnson and Steinbock was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa in 1987.

Survivors include two brothers. Services are pending.

-- Associated Press





One year ago: Thomas P. O'Malley

Omalley Thomas P. O'Malley was president of Westchester's Loyola Marymount University during a period of significant expansion for the university. He died one year ago at age 79.

O'Malley served as president of Loyola Marymount from 1991 to 1999. A skillful fundraiser, he oversaw a capital improvement drive that raised $144 million, $16 million more than its goal. Among projects completed during his tenure were the Hilton Center for Business and the Burns Recreation Center.

An inspired teacher, O'Malley was remembered for his enthusiastic engagement in campus life, from singing in the choir at Sunday Mass to portraying Pope Paul III in a faculty play.

"Father O'Malley was truly a renaissance man -- bigger than life, quick with wit, poetical and well-versed in languages," Loyola Marymount President Robert B. Lawton said in a statement.

Before Loyola Marymount, O'Malley worked at Boston College, where he was chairman of the theology department and was named the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1973. In 1980, he became president of John Carroll University in Cleveland, where he stayed for eight years.

For more, read Thomas P. O'Malley's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Thomas P. O'Malley in 1998. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

One year ago: John Harris Burt


John Harris Burt was a rector at Pasadena's All Saints Episcopal Church who was known for his outspoken support of the civil rights movement during the days of Martin Luther King Jr.'s crusade. Burt died one year ago at age 91.

Burt helped organize massive civil rights rallies in Los Angeles in the 1960s, including a 1963 event in South Los Angeles that attracted 30,000 people. He also was a vocal supporter of Cesar Chavez and the farm workers movement. 

BurtTwice Burt sat behind King while he addressed crowds of thousands in L.A. -- once in 1963 at South L.A.'s Wrigley Field (now demolished), and a year later at the Coliseum

Burt was one of four rectors "who really shaped All Saints to be a peace-and-justice church," said Rector J. Edwin Bacon, who currently leads the Pasadena church, which is known for the strong stands its clergy has taken against war, poverty and racial and ethnic discrimination over the last seven decades.

Burt was a Navy chaplain during World War II and afterward served at St. John's Episcopal Church in Youngstown, Ohio. In 1978, after leaving Pasadena to serve as bishop of Ohio, he earned the prestigious Thomas Merton Award for his advocacy to keep steel plants open in Youngstown, an effort that ultimately failed.

For more on his life and causes, read John Harris Burt's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Upper photo: The Rev. John Burt, seated at fourth from the left, listens as Martin Luther King Jr. addresses 15,000 people at the Coliseum during an interfaith rally in 1964. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Burt in Ohio. Credit: Episcopal Diocese of Ohio

One year ago: Elizabeth Clare Prophet

Clare-spiritual-leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the spiritual leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant, made big news when she and at least 2,000 of her followers stockpiled weapons and supplies in an underground bunker in Montana in preparation for nuclear war.

Prophet, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died one year ago in Bozeman, Mont. She was 70.

The Church Universal and Triumphant combined aspects of the world's major religions, mixing Western philosophy with mysticism. Prophet was called "Guru Ma" by her followers, who believed she received "dictations" from such "ascended masters" as Jesus, Buddha and St. Germain.

Prophet told The Times in 1991 that newspapers had distorted her statements about the nuclear war, "literally fabricating that I had predicted the end of the world. Even if there is a nuclear war, I believe we can survive it. I don't think it's the end of the planet."

Prophet founded the church after her husband died in 1973. In 1981, the church purchased a remote, 12,000-acre site in Montana adjoining Yellowstone National Park, to which close associates and followers soon started moving. She said they felt "divinely led" there from their previous headquarters in Pasadena.

Prophet retired in 1999 from an active role in the church, which once had about 50,000 members.

For more on the spiritual leader, read Elizabeth Clare Prophet's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Credit: Los Angeles Times

MaLinda Sapp, wife of gospel singer Marvin Sapp, dies

MaLinda Sapp, the wife and manager of gospel singer Marvin Sapp, died Thursday after battling cancer, according to his record label, Verity Records. No other details were immediately available.

MaLinda Sapp was a professional counselor and administrative pastor at her husband's Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. The church had posted a message on its website asking for prayers for MaLinda Sapp.

The couple had three children.

Marvin Sapp is one of gospel music's most popular stars. His 2008 song "Never Would Have Made It" set records for its duration on the charts, and he recently had a No. 1 hit on Billboard's gospel charts with the song "The Best in Me."

-- Associated Press

One year ago: John Elson

Elson The question sparked magazine sales, reader comments and controversy.

John T. Elson wrote a memorable 1966 cover story for Time magazine called "Is God Dead?" The issue broke records for newsstand sales.

"The story brought a brimstone of controversy, but given the depth of the reporting, few could argue that the writer had not done his homework," Jim Kelly, former Time managing editor, wrote after Elson's death a year ago at age 78.

Elson, a prolific editor and writer during four decades with the magazine, was religion editor when he wrote the controversial essay. Elson read 40 books and drew on interviews with more than 300 people -- ranging from Simone de Beauvoir and Billy Graham to a Greek janitor and an Israeli streetwalker -- conducted by 32 Time correspondents.

"He was writing it on a very serious level. People took it on a very emotional level," Rosemary Elson, his wife, told The Times' Elaine Woo. "If you read the last paragraph, you would know what his opinion was. He certainly believed, but he was always questioning."

Read more about Elson is The Times' obituary.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: John Elson and his wife, Rosemary.

One year ago: Father Eleutherius Winance

WinnaceFather Eleutherius Winance was well known among Catholics for founding the St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo and for his longtime job as a philosophy professor at Claremont Graduate University. His dramatic life in China before his Southland days, however, is less known.

Winance, who died one year ago, entered the monastery of St. Andre in his native Belgium when he was 17. In 1936, the year after he was ordained a priest, he was sent to China, where two of his fellow priests had established a monastery in Sichuan province. He later established the Institute of Chinese and Western Cultural Studies in Chengdu.

Governmental upheavals in the 1930s and '40s, however, put his ministry in turmoil. During Mao Tse-tung's communist revolution, his institute was closed down and he and his monk companions were captured and subjected to brutal Marxist indoctrination, an experience he later wrote about in "The Communist Persuasion, A Personal Experience of Brainwashing" (1958). Despite the efforts of his captors, he told The Times in 1963 that he "refused to budge."

Eventually his group was kicked out of the country, and after an arduous trip that he described as hell-like, he ended up in Hong Kong. His abbot then sent Winance to Rome to teach philosophy at Sant' Anselmo.

After teaching in Rome for four years, he came to the United States, where in 1961 he joined eight of his brethren from China at St. Andrew's Priory, which was upgraded to an abbey in 1992.

He was known to be very diligent in his work, rising before dawn for prayer and spending hours reading scripture in Greek or Latin and texts on philosophy and mathematics in French.

"I think it would be fair to say that he would have wanted to be known as a good, faithful and obedient monk," said Father Damien Toilolo, a former administrator of St. Andrew's.

For more, read Father Eleutherius Winance's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Father Eleutherius Winance. Credit: John Lewis Photography

One year ago: The Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II


The Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II (a.k.a. Reverend Ike), who died one year ago at age 74, had a saying that defied traditional Christian thought: "It is not the love of money that is the root of all evil, it's the lack of money."

Rev. Ike practiced what he preached, driving sports cars, flaunting expensive jewelry and living in six church-owned houses. His opulent lifestyle -- he was given at one point to wearing a gold watch, a silver-and-diamond tie pin, a silver bracelet and a large gold ring studded with more than a dozen diamonds -- was supported by millions of dollars in contributions to his church.

Rev. Ike first came to fame in the 1970s, preaching what Newsweek magazine once described as "an unabashed love of money and the good life." Despite criticism from other clergy over his materialistic approach and from others who accused him of being a huckster and a charlatan, Rev. Ike's positive, self-affirming message of hope appealed to an estimated 2.5 million people across the country in the '70s.

"I am the first black man in America to preach positive self-image psychology to the black masses within a church setting," he told The Times in 1976.

For more, read Rev. Ike's obituary by The Times.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Reverend Ike delivers a sermon. Credit: Associated Press


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