In Conversation: The Bicentennial Gomes Honorees

At Harvard Divinity School’s bicentennial celebration on April 29, 2017, this year’s Gomes Honorees gathered to discuss their time at Harvard Divinity School and their pioneering work in the world. The panel was moderated by Alumni/Alumnae Council Chairperson
Christopher J. Hanson, MDiv ’10.

Below are Mary E. Hunt’s remarks on the panel. Congratulations to this year’s Gomes Honorees!

Mary E. Hunt: Good afternoon, and thank you to David and Precious, and in anticipation to my friend Charles for the remarks he will make shortly. It is great to be with all of you. Thank you, Christopher, Margaret and all the members of the Alumni Council for this wonderful honor. It’s great to be here and to see such a support for the way in which Harvard Divinity School has developed.

And, of course, thanks to Harvard Divinity School in all of its 200 years of faithful work to develop pluralistic studies in religion, preparation for well informed ministry, and so much more.”

I want to pay special tribute to Michael Goetz and his staff colleagues for lovely hospitality this weekend. I also want to thank my partner, Diann Neu, and my many friends who are here today to support this honor.

I understand myself as receiving an award on behalf of lots and lots of people. I happen to represent and am mindful of the many women and LGBTIQ people, with special emphasis on trans people in this difficult time, who strode onto this campus well before and after I did. They left their marks on these halls and on the fields of feminist and queer studies in religion. I bow in gratitude to each and every one of them.

I think, for example, of my friend and colleague Brinton Lykes who was the first Coordinator of Women’s Studies and of the Research-Resource Associates in Women’s Studies program, the student-crafted precursor to the program Connie Buchanan inherited. I also call to mind the early women students in the 1950s, including the late feminist theologian Letty Russell, who couldn’t have had an easy time being the first women in these places. I think gratefully of Dr. Rena Karefa-Smart who was the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School in 1976. And in a particular way this afternoon, I want to acknowledge my friend and colleague Emily Cohen and her cohort of religious explorers about to graduate this spring. They are proof that the richness of HDS lies ahead of us.

It is remarkable how quickly women have achieved parity, not to mention upped the game here at Harvard. Likewise, people of color, LGBTIQ people, people of many faiths and of no faith whatsoever bring to this institution and to the world an endless array of talents and commitments. If ever anyone worries about diluting the product by diversifying the pool, let HDS be living proof that things only get better with more variety.

A hundred years from now when HDS convenes for the 300th birthday, I daresay very few, if any, of us will be present in body. But I wonder if the concerns that we Gomesians today represent—especially civil rights (Charles Adams), full inclusion of Muslims in American society (Precious Mohammed), international human rights (David Little), and justice for women and LGBTIQ people (Mary E. Hunt) will still be on the agenda.

I fantasize that they will be long settled and that future HDS alum events will highlight other issues in need of critical religious attention—the environment, an end to war, and a new, just economic order. Perhaps by then, 100 years from now, robots and even some of the Great Apes will number among the HDS alums—who knows! But whoever follows us a century from now will certainly be in the same position that we are in today. Peter Gomes put his finger on in it, and with this I conclude. He wrote in a sermon in 1990:

“Therefore, those of you who think that now is the moment that we celebrate need only look around you to see what remains to be done, and those of you antiquarians who think it was back there somewhere and we’ve lost it, that we have only to go back and find it again, you too don’t understand that what we seek is something that we have never yet had, which is why we continue to seek it. We’re not recovering anything, we’re hoping to discover something, and that is why virtue and wisdom are necessary ingredients in the ongoing renewal of our public, civic life together.” [i]

I urge us to cultivate the virtue and wisdom that emerge from myriad sources. I daresay virtue and wisdom are needed this season more than any I can recall for our collective survival and the thriving of this planet.

Thank you. I look forward to our discussion.

[i] Peter J Gomes, “Wisdom and the Wise,” in SERMONS: BIBLICAL WISDOM FOR DAILY LIVING, NY: William Morrow and Co., 1998 p. 190.