Atlanta minister is elected moderator
Joan Gray wins on third ballot
by Jerry L. Van Marter
Moderator of the 217th General Assembly Joan S. Gray. Photo by Danny Bolin.
BIRMINGHAM, June 15 — The Rev. Joan S. Gray, a minister in Greater Atlanta Presbytery who said she doesn’t have many answers for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s problems but is willing to let God lead the way, was elected moderator of the 2.3 million-member denomination’s 217th General Assembly on June 15.
After two close ballots, Gray swept to a third-ballot victory, capturing 307 votes (62 percent). The Rev. Deborah Block finished second with 152 votes (31 percent). Two male pastors — the Rev. Tim Halverson of Peace River Presbytery and the Rev. Kerry Carson of North Central Iowa Presbytery — trailed with 20 and 19 votes, respectively.
The first ballot was very close with only 34 votes separating the first-place finisher, Block, and the fourth-place candidate, Carson. On the second ballot, votes flowed from Halverson and Carson to Block and Gray.
Gray announced that she would nominate Elder Robert Wilson of North Alabama Presbytery as her vice-moderator. The Assembly is scheduled to vote on whether to confirm Wilson's nomination on Monday.
Gray, a self-proclaimed "polity wonk" who has written definitive texts on PC(USA) governance, told the 534 commissioners and a packed gallery that "polity will not save us — only God can, who makes a way where there is no way, to enable us to do mission beyond what we ever thought we could do."
She lifted up her experiences in conflict resolution during seven pastorates in the Atlanta area as good preparation for leading a troubled denomination that is facing several divisive issues at this assembly.
"I don’t have all the answers," she said frankly, "but I have a passionate faith in the God who through us is able to do more than we could ever imagine."
Gray refused to duck pointed questions put to the candidates by commissioners; nor did the other candidates.
Asked, for instance, about the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians, Gray said, "I have great respect for gay and lesbian people who want to be accepted for who they are and who want to do the work to which they feel called. But I don’t feel homosexuality is God’s will for creation. It’s uncomfortable feeling that way, but I’m comfortable being uncomfortable until the ‘still small voice’ speaks to my soul and I’m convicted otherwise."
Block, who has been a leader of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, said ordaining bodies should make determinations about candidates for ordination. Halverson said he looks forward to the day "when candidates are judged on the content of their character … but that day is not yet." Carson said he is bound by the authority of scripture, and "my understanding of scripture says homosexuality is not God’s will."
On the issue of Christology, Halverson and Carson were unequivocal that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Block affirmed the lordship of Jesus Christ, adding, "The lamps are many, the light is one — Jesus Christ is the light of the world." Gray responded: "I live with some tension — I know that Jesus is the way, truth and life, but I’m willing to give God a lot of leeway in matters I don’t fully understand."
With these and other issues facing the Assembly in the days ahead, the candidates were asked their plan for bringing reconciliation to the PC(USA) after the assembly is over. "I don’t have a plan," Gray conceded, "but I have a deep desire to let God lead the way. That’s how I lead, by being led, and I have great confidence in the people of God when they put their 'listening ears' on. We can’t go wrong if we listen — to God and to each other."