And One Was a Priest: The Life and Times of Duncan M. Gray Jr

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And One Was a Priest: The Life and Times of Duncan M. Gray Jr. By Araminta Stone Johnston. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011. Pp. xviii, 287. $40.00, ISBN 978-1-60473-828-5.)

In Southern Churches in Crisis (New York, 1967), Samuel S. Hill described the southern church--an ideal type consisting of white Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians--as too focused on the question of individual salvation to provide any meaningful leadership during the civil rights movement.

The dominant congregational nature of southern religion, in which the church laity largely hired and fired their own ministers, was not likely to foster the prophetic voice in the region's clergy. Some did, however, appear, among them Duncan Montgomery Gray Jr. (born 1926) of Mississippi. Will D. Campbell, who also fits that description, described Gray as one of his heroes (And Also With You: Duncan Gray and the American Dilemma [Franklin, Tenn., 1997]).

Araminta Stone Johnston was a teenager and a parishioner of Gray's at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1962 when that town was embroiled in the controversy over the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. Now a professor of religious studies, Johnston has written a biography of Gray that is at once a compelling narrative history and an exploration of Gray's theology of Christian responsibility.

Gray seems an unlikely rebel: his father was the bishop of Mississippi, and his ancestors on both sides were of distinguished, that is, wealthy and conservative, southern lines. Johnston quotes Gray saying he was "not a crusader," and if by that he means he did not go looking for trouble, he might be believed (p. 260). But Gray never shied away from controversy, and like an Old Testament prophet, he spoke plainly to his times of a Christian responsibility to do "what is just and right" and of the church's role in "leading the fight against evil in the world" (pp. 13, 142). It was that sense of responsibility that led Gray to attempt, unsuccessfully, to disperse the rioters on campus the night before Meredith's enrollment. …