Boston — A fire and brimstone preacher he is not. But as a liberal activist who wears three hats, he says he tries to set ``a high moral tone.'' Rep. William H. Gray III's first hat is that of chairman of the US House Budget Committee. The Pennsylvania Democrat seeks a balanced budget for the United States in the long run and, in the short term, a reduced-deficit budget that maintains social services.
Mr. Gray is also the US representative from Philadelphia's inner-city Second District, which is 80 percent black and 20 percent white. ``My district includes some of the most affluent people in Philadelphia, as well as some of the poorest,'' he says. One problem ``back home'' is what to do about MOVE, a ``back to nature'' black organization that defies police, city health and safety ordinances, and ``a normal'' life style, he adds.
His third role is that of a Baptist preacher who tends his flock of 3,000 members at Philadelphia's Bright Hope Baptist Church. As a concerned clergyman the Rev. Mr. Gray advocates the end of apartheid, the strict racial-separation policy of South Africa's government.
As a three-term congressman, he was elected chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, a new role for a black legislator in Congress.
He was helped to his influential position by new House rules that limit how long a person may serve as committee chairman and that drop seniority as the basis for selection.
As budget chairman, Gray seeks a workable way to reduce the ongoing deficit and balance the budget. ``A balanced budget is good for the country, the affluent and poor alike,'' he said in an interview. ``I seek a nonpartisan approach, one that doesn't sacrifice programs for the poor and minorities, one that is fair and equitable.''
He claims several pluses in the House-passed budget -- no cuts in social security benefits, tempered bites in urban-oriented programs such as UDAG (Urban Development Action Grants), and restoration of funds to such enterprises as Amtrak. His committee is now in conference with the Senate Budget Committee to work out a compromise budget.
In Boston recently to address a special service at a local church, the Rev. Mr. Gray talked about legislation he sponsored to provide sanctions against South Africa if it continues to practice apartheid.
His stand on South African sanctions is adamant. The policy of racial separation must be wiped out, he says. The preacher-politician advocates a ``moral stand'' in Congress with legislation calling for South Africa to end its apartheid policies.
``Pressure from the United States can force changes in South African policy,'' Gray says. ``Congressional legislation has led President Reagan to list sanctions against South Africa, to move in behalf of fair play in that country.
``This pressure also has caused South African President [Pieter M.] Botha to lean toward loosening tight reins on the nation's blacks . . . ,'' says Gray.
Gray is not critical of President Reagan's sanctions, announced Sept. 10, although some critics have called them a ``watered down'' version of the House-approved measure.
Back home, Mr. Gray considers the MOVE crisis -- a police bombing of MOVE headquarters in May that caused the destruction of 61 abutting homes and killed 11 people -- an unresolved issue.
An active supporter of the 1983 campaign of W. Wilson Goode for mayor of Philadelphia, he is reluctant to ``blame the mayor, the fire department, or the police'' for the MOVE tragedy.
``I'm listening for answers to basic questions,'' he says. ``Why was the MOVE problem neglected? Why the destructive bombing? Why the reluctance of firefighters to aggressively attack the flames caused by the blast?''
Representative Gray also expresses concern for the bombed-out residents. ``Will they be able to pay higher taxes for their new homes?'' he asks. He says he is ``sure'' the replacement homes will be completed by the end of the year.
``But opening these homes and letting the displaced families move in isn't enough,'' he says.
``Their beautiful brownstones can't be replaced today, but their taxes were on places evaluated around the $30,000 plus mark. The new places are worth more than that. They will be assessed at higher values. . . . Some adjustments of tax rates will have to be made.''
As a clergyman who reports back to Philadelphia each weekend to serve his congregation, the congressman sees no conflict between his pastoral duties and his political activity.
``If preachers, lawyers, business entrepreneurs, and teachers can engage in politics, why not a Baptist minister? Congress needs a strong moral force within its chambers. What better person than a man of moral integrity to serve his district,'' he says.