A church choir director in Sebring, Fla., was fired after church officials took issue with a newspaper opinion piece he wrote urging support of same-sex marriage. Dennis Adam Ray, who is gay, was sacked by the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) after a guest column he wrote was published July 22 in the Sebring-based daily newspaper Highlands Today, in which he claimed that half of the church's members believe in acceptance of gay people. Church officials, including Pastor Johan Van Der Merwe, said that the church considers homosexuality a sin, adding, "He has a right to have his opinion and to believe what he believes, but he cannot represent the church, because our bylaws state that the minister and committee do that," Van Der Merwe said.
Ray, who has directed music at the church for the past two years, said his firing from the $100-a-week job came as a surprise. "I couldn't stop myself from writing that article," said Ray, 43. "I listen to Christian radio. The songs are beautiful, but in between the music they had all these fundamentalist preachers spewing nothing but hate and bigotry on issues having anything to do with homosexuality, from branding us as child molesters to being mentally ill and everything in between."
Ray didn't mention the name of the church in the column, but Van Der Merwe said that it didn't matter. "Several weeks ago in a separate article he placed an ad recruiting choir members, including his name and the name of the church," Van Der Merwe said. "People can put two and two together. That was the premise of it. We don't object to his stance, but he cannot say 'This is how we feel as well.' Not even I
can do that, because I don't know how people feel." Ray said choir members and others in the church knew of his sexual orientation. Sebring, a city of about 10,000, is about 80 miles southeast of Tampa.