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August 22nd, 2013
03:07 PM ET

Gay detective's mother booted from church

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief']

(CNN)–The mother of a gay detective has been booted from the Tennessee church she attended for decades.

Elders at Ridgedale Church of Christ told Linda Cooper and two relatives that their public support for Kat Cooper, Linda Cooper's gay daughter, went against the church's teachings, local media reported. In a private meeting, reports say, Linda Cooper was given a choice: publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church.

Linda left the church.

Kat Cooper is a detective with the Collegedale Police Department. This month, she fought successfully for health benefits for her same-sex spouse, Krista, from the town.

The Board of Commissioners passed a resolution allowing for same-sex partner benefits, becoming the first city in Tennessee to do so.

Along the way, the mother publicly supported her daughter. That support appears to have led to a rift with her church.

"My mother was up here and she sat beside me. That's it," Kat Cooper told the Times Free Press of Chattanooga. "Literally, they're exiling members for unconditionally loving their children - and even extended family members."

"Her answer to them ... is that she had committed no sin in her mind. Loving her daughter and supporting her family was not a sin," Kat Cooper's father, Hunt Cooper, told CNN affiliate WTVC. "There was nothing to repent about. They certainly couldn't judge her on that because that was between her and her God, and it was not their place to judge her for that."

"The sin would be endorsing that lifestyle," Ken Willis, a minister at Ridgedale Church of Christ, told to the Times Free Press. "The Bible speaks very plainly about that."

The news enflamed the passions of critics and supporters of the church's action.

A phony Facebook page for the church was created by one critic, who posted glib messages affirming same-sex marriage shortly after the controversy went viral. "There's nothing about girl on girl in Leviticus," one post reads.

Mary Sturdibint, a Collegedale resident, told WTVC, "I don't think they should be kicked out of church. If you're going to kick out someone, it needs to be the two that are same-sex that's married. I do believe in that."

Willis declined an on-camera interview with WTVC but released a written statement.

"This is an in-church private issue. Because emotions are so inflamed at this point, I choose not to comment any further," it read.

"The church is overseen by elders. I am a minister, not a pastor and therefore, do not have the authority to speak further on this. The news is getting mixed reviews."

Multiple calls to the church and the Coopers by CNN were not returned.

Church of Christ structure

What happens next for the small suburban church remains unclear.

There is no denomination to hand down an edict praising or condemning the local church's decision.

Churches of Christ are a loosely joined group of independent churches that are autonomous by design. There is no denominational oversight, formal structure or even a denomination headquarters.

Local churches are governed by appointed elders in a structure the church traces to the early followers of Jesus described in the New Testament, said Ronald Highfield, a professor of religion at Pepperdine University.

"They're organized in congregations with their own local leadership so that no other congregation, no set of congregations, no convention can exercise any ecclesiastical discipline over another congregation," said Highfield, who is also an elder in his local Church of Christ congregation.

While there are no documents or position papers by the church on the issue of homosexuality and how members ought to interact with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender family members, he said that on the issue of sexual orientation, churches in the denomination fall on a spectrum from progressive to conservative.

Most churches, Highfield said, hold a traditional Christian belief that sex is to be reserved for married men and women and that sex outside of that marriage arrangement is wrong, regardless of what the church believes about sexual orientation.

"There is an implicit covenant when you're a member of a congregation to adhere to the scriptures and the authority," he said.

So, he said, supporting a view that could be seen as undermining the teaching of the church could be grounds for excommunication.

Highfield was unfamiliar with this particular congregation until the story broke and said as for its decision, "whether it's just or fair, I'm not going to make a judgment."

Not a new issue

For decades, churches have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality, leading to splits and schisms of individual congregations and entire churches.

Some churches, like the Episcopal Church, have shifted from the traditional Christian position on marriage to now bless monogamous same-sex unions and perform same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.

While churches that have formally shifted their policies on same-sex marriage are in the minority, Americans' opinion of such marriage has shifted significantly from opposition to support.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted in June, when the Supreme Court was deciding the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act and the validity of a California law banning same-sex marriage, 55% of Americans said marriages between gay or lesbian couples should be recognized as valid. That marked an 11-point swing from 2008, when 44% of Americans said the unions should be legal.

The public outcry about the exile of the parents of a gay adult child from this Tennessee congregation seems to mirror this shift in public opinion.

Some pollsters and commentators have pointed to tension about same-sex marriage as a reason for an exodus from churches, particularly among young people.

Many mainline Protestant churches have seen a decline in membership, while pollsters have noted a steady increase in "nones," or people saying they have no religious affiliation. In its latest surveys, the Pew Forum on Faith and Public life puts "Nones" at 20% of the population.

Pew has also noted that at the same time younger Americans are leaving churches, older Americans are returning in a pattern that matches historical trends that have shown people become more religious as they get older.

Because there is no central office for Churches of Christ, reliable numbers on membership are difficult to come by.*

When the Ridgedale congregation next updates its membership rolls, it will be crossing out the Coopers. The family told the local newspaper they were devastated to leave a church where they had been active for 60 years.

For now, both the Coopers and their former church are standing by their own convictions, and after six decades of traveling together, they are heading in different directions.

 

*Update

Difficult, but not impossible. There are 12,438 Church of Christ congregations in the United States with 1.55 million adherents according to publisher 21st Century Christian's annual "Churches of Christ in the United States" which they have compiled since the 1970s.
H/t @BobbyRoss

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Gay marriage • Gay rights

soundoff (3,329 Responses)
  1. ll

    The mother was motivated by love.

    The church was motivated by fear and exclusion, which is basically hate.

    I believe the mother acted in a more Christian manner.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  2. prairieguy

    How very Christian of them...not the Bible I was taught!~

    August 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      Go to a gubmint church??

      August 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  3. Agnes Nostic

    I really would like to know what you could possibly find wrong with my comments that you refuse to post them. They haven't been in the least way offensive or profane.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • sam

      There's an automatic word filter that looks for letter combos even in the middle of words (it's ridiculous). For example, words like 'const.itution' are not allowed because of that super-naughty 't.it'.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
      • Athy

        Constitution.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Grumpy

    The woman says God is wrong. Why should the church accept her as a member of the congregation?

    August 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Larry

      Which God?

      August 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • BIlly W

      Can you send me a Youtube link to God's press conference?

      August 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  5. don keller

    I feel so proud to be an atheist.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      Wunnerful feelings!!

      August 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  6. lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

    Was it a Denver boot?? Gay detective?? Notice it's alwayz gay first and everything else second chair.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  7. Travis

    I don't know why this is even news. As a great philosopher once said sarcastically, "Every church should subscribe to my beliefs, even when I don't care about that organization one bit." You can disagree with the church's teachings. That's totally fine. But you shouldn't be astonished when you don't mesh with its members and leadership. Why would you want to belong to a church if you didn't believe in what they believed anyway?

    As for those of you talking about how this isn't a very Christian thing to do, I would recommend reading Matthew 18:15-17. Churches were established with the authority to manage their membership to protect the whole. That's just how it works, you guys. Sometimes the loving thing to do is tell someone when they're wrong and try to help them, not allow them to continue in sin.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Wow!!!
      Maybe an education is what would be best for you!!! LGBT do not choose to be this way and any church group that thinks they are going to protect the children from exposure to them is seriously crazy. If you don't want children around LGBT, you best move to a cave and away from civilized society.
      Bigotry is more damaging to children!

      August 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Larry

      You can't argue that she should ignore her Christian representation, if she's trying to be Christian.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
      • Travis

        Well the problem is that she doesn't seem to be trying to be Christian in this case. I certainly don't know the whole situation, but if she believes being gay is a sin and supports her daughter in it then she, in turn, is sinning. This doesn't mean she should ignore her daughter forever or banish her to Ireland, but she probably shouldn't stand up with her publicly and support her gay rights.

        Now, if she doesn't believe being gay is wrong, then I don't know why she'd want to go to a church that preaches against her daughter on a regular basis. If she does believe it's wrong, then maybe she should have listened to her elders that were only trying to help her.

        August 22, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  8. sonotso

    Word on the street is that it is retaliation for a deal gone bad. Don't let the religion smoke screen fool you. These cartels come disguised as just about anything.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  9. Leigh

    I'm sure she can find another church to attend...one that actually reflects Jesus Christ's teachings instead of cherrypicking Old Testament Leviticus to further their own agenda.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      Guard the cherries.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  10. Garth Bock

    Hate the sin and love the sinner.....they need to follow this rather than...the sins of the child are the sins of the parent. I wonder if they really applied the later...how many would be sitting in the pews in a week...probably none. Judge not lest you be judged likewise...is a good one they really should follow.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  11. I LIKE IT

    This is why religion sucks. No one church is like another, bunch of cliques is all they are. What would jesus do? Tear down the churches, return all the money, get rid of the pope.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  12. skarphace

    The problem with churches is that most of them focus much less on worship and salvation and much more on politics. These churches are merely places where people go to be around other people who believe as they do. They feel more secure when other people have the same political views as them, and so they attend a church that promotes those same political ideals.

    This becomes a problem when those political ideals are misguided and yet still promoted within the church. If the elders of a church are bigots (as with this church), then the church itself attracts other bigots. This in itself is not a problem, as there is nothing intrinsically wrong with bigots hanging out with other bigots, but it becomes a problem when children become involved.

    The children who are brought by their parents to church look up to both their parents and the church leaders. So if both of these groups are teaching their children to be bigots, there is a high likelihood that those children will themselves grow up to be bigots.

    Therefore, this church is no better than any other group that teaches hatred, for hatred is at the core of bigotry. You hate what you don't understand and what is different than you, as long as you were taught to feel that way. This woman was right to leave this church. One can only hope that less and less people attend these types of churches in the future.

    Blind hatred has no place in society and definitely not in church. The more people that come to this realization the better for all of us.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  13. Derek

    Who cares? If you aren't welcome in a church, go someplace else. Personally I don't go to church because I choose not to. But if I did go and got kicked out, well I wouldn't really be surprised about it.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  14. mickar

    Since there is no such thing as a 'god', I think you're all nuts.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  15. ll

    Show me a real church of a loving God, without this type of stupidity, and I will go to it.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • God

      Good luck with that!

      August 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
      • ll

        That was cold, God. Nobody can say that you don't have a wicked sense of humor.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
      • Satan

        lol

        August 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • David

      I attend one.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        They do exist. The United Church welcomed my gay friend and his husband.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
      • ll

        They're rarer than you'd first think. I live in the Bible belt of all places & don't get me wrong there are some good people that attend some of the churches here, but most get caught up in religion and the power structures of the specific churches ahead of scriptures (most without even realizing it). There are the nice lessons of love and hope, and then there is the reality of the cliques, power struggles, and business aspects of the churches. That latter reality usually trumps what should be the real outcome of our Sunday lessons. And then there is the aspect of politics ruling what churches preach. That's the one that almost sickens me. I left the last church I attended because they regularly let Jim DeMint preach from the pulpit anytime there was an election looming.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  16. t3chn0ph0b3

    The more unchristlike Christians become, ultimately, the fewer there will be. Can't happen soon enough if you ask me.

    Go bigotry! The more bigoted you Christians seem and the more zealous you are in your bigotry, the quicker you will defeat yourselves. Have fun.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • David

      techno, in grouping all "Christians" together, you are part of the problem of prejudice just like those that group "gays" or nerds or jocks, or blondes into groups and then judge the group itself as a whole. Your very argument stands as an example of what is wrong with SOME Christians just as it is wrong with you. As soon as you judge a group by the actions of some of it's members as if those members represent the entire group, you have failed.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • flimflam74

      newhope church, Durham, NC

      August 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  17. ll

    Any obese people or their families kicked out of that church for being associated with gluttony?

    August 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  18. Pinewalker

    As a Christian this stuff just makes my blood boil. I guess they decided to throw the first stone because they are apparently without sin. I hope they are ferreting out all the smokers, adulterers, liars, thieves and obese people in their congregation too. Last time I heard a sin was a sin and all of those things are on the list too.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • freedom

      Amen. Glad to see a Christian speak up against it. Sure, they can believe whatever they want, and they can kick out whoever they want. But if they want to be seen as Christians, this behavior is sinful.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Madtown

      Living as God designed you cannot be a "sin", or do you actually think you also "chose" your orientation?

      August 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Sal

      The whole bible belt is full of hypocrites! Many of the ones I know are drunkards, adulterators, and they have the nerve to pick on gay and lesbian people? They are a joke.......

      August 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Texastexastexas

      You left out the evil sinners who eat shellfish.

      August 23, 2013 at 7:19 am |
  19. OMG5050

    BRAINWASHING AT ITS BEST....

    To me, churches, and other religious organizations brainwash thier flock. No different than Scientology, or even the Jim Jones koolaide group that committed mass suicide.

    These people have no self esteem, and will follow its leader and believe what he says.

    I ADMIRE THE MOTHER FOR STANDING UP!

    August 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  20. lamelionheart

    SIN or Spatially Infinite Nothingness is ever birthing unknowable amounts of big bangs becoming equal amounts of big bang universes ad infinitum from the very first moments of material creationism... There be SIN's aplenty... LoL

    August 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.