August 22nd, 2013
03:07 PM ET

Gay detective's mother booted from church

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(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.



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. rob

    It would be a shame if that church burned down with those bigots in it. Then they wouldn't be able to discriminate against anyone.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • Amy

      Such a kind thing to say.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • Athy

        Well, he said it would be a shame, didn't he?

        August 22, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  2. Dyslexic doG

    Leviticus 19:27
    Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

    I hope Ken Willis is checking everyone's hairstyle at the door!!!

    August 22, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  3. MacKeogh

    Ludicrous... The Seventh Commandment – "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery"... Are they going through and kicking those folks out of the Church? Leviticus 25:44 "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves."... So if you do not own Slaves, either you buy them or you get booted out of the Church. Matthew 7-1.. "Judge not, that ye be not judged"... You judged the mother and her family, you should be booted out of the Church also... Should I go on? No. The fact is, ALL Religions pick and choose what Bible verses they want to preach. They are all Hypocrits...

    August 22, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • Julien

      I bet a lot of them are wearing mixed blend clothing as well

      August 22, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  4. Amy

    Maybe its a blessing and the woman should be thankful. That is not the church for her anyway.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Dippy

      It's, not its.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
      • Dippy2

        tits, not it's

        August 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
        • Dippy

          tits, not tits.

          August 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  5. JJ

    I left the Church of Christ 25 years ago. I have not once regretted it. Fundamentalism is ridiculous, especially when you consider that the Old Testament would condemn you to death for wearing clothes made of 2 different types of thread, along with many other "sins".

    August 22, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Jez

      My dear – all religion is ridiculous. A bunch of fairie tales.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
      • Julien

        Jedi got enough votes in England that it is an official religion ...says a lot about religion

        August 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  6. Jack

    another church with stupid people in it. it's funny that so many of you religious people don't get what YOUR religion is supposed to be about. what a bunch of uneducated children you are.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  7. don keller

    I certainly hope they kick out people who eat pork,

    Leviticus 11:7-8
    And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

    or work on Sunday - Exodus 35:2 "whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death".-and that includes yard work– "The Bible speaks very plainly about that." otherwise, they would be hypocrites, and they will all burn in the same place as the gays–

    August 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Leviticus 19:27
      Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Fred

      Well, the various Churches in existence today tend to interpret their books to suit themselves. It's kind of like Obama's administration saying that what happened in Egypt isn't a coupe. Yeh, it was! Just because it was a popular uprising, it was still a democratically elected government that got overthrown.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
      • Robert

        It wasn't a coupe it was a coup. A coupe is a car.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
      • don keller

        as a long time supporter of obama, I was disgusted with his cowardly decision to not decide whether this was a coup or not..

        August 23, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • Robert

      I am going to hell for an eternity for eating a bologna sandwich on Friday. This Bs was told to every Catholic child. And the Church wonders why we all grew up to laugh at their myths.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  8. FragmentFour

    "I'm a minister, not a pastor"? Okay... so this group has a preacher who does nothing but preach? Without a pastor, who can "minister"?

    Ah, well... I hope the separation doesn't hurt this mother badly – there ARE a few truly Christian congregations and from the sound of things she will find them. This group... it's in for a surprise come the individual Judgement Days.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  9. Joe Higgins

    This church forgot about "hate the sin, but love the sinner".

    August 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  10. Amy

    The religious ignorance from most comments is astounding. This is what happens when you block education about world religions from public schools.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  11. KellyinBoston

    I respectfully disagree. I think religion DOES equal church (or temple or mosque). When you have people join together in a house of worship (or multiple houses of worship), you have religion. I think that what you mean to say is that faith does not equal church/ religion.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • ll

      Faith does not equal church/ religion - agreed. Religion (the set of man made rules that govern a church operations and order) does not equal individual Christians' faiths.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  12. What is going on? FREEDOM

    That is just sad. A female detective trying to protect the community by putting criminals in prison has her mother kicked out because she is gay. Protest against that church.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  13. Jody P

    Prime example of why I despise organized religions.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Fred

      The only thing "organized" about this Church is a few nasty, stuck up people getting together to make decisions on behalf of the entire congregation. I would be interested to see if any in the congregation quit the Church in protest and start attending the same church as Linda.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  14. Divdar

    Quite a few posts judging this Church on their own personal definition of Christianity and not necessarily what this Church believes. We have freedom of association and private organizations can determine their own membership requirements. If the mother's personal views don't match up with the Church's, I'm not sure why she would want to stay. I've been in organizations where I didn't agree with their views, and as soon as I discovered it, I left.

    And for all those calling the Church bigoted and hurting the mother because of her believes, I hope you stand up for the Chick Fil A CEO with the same vigor. He was punished pretty hard by the left for his views and those purposely striving to damage him sure were bigoted.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Madtown

      Good grief..... Would it be "bigoted" to stand up against a southern slave owner? Afterall, the slave owner is simple exercising his beliefs.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
      • don keller

        good point– churches are a little like slave owners, as the flock is afraid to leave. It might displease the lord, and you would face eternal damnation. That;s about as powerful a belief that if you ran away from the plantation, you would be hunted down and whipped..

        August 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • don keller

      I think since the church has tax exempt status, perhaps it is not as private as you would like... I pay taxes on my salary, why should these ignoramuses live tax free ?

      August 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • sam

      Being intolerant of intolerance is not an equal offense.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • david

      They are a hate organization. Yes they have that right. Hiding behind religion makes it worse. Sick people.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • cvg22

      Chick-fil-A CEO was funding a Christian political agenda and publicly made his bed. You make it a point to infringe upon the rights of others and you open yourself up for protest and for condemnation. He was well within his right to state his opinion but don't whine when people rise up and protest it. Big Bucks and a Big Mouth don't make your opinions popular except to politicians who have no soul. its not the same thing at all.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  15. me

    Pathetic... if the congregation had any true moral compass they'd all leave with her... I don't care what you believe in, I will respect your beliefs... but one of them should be your belief children and everyone should support that... wonder if any of the congregation has a child, or themselves, murdered anyone... or broken any of the 10 Commandments? Wonder how much support the church would give one of their own should it be uncovered that one of them molested a child? Do yourself a favor and stay away from organized religion... it is the true root of all evil...

    August 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  16. snowboarder

    the woman can clearly see that her daughter's relationship is neither sinful or unnatural, as anyone with hom ose xual relatives or friends do.

    how anyone can allow their lives to be run by an ancient book of mythology is beyond me.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  17. jbthedon

    Thats ridiculaus. All she did was support her daughter. She didnt march in a gay parade or something.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  18. Reality Check

    Following the Gospel of Christ. Just as he said to all sinners, "GTF out of my church."

    August 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  19. flimflam74

    This isn't a church....this is an agenda. Regardless, church is only a practice run for how you should live the rest of your week.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  20. ccs2000

    Hmm....I wonder if the church would cast her aside iif she were the first to show up at the scene of a gun-toting crazy who wandered into their congregation?

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

      LOL. No, she would be cannon fodder, sacrificed to save the believers. Everytime members of these churches reject (or persecute, like the taliban) someone who doesnt' belive the same things they do they pave another stone in their road to salvation. These are the words of the Lord (they think).

      August 22, 2013 at 5:13 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.