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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. If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

    Christians who don't follow the works of Jesus "the teacher" and only believe in instant 24/7 forgiveness are not Christians ...they're just anti-ees. I'd say its a gift to be ousted from haters!

    August 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  2. Bell

    Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.
    ! Corinthians 2:14

    August 22, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Egon

      Kill god, be happy 🙂
      Normaliviticus 12:12 on a Thursday

      August 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • ME II

      But He might wipe everyone out again!

      (Well, at least it won't be a flood this time, whew....)

      August 22, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        I'm thinking more like nuclear disaster or perhaps it'll be the volcano in Yellowstone Park that 'he' uses. 😉

        August 22, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  3. Jack

    Did this church truly think a mother would publicly denounce her child?

    August 22, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  4. albert

    This is really simple, if you don't agree with an organization, find another one.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • Bob Pitt

      very simple, them people (bible Thumpers) are not real Christians. As per their bible jesus would of embrace her as one more to the church.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • skarphace

      Well, nothing is as simple as it seems. In this case, the complexity comes from the fact that the church, as an organization, is focused on indoctrinating children. When the beliefs of a church are misguided (in this case, by hatred), then the children who are brought by their parents to church are more likely have the same misguided beliefs when they grow up.

      If only adults were allowed to attend church, then I would agree with you, to a point. However, when children are thrown into the mix, and a church is teaching hate, then such an agenda is bad for society as a whole and should be firmly discouraged.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  5. Ray

    It makes for good teaching material for most congregations these sad, mad and misguided unbelievers. It's just another merry go round of all those who crucify Christ followers because they have devoutly decided to follow the patten of Jesus. Most of these commentators and those who think they know what is right for a group of people they neither follow nor agree with until they find a soft sweet comfortalble haven to rest their sinful life styles is beyond me. To think that even in this day and time if Jesus were in the flesh, he would not only be crucified for obeying his Father's ordained plan but called every thing but a child of God is just mind numbing. I find most of these comments and commentators the equivalent to long time citizens of Gomorrah...May God have mercy on their souls...

    August 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Egon

      It's a FICTIONAL STORY. With FICTIONAL CHARACTERS. Use your tiny brain and try, like Mickey Mouse, or Goofy, or any fictional character/setting/story that you can think of. Now equate that with everything you have been INSTRUCTED with regards to your mono-theistic belief system. See? Not real. No soul, no heaven, no after life, no deity. Just life. the Universe. And all. 🙂 Hee hee, good luck to you spirit walker, we will never meet :()

      August 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • Bell

      Remember 1 Corinthians 2:14. Scripture is PURE truth and always will be-no matter how much the world disagrees. We are now living in a Romans 1 society-SUCH a sad state.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
      • sam

        That's pretty funny...got any better jokes?

        August 22, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Pip

      Ray isn't the "patten of Jesus" that you not judge lest you be judged? But all that is seen any more is a bunch of judging. WWJD? Certainly not turn away believers just because you're not comfortable with the way their family members are living. No one has the right to remove you from the church but the owner and the last time I checked he wasn't running around kicking folks out, he wants them all brought in. More often than not it's not the sinners that damage the church, but those who think themselves the saints.

      Matthew 7 says it all. Perhaps this was removed from the bibles that these folks are reading.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  6. Heloise

    I am Jesus. You aren't ready for me. You took my message all wrong. I'll try again in a few decades...be good. (oh, and the Muslims are correct about Muhammad, sorry)

    August 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  7. knowthetruth

    are we allowed to quote scriptures? Every time I try, I cannot post.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Heloise

      hee hee, maybe god is stopping you because he thinks you and your quotes are trashy for this millennium?

      August 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • sam

      Definitely god's way of telling you to try something else. The last thing we need more of is bible quotes in here.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • truth is not to be found much in the bible

      The truth filter is blocking you because your particular bible quote contains falsehoods, like much of the rest of the bible does.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
      • The really for real Scotsman

        What truth are you searching for?

        August 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
      • knowthetruth

        Sorry to disappoint you. However, the scripture did post. I misplaced it on the page.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  8. conoclast

    Bumper sticker:
    If You Don't Pray In My School
    I Won't Think In Your Church

    August 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • ME II

      Hear! Hear!

      August 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • Bumper sticker

      I aborted Jesus on the way to the gay bar.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  9. Welcome to Tennessee

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=1tqxzWdKKu8

    August 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  10. Blam0h1

    Judge not lest yee be...fffff it! I hate people who are not like me! Sinners!

    And the pews get a little more empty with each passing month and the active congregation and old men who hear voices wonder why.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • eflows

      "Mrs. Chillip does go so far as to say,' pursued the meekest of little men, much encouraged, 'that what such people miscall their religion, is a vent for their bad humours and arrogance." Dickens, from "David Copperfield"

      August 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  11. ken

    So the church is making the ultimate decision....I thought was up to God. Goes to show the church doesn't even believe their own preachings.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • PrettyPagan

      keep up with the news please, there hasn't been a verified sighting of any god in like 956 years! (and that was Anubis, who wasn't supposed to return until 2439, and these church people don't even BELIEVE in Anubis if you can fathom that! – wait until they meet his jackal face at their demise and they learn the true nature of .... oh, but I digress

      August 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
      • skarphace

        Anubis is not a god. He is a Goa'uld.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Yep. All hail Anubis.

          August 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  12. Joanne

    The article states, "The church is overseen by elders". Well, so is the Taliban ! There's no difference. Both were created by man to control the masses into conforming to their "rules". Nothing new here.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • ken

      Awesome post Joanne. You hit the nail on the head.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  13. The

    "Though shalt not think for thyself"
    – Theologyisiasicism 4:20

    August 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  14. observer99

    Do you think in a thousand years or so the Rednecks will EVOLVE into smart human beings and walk on two legs?

    August 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • inspector#9

      Be sure to let us know.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  15. Theo

    It would be interesting to peek ahead 74,056 years and see if the god worshipers are still waiting for their god to return 🙂 Or to send its "son" again to be murdered...maybe its a cyclical thing? TIME TO GROW A BRAIN PEOPLE 🙂

    August 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • PrettyPagan

      sighs, yup 🙂

      I like the parts where any damage you have done to you in life regenerates in that soul spirit world idea they call heaven ... and the bit about how everyone you love will be there.....oh, and the bit about it lasting for trillions and trillions of years, long after Earth has been consumed by our Star.

      Definitely a religion worth reading...NOT. stupid is as stupid does.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  16. Ron

    So how to deal with sin is now decided by the world and not the church? Really? Christians, the persecution is NOT coming, It is HERE Now! Stand up to these evil control freaks or they will be deciding what next weeks sermon will be. "Evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." .....II Timonthyn 3:13

    August 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Ben Dover

      Bug off weirdo

      August 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • Nic

        Love ur pen name. Even more than Dick Hurtz lol

        August 22, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • norman

      Ron, come on, religious redneck, shoudlnt you be dead by now? hurry up-the western world wants you and your fellow religious kooks gone!

      August 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • gisher

      Leviticus 15:19 – 15:29

      August 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
      • Larry B.

        Dr. Pepper 10:2 & 4.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
      • Pip

        Really? You leave this? Beware the period! The period!!!!

        August 22, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Boston Guy

      Ron, what persecution are Christians going through?

      Christians, the persecution is NOT coming, It is HERE Now!

      August 22, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Cinematt

      Christ would be appalled by the atrocities you people commit and support in his name. Your "Christianity" has absolutely nothing to do with what our Lord taught. Beware the Lake of Fire, blasphemer!!!

      August 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • fatherheathen

      Decent human being use reason and compassion. Your bible has no use beyond toilet paper.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  17. Trixi

    I certainly hope they remembered to kick out all the other sinful people.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      They'd have no attendance if they did that.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • skarphace

      Ironically, this type of action from a church is usually done in response to the more wealthy members of the church who threaten to leave if something isn't done to protect their interests. I call this ironic because it is usually the more wealthy members of the church who are the biggest sinners.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Pip

      Exactly. Like those folks sitting in the church in their polyester suits. Or those who ate or will eat shellfish. Or those that just spent all of their time judging someone, which in case they've forgotten was one of Jesus' big rules.

      But hey hypocrisy is a permanent state of mind for some.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  18. Christshun

    The Bible says a lot of things. How come Christians only care about the parts that allow them to discriminate against others?

    August 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • sam

      Funny how a lot of organized religion behaves that way.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  19. Theodore

    Lol, monotheists are so silly. A soul? an eternity? gods? demons? hell? LOL. get a life people, being human (and trying to be a better human) should be paramount in your lives, not children's fantasies of being loved by a father figure and gaining some vastly undeserved immortality

    August 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  20. michael

    i find this strange coming from tennesee where everyone is so in-bred with each other you cant throw a stone without hitting your cousin. those lovely, loving christians again. the mother, her kids everyone is better off without the bigotry of the church.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Christshun

      Hey! I live in Tennessee, and you unfairly portray us. My niece and wife agree with me. They're actually the same person.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Russ

      @ michael: "better off without bigotry..." how do you reconcile that with your first sentence?

      August 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • skarphace

        Well .. he did say the bigotry of the church, not bigotry in general. However, I do agree with you that the poster contradicted himself quite nicely there.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • guest

      I would agree with this, that is why there are so many people that don't want anything to do with religion even though they may belive in God

      August 22, 2013 at 5:59 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.