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.



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. Laurie in Spokane

    And these are good "Christian" people who booted her out right? Go figure.
    She's better off not being part of that bigoted self-righteous church.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • billywinagartenson

      Agreed – she should consider it her lucky day. these are typically the southern baptists who justified slavery as per the bible, made America hte second to last nation to end slavery in the west, and th eonly one o need a war to do so.

      there is a baptist church on virtually every street corner in Memphis- I've been there. Dig a little and you find Obama is their nightmare come true a black president

      tehy hate gays now and some even hate Jews (my wife is jewish btw)

      August 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
      • Elvis


        August 22, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • mike johnson

      i am not sure if they were bigots or not. but there is much better ways of handling this situation in a church. i bet many of these people are very old and set in their ways. where i go to church we might be banned for doing something stupid like this.right or wrong we dont do this here. so keep the judging to your self for carma does happen- that church will have some backlash but they are so deep in the mountains probably that they dont care. mike

      August 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  2. tx2az

    Ridgedale Church of Christ–right down there with Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  3. mike johnson

    i am never going to judge anyone for i have a gay niece who i love if she was gay or not. but if you read the bible it preach's about being gay and what could happen. man did not say this but GOD did!! IF YOU DONT BELIEVE IN THIS ,THIS IS YOUR RIGHT JUST LIKE THE CHURCH.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • tony

      I wonder why god didn't say thjngs like the 10 commandments until after he split our languages up at the tower of bable. Kinda restricted the audience to one not too civilized tribe.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Man wrote the bible, there is no evidence to state otherwise...not unless you use the bible.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • robertwallacegraham

      Though they never admit this, even fundamentalists pick and choose their interpretations of Scripture. If you believe that God inspired the authors, it's a very difficult thing to put your own interpretation on "His Word"... but the fact is that we have to do it because "now we see through a glass darkly". That being the case, I can't understand why more Christian churches don't err on the side of compassion instead of wrath. I'm left believing it has more to say about the personalities of the membership of these churches than it does about what they say God says.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • G to the T

      Abosultely – and it's our right to call them out for being ignorant and backwards.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  4. Bobbie Jo Justice

    The "loving and tolerant" christians strike again

    August 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  5. Peaceful

    If we look into our hearts, we know that it is wrong to turn anyone away for who they are. The church should read the whole bible. Especially the new testament which is all about love for all. This is why I don't believe in religion. I do however believe in God and Jesus. It is not my place or anyone else's place to tell someone that they should not be who they are.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  6. Noah

    Your god is a false god of hate, misery, and sorrow. My god is the One True God who loves you no matter what. Your fake god tells you to judge others. My True God tells me not to judge, for I am only His servent, not His equal, so I cannot judge others. That is not my place.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • mike johnson

      NOAH ,WHAT GOD ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT FOR THERE IS ONLY ONE god in heaven. only he can judge,not you or me !!!!!!

      August 22, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Mike Johnson there have been many religious that have been formed before this so-called "god" was formed. I suggest you look at the ancient Egyptian and Greek Gods. They have been around way before Christians, Hebrews, and so on and so forth were formed.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
        • mike johnson

          but noah,they were pagon gods only. how many times did god punish men when they worshiped not him. when moses came down from the mountains and israel was worshipping the golden calve they have made of gold, what did moses's do/ HE BROKE THE 10 COMMANDEMENTS, MADE THEM MELT THE GOLDEN CALF DOWN,and put it in the food that night to show them how wrong they were. he wanted them to taste evil but it didn't matter for they sinned right away again. GOD forgave them many times and i am not sure how many times he will forgive us here on earth.

          August 22, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          mike johnson are you saying that no individual that worships god has been punished before?

          August 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Mike: Godchecker.com is a great site...you might want to do your research before claiming your god is the right one.

        August 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  7. allens

    why get upset, just more good christians showing who they really are. they should fear gods wrath for their actions. jesus would never have approved of this unchristian behavior

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

    if they could, these bible beaters would burn her at the stake! I am beginning to understand the extent of religious hysteria. we are not as far out of the trees as we might think.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  9. Bill

    It is not the right of anyone on earth to judge another. The Bible clearly states Judge Not Lest You Be Judged. We will all receive our judgment from the only source it can come from, Our Heavenly Father. I am an openly gay man, and have been for over 30 years. My brother is a well known pastor within a large, conservative, protestant denomination, and my entire family has been active in the same denomination my entire life. I've had many deep discussions over the years with my family, and while their beliefs may not mirror mine, not once have I ever been condemned. I am loved and accepted by true Christians. I find it deeply disturbing that a Church would misuse the Scriptures for their own agenda.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • knowthetruth

      Bill, you are right of course. There is only one judge. All of us carry our own load. You know what the bible says of your lifestyle, correct? I'm not trying to single you out. The bible speaks of many sins that we have to overcome. Yes, we are all sinners and fall short of god's glory and undeserved kindness. However, we all must work on proving ourselves righteous in God's eyes. This of course is difficult, because the ruler of the world (right now) is Satan. However, if we pray to our heavenly father, he will help us in the right course.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
      • LinCA


        You said, "You know what the bible says of your lifestyle, correct? I'm not trying to single you out."
        Calling it a "lifestyle" shows the depth of your ignorance. Being a christian is a lifestyle choice, and for some a despicable one. Homosexuality isn't.

        You said, "This of course is difficult, because the ruler of the world (right now) is Satan. However, if we pray to our heavenly father, he will help us in the right course."
        Your imaginary friend must be incompetent if it can't prevent someone else screwing with its creation. That, or it just doesn't give a shit about it. Or, even more likely, it doesn't exist.

        August 22, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
        • G to the T

          Couldn't have said it better LinCA.

          August 23, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  10. Robert

    Look The Bible Makes it clear. Its a SIN.. As believers in Jesus and his Word theres a darn good reason why its a sin. He created this world and all thats in it. Try to except this as Fact. If you all can,t You,ll have the Creator to deal with..Read the Bible, Except Jesus as your savior, confess thour sins. and your understanding will be revised. Other wise mind your own buisness!!!

    August 22, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      I think not. I will not my submit myself to a dictatorship style religion.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • tony

      The day the Bible makes thing clear is the day pork takes wings.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Did anyone understand that? I expect crap like this coming from uneducated morons like Robert!

      August 22, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • JSmith

      What exactly does the bible make clear? It is the most confusing book anyone could ever read in their lifetime, thus the thousands of different denominations around the world. Oh, I spent 20 years of my life studying the bible, so I know what I am talking about. Yea, I know, the holy spirit will reveal the truth to those who.... and on and on it goes.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • mike johnson

      your are 100% right. you need to put out there what chapter this is in. you and i don't make this up for god told man what to write. if you did not listen to him, look what happens all the time to israel when they would not listen to moses. god does the judging and man only obeys him!!!! thanks mike

      August 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Wrong again mikey, only 2 billion people on the planet believe in your god...some of us are not so weak!

        August 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • booggaloo

      It's accept not expect.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • A dad

      You have to read ALL of the bible.....do not judge lest ye be judged ring a bell? Or He who is without sin cast the first stone......

      August 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
      • mike johnson

        i am not casting the first stone on the whole issue.the people who are cussing are and thowing many stones does not make it right either.

        August 22, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Athy

      Robert, it's "accept", not "except". Other errors are too numerous to mention. Your sixth-grade writing skills clearly identify you as a religie. Go back to school and get rid of that bible.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  11. tony

    On less Dollar in the Almighty collection plate. How's poor god gonna manage when everyone leaves?

    August 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  12. Randy

    This type of nonsense is why people think the South is full of backwards, close-minded idiots.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  13. mike johnson

    why can't there be a difference of church and state. the non beleivers want it seperated and so do all the liberals. let the church handle their own business and if you don't like going, there don't go. they have their choice of religious views. they don't hate the lady,they just don't wont to associate with her. at one time it was called shunning!!!! tell the LGTO OR WHAT EVER IT IS CALLED, IT IS FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND BELIEF'S!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      There are LGBT who are also believers. Why should they be shunned and treated differently for something that they have not chosen?

      August 22, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • tony

      In your tiny home schooled mind.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • LinCA

      @mike johnson

      You said, "why can't there be a difference of church and state."
      We do. It isn't enforced enough, but we do.

      Just as it is my right to freedom of speech to call out the bigotry in their action. They are free to live their lives according to their dimwitted fairy tales. They are free to worship their imaginary friends, just as it is my right to call them out for their infantile beliefs.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Sniffit

      Nobody suggested this had anything to do with the state or that the state should take any action about it. You're absolutely right: they're 100% free to use Christ's name in vain as a cover for being a hate group if they want.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Coman4848

      I agree that the church has the right to bar their own member for a stance that differs from thir beliefs. But having the right as they do, and acting like they know anything of Christ's ministy is what makes them look so absurd.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  14. CommonSensed

    Who cares.

    Haters gonna hate, be it in the name of their god or not.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • mike johnson

      it is not hate,but pure belief's that have been installed in them. not being ugly but do you read the bible,study it or pray? do you even belong to a church? mike

      August 22, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Your definition of hate is not quite the same as the average person. This speaks of hate and they're using belief to justify it. How pathetic to judge a person based off of what a 2000 year old book says. Fortunately the updated information proves the bible is wrong and that the sheep herding men who wrote it, had no understanding of LGBT.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
      • LinCA

        @mike johnson

        You said, "it is not hate,but pure belief's that have been installed in them."
        You must mean indoctrinated. It's infantile to believe in imaginary creatures that are no more likely to exist than the Tooth Fairy. It is sad to live your life trying to please an imaginary friend. It is bigoted to expect anyone else to live according to your delusion.

        You said, "not being ugly but do you read the bible,study it or pray?"
        If you read the bible and missed the ugliness, you may want to work on your reading comprehension.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • Mike's Johnson

        You can try and pretty it up by giving it another name, but your idiot little exclusionary cult is still hateful.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  15. Baalzabarber

    Hey Ridgedale Church of hate...FUK YOU!
    You should be ashamed of yourselves you hateful freaks

    August 22, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  16. KatSpeaks

    I am a definite believer in God but what I do not believe in are people that take every literal in the Bible as a means to an evil end. The Bible was written by good men, seeking to represent the word of God but they weren't God. They were influenced by the laws of their time and their own beliefs. Only men wrote in the Bible. Does that tell you something there?

    August 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      That your religion and your god are misogynistic?

      August 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • JSmith

      A "definite believer in God" What is that? You are just another Christian with another belief system and think it is right. Fundamentalists believe they are right in what they do also. Welcome to the oh so confusing world of Christianity.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  17. observer99

    Ignorance may be bliss BUT it's also Dangerous!

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

    Gee a bunch of religious people who hate a bunch of people because they are not like them. Now, where have I heard of that before? Oh, yeah, throughout the history of our civilization. Isn't it time the madness end?

    August 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  19. karen14217

    Good. The more churches do things like this, the more people will become sympathetic to different people, and in addition, the more people will be turned off by religion. Which can only be good for our country.

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

      Good point, Karen. They're showing their true colors. I hope this story makes it to the national news level.

      August 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
      • Rick

        This church definitely is.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Rick

      This church gives every good church a bad name. Can we take one of your short comings, display it in public in an outlandish fashion, and then say "let's let others do this so we can rid ourselves of people like Karen"?


      August 22, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
      • sam

        They seem to enjoy shooting themselves in the foot.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  20. OldSchool


    August 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Really for real Scotsman


      August 22, 2013 at 7:07 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.