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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
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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.

 

*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. Big_D

    Nothing like a church without compassion.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  2. Big_D

    This "church" must assume God made a mistake by creating gay people.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Small_D

      So true, these brainwashed from birth people just don't get it, they preach that God made everyone different, and God created man, but there is no way God made man gay right? What a joke, no wonder religion is dying. Religious people (most) honestly make me sick to my stomach.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • RobK

      Through the sin of Adam all people have the inclination to sin. Some are more drawn to certain sins than others. The saved are those that repent of their sins and believe that the blood of Jesus saves them from the condemnation of that sin.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  3. Big_D

    They eat pork and shellfish while judging people by the same rules that make those foods unfit.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  4. som1uno

    The church and the crown (government) has failed to unite the people of the world for over 2000 years. When are people going to stop listening to them, and not allow them to continue to defend a BIBLE that was written by men, edited by men and changed over and over again to say and mean what the few want it to say and mean?
    I can not understand why anyone would support a church like that and I would have left long before they ask me.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • Stephanie

      True that! Seriously, and when are all the radical christian bloggers going to stop using bible versus at poor attempts to hide that hey are just a bunch of bigots? And why do they assume so many of us believe that bible mumbo jumbo?

      August 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  5. Big_D

    Welcome to the Church of hate and intolerance. I can't wait for Jesus to return and kick these false religious people to the curb like the money changers that came before them. God created gay people too and God didn't do it by mistake. I personally think God may have used this as a moral test and this "church" has failed.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  6. HillClimber

    True, the Bible may say that. I ask though, what does God say?

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

      Nothing, never has.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  7. Morgan

    Linda Cooper, thank you for standing up for your daughter. Thank you for loving and supporting your family. Yours is the love so many Christians profess to have, but rarely show. Well done, ma'am.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  8. Heidi

    Another instance of Christians being self-righteous, critical and judgmental instead of acting like Christ, which is what they should be doing. God must be so disappointed.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Athy

      Unfortunately, there is no god to disappoint. But a lot of people will be. That's what really counts.

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

      If you believe that Jesus tolerated or condoned sin than you haven't read the Bible.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  9. Nietodarwin

    "Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”
    _ Thomas Jefferson

    August 22, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • RobK

      You've combined two quotes and the last is only paraphrased, and incorrectly.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
      • RC

        Would you like to tell us how it really goes?

        August 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  10. tony

    Just saw this piece of inter-church disregard reprted by AP

    The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County announced plans last week to remove nearly 1,800 memorial stones from the Crystal Cathedral thye just bought. Naturally those who paid to put them there are pretty upset. But hey that the religion of brotherly love for you..

    August 22, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  11. mrqfarm

    religion and jerks perfect together

    August 22, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  12. Heidi

    SHAME ON THAT CHURCH: This mom' LOVES HER DAUGHTER and she is the one who is gay. The mother is not responsible for her adult's daughter lifestyle. 1st Love God 2nd Thy neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus said, 'Whomever if free of sin cast the first stone'. NO ONE IS above Jesus, so it is heartless, wrong to ex- communicate the mom based on the fact that mom loves her daughter and cares for her family? This Church opposes to the mom loving her child? This church should be giving comfort, love, understanding, moral, spiritual support for she is not doing anything wrong. A church that divides a family, divides a Kingdom. If god gave His ONLY SON to gift us with forgiveness, salvation and eternal life, it was because HE LOVES US UNCONDITIONALLY and wants us to come to HIM. god is the only one to judge, not men. I am glad she left them.
    *** BEWARE: The remainder at church members = OPEN YOUR EYES, you are being JUDGED and That church will SEPARATE from YOUR FAMILY. DANGER!

    August 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  13. Dallas Miller

    Nice. (sarcasm for anyone who thinks differently).

    August 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  14. Let there be peace

    And the only way that will happen is when the religious folk have all passed on... Until then it will just be humorous drama like this, with the religious nuts offending people left and right until they are all but gone...

    August 22, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
      Bertrand Russell

      Religion. It`s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.
      Charlie Chaplin

      It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
      Mark Twain

      August 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • billywinagartenson

      the coopers should be thrilled. In denmark, iceland and sweden – I've been to all of those countries, crime is minimal, you rarely see a policeman, gundeaths are very rare compared to the endless NRA violence in america. All have marriage for gays and their state lutheran churches will do gay marriage ceremonies – the priests its thier option to participate and about 70% will

      BTW where do the so. baptist come from historically – the old dutch church that created Apartheid in south africa.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  15. robert grant

    a church run by bigots who cherry pick the texts that they like, how unusual.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  16. Roscoe Chait

    What would Jesus do? He would embrace both mother and gay daughter.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  17. Chris

    Churches suck, end of story.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  18. Susan Bravo

    My heart goes out to the Coopers. To be driven away by your church family is devastating. This is not what our Lord would have done. Though I belong to a different denomination, our little church, St Patrick's Episcopal in Panama City Florida welcomes everyone. If you ever come down here, please know that the doors are open to all. In our Father's name, may your heavy hearts be lifted and your faith strengthened.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  19. YoJo

    I have begun abandoning my prejudice christian friends myself. They are hateful, judgmental and elitest. I'd rather not even be called christian if I'm associated with these people.

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

      Proud of you grasshopper! Next step is to stop believing.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  20. Sitara12006

    Mom has to atone for someone else's transgressions. Since when did it say that in the bible. And they are the same people who complain about the government is controlling and taking away people's free will. Churches are run only by power hunger people who feel the need to tell everyone else how to live and the bible and love and compassion means nothing to them

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

      Bingo, enough said!

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

      Well, there are a few examples :Ezk.18:20-22 says one thing , while Ex20:5 and Ex 34:6-7 seem to say something else.
      Deut.5:9 and Deut. 24:16 seem at odds. (So much for proof-reading...). I'm confused.

      August 23, 2013 at 4:28 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.