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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. JimDar

    That is exactly why I left the CofC. They are the dinosaurs of the religious world and in the not too distant future will be a thing of the past.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • Hello

      read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill

      August 22, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  2. gahh

    Being thrown out of a Church of Christ, is no loss. This is why many people have moved away from the churches. These people most certainly don't read the same Bible, as I do, which says," Let he who has not sinned, throw the first stone, and For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God". Oh to be so perfect, that you can judge everybody else!

    August 22, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • JimDar

      That is the very problem. They are a church that has not accepted the concept of the Grace of God therefore they have to be perfect to get to heaven. If they only accepted the Bible as God's Holy Word!

      August 22, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  3. Appalled

    Dear One and All,
    Being asked to leave a church is NOT as offensive as leaving your child. Ms Cooper, leave them(the church) behind and choose a church that better fits your needs. They are not worthy of your love, devotion, attention and definitely NOT worth your money(main purpose of all churches, hence their request to dedicate a portion of your income to that church). May God bless you and rule over your obstacles.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  4. Russ

    This is all pretty much a mute point because there is no GOD!!! Get over your high and mighty we're better than you are selves because you are not better than the rest of us. You God believers are hypocritical morons.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Dippy

      It's moot, not mute.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
      • RC

        Hehe-this is too easy. SHUT UP!!!!

        August 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Appalled

      Hi Russ, BTW there is a supreme being, whatever its name. Pick one, there are lots of them. Whatever you choose. There is something out there that is GREATER than you. :}

      August 22, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
      • Athy

        I'm appalled that anyone, in this day and age, would think that, Appalled.

        August 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  5. MsFit

    Please check out the old main-line protestant denominations, especially Presbyterian (PCUSA) and Lutheran (ELCA). All are welcome at these churches.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  6. Troy

    This is not what Jesus would have done. Shame on this church.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • RobK

      Jesus would have said "Go and sin no more."

      He also said "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."

      Perhaps the mother should have more strongly rebuked her daughter. Not that I necessarily agree with kicking her out of the church.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
      • Stephanie

        So glad your the official spokes person of jesus...beings you know exactley what he would say- get over your self rightous self Rob K

        August 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • Appalled

      You have NO idea what "Jesus would have done". He was Jewish by religion and a Rabbi(teacher). He followed the OLD Testament to the letter. You might be amazed at what you discover about the Old Testament. It is quite amazing and an eye-opener. Read the text B4 opening mouth to insert foot BTW I am a Christian(Catholic). I believe that there is something greater that ourselves.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  7. Crowded

    Jehovah's Witnesses do this every friggin day and it never makes news. Breaking up families is a daily, and public shaming is just par for the course. Suicides by the scores. But we never ever see that in the media. I grew up in it and I know it has happened and continues to happen. So if JWs can do it, why not the rest of the churches.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  8. Sara

    Lol...more signs of genius in Tennessee.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Elvish

      Hmmmm,you dont say

      August 22, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  9. daddytech1

    Church of Christ people have bothered me this way for a long time, i never attended the churches or tried to because everyone i know that went there or came from there was very judgemental and always looked down their nose at everyone. the bible i studied growing up which incidentally is the same one they use says each man is to work out his own salvation that woman didn't raise her son to be gay or go that way when he got older and yeah it is a choice not a disease or culture you're born with. there is no Gay Gene that's all something some gay scientist made up to justify him being gay himself.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • Athy

      It was her daughter, not her son.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • sam

      It's not a choice, you tool.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  10. Rev.Christie Bliss Ley

    I hope the family finds people who have a loving, compassionate God who accepts all people for who the are, without judgement.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  11. Adam

    True Christians recognize that god can be the only judge. Not to judge others.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Adam

      You said, "True Christians recognize that god can be the only judge."
      Some christians believe that. But that is just as much nonsense as believing it doesn't like gays.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  12. paul

    My goodness what a sick world-my faith in the human race is waning every day I hear of B.S like this.............

    August 22, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  13. Lisa

    What do you expect from NAZI OCCUPIED TENNESSEE?

    August 22, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  14. D. Rucknagel

    Tell them that both of you are children of God!

    August 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • LinCA

      @D. Rucknagel

      You said, "Tell them that both of you are children of God!"
      Not their god, apparently.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  15. Lincoln

    Okay, let me read this again? The mother of the gay person is kicked out of the church because she supports her gay daughter. The mother refuses to repent for the "sins" committed by her daughter? The daughter is a police detective and she risks her life for the public safety of this Tennessean community, including possibly, members of the church that booted her mother?

    How is this defensible?

    August 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • paul

      thats the problem-it isn't

      August 22, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Belseth

    Churches have become places of hate an fear.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  17. sparky

    I'm not religious, but if you are, then consider that the God that stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son would never excommunicate a mother for loving her daughter.

    Even if you think the daughter is a sinner, then consider the parable of the prodigal son. The parent's unconditional love for a child is a manifestation of the mercy of God.

    Any church that puts itself before a parent's love for his or her child has no connection to God.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  18. tony

    The really powerful god on this earth is the NSA. Just ask any Brazilian traveling thru London's Airport

    August 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  19. tony

    The "trueness" of a god can be judged by the harvest from the collection plates filled in his/her/its name.

    August 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  20. Big_D

    So what does the Bible say about judging people?

    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.