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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. C504

    Thought God's message was to show people His love... not turn your back on them and shun them!!

    August 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  2. Katy Columbus

    Religion preaches hatred...glad I comprehended that at a young age and left Catholicism. Now I am a happy Secular!

    August 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  3. tirips

    How does that verse go? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone...or something like that. Sad that people give religion such a bad name. Hopefully thier God is a forgiving one else they are going to be burning along side with all those they have condemned. Don't take my previous sentence the wrong way...I don't believe Gays are condemned...I am Gay...a Christian and I believe this is God's destiny for me and not to accept my life would be going against God's will. However, those who have such unChristian views are passing judgement or sinning and by thier own standards they will be held accountable.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Atul C

      Why do you guys take a verse out of context to prove a point? Further in that conversation, Jesus told that woman "Go, sin no more". I agree that these people have all the right to love their child however sinful the situation is but you can't expect Church to endorse the sin.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
      • JP

        You make comment about taking a verse out of context and then do exactly the same to make your own point.

        August 22, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
      • Sokesky

        They didn't ask the church to do anything. They did not involve the church. That's the problem.

        August 23, 2013 at 8:51 am |
      • Johnny

        Jesus, being without sin, was able to judge the woman, but nobody else was.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  4. Fred's kids

    Hate your own kids? Well, her pastor took a page right out of the Westboro Baptist Church.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  5. They are all a little nuts

    As a former minister of a Church of Christ, I can assure you that they are good people, just misguided in how they interpret things. They go by the motto "We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent." They still have bathrooms in their building although it isn't mentioned in the Bible, but don't allow musical instruments, because they aren't mentioned. Most the ministers are what most other denominations would consider "lay people" acting in the capacity of a minister. Very little formal schooling behind most their pulpits. Elders are normally grandfathers who are not capable of accepting change.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • BunnyPumper

      This 2013. Their backward ways do not excuse their hate.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • dan

      Ignorance is a Reason Not an excuse.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      There ARE musical instruments mentioned in the bible. Why is it that atheists like me always know more about your bible than believers do?

      August 22, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Minnie Poo

      How do you justify I Corinthians 5:11 cause to me that is the same as saying even if it is your own child you are not even to eat a meal with them.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • Jenny

      As a member of the church of Christ and the wife of a former minister, how long ago did you work for the church? You don't know what you're talking about.... Most churches have very well educated ministers and elders who love the Lord.... Don't just spread you're ignorance about the Church because you have a bad taste in your mouth for them!!!

      August 23, 2013 at 10:12 am |
      • They are all a little nuts

        No, you are incorrect. Most have not graduated from a 4 year college, but instead opted for a 2 year "preaching college" that claims they can give you a degree equivalent to a Masters degree.. yes, the good Christians make their people believe that a masters degree is earned in 2 years. I can point to 10 churches within a 200 mile radius of me and only 1 of those ministers have a degree from an accredited college.

        August 23, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  6. John

    These hate groups should be taxed!

    August 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Dude

      LOL... Thats innovative...

      August 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  7. Rick DeBay

    "Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians - you are not like him." – Bara Dada

    August 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  8. John Mayo

    I suppose the Church also kicks out spousal cheaters and divorced persons. Must have a dwindling congregation if it does.
    I wonder if it so strictly follows the Bible that it puts to death "insolent sons" (Called for in the Bible).

    August 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • christian

      Actually most conservative churches of Christ do disfellowship for adultery and the other point you made is in the Old Testament which was written for our learning but was nailed to the cross. The New Testament takes its place. So no they don't put to death insolent sons.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:45 am |
      • G to the T

        And yet the OT is still part of canon? I never cease to be amazed at how much Paul was able to push Christianity away from what Jesus taught.

        August 23, 2013 at 9:01 am |
      • Tom

        I just don't get how one vets remarried divorced people to make sure they aren't in unholy, adulterous unions. Then again, I never quite understood how the OT Levite priests & other followers of YHWH managed to spot men with missing and/or deformed " members" either. After all, there WAS a real obligation to keep them out.

        August 23, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  9. Jacob

    I just hope there is no one at that church who has ever stole, lied, committed adultery, lusted in their heart or etc. Because God does not look to kindly on those things either. A sin is a sin and that is between God and that person. Not between the church and that person. Because if that was the case no one could go to church. Anyways I thought church was for sinners to be saved?

    August 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Not to mention those unholy eaters of pork and/or shellfish.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • Terry

      Actually the reference in the bible that relates to church is speaking about those who worship Christ as their Lord and Savior not a building. To many people equate the church to a building and the people that run it. Not the case, because if these people are truly following Christ then love comes first. Christ did not come to save those already saved but the unsaved or those that are living in sin. That includes all people who do not live their lives for him regardless of orientation or anything else.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
  10. Andrew

    What the Church did was right. The Bible is clear on it.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • Athy

      Hey Andrew. You're as good as fred in advancing atheism. Keep up the good work.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • John

      Where in the bible is it clear that a mom supporting her lesbian daughter should be kicked out of the church? grow up and think for yourself.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • BunnyPumper

      One person's "right" is another's "what the hell are you smoking?".

      Just saying...

      August 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Andrew

      It is also very clear about not planting more than one seed per hole while gardening. Are people getting kicked out of church for that?

      August 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Mark

      Maybe if you would quit reading the Bible printed by the GOP and start reading the Bible sanctioned by GOD you would see the error of your hateful ways. Can't wait until Jesus looks for your name in the Book of Life and doesn't find it, but DOES FIND the COOPER FAMILY

      August 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Lisa B

      Prove it

      August 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Maybe in your bible...but not mine...oh, forgot- I don't believe in the bible because it's written and iterpreted by power mongering men used to control the masses.

      August 22, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • OMG5050

      ANDREW,

      YOU BELONG TO A RELIGIOUS CULT LIKE SCIENTOLOGY!

      You need help to be deprogramed.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Carol

      Andrew, the Bible has never been clear on anything.

      August 23, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Elleuthera

      WOW... stop embarrassing yourself.

      August 23, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  11. jayh

    Get the F#%$*& out of that church and stay out. May be a good time to consider giving up on the whole stupid religion thing anyway...

    August 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  12. LeeT

    Does this mean this church has no sinners? I guess the entire congregation will be put on notice.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  13. wrm

    (shrug) okay. If the people you're around don't want to be around you then find new people who do.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  14. JerryJones

    Tax these awful people. They spew their hate and use up our infrastructure without paying a dime. There's no reason they should be given a free ride and special consideration.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • wrm

      Doubly tax them... love me some good punitive taxation rants.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  15. Trey McK

    Way to go, Mom! You are right; it is between you and your Lord.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  16. eigenklarg

    WWJD?

    August 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Mark

      He would welcome all of them with open arms! Are you so dense that you actually had to ask such a moronic question???

      August 22, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
      • Rett

        Easy Mark, it might be just as moronic to claim to know how Jesus would respond:) His response might have surprised you.

        August 22, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Sue

      He would forgive them and say go and sin no more.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
      • Crashman

        What would they be forgiven for? They've done nothing wrong. The daughter acted the way God made her, and her mother showed her love for her daughter. Where's the sin to be forgiven?

        August 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  17. Red

    Jesus dined with publicans and sinners. He spent very little time condemning people. But I sure see that alot among "Christians" these days.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Rett

      You are right Red, jesus did very little condemning the FiRST time he came....he came as a physician for the sick.....His SECOND coming is about judgment.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  18. Pensacolascott

    Move here. I am gay and in a coverup marriage and no one cares

    August 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  19. RabiaDiluvio

    Now lets see the church order divorcees to go back to their spouses or else leave the church...hmmmm?

    August 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Q

      They won't do that. There are too many of them and the "Church" wants their money.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  20. appalachianmatt

    I thought the teachings of Jesus were about love and tolerance. I seriously doubt Jeseus would turn away someone who is gay. I would almost bet your life that he would accept that person, especially if that person has a good heart and helps others in need, but thats why I don't go to church. I believe in God just nto the oppressive bs man has put into religion. Love can be a hard thing to come across and if you find it, run with it. If people don't like then they need to remember its not their business ot begin with. Closed minded people are often the most insecure.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      Can you give a reference to back up your statements?

      August 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
      • Steve

        Here is your proof.

        1 John 4:7-12
        7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

        1 John 4:19-24
        19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
      • regenesis0

        34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

        August 22, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
      • Mike from CT

        Yes those are great verses on Love? The problem may be what is your definition of love? Is it loving for the mother of a murder to continue to murder or turn her child in to get help?

        But as accepted, there is no tolerance in those verses in the modern def of tolerance which has become acceptance for bad behavior. Instead we get the same all hypocrisy.

        THE CHURCH SHOULD BE MORE TOLERANT. IF THEY CAN ACCEPT DIFFERENT THEY SHOULD BE WIPE FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH.

        INTOLERANCE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!!!!.
        and on and on.

        August 23, 2013 at 8:48 am |
        • Mike from CT

          *accepted = expected ... whoops.

          August 23, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • Rett

      Heaven is not attained through a good heart or helping those in need, as pleasing as that might sound.....no one is good enough....."if heaven were obtained by merit your dog would get in before you" Mark Twain:)

      August 22, 2013 at 10:37 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.