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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. Colin

    Christianity is the belief that an infinitely old, all-knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in my $ex life.

    Atheism is the belief that the above belief is fvcking ridiculous.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • pothead

      Yes sir! Nailed that one

      August 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  2. svann

    The church is an abomination.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  3. cheetah2003

    Yet another fine example of why organized religion has NO PLACE in the modern world.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  4. THOSE OF YOU WITHOUT SIN CAST THE FIRST STONE

    Before you worry about the splinter in your brother's eye, worry about the plank of wood in your own.

    Judge not, lest YE be judged.

    Frucking Hypocritical Christians – THIS IS WHY YOU ARE ALL HATED. It's time to bring the lions back and start feeding you baztards to them.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  5. northerstar

    When asked about "Gays" on his way home from Brazil, the POPE said "who am I to judge ? I guess the people at this church decided they could do the judging for the POPE !!

    August 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  6. Akira

    After 60 years? Punishing the parents? Hoo boy. Aren't they loving Christians?

    August 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • cmh

      God's gentle loving people indeed.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Cocopuf4u

      God loves every one of us but sin separates us from Him that created us from the beginning. The Church tries to teach us how to get back to God through repentance and a change of lifestyle AWAY FROM SINS. She just ignored God's commandments and chose to continue to live in sin. The penalty for sin is death of the Spirit which means separation from God.

      We all have free choices to make in our lives, and God can only bless you when you make the right choices. Christ died for all our sins so that we may live.

      Ignoring God's Word means we die twice; once in the flesh because of our sin nature and the second death of our Spirit which means etrrnal separation from God. However, when you turn to Christ, repent, and change your ways, the Father forgives your sins and are remembered no more.

      The Kingdom of God is within your own reach. No one can force you to do anything. God loves you (from the Greek: agape) but sins prevent you from being with God because we are all in a fight between the flesh and the Spirit.

      When you begin to understand our plight, then and only then can you understand why God has provided each of us with His plan of redemption through Christ our Lord and Savior. Godspeed to you.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
      • midwest rail

        The mother is not gay. How has she sinned through her love for her daughter ?

        August 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
        • Cocopuf4u

          READ THE ARTICLE AGAIN. She had a partner.YES.

          August 22, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
        • midwest rail

          You read it again. The daughter had a partner, not the mother. Reading comprehension is a skill.

          August 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
  7. Science, Not Myth

    Religion = Ignorance
    Religious people = Stupid bigots

    August 22, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • Really for real Scotsman

      Absolutist generalizations= moron

      Hi moron.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • scranton

      I agree. Biden, Obama and the Kennedys which are all religious people are in that category.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
      • may40

        Religious is not Christianity. Anyone can be religious. JEsus came to destroy religion. It's all about a relationship with Christ. That's what He wants.

        August 22, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          You can't have a relationship with an imaginary person, you can only think you have a relationship with an imaginary person. If just a fraction of the people who claim to have a relationship with jesus actually did have a relationship with jesus, there'd not be so much disagreement over what he wants.

          August 22, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • may40

      So sad. Unbelievers=intolerance & hate filled.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
      • So you condone their JUDGEMENT?

        They were COMMANDED by their Savior to not judge, and yet they are, and you condone that? You're just as hell-bound as they are.

        BURN IN HELL YOU HYPOCRITE!

        August 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  8. skarphace

    This Church, as with all Churches that refuse membership to anybody, are overlooking the most important order that Jesus Christ ever gave his disciples. The very first order he gave them was to go be "fishers of men". By this, he meant to go seek out sinners and teach them the way of Christ so that they could build a personal relationship with God and be forgiven of their sins.

    To reject any sinner is to be in direct opposition with the teachings of Christ.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • ogre12

      very true however we should argue the bigger point of what cnn is tries to portray. This is an evil organization if you want the truty then go to the Christian bible. It is said and done.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  9. JoeShmoe

    "God forbid" the church need a detective and the one who could help had been ostracized..

    Usually at the end of these inquisitions, when the worst bigots in church are finally put under the same microscope, they murmur "nobody's perfect". WHAT IS IT ABOUT LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF THAT CHURCHES ARE THE LAST TO GRASP?

    August 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  10. Norps

    More churches should cast out their parishioners for supporting their family members. I think they will find their collection plates and pews dwindling.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  11. alan

    Just another example of Christian love and forgiveness.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  12. delos

    The world would be a better place without religion, and a word of advise never ever give a thumper a GD inch

    August 22, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • Alexx

      Agreed. Religion is completely toxic to society. If more humans would think for themselves rather than what the teachings of a certain religion raise them to believe, our lives would be much easier.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  13. Nate in CA

    And the Church wonders why the Millennial generation is fleeing organized religion in droves.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  14. Rippgutt

    Just set the damned church on fire, if it burns down...then it was "gods" will. Let them see how that works.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  15. Lost

    If this keeps up, more and more people will become divided, worsening the fracture in national unity (if it ever existed). Choose Agnosticism.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Athy

      Better yet, choose atheism.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  16. Reason over faith

    "publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church"... Who do these peope think they are? Is this really what the christian faith is about? If so, who would ever want to be part of this cult...

    August 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Athy

      Certainly not me.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • ieat

      this is church of christ, they're uber conservative.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
      • S.

        No they're not. Maybe you missed the part of the article where it says they fall between progressive and conservative. The whole thing about being independent churches is that an overarching organization can't tell you what to do because there isn't one. How conservative a Church of Christ is depends on the congregation of that particular church. I think you have the Church of Christ confused with Southern Baptist.

        August 22, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
        • Clark Nova

          No, you have the Church of Christ confused with the United Churches of Christ. The former is hidebound conservative and the latter is, for lack of a better term, more Christian.

          August 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  17. Cris

    Go live your life in peace.

    You don't need a building or pews or a choir or offerings or hymns or a preacher or deacons to have faith.

    Not one is necessary......at.....ALL

    August 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Reason over faith

      A voice of reason.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  18. Jennifer

    Are the other member's of the congregation sinless? Or is loving your child unconditionally (as Jesus did for the rest of us) a worse sin than the liars, adulterers, thieves, etc. are committing everyday? This church should be ashamed of themselves because if they were to actually pay attention to the book they preach from, they would know that they are missing the mark by a long shot. Disgraceful!

    August 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Dippy

      Members, not member's.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
      • Jennifer

        Um...thanks Dippy. I appreciate you helping out with the grammar. It didn't have anything to do with the article but I am grateful that you decided to help me out with my typo. FYI – members, not member's is a fragment πŸ™‚ I have now returned the favor; we are even.

        August 22, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
      • pothead

        Are you lonely dippy doo? Come over and smoke one.

        August 22, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
      • RC

        You should really do something with that amazing education you so freely flaunt. Now run along back to the basement. Oh and-SHUT UP!!!!

        August 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  19. Matthew

    The headline is misleading. She wasn't booted from the church; she was given a choice.

    August 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Reason over faith

      Hmmm. A choice between my church and my child...the church loses 100% of the time if so. What true church would ever ask a woman of strong faith to do such a sinful thing?

      August 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
      • Matthew

        I love my family members, but I love God more. The parent can love the child without supporting the child's behavior. A particular church shouldn't be put before family, but in this case, the church is the one in agreement with the Bible and the child is not; therefore, the mother is wrong. Jesus makes it very clear in Luke 14:26 that He comes first and not family.

        August 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
        • skarphace

          Jesus also made it very clear that as Christians, the most important action you can take in His name is to seek out sinners and teach them the ways of Christ. This woman and her daughter were rejected by their Church, which is quite un-Christ-like.

          August 22, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
        • Matthew

          β€˜Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." Leviticus 19:19

          "Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering" Leviticus 23:19

          Hope you aren't overdressing and be sure to make your animal sacrifices. In Leviticus it details how to dismember the animal.

          August 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
        • Cedar Rapids

          Family should always come before religion. That people would actually put fairy tales before their own family members is a scary thought.

          August 22, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
        • G to the T

          "Behavior" over which someone has control – yes. "Orientation" over which someone has no control – no.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
        • Matthew

          Family should never come before God. If we put family before God, we are making family our God. No one should be asked to leave a church simply based on making a mistake. We all do that. However, in this case, the church is correct. We aren't talking about a mistake; we are talking about someone who is publicly defending those who engage in acts of perversion that the Bible calls an abomination, unseemly and unnatural.

          August 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Hey! You!

      Our way or the highway!

      August 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  20. Miked

    Would the church ever boot someone that has a physical deformity? Or if they were born with both male and female genitals, like a hermaphrodite? Of course not because they were born that way. God put gays on earth to show us that there is a human soul in all of us, sometimes the outer shell doesn't match the soul inside. Humans are not perfect; sometimes the laws that humans write are not perfect neither. Just the way Jesus came to change the Messiah laws, there will be new scrolls to be opened in the future (Read Rev 5:1-5). Also, remember, Matthew 7:1-2 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2Β For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

    August 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • tmr

      Very well stated!
      God created all of us in his image. I take that to heart. God created me for a reason and I am who I am because it was God's will. For a human being to pass judgment on another human being because their differences in lifestyles is different from mine is wrong. The Bible says that you should treat others in the same way that you would want to be treated. The "Church" that turned away this family is not a Church of My God.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:31 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.