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. Mike Fink

    Time to move forward and find a friendly church who is supportave,
    teaches the word of GOD and not a cult.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Athy

      That's almost as bad.

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

      @Mike Fink

      You said, "Time to move forward and find a friendly church who is supportave, teaches the word of GOD and not a cult."
      They are teaching the word of their god, or what they believe it to be. Funnily, they use the exact same book to derive that "word" as some 38,000 other denominations, sects and cults.

      The bible is conveniently contradictory and allows almost anyone to find support for their own preconceived beliefs and prejudices. You can pick and choose the parts that support your hate. You could also use it to pick only the parts that make christianity look all nice and cuddly. Either way it's a delusion.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • skytag

      Good luck with that. They're all cults.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
  2. Bill

    Religion is a stain on humanity and the proof is everywhere. "The bible speaks very plainly about that." The bible also speaks plainly about killing the non-believers and using woman as property...hopefully they don't start practicing that again soon.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
    • WrshipWarior

      I think you are confusing the bible with the quran: two different groups serving different gods.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        Same god, different viewpoint.

        August 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Have you learned yet that letting women, children, and Public Servants vote was a horrendous mistake??

      August 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  3. AW

    and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. This is from the bible too. located in Proverbs. I wander how many members of this church follow this too. If not then you are no different then the "sinners" you then you kicked out. This means if you are overweight and do nothing about it then you are sinning everyday. It clearly states in many places you should take care of your body.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  4. skytag

    Another reminder of why I became an atheist.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • CoolCMo

      Actually, you were born an athiest. What you actually did was throw off the shackles of insanity that is religion.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
      • Arthur

        James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

        How is religion so bad then?

        August 22, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
        • Cedar Rapids

          If that as all religion was then you may have a point but its more than just one line.

          August 22, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
        • skytag

          You can't possibly be naive enough to believe that's all it means to believe in God and be part of a religion. What an intellectually dishonest question.

          If you think you're up to having an real, honest discussion about the problems resulting from religious belief systems just let me know.

          August 22, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
      • Arthur

        Nonbelievers wouldn't understand that verse and that's exactly the point; you speak of what you don't know and that is that Christianity is pure and of love. You take that verse too literally or pretend to to avoid an honest discussion.

        August 23, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  5. Karen

    The bible gives very clear guidelines as to when a person can be excommunicated. It's up to the Pastor and Decons to decide if someone should be put out of the church. Here are some references:

    1 Cor 5:1-13

    August 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "The bible gives very clear guidelines as to when a person can be excommunicated."
      The question really is why adults put any value on that fairy tale.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Lee S

      Written by MEN that saught to use the words in the bible to control the masses. Of course they gave themselves power to do such a thing. Dont you see reliigion is and always has beena control mechanism. ANd you obviously eat it up. Youre pathetic.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • skytag

      What guidelines should the people who aren't Christians use, since only a third of the world's population is Christian.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  6. Nathan

    Sh *t like this is why I left the church AND Tennessee.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
  7. Joe Plumber

    This is great news. The end of organized stupidity is nigh.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • Mr. Slaave

      Jesuth Chrith!

      August 22, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  8. Peter Q Wolfe

    This to me is the perfect outcome cause the city gave benefits as the church independently decided on inclusion or exclusion of fellow members in their fellowship. I know that people shouldn't have to make a decision between extremes but you can't get much of a better outcome than this in a free country like the U.S. I hope that as the years progress that bigotry will be erased for people like me and her in this country!!!

    August 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  9. korkea aika

    It sounds like a blessing from God to get kicked out of a hateful place. So all that hate doesn't stick to your soul.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  10. Babs

    Many years ago, my grandfather, a life-long member of the Church of Christ, decided to travel on Sunday to reach a hunting camp, so that he could be there for the first day of hunting season on Monday. He did not hunt on Sunday, only travel. It was the only time he was absent from services. He, too, was asked to publicly repent. He left that congregation, rather than say he was sorry. Sadly, he dd not leave that sect of hypocrites altogether. It was all about control. Always was. Always will be.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  11. Mr. Slaave

    Jesuth Christh

    August 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • Joe Plumber


      August 22, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  12. SV

    Don't you gay hatin' Christians understand that all the suffering in the world is Him trying to tell you to change your ways? There's a reason the south is so poor. God is punishing you for your hatin'.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  13. Clark Nova

    Ridgedale Church of Christ
    1005 Dodds Ave
    Chattanooga, TN 37404
    (423) 624-4611

    Let 'm know what you think. I'll post the Rev's home number and address when I find them.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • Jay

      Clark, if this church is attacked, harassed, or even an interruption in during their service should occur then I hope they bring charges and/or law suit against you for invoking a riot, hostility, or damages. You have the right to take action for yourself, not ask for support in harming others.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        This information is publicly available. No suit is possible. BTW, here's Ken Willis' Facebook page:


        August 22, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
        • Jay

          And you responded...amazing.

          Why don't you post your address, email, and phone number for those church members and people who don't agree with you to "Let'm know what they think". If not then I believe your a coward hiding behind a computer giving your opinions. Like another commentator stated, "don't like it leave."

          August 22, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
        • Clark Nova

          Ken Willis
          1460 Marijon Dr Chattanooga, TN 37421-3632
          (423) 892-7449

          August 22, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
        • Jay

          Wow, at first I thought "such an idiot" posting his info but you proved me wrong. Tell everyone that the address is for a house that has been foreclosed and is on the market, also the fake name and phone number. Someone could have gotten hurt because the house is so close to a highway and tucked out of site for perpetrators.

          August 22, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
        • Clark Nova

          Yes, the house is for sale but I thought that to be irrelevant. The number is the right one, as it's also listed under Clyde A. Willis and his wife's name is Clyde Anne (how Tennessee is THAT?). Publications from his divinity school indicate that that is her name. The school, BTW, is Freed–Hardeman University, where he majored in Bible Studies.

          I'm sure that mail to that address will be forwarded to him.

          People really shouldn't let all of this personal info get on the internet. Their bad.

          August 22, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
        • Clark Nova

          And it's not 'tucked out of site (sic)'. Check Google Earth. It's clearly visible from the street.

          August 22, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
        • Jay

          I don't know I missed this but you were asked to list your contact information CLARK NOVA.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:27 am |
    • mbl

      Why leave his name and number for us to tell him what we think? Sounds to me that if you believe in freedom of religion this denomination seems to be one of the purest forms of that freedom. Each church picks its own elders and its own interpretations of scripture. Nobody is forced in the front door and those who choose to enter do so with an understanding of that church's particular belief system. It is not controlled by some far off synod, Vatican ,or Church of England franchising setup. You disagree? They disagree with you? Then each gets to move on without the other. I am not a "believer" and I appreciate that I can be that way in this country. I also don't presume to tell others what they should think, especially in the area of faith, which by definition is incapable of empirical explanation. Let that church believe what it wants as long as it isn't trying to control my life. I am sure that you do not want them banging on your door or carpet bombing your e-mail with their beliefs, so I suggest you give them the same respect.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
      • ksocreative

        right,.you do have a valid point for the most part, but when this kind of behavior goes unchecked it only helps others confirm their own ignorant biases and reiterate the same behavior again and again again. . not that i would post those folks names and contact like dude did, but to a degree, yeah i kinda feelin that move

        August 22, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  14. lbpaulina

    Why Southern people are so retrograde and hypocritical? They seem as brainwashed as the Islamic fundamentalists that they hate so much. Actually, I do not see any difference between them. Who are these so called pastors who have the arrogance of condemning and judging? Are those people who become very wealthy all of a sudden for some divine design? Why does it particularly happen in the little lost towns of the South? It happens because the general level of culture is very low.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Sara

      I really didn't believe it until i went and lived down there a while. What I found was that people were really sheltered and unexposed. My students left town (but not the state) to go to college, but planned on returning immediatelymhome to live right down the road from Mom and Dad. There was no real weight and value given to learning about the outside world, and so all they ever focussed on was local and reaffirmed the beliefs they already had.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  15. mtnman

    Unfortunately there are more churches in Chattanooga like Ridgedale Church of Christ, fortunately not all churches in Chattanooga are as cold as that one. It gets old knowing that churches intentionally and regularly exclude gays and expect them to be celibate and not fall in love or share their lives with anyone for their entire life.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  16. MagicPanties

    "... the bible speaks very plainly..." about absolutely nothing.
    It makes no sense and to say it is subject to interpretation is an understatement.

    My invisible pink unicorn is praying the poor minister gets a clue.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  17. Colin

    Religion is the feces of the human mind. I wish we were more like an elephant and could simply walk away from the steaming pile.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  18. bk1024

    Organized religions – against the human race since they first began

    August 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • djasp

      jesus agreed with you

      August 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  19. Ray Canales

    Judge not lest ye be judged? Let those among you with sin cast the first stone..........having said that, it is headlines like this that keep me out of the building called church, but not away from God......If I am trying to bring someone to God and they see this? If young people see this.....are they coming down the path......nope......

    August 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • Colin

      Believing in elves without sleeping in your garden is just as silly as those who do so slumber.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
  20. Andrew

    Sigh. Christians.

    August 22, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • djasp

      lots of athiests murder people. do you sigh and say "athiests..." ?

      August 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        No, not unless the atheist was doing his deeds in the name of atheism. They were doing this BECAUSE they are Christian.

        August 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
      • LinCA

        What is an "athiest"? Is it someone or something that is the most "athy"?

        August 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
      • skytag

        That was just pathetic.

        August 22, 2013 at 10:02 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.