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.



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. asygifvasi

    Wow, this action by Christians is just so totally unsurprising!

    August 22, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  2. Jon M

    Uhm, love, Kindness and turn the other cheek. Oh wait, that's the OTHER church !

    August 22, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  3. daniel - Dallas

    I grew up in the Church of Christ denomination and the dogma stuffed down my throat still affects me to this day – 40 something years later. The church not only treats the LBGT community very much like the example of this church, but they full believe – and preach – that they are the only ones going to heaven and the rest of the denominations are hell-bound. I can't count the number of sermons I heard on that. No musical instruments because "God didn't say it was OK to use a piano or organ". Women are subservient. I left that church, arm now one of the proud "nones" who do not affiliate with a religion, and an out gay man. I hope the lady who was expelled will one day realize, like I have, that this will be the most liberating event in your life. One doesn't and shouldn't have to associate with such bigotry.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • colleenbrickman@att.net

      Jesus died for everybody.....For God so loved the world He gave His only son; that who shall believe in Him shall have everlasting life. John 3:16 The slammer's on this thread should never complain if they haven't read the bible. They should never have did that to her....EVER!!!!!!!! That is not who Jesus is.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
      • skytag

        Until such time as you can support those claims with some evidence I will continue to believe they are nothing more than comforting fairytales.

        August 22, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
  4. Run4DaHills

    The lady should be refunded her life's worth of donations given to that church. Maybe, now she's got the picture on how vile and two-faced some "christian" churches and congregations can be. I hope she finds a decent church with true values, Christian or otherwise.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • Athy

      Or, better yet, she just stays away from all churches completely.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
  5. Out of the church forever

    They teach love on sunday school, and kill thy neighbor along the week, what a bunch of hypocrites!

    August 22, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  6. Jeebusss

    Gee a bunch of Christians acting like self-righteous circle jerking pieces of s***. Nobody anywhere was surprised at all.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  7. Frazier02

    Those sanctimonious "church" people need to do some serious Bible reading. The mom made the right decision by leaving. True Christians would not do what those church officials have done. Just another Westboro wearing different clothing.

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

      "True Christians" = "Christians who think as I do."

      August 22, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  8. Reverend Pastor Rabino

    I cannot condone the message this Church is sending.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Reverend Pastor Rabino

      You said, "I cannot condone the message this Church is sending."
      Neither can I. How can anyone, with a clear conscience, justify perpetuating the bullshit that religions are built on?

      August 22, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  9. Tom

    Christ would ashamed that this church is trying to represent him. This is why I can't stand churches anymore.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Christ would ashamed that this church is trying to represent him. This is why I can't stand churches anymore."
      Funny, I can't stand churches because the perpetuate the bullshit about their imaginary friends.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  10. Victor

    That's a sorry excuse for a Church. The Protestants who go there should find a good CHRISTIAN church to attend. One that teaches Christ's gospel of Love and Mercy.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
  11. ImVoting4Hillary

    GOP BIBLE SEZ: "Thou shalt only hate on gays because only gays destroy traditional marriage and not adultery."

    August 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  12. Navygirl

    I'm glad my Pastor has the gift of teaching us the word. If you don't agree with someone's lifestyle that is your choice. Its also their choice to live as they choose. Honestly I don't agree with the lifestyle but I have had friends who are gay. I made my beliefs clear but I also told them that I was their friend before they came out to me and I will always be their friend. This person believed that I would turn on them and certainly that wasn't the case. My bible tells me that its the love of God that will bring a man to repentance not bashing them over the head because they live differently than you do. None of us are perfect we all have our issues. If you examine the bible closely you will see that Jesus never condemned anyone he always told them the truth and allowed them to make their own choice right or wrong. In fact I believe there was one instance in which a woman was caught in the act of adultery and the crowd sought to stone her.. When Jesus came on the scene he told each of them "ye without sin cast the first stone" amazing "erbody" dropped their stone and walked away. Case and point no one is perfect. If you don't agree with someone's lifestyle it doesn't give you the right to disrespect them. Show them the same love and kindness you want and let God be their judge. #missingmygayfriend

    August 22, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • LinCA


      Calling homosexuality a "lifestyle" betrays the depth of your ignorance. Lifestyles are a matter of choice. Choosing to be a christian is a lifestyle. Being gay isn't.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • ImVoting4Hillary

      So true. Speaking of adultery, why is it that the right wing NEVER whines about that? Adultery is a sin also and folks like Limbaugh and Gingrich have committed it many times over yet the right wing NEVER says anything about it. Adultery has destroyed more marriages than gay people getting married.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • skytag

      "I'm glad my Pastor has the gift of teaching us the word."

      This is cult talk. It reinforces your brainwashing but what does it really mean? In practice "teaching the word" means teaching whatever interpretation of the Bible you embrace.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  13. GI Joe

    But I don't believe God steals from the poor the way churches do.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • colleenbrickman@att.net

      That is the oldest lie ever GI Joe.....You haven't been to a church lately....is anyone twisting your hand when they pass the plate???? Don't talk about stuff you don't know. You are now the judgmental person in this thread

      August 22, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
      • colleenbrickman@att.net

        You are right GI man God does not need our money...Sorry I came on strong.

        August 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
        • skytag

          Another hateful, nasty Christian. Shocker.

          August 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
  14. GI Joe

    If God needs money, he knows by bank account number.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  15. fumota68

    let the bigotry begin, 1 2 3...

    August 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "let the bigotry begin, 1 2 3..."
      You're kinda late to the party, don't you think?

      August 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
      • Roger that

        Page 25. That's one slow dial up connection.

        August 22, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  16. Control-Oriented

    Ah, Tennessee, a Southern state. Well, that figures. Gives continuous meaning to the phrase No Where Else But the Backward South. That state has got to be so regressive to the point of being pathetic. Sad isn't it. But some folks never learn because they don't want to let go of using inappropriate Scripture in order to continue their condemnation of others, while no doubt seeing themselves as being sin-less, because if they did, what else would they have left?? Nothing. That's their controlling mechanism for the masses which is why people have been leaving them En Masse.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • axx

      hey im from and live in Tennessee and ill have you know this is a great state. we have good food, beautiful mountains and..........and.............did i say good food? ok your right this place s u c k s.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Fromthesouth

      Thanks for throwing everyone from Tennessee under the bus. Grouping the whole state of Tennessee together and slandering us all is a fine example of prejudice.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
    • Control-Oriented

      Hi axx and Fromthesouth! I certainly did not mean to be inclusive of everyone living in Tennessee. I know there can be some pretty good people there, like in Memphis, who are progressive in their way of thinking. Kudos to them! But then there are those who like this story has exemplified are such backward thinkers that it leaves much to be desired. So, let's just say to the two of you, Present Company Outlawed! But in general, the Southern states have the hardest time catching-on in light of their backward non-progressive way of looking at the Gay and Lesbian issue. It's high time they caught up to the Twenty-Second century already! Cheers.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  17. jesusforpenis

    Jesus apparently didn't die hard enough for this church.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
  18. Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    Why are the righteous so wrong ....Southern Christians are a lot like the Taliban but with their hand in your pocket instead of a knife at your throat.... What's the cost of christ in your church 10 to 15% or more..... If God was here he'd tell you to your face man your some kind of sinner....... Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    August 22, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Dippy

      Last "your" should be "you're".

      August 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
      • RC

        YOUR last sentence should have started with "The" or "That". YOU'RE an ass.
        Lest I forget-SHUT UP!!!!

        August 24, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • skytag

      Dippy fancies himself a member of the homonym Gestapo. It gives him a sense of purpose and his therapist says he needs that. Feel free to ignore him. The rest of us do.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
      • RC

        Yeah, but it's so much fun to tell him to SHUT UP!!!!

        August 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  19. Randoms

    Gotta love religion, it's ok for priests to drop the pantz of a boy in a choir and ruin his life...but kick out this lady?

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

      No, it isn't okay. Shame on the priests for doing it. No one ever said it WAS okay. Yet what we are seeing here with the gay issue is simply what the Jesus and the bible foretold. The sheep are being separated from the goats. The wheat from the chaff, and that's really all it is.

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

      Intellectually dishonest and really stupid attack.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  20. dean

    Please not that the Church of Christ is NOT the same as the United Church of Christ. The UCC readily accepts everyone into their congregations, including lesbian/gays and their family members. The UCC has an open door policy for anyone wanting to seek the love of Jesus.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:08 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.