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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. Michael

    The only reason why religious elders are no longer harping condemning gays as if they're committing the most vile sin possible is because its becoming increasingly difficult to milk their golden cow when using it as the grass.

    August 22, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
  2. cc

    "people become more religious as they get older" Don't understand this. As I become older I get smarter & learn more-so I'm less likely to be taken in by shamans, witch doctors, and other religious leaders. Perhaps they're talking about the growing number of seniors becoming senile?

    August 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  3. truth

    religion sucks. most believers are sooo brainwashed...they can't reason with anything

    August 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  4. Skeptic

    The Church of Christ is one of the least Christian denominations out there. I was forced to attend it when I was a kid, and even then I recognized how intolerant and extreme fundamentalist they were.

    August 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  5. colin in Florida

    "Elders at Ridgedale Church of Christ told Linda Cooper and two relatives ... was given a choice: publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church."

    Tolerance, that is one of those things that religion is supposed to teach us, right? Well, I guess it just did.

    August 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  6. lean6

    So many adults out here in this world with mommy and daddy issues rooted in the church. It's sad. If a parent truly takes the teachings of the church onboard and applies it to their lives, their children become just another soul...a threat...a vessel to be used by Satan and his angels if the child doesn't pursue the faith with absolute vigor. They sing songs and routinely preach the severing of earthly bonds to other humans, primarily those closest and most able to harbor secular influences. Ask me how I know....

    August 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
    • john

      You have issues with family not God

      August 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  7. Alex

    Gee, how did I know this level of ignorance would be in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama.

    August 22, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  8. honestsandiego

    Perhaps they should take the donations they collect each week and buy themselves a Bible.....so they can read it. Sad that a church would treat anyone this way....and all in the name of "religion". Just gross and sad.

    August 22, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  9. Gerry Lake

    The worst kind of hate is righteousness, the christian brand.

    August 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
  10. billleesbrain

    More hatred in the name of god.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  11. who gives a rip

    Choices of who, what, when someone chooses to sleep with provided they are beyond legal consenting age should be as inconsequential as the air that we all breathe. It just is, get over it. But the worst sin is to judge, and condemn a believer because they are supporting a loved one. definitely not WWJD. Maybe what would Glen Beck do, but certainly not our Redeemer, unless of course you stopped reading the Bible after the last chapter of the Old Testament.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  12. Erin

    I am a member of a Church of Christ and can honestly say that this would never happen in our congregation. The Church of Christ is about love and forgiveness, not censure. I can't even remember a time when a member was asked to confess or leave the church. Personally I applaud a mother who openly supports her daughter and admonish the elders of that church for closing their hearts to a member of their congregation.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  13. BAN ALL BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS!

    BAN ALL BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS!

    Jehovah's Witnesses say that it is an abomination and against the Law of God to receive a blood transfusion. THEREFOR – we must excommunicate anyone that works at the Red Cross, or in a hospital lab, or doctors or nurses and everyone who's ever had ANY type of blood product (transfusions, hemophilia treatments, platelets, plasma, etc).

    NO ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO HAVE ANY TRANSFUSIONS!

    "But I'm not a Jehovah's Witness! Why should their rules apply to me?"

    I'm not a Christian, so why can't I marry another man in the state of Utah?

    August 22, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  14. Proud Prodestent in Portland

    Well First let me say Thank you for all the recent support from the other 47 states for the help during the recent Washington' fires. Thank goodness they are finally extinguished and I think I've been able to stop smoking finally. Yay me!... But that's not why I'm here – We need to do something about that Church- where ever it is and have them change the policies they have there-whatever they are. Because they just aren't right. I mean really, that lady has been going there for years and now they are trying to fry her soul, before she gets any chance or hope of explaining why she would dare support her child doing what ever her daughter was doing. I mean really that's her business and none of ours. Thanks for reading, I hope I made some sense, but I was busy driving and it's kind of hard to focus when you are doing two things at once, if you know what I mean.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  15. Ken Uck

    These folks are welcome in my church any time.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  16. WWJD ???

    I find it hard to believe that Jesus would throw out a follower like this local church did. Even if the Church believes that she sinned by supporting her family, hate the sin not the sinner.

    There are so many stories in the Bible of Jesus helping the sinners. Maybe the Church members need to look in the mirror and ask WWJD.

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

      Look at old testament and what jesus actually said

      August 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
      • Michael

        Do you mean like "an eye for an eye" versus "turn the other cheeck" or do you just not have a clue?

        August 22, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
      • colin in Florida

        Might as well look in Aesop's fables or use the Brothers Grimm as a reference as the bible. They are all just fairy tales.

        August 22, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
      • jack wagon

        @ John states, "Look at old testament and what jesus actually said.....LOL Jesus doesn't say anything in the Old Testament. Why? He wasn't around then. Clown. Get an education before you say something stupid, like you just did.

        August 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
        • Athy

          He didn't say the OT quoted Jesus. Read more carefully.

          August 22, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
  17. StuporDave

    How many churchgoers conduct themselves in ways their church would find unacceptable if it knew of them? And, stop calling them religious teachings if you expect your flock to blindly follow the program, rather than actually teach something.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
    • Joe

      "How many churchgoers conduct themselves in ways their church would find unacceptable if it knew of them?"

      It's the same reason you don't call your boss a dick to his face. You would get kicked out of your job. Most of them are smart enough to keep their mouth shut.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  18. derwood

    Religion. All religion. Should be outlawed. More killing has been done in the name of religion the last 5,000 years than anything else in history.

    August 22, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • Jean Sartre

      Religion is an incurable psychiatric illness that will eventually destroy the human race...

      August 22, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
      • john

        Live with out hope .make money and die

        August 22, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
    • Carl J Dyrbye

      I could not agree more, sad as it is...

      August 22, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  19. Pam Barton

    I love our new pope!!

    August 22, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • Athy

      "Our?" He's not my pope.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  20. oneSTARman

    The Leaders of Churches that teach HATE have a Special Place waiting for them in the Depths of Hell

    August 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • BA

      Teaching what is believed is not a teaching of hate. If you don't believe the same, then move on and quit judging others yourself. Things would be much better if people like yourself would stay out of other's business.

      August 22, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        ' Things would be much better if people like yourself would stay out of other's business.'

        oh if only religions would follow that advice

        August 23, 2013 at 1:26 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.