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. Upstanding Citizen

    Christians are such disgusting people.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Some are, some aren't, just like non-Christians.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
      • Canada

        lol, isn't his statement ironic? they never see it though!

        August 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Lisa B

      THESE are not Christians

      August 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      There are over 40,000 denominations of Christianity. Some have lesbian priests.

      Which one are you talking about?

      August 22, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
  2. Athy

    I love to see stories like this. They're a great promotion for atheism. Only a fool could read that and not hate religion. Sadly, there are still lots of fools.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Why would anybody hate religion?

      August 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
      • Canada

        Why would anybody Hate?

        August 22, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
        • mtnman

          It makes the haters feel superior to others.

          August 22, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
      • brian

        ... with any luck, religion as a whole will fade off into the sunset like the dinosaurs and the entire planet can stop "damning", killing, alientating, etc. others for not believing in their very specific version of magic.

        August 22, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
        • Stan

          Good luck waiting for that to happen.

          August 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
        • Canada

          Do you think that could happen? What would it take on your part, and on the part of others that believe things as you do? Can you, or do you have a plan to make all religion disappear ?

          August 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
      • Steve

        Because Religion can poison minds. Jesus is my savior, not my religion.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      ..or they can just find another church

      August 22, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  3. Jim

    So what is the problem? Why would anyone want to belong to that church to begin with?

    August 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Most don't join, they are born into it! It just takes a while for most to come to their senses and leave.

      August 23, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  4. Jesus Freak

    Using religion to justify hatred and bigotry is the ultimate blasphemy.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Freakin Jesus

      that's what churches are....

      August 22, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • brian

      LOL!!!! Where ya been the last couple thousand years??

      August 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  5. Dyslexic doG

    and they're doing it all TAX FREE baby!

    August 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  6. BunnyPumper

    As if we needed more evidence that the "church" is a dinosaur that has outlived its usefulness.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  7. Q

    The Christian Taliban at it's finest.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • DCBill

      Bigots in general and religious bigots, especially, always hide behind something, in this case, "I am such and such, only a higher such and such can comment on what I may or may not have done."

      If their church tenets say something, that's fine. But using the Bible–with the Old Testament endorsing all sorts of horrible acts–and the New Testament interpreted and written by a bunch of guys after the fact, is ludicrous and hypocritical!

      August 22, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
      • fumota68

        and you are not less than a bigot also. XD

        August 22, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
  8. JC In The Hot Tub

    If Christians were anything at all like Jesus, everyone would be a Christian.

    Unfortunately Christians are nothing at all like Jesus.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      I personally wouldn't. I don't have much time for hippy carpenters.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Christina


      August 23, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  9. TLORop

    Affirmation that this Church of Christ is another false religion.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  10. mdreader

    I stopped going to church years ago,,,I now spend my Sunday mornings enjoying coffee, reading, working inthe yard, catching up with my family. I do not need or want any part of Christianity any longer. It is nothing but bigotry, hate, hypocrisy and a lot of fairytale. This mother needs to turn a new leaf, head to happy hour and brunch on Sundays from now on...live a little instead of letting this nonsense fester in her heart.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG


      August 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  11. My2Cents

    The 7th Commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery". I wonder how many people in this church are divorced. Will they be forced from the church as well?

    Luke 16:18

    "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery."

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

      ... no no... you just pay a small fee and POOF!!! you get that previous marriage "annulled"... so.. it never happened. It's amazing how a small handful of cash will magically change the word of God.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  12. Frank

    Christianity is filth.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      That's a bit of an overstatement.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • Frank

        No, it is not.

        August 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          Yes, it is.

          August 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
        • Canada

          yeaa.. definitely an overstatement.

          August 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      Fundies suck. Even atheist fundies.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      I prefer to think of it as mass hysteria and a program for controlling the masses.

      August 22, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  13. RobK

    The saved are those who repent of their sins and believe in the atoning blood of Jesus. The unsaved are those who revel in their sins and reject the Savior.

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

      The normal ones don't buy into any of that fiction.

      August 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Canada

      very good reply 🙂

      August 22, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • humanbean

      Are you listening to yourself? Delusional much? Your religion is no different than the ancient religions, like the Incans and Mayans, when you start referring to atonement in blood and all of that other psycho babel. Your premise is just as crazy as we believe those previous religions were.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • Caitlin

        The other religions are not even close. Christianity is the only religion where their God has become man and has died for their sins. Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man. God alone could not die to save us. God became man in order to save us. In order to save us this man must also be God. Jesus is God. He paid for our sins with his own precious blood. We know that the payment was accepted because Jesus rose from the dead!

        What other religion is there remotely similar to this?

        August 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  14. Da Jeebus

    Christians use their religion to justify their own hatred and bigotry.

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

      Plenty of atheists do as well. Also, look up "scientific racism". Bigotry comes from the person, not religious affiliation or the lack thereof.

      August 23, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  15. testing123

    Good, she didn't need to be in a place like that anyway. Maybe now she will see the church for the bastion of intolerance that it truly is.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  16. Bishop Hairy Palms

    Christianity continues to be used to justify the hatred of ignorant, bigots.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • BunnyPumper


      August 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  17. Pat in IL

    This preacher and his supporters are not genuine Christians. If they were, they would understand the walk of Jesus, which
    Is love and inclusiveness. Judgement is God's and God's alone. He is running his church like a private club, not. A house of God.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • SoArlSlacker

      ...just a bunch of Pharisees

      August 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Rett

      Inclusive? Entrance to Gods kingdom is reserved to those who came the way Jesus said to come.....any are welcome, sure, but only if they come the way that christ said.

      August 22, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
      • Christina

        Inclusiveness as in, Christ died for everyone, just just the goody-two-shoes or the self riotous. His love is for everyone. We make the choice as to whether or not we want to follow Him.

        August 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  18. Daryl

    Dear Ridgedale Church of Christ,

    Some people are gay.

    Get over it.



    August 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  19. erexx

    Bigotry is Divine

    August 22, 2013 at 3:45 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.