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. Daremonai

    Yeah.. this is Church of Christ, the same denomination that split in two over allowing a piece of cloth on the alter or not. Petty power politics.

    August 23, 2013 at 7:22 am |
  2. RedskinsFan

    Wow, what a truly "wonderful" Church. Makes you wonder if they even realize that Jesus was the basis for the New Testament. Sadly, many church groups tend to follow the Old Testament (where it's allowed to own slaves, sell your daughter, stone a disobedient child to death, and stone an adulterer).

    August 23, 2013 at 7:20 am |
    • OffGOPClownCar

      The GOPee's version of "America" in action, not very "Christian"!!!

      August 23, 2013 at 7:22 am |
  3. Steve

    With this much hypocracy they must be republicans. "An enemy of my enemy is my friend." "No sin is greater than another." So all these tax evading speeding to church find fault with a parent supporting her child. This is what is wrong with America today. They obviously have some ego issues.

    August 23, 2013 at 7:20 am |
    • Steve

      Oh and that part about "anything that separates a family is not from God."

      August 23, 2013 at 7:48 am |
  4. woodin59

    What a sad commentary on a equally sad lot of people using religion to discriminate and exclude. Last I knew and read, God accepted everyone with open arms. Lets face facts, this congregation is evil for using the bible to manipulate and support their narrow personal agendas.

    August 23, 2013 at 7:18 am |
  5. Tanker

    It seems like you just can't live without some religious lunatic telling you that you are going to hell for not hating some one you love.

    August 23, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  6. Dandude

    I'm all for believing what you want to believe , but don't try to force that on someone else.

    August 23, 2013 at 7:12 am |
  7. Sid

    Perhaps this will bring up another person who has been lied to all her life about religion into the real light of a universe without the metaphysical. It's the 21st century and people still buy into a magical being who grants wishes. Ugh.

    August 23, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  8. Paul

    Why is no one mentioning the fact that legally they cannot keep her from attending the church?

    August 23, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • Sara

      Because legally the can stop her from attending the church. These are private non-profit clubs and you can keep people out just as we keep people from attending Harvard.

      August 23, 2013 at 7:15 am |
    • dean

      I'm not sure that's true. I imagine the church has the right to bar people from its premises just like a store can ban someone from entering in the future after causing some kind of disruption.

      August 23, 2013 at 7:20 am |
      • Sara

        They have even more freedom than a store, as they aren't covered by interstate commerce rulings and in most places also aren't covered by local non-discrimination policies.

        August 23, 2013 at 7:25 am |
  9. floyd schrodinger

    Good for you Linda! You made the right choice to get out of that den of hate and ignorance.

    August 23, 2013 at 6:58 am |
    • TheSnail

      hate. ha what a worthless abused word

      August 23, 2013 at 7:07 am |
    • JD

      That's exactly right! That church is a divided church in the eyes of the Lord. Everyone sins but this church has broken several scriptures. James 27 for starters. The Lord tells us beware of false prophets, sounds like this church is one. There is not foundation there or a cornerstone. This church is no different then the one that goes around protesting funerals of heros that fought for our country.

      August 23, 2013 at 7:20 am |
  10. BumblB

    religious people are hysterical. I love reading these indignant comments for entertainment purposes only...everyone thinks their thoughts are better than others...thanks for the laughs..now on to a better more informative article i go...namaste

    August 23, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  11. beans

    Exactly the reason more and more people are become atheists and agnostic. If that is the way a Christian should treat another Christian then what the hell is that. I thought that the bible said to LOVE one another as you love thyself? And not to judge? Even Jesus said that he who has never sinned to cast the first stone. This is what is wrong with organized religion. they teach one thing and then live another. IT IS AWFUL. I left the church years ago because of the lies, and the inconsistency and the outright judgmental ways. I think a persons relationship is between him/her and their God or Higher power. It doesn't need to be between the church, preacher/minister and other members. I just know that every church Ive ever attended was always about themselves. They teach love and then show such hate. Im proud to say that I am finally free of that nonsense. And as the people learn the truths more and more people will leave. I do believe that statistics are saying that religion is at an all time low, and the church wonders why. I think its plain to see.

    August 23, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  12. SixDegrees

    No surprises here. That's how christians roll.

    August 23, 2013 at 6:13 am |
    • saggyroy

      ...and other religions...

      August 23, 2013 at 6:24 am |
  13. the one

    and this from a religion that is suppose to be SOOOOOO forgiving

    August 23, 2013 at 6:12 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Hey, His love is Unconditional!

      (under certain conditions)

      August 23, 2013 at 6:17 am |
    • Reality

      What is there to forgive? H-omose-xuality is not a sin. It is genetic.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:35 am |
      • the one

        i never said it was a sin, but what about the compassionate ,loving side of the religion towards ANYONE that has accepted Jesus, or did you forget that side of it

        August 23, 2013 at 6:49 am |
        • Fladabosco

          You sound like an abusive spouse: 'But dear, I'm sorry I beat you up but it's because I love you so much.

          August 23, 2013 at 7:00 am |
  14. Sara

    It would be easier on the rest of us if either these fringe conservatives "Church of Christ" folks or the much more liberal "United Church of Christ" would change their name. I always have to check on more details when someone tells me they belong to the Church of Christ, and the difference is hardly trivial. It's like mistaking a Unitarian for a Unification Church member.

    August 23, 2013 at 6:10 am |
    • saggyroy

      I can spot a Unitarian a mile away.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:13 am |
    • John Sharp

      That is silly. It makes no difference. They are all reading from the same grade school fairy tale book.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:39 am |
      • Sara

        It makes a hell of a big difference if it's you marriage one group is fighting to protect, the other to destroy.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:41 am |
        • sam stone

          whose marriage are they trying to destroy?

          August 23, 2013 at 6:54 am |
        • Sara

          As in this very case, the members of the Chrch of Christ frequently punish people for supporting same se.x marriages and encourage their members to vote for policies that would prohibit recognition of same se.x marriages. So the answer is my marriage. The UCC, on the other hand, has affirmed same se.x unions for years.

          August 23, 2013 at 7:01 am |
  15. Chris A.

    Another reason why more and more people are leaving churches in record numbers. These churches profess to love others, but really only feel a sense of superiority not from God, but from hatred and bigotry. No religion is healthy that allows judgment in the flock... that is only up to God. Mortal man can only find redemption in love for his fellow man regardless.

    August 23, 2013 at 6:08 am |
    • Sara

      A lot of these churches still push you out for divorce.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:11 am |
      • LivinginVA

        A lot don't. A lot have significantly more exceptions for divorce than Jesus states there are. Yet, I suspect that even those that oppose divorce wouldn't force a parent who attended a child's second wedding to "atone for their sins" or leave the church.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:14 am |
        • Sara

          I agree they probably wouldn't boot you for attending a wedding, but I think the Churches of Christ are a bit more consistent on the divorce issue than some and they do drive people out, if more subtly, for divorce. I wouldn't be too surprised to see them take action against a member who sponsored a bill to make divorce easier. This is a bit different from most other churches.

          August 23, 2013 at 6:40 am |
        • Johnny

          Divorce isn't a sin. You don't commit a sin until you remarry, and at that point you are committing adultery which is considered a sin.

          August 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
        • Sara

          Johnny, it depends on the sect. Many Christian sects consider divorce abandonment.

          August 23, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • saggyroy

      No religion is healthy period. Will the atheists or humanists destroy the world? NO. I bet it will be some nut job from a faith yet to be determined with weapons of mass destruction.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:15 am |
    • guest

      John 7:24 " Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment."

      We are supposed to judge.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:29 am |
      • John Sharp

        Sure "You" are supposed to judge!! LOL. Trust me, they didn't mean you.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:40 am |
      • sam stone

        your judgement makes us tremble.....you are as impotent as your god

        August 23, 2013 at 6:56 am |
        • Charlie

          The day will come when you will tremble make no mistake about it.

          August 23, 2013 at 7:18 am |
        • Johnny

          I'm already trembling with laughter, does that count?

          August 23, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • John Sharp

      The number one reason people are leaving the church.


      August 23, 2013 at 6:46 am |
  16. Joseph Romanowski

    Teaching hatred and intolerance one dictate after another. I don't think God had this is mind. Just saying.

    August 23, 2013 at 6:08 am |
    • saggyroy

      God is hardly a moral yardstick. He killed alot of men, women, children, and animals in his heyday. Tell me what the animals and children did to deserve cruel fates?

      August 23, 2013 at 6:17 am |
      • Joseph Romanowski

        It is very appropriate to say that you are preaching to the choir. More people have been killed throughout history in the name of God than by any other means.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:49 am |
      • Charlie

        There was a reason, check it out, there is an answer, don't just assume.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:58 am |
        • Sara

          I guess we have ti read that as "God works in mysterious ways" since Charlie doesn't have an answer.

          August 23, 2013 at 7:03 am |
  17. bens772

    God has made it very clear that Sodomy is sin. To those who are children of God and have not excepted His free gift of salvation the Bible seems to them just a bunch of you can't do this and you can't do that. However God is Love and as a loving Father He set forth rules to protect us. These rules are not unreasonable anymore that it would be unreasonable for a parent to tell their child not to play in the freeway or eat wild mushrooms. God's word cannot be compromised. It's one thing to love your daughter but it's a completely different thing to openly defy the teachings of the Bible. To do so requires disciplinary action by the church. Those outside the church may not understand this and may not approve of it but frankly it is none of their business.

    August 23, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • midwest rail

      You'll be leading the charge to make divorce and adultery illegal, right ? If not, you a morally inconsistent hypocrite and a coward picking on an easy target.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:11 am |
    • LivinginVA

      The Bible is not nearly as clear on sodomy as is it on divorce. Do you believe that a parent who attends a second marriage ceremony for their child is sinning? Should the church force them to atone for the sin or leave?

      August 23, 2013 at 6:11 am |
      • John Sharp

        Who cares about your silly fairy tale book. Every time you reference it you show how unintelligent you are.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:48 am |
        • Charlie

          Seems to me your comment is the non intelligent one. And who cares about the so called fairy tale book, millions upon millions do John, too bad you can't see the truth of it.

          August 23, 2013 at 7:07 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      I have children, I wouldn't treat my children the way your god treats his. The god you worship is more akin to an abusive spouse than a loving parent.

      Signs you are in an abusive relationship
      – Monitors what you're doing all the time
      – Decides things for you that you should be allowed to decide (like what to wear or eat)
      – Threatens to hurt you, or your children if you don’t love him
      – Blames you for his or her violent outbursts or shortcomings
      -Being se.xually controlling
      – You have an impending sense of consequence that will come if you don't "obey."
      -Tells you that you are “nothing” without him and you don’t deserve his love

      You are right, if you want to worship an abuser that is your business. But then don't tell me he "loves his children unconitionally" because he doesn't. Not that I think that god exists, I am just making a point.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:15 am |
      • guest

        Of course you know God exists... everyone does.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:31 am |
        • John Sharp

          No one know's god exists. Because he doesn't.

          But by all means prove me wrong. Send me a video of your little god saying these things and I will believe

          August 23, 2013 at 6:44 am |
      • bens772

        You're arguments are spawned by ignorance of God's Word. They are very typical of one who has no knowledge or very little knowledge of the Bible. I don't find fault with you however I do prat that you will come to know Jesus Christ as your personal saviour. I fully understand where you're coming from though because I was exactly like you for 38 years before I gave my life to God. The fact of the matter is this, you will never understand and will be incapable of understanding until you decide to let go of your self pride and surrender your to God. Only then will He answer all of your questions, however most of them will become irrelevant at that time. Every Christian has been right where you are at this time. You've either got to give your life to God ( in which case you acquire true freedom ) or you will be lead by other forces. Forces and powers that do not have your best will in mind.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:31 am |
        • John Sharp

          His arguments are bases on solid rational reasoning.

          Yours are based on mythology.

          He wins.

          August 23, 2013 at 6:45 am |
        • fidgetwidget

          And who made you judge and jury that you can tell others what they need to believe and how to live? Hypocrisy, thy name is religion

          August 23, 2013 at 6:56 am |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Typical, it is my fault. Funny you never address the issues I brought up othere to say that I am doing it wrong. You religion is garbage, you worship an immoral monster. But I don't completely blame you, you have been abused for years and have been taught to accept all blame in your personal relationship with your god....another sure sighn of abuse.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
      • Charlie

        your point is only the way you see it, but you do not see the overall big picture, or the other side of the coin. Your comment is an easy one to answer, but that's something you should look into and prove yourself instead of just assuming the way you see it is the way it really is.

        August 23, 2013 at 7:13 am |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Charlie, you make the common mistake of assuming I haven't looked into it and I am just ignorant of the overall big picture. I can tell you I have plenty of CHristian education. I know most all of the arguments and rationalizations....I just don't buy them. If my post is so easy to answer I find it telling you made zero attempt.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      "These rules are not unreasonable anymore that it would be unreasonable for a parent to tell their child not to play in the freeway or eat wild mushrooms."

      Wrong! Those things are dangerous. LGBT are of no danger to you or anyone else. Bigotry is far more dangerous than something as natural as LGBT.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:20 am |
    • Not A Liberal

      Jesus Christ preached "Love one another."

      You, like this church, are preaching religious dogma used to exclude people. It is my hope that the presence of the Lord never visits this Church, and it appears that based on the actions of its Church leaders, He hasn't .

      August 23, 2013 at 6:24 am |
    • John Sharp

      Sure if you say so clown... Send me the video evidence of your god saying these silly things.

      Oh that is right, there is NO evidence your silly little god exists.

      Faith is the belief in something without evidence. I made a personal choice not to believe in something without evidence simply because I am not an idiot.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:42 am |
      • Charlie

        All you have to do is look around you John if you want proof of Gods existence. I feel sorry for you having no hope of any future life beyond this one, because if there is no God, then what? If some don't agree with you what with this name calling all about , calling people an idiot or a clown, how old are you anyway?

        August 23, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • Joseph Romanowski

      The problem with your "God's word" is that it is based on a language and dialect 2000 years ago. What is included in the Bible has been edited and reinterpreted. It was written by man in a world that was very different than ours. Plus, not all "words of God" were included in the final edition. So, what you are basing your hatred and intolerance on is in itself open for a lot of misinterpretation and reediting. Maybe the word of God but still a work of man. Lot of room along the way to get to where you are today.

      August 23, 2013 at 6:46 am |
    • Sid

      Free gift of salvation! (certain restrictions apply) Where do you send the shipping and handling?

      August 23, 2013 at 7:13 am |

      True. "it's frankly none of their business". The church is a "business" of sorts and like any business, people will buy your goods or not. I believe that this church has priced themselves out of the market. I hope that this church hasn't taken a bond out for a new building or anything. Just asking, but can a church go bankrupt?

      August 23, 2013 at 7:25 am |
      • Sara

        Yes, though they don't usually pay taxes they have to pay for electricity, roof repairs etc. and they can go bankrupt like businesses or other non-profits.

        August 23, 2013 at 7:29 am |
  18. Gerry Ellenson

    Just how small-minded and dogmatic can people be? I can't even imagine God visiting that congregation.

    August 23, 2013 at 5:53 am |
  19. Mel Stricker

    To all the people commenting who feel that the Christian religion should not judge people and should not get in the way of people's lives, look at the Conservative lawmakers and you will notice these people are using the same religious beliefs to make decision in Congress. Vote them out and remove religious bigotry from Congress.

    August 23, 2013 at 5:44 am |
    • saggyroy

      Amen brother!

      August 23, 2013 at 6:21 am |
    • saggyroy

      But you probably can't get elected unless you declare and show yourself to be delusional. I guess I found the problem ; )

      August 23, 2013 at 6:22 am |
    • John Sharp


      Religion – Together we can find the cure...

      August 23, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  20. Jim

    this is just another reason for me to dislike the christian religion. the people call themselves christians and yet ignore the teachings of christ. love thy neighbor, treat others as you want to be treated, dont pray in public. I am an atheist but find that I follow the teachings closer than almost every christian I have ever met. I can only hope for the day christianity is seen for what it is a big con on the world made up of pretenders that call themselves christians to have acceptance in their community.

    August 23, 2013 at 5:32 am |
    • saggyroy

      This might be the best thing that ever happened to her.

      August 23, 2013 at 5:41 am |
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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.