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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. eprobono

    "If religious people could be reasoned with there would be no religious people."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  2. Michael

    The bible clearly states that no one has the right to judge except God. Judge not lest ye be judged. I guess that's not their bible. This is the kind of thinking you get with the Tea party.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Pete/Ark

      Sharia Law in disguise

      August 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
      • ME II

        "If you want justice then you want sin delt with. "

        If "sin" is offence against God, then I couldn't care less about it. I want crime dealt with, yes.

        August 23, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  3. Deanna Long

    When my ex-husband stopped attending a CoC (I was never a member and never attended) they sent us pictures drawn by children of a man and woman standing in the flames of hell which told us to repent or be damned eternally. This did not make me run to their arms, funnily enough. I shudder to think what they would say if they knew I a) divorced him and b) came out. These churches are little more than bands of hateful self-righteous people who gather to look down on and condemn others. No better than a clique or a gang.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  4. WestCoastAviator

    Hate the sin, Love the sinner. NOT hate the sin, hate the sinner and hate the sinner's mother. Doesn't seem very Christian like, does it?

    August 23, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  5. gopersareignorant

    All those christian republicans show the love their Jeebus teaches them. Nothing new here. A church especially a southern one is nothing more than a home for regional republican racist bigot haters. The Klan is welcome in most of them.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  6. Pete/Ark

    Being a person of doubts , I rarely come to this site ... but I remember something from Sunday School about 60 years ago ... "hate the sin , but love the sinner" ... sounds like a great non-Christian church to get thrown out of...

    August 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  7. Nellie

    Good for you, Ridgedale Church of Christ ! You have our support 100%. The rest of the posts which do not support you are a waste of time to read, digest, and comment on.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Darwin was right

      And get them Blacks back on the plantation and the back of the bus too! Every true Christian knows the BIBLE says SLAVERY IS OK.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Observer

      Nellie,

      Skip the hypocrisy. There's practically ZERO chance that you believe and support everything in the Bible.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Justme

      Mighty fine "high horse" you're riding there. Do you happen to remember the phrase "Judge not lest you be judged"? Evidently the Church of Christ mentioned in the article doesn't either.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • Rob S

      Jesus' teaching of "Judge not so that you will not be judged" pretty well eliminates judging people, I'd say. Please take note of the only folks Jesus really frowned on were the Condemners – the religious leaders of the time, leaders who made judgements of the spiritual status of others. God loves us all – there are no exceptions. We should remember that.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:43 am |
      • Tom

        That's pretty good. However, Paul's & the other NT writers "enhancement " of & elaboration of Jesus' teachings have given carte blanche to this mindset. Yeah, I KNOW their words are inspired-the Bible says it .One would think from listening to zealots posting on here that Gideon Bibles were placed in motel/hotel bedside tables worldwide by the Hand of God Himself-no Christian in-fighting over the "correct canon"-ever.

        It's a sad day when people readily dismiss and/or disavow their loved ones in favor of a collection of works whose provenance is , in reality, a mystery .Just saying " I KNOW it is the Word (Will) of The Almighty" isn't going to cut it.

        August 23, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  8. omeany

    I'm pretty sure Jesus would not have treated her that way. It's sad when people use their religion to persecute groups they don't like and it's one of the many reasons people are leaving the church.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  9. Hill

    Jesus was gay, hung with only men, never knew a woman in the biblical sense, so what's the problem?

    August 23, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  10. Ralph_in_FL

    Typical Christians.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Todd

      Typical Humans.
      When confronted with something we don't know much about we try to ignore it, or fight it. So banishing someone is fighting them so they can ignore them. Sure they manipulate their religion to come with a reason other than admitting their lack of knowledge.
      You see similar stuff with political parties. Organizations, companies, activist-groups....

      August 23, 2013 at 11:16 am |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

        Hear, hear.

        August 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
        • Cam3x

          Hal, open the pod bay doors to hell and drop this church in...

          August 23, 2013 at 11:44 am |
      • omeany

        I agree. It's tribal thinking at it's best. The group has a tribal god who hates everyone and everything it's people hate. Convenient isn't it?

        August 23, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  11. joe

    "We believe in Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, the manifestation of God in flesh, who lived, suffered, and died for all mankind; whom we own as our only Leader, Witness and Commander."

    If Jesus is their only leader and mentor then here are his thoughts.

    Romans 14:1-13 "As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. ...

    Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses

    And last but not least, the one where their decision directly contradict the actual words of jesus......

    Luke 6:27-32 "But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same."
    Just sayin
    (J)

    August 23, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Hill

      Yeah and someone wrote down these speeches some 60 years after the alleged death of this historically unproven Jesus. Then we are translating across two languages, greek and Latin into English (no room for changes there). So Let's just say Jesus and his Word is fictive. Then, we add into the mix the current rewriting of the Word, such as the English did
      in the Tudor period to appease their nation building attempt. Today the different times Jesus rose from the dead has been conflated into an early morning denotation with no fixed time. Tomorrow, the render to Jesus line will be deleted to fit christian right wing ideology.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • justin.copsy

        Stop

        Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Express™, an AT&T LTE smartphone

        August 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  12. Rebbeca

    If God knew what people were doing in his name he would never stop throwing up.
    Shame on the elders of this church!!!!

    August 23, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  13. Cthullu

    For a moment I thought this was a story coming out of Durkadurkastan...

    August 23, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  14. Darwin was right

    Hey, what do you expect from a Southern Church? For 100 years before the Civil War THOUSANDS OF PREACHERS got up on the pulpits every Sunday and reassured slave owners that the BIBLE SUPPORTS SLAVERY. And then for 100 years after, the preachers supported bigotry and segregation. In fact, it wasn't until 1992 that the Southern Baptists finally APOLOGIZED for their two centuries of leading hate against Blacks. If you want love, tolerance, and human rights, don't try looking for it in a Southern Church.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  15. Just wondering

    While I'm saddened by this story for some of the same reasons others have mentioned, I'm ultimately questioning why CNN chose to publish this story in the first place. The church that I attend recently sent a team of 2 dozen people to New Jersey to assist with home reconstruction there, and will send another team this fall. We run a transitional housing ministry to help single moms become independent, mentor dozens of at-risk school children every week, offer a food pantry to those in our community who struggle with basic necessities, and provide free day-care to families who just need a break. We do this not just because we're nice people (I'm convinced there are plenty of those inside and outside the church), but because we're trying to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Does that mean that the church is without its warts and fools? Of course not, but it would be nice to see CNN present a more balanced picture.

    August 23, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Russ

      @ just wondering:
      "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
      -H.L. Mencken

      August 23, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • DJ

      This isn't about a few warts, it's about systemic bigotry carried on in the name of God. I know what you're saying. There are a lot of great things churches do for communities. It's nice. But this is news and it will be written about. No one says "why don't people write about the charity work Ted Bundy did?" The other stuff he did was news.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Jim Higginbotham

      Just wondering,
      It's great that your church participates in benevolent activites. That is what Jesus commands us to do. But this story is about the very common practice in the Church of Christ of "withdrawing fellowship" when a group of Men are appointed for life to postions of leadership and are allowed to be the ultimate authority to the point of casting judgement upon others. That is something clearly contrary to the word of God. This is one of many flaws in the CoC. This notion of each congregation being completely autonomous when there are very clear examples of early churches being visited and found to be doing things that were contrary to Christian teachings. For a Church that claims to be against divison, the Church of Christ is a leader in that area !

      August 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  16. Eric J. Beck

    Death to Christianity. Satan committed the biggest hoax in the history of man when he figure out a way to create the hate and violence religion engenders. You want to be loyal to God? Denounce religion and simply get into the business of loving thy neighbor. God is judge, not some hillbilly ignoramuses.

    August 23, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      The judiciary is judge, not some late Bronze Age war god from Canaan.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Rebbeca

      Wel said

      August 23, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  17. Rob

    Organized religion will be the downfall of society. If Messiah returns, it will be to cleanse the earth of the people who do evil things in his name – like this church, for starters.

    August 23, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  18. Perfect

    Proving once again that "religion" and "faith" are NEITHER...they are teaching hate...they should be teaching acceptance and compassion and inclusion.

    August 23, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  19. sftommy

    Which disciple did Jesus disavow?

    August 23, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Ooh I know

      The gay one.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  20. John

    As someone who attends church I think this is an outrage. If a person believes that being gay or the acts of gay people are a sin then why would you not want them or their family in church after all church is for the sinner not the righteous

    August 23, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • uncommon wisdom

      Church is not a social club. It is a collective body of people who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which also means they have rejected this world and all the sins and bad behavior and values of this world, which the Bible condemns and says Jesus will judge. The key word here is "repent". The church should accept all people, but toward the goal of repentance – a change in behavior. Those who refuse to submit to the power of God so they can change are justifying their own behavior in violation of God's standards. Get off this blog John, and read a Bible and seek the Lord with regard to this subject. You have no right to be outraged.

      August 23, 2013 at 10:56 am |
      • John

        I have every right. We are all sinners to condem others who are you to comdem anyone? What did the lord or God put you in charge of who is allowed in his house of worship. If that is the case I hope you are sin free and can deal with the judgement that you judge others with. I welcome anyone who wants to come to church not those who fit your critiria, forgiveness or sin is between man and god not you

        August 23, 2013 at 11:01 am |
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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.