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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. A in Pa

    Explain to me why someone would give a religious organizations and the appointed leaders so much power and authority in their life? Never mind, I remember now, because they have been lied to and taugh that the organization represents God and Gods will in your life and THEY will tell you what God wants you to do? Shades of Jim Jones, David Koresh, Fred Phelps, Jim Baker, Warren Jeffs...

    August 23, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      You left out the Diverse Beast.

      August 23, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  2. John

    Jeesh. Remind me never to go to Tennessee. They sound like a bunch of backwater boneheads. As for the minister, Jesus would just be so proud of you!

    August 23, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • skytag

      His Jesus would be.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  3. FrenchChef

    These denominations will marry same gender couples in 13 US States and the District of Columbia:

    Affirming Pentecostal Church International
    Alliance of Christian Churches
    The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
    Conservative Judaism
    Disciples Of Christ
    The Episcopal Church
    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals
    Metropolitan Community Church
    Reconstructionist Judaism
    Reform Judaism
    Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
    Unitarian Universalist Church
    United Church of Christ

    August 23, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  4. Patrish

    This is a good example why I find religious and churches disgusting. Two-face churches only support their members when it benefits them. They go on and on about some deity they can't even prove exists and pretends to know what he wants. What trash. I will take an atheist, or anyone else who is kind overa Christian anytime.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  5. cecilia

    First thing for mom is to get rid of that church. They are judging her and family. Live and let live. That is what should be done by everyone. No person can help how they are created. God's personal work.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  6. Pete/Ark

    BREAKING NEWS -- SHARIA LAW DICOVERED IN TENNESSEE -- disguised as christianity

    August 23, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  7. snowboarder

    it is a non-denominational church. they should lobby the congregation to strike down ruling. without a church hierarchy the congregation has the final say.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  8. eprobono

    "Claiming that someone's marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a donut because you're on a diet."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  9. eprobono

    "When you believe in an imaginary figure that only you can see or hear, it's called a psychological problem. If you believe in an imaginary figure that even you can't see or hear, it's a religion."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  10. robCM

    She is lucky to be away from these HATERS.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Eva

      Yes, she is.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  11. eprobono

    "Considering all the evil that exists in the world, the fact that all of religion's condemnation is focused on expressing disapproval of two people loving each other proves just how evil religion is."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Patrish

      Nicely said!

      August 23, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  12. Observer

    RobK,

    Do you believe EVERY word of the Bible (support of slavery, discrimination against women and the handicapped, beating children with rods, etc.) or are you just another HYPOCRITE picking on gays?

    August 23, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  13. djak

    Any church that would force a mother to make a choice like that, she is better off without anyway. There are other churches that promote love and tolerance, but to be honest, I've abandoned church participation since I reached adulthood. There is a lot of hypocrisy in religious teachings and it took quite a while before my eyes were opened to it. Something to do with thinking for myself.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Jay

      Heres what Matthew 18 says

      “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the CHURCH; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

      So if a member of the church is working against the morals that the church is standing up for, then Jesus said that give them a chance to acknowledge their sins. if they still dont listen, then you treat them as a pagan or tax collector....So whats wrong here??

      August 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
      • FrenchChef

        Here is what JESUS DID. Jesus affirmed a gay couple. Read Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. Many of us are familiar with the Gospel story where Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion. In the original Greek, the word that the Roman centurion uses in this passage to describe the sick man – pais – is the same word used in ancient Greek to refer to a same-gender partner.

        August 23, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • Nice dream

        How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? Did he shun them? Did he refuse to let them listen to his words? Did he tell them they couldn't hang out with the cool Christians?

        August 23, 2013 at 11:39 am |
        • Jay

          Read the context in which Jesus is talking in Matthew 18...You can forgive someone's sin if the person is willing to ask for forgiveness and is truly repentant.....But if the person is not willing and does not accept that he has sinned (based on the morals put forth by the church), then you treat the person as pagan or tax collector....You can pray for him and hope that he would repent someday and return but you cant force him to repent....And thats exactly what Jesus taught

          August 23, 2013 at 11:47 am |
        • RobK

          From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

          August 23, 2013 at 11:53 am |
        • They are all a little nuts

          Jay, thanks for the reply, but you failed to answer the question I put to you... How did Jesus treat the pagans and tax collectors? He didn't shun them, he did excommunicate them, he ate with them, he taught them, he showed them love. Jesus sat a a table with twelve trusted and loved friends you call his Apostles. He turned to one of his closest friends and said.. you will deny me three times.... he continued eating with him as well as another friend he knew would betray him for silver. You might recall that last supper?

          August 23, 2013 at 11:54 am |
        • Jay

          Yes he did eat with tax collectors and sinners but not everyone received his word and repented.....Only the ones that believed in what was being taught (faith AND morals) were saved......Peter denied Christ but he repented which is why he was and is a member of the church Jesus founded.....Although Jesus ate with them, he didnt say bring your own morals to the table and I will forgive you.....He put forth the morals than everyone has to live by.....which is why he says that a sin against the holy spirit will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come......In Matthew 18, he says that you teach the sinner that he has sinned and has repented, if he doesnt repent, then you talk to him with witnesses and if he still doesnt listen, then you take him to the church and if he STILL doesnt listen, then you treat him as a pagan or tax collector......Note that he is talking about the role of the church here after his mission on earth was completed......He tells the apostles that whose ever sin YOU forgive are forgiven and whose sin YOU hold back are NOT forgiven....So the church that christ founded has Christ authority.....

          Again like I said, forgiveness is a gift but only for people who repent and live within the morals that Christ taught...Anyone who doesnt live by those morals are not saved until they have repented and returned to the church

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

        Asking what is wrong is rather idiotic!!! How immoral are you to support this???? The church is bigoted and wrong to try to force anyone to choose between their belief and their child. If you don't see that than you're clearly an idiot!

        August 23, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  14. eprobono

    "The mind of the fundamentalist is like the pupil of the eye: the more light you pour on it, the more it will contract."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • snowboarder

      I like that quote.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  15. PBK

    Considerably better than being kicked out of a leper colony.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  16. Jay

    The church is standing up for what it believes in much like any of you who stand up for your own beliefs and morals....So why are you guys complaining about the church......Just because they dont agree with your morality, you want to throw stones at them?

    August 23, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Think long and hard about it! These are bigots and bigotry in any form, regardless of who is spewing it is disgusting and harmful!

      August 23, 2013 at 11:33 am |
      • Marc

        Who the hell wants to be religious anyway 😛

        Religions shouldn't be making any decisions or try to blackmail you by using your faith. Anyways this is stupid and so is that church

        August 23, 2013 at 11:37 am |
        • truthprevails1

          It's why I'm thankful that I'm not religious. The hypocrisy and bigotry within the church is sad and doesn't show good moral behavior.

          August 23, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • sam stone

      isn't that exactly what the church does, jay?

      August 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
      • snowboarder

        well...yes that is what they do.

        August 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  17. Poodlepuff

    "publicly atone for their transgressions ...." It is always nice to see that medieval beliefs in self prostration and flagellation have revived in the Church of Christ. It is good to reminded how backward and painfully ignorant these people are.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  18. Marcus

    Whenever I hear about people like this, it reminds me of when Jesus said this: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Jay

      Heres what Matthew 18 says

      “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the CHURCH; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

      So if a member of the church is working against the morals that the church is standing up for, then Jesus said that give them a chance to acknowledge their sins. if they still dont listen, then you treat them as a pagan or tax collector....So whats wrong here??

      August 23, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • Observer

        Jay,

        What's wrong is hypocrisy. Christian churches are full of adulterers who have divorced and remarried, for instance. How many of them tell their adulterers to divorce or leave the church?

        August 23, 2013 at 11:38 am |
        • Jay

          People always falter no matter where they are at.....Whether it is a Christian church or anywhere else...But if the church has been given a set or morals to adhere to and they are adhering to it based on THEIR book, you cant call them out for it.......If you dont agree with it, you move on....Nobody is forcing you to agree with them much less like you cant force others to agree with your morals.

          August 23, 2013 at 11:42 am |
        • sam stone

          jay: they do force people to adhere when they attempt to codify their religious beliefs into law. same gender marriage would be one example

          August 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • Joel

        Well, for one, I doubt they would kick out someone that works for the IRS.

        August 23, 2013 at 11:52 am |
        • Jay

          To understand the context, you will need to see how tax collectors were looked upon in the Jewish culture...Although I dont think much of the IRS today, back then tax collectors were looked upon as sinners who took advantage of people....So equating a sinner to a pagan or tax collector would be put them in the lowest possible category.

          August 23, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Sherri

      Well said!

      August 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  19. bangithard

    There is no such thing as "the Bible says." There are only self-serving interpretations of a book translated so many times over the centuries that no one knows for sure what it means. The fact remains that people pick and choose what verses they need to reject, badger, and hate others while ignoring the rest of the book as it gives them no pleasure. Better for them that they burn it. The world would be a better place.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:28 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.