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. nullhogarth

    Why don't Christians follow their own faith? Check out Matthew 7.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      It' the giant book of multiple choice.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  2. ELR

    I know it probably doesn't help ease the pain, but there are better places and people to worship with. Such a graceless action does not reflect faith, just fear.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Mary

      Very well put.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  3. yemencamel

    I will have to split the prize of "Best Church of the Year" between the Ridgedale Church of Christ and the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  4. Mr. Know it all


    August 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  5. Ann

    You know, the church is a private organization that has the right to determine their membership. I may hate their rules, but I can't argue that they have the right to make them. This mom had attended this church for decades, and I'm sure she knew their opinion about gays very thoroughly. If her own opinion evolved because of her love for her daughter, then it sounds like it's best for all concerned if she and the church parted ways. Why would she want to continue being a member?

    August 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      Even private organizations are not allowed to commit illegal discrimination.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        In this case they are. The church is not a public business...different set of rules.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
      • Rico

        What they did isn't illegal. Hypocritical, but not illegal.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
        • Ann


          August 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • David

      I would agree with you, until they exercise their tax free status.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
      • Jakes_Momma

        Thank you! I was just about to say the same...

        August 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • snowboarder

      @ann, of course a person is entirely within their rights to protest against discriminatory or irrational acts by a church. not doing so would be tantamount to agreement.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  6. John316

    We should have let these states leave the union when we had the chance....now we are stuck with them....they are still trying to grasp the concept of evolution and the fact that the earth is not flat.....maybe in the next millenium.....

    August 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Tom

      Bite your tongue! Rick Perry will never abandon secession dreams. As a Texan who thinks the earth existed a tad earlier than 7000 years ago, and people didn't ride dinosaurs a la Barney Rubble, I'd rather not be " painted with the same brush."

      August 23, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  7. harrisonhits2

    Hope these people at the church someday need help from a detective and don't get it. How disgusting.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  8. heywood

    Jesus can forgive, but the elders cant? They learned well.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  9. sftommy

    Mark 10:18 "“Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God." so saith Jesus

    The judgements of men are just that, the judgements of men and such is their opinons worth. They have no power to stand between us and God and they sin in their vanity that they have any power to judge what is His to judge.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  10. sea

    Tennessee... where you can marry your cousin. Just not your gay cousin.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      If you can't keep it in your pants, keep it in your genes.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  11. Darwin was right

    Nobody actually OBEYS THE BIBLE ANYMORE. For example, one of the few rules given in the Bible about MARRIAGE is this one: Deuteronomy 25:5
    "If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her." Now how many Christians obey THAT one?! And don't try to tell me that because it's OT, it's not valid anymore. That would mean that nothing in the OT, including the Ten Commandments and the verses predicting the coming of Jesus are valid either. And then don't forget God's inspired words on SLAVERY: Ephesians 6:5
    "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ." If you actually obeyed the Bible, you would be put in prison or a lunatic asylum.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  12. John Miller

    Is this really news? Go to another church that accepts you ideology. Leave the church alone it does not owe you an explanation or anything else for that matter.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Furby

      Actually, John, the church does owe her. She has been a member for decades – more than likely had events there, donated money there, supported the community there, participated in activities there. The Pope has preached tolerance towards our gay brothers/sisters, and this church does not care about that. They are not kicking out a gay person (which would be wrong) but the parent of a gay person. Basically saying "screw your kid in favor of our belief". Her sin, according to that church, was supporting her child.
      So yea, they owe her quite a bit for her decades of support. They not also exiled her from that building, but now she is less likely to see her life-long friends/peers. Also, in small communities, there may not be many options.

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

        The Pope??

        Retard, does this appear to be a Catholic church???

        August 23, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • kaydevo

        It's not a Catholic church, so what the Pope says is irrelevant to the church in this story. Apparently, the words and actions of Jesus himself are irrelevant to them also. He taught that God loves everyone and that people should do so too, to treat the outsider and the ostracized with respect and love, that "whatever you have done for the least of these you have done for me, and whatever you have not done for them, you have not done for me." Not that I consider gay people the "least" of us, but these supposed Christians certainly seem to do so.

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

        Actually, Furby, what the church owes her is to rightly interpret and apply Biblical teachings–regardless of how YOU or any others may feel about those teachings. The original story alludes to the Elder's having met privately with the woman in question to discuss the matter, but does not state what the specific reasons for the meeting were. This woman and her family have been a part of the congregation for 60 years, they know quite well what the Biblical standards of behavior are in this matter. Likewise, they fully understand the role that Elder's play in guiding the local church. At the end of the day, whether you or I like the standards this particular church holds, Ms. Cooper and family were given a choice in how to respond and they left the church. Time for all to move on.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • Tom

      I Peter 3:15 KJV :"...be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." That in-your-face response doesn't bode well for an example of "meekness" either.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  13. kchevrolet

    Would be nice to find a large space, very large. Build a fence. Gather all the religious fundamentalists leading this world down the gutter and put them there...in their arrogance they don't realize they are all alike...

    August 23, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Jakes_Momma

      Great idea Muslim extremists with Christian extremists... Let's add hidden cameras – that would be fun to watch.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  14. Matt

    Once again, another instance of a religious establishment preaching hate. How sad. Can you imagine a world without religion? There wouldn't be anything for the military to do...

    August 23, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Charles

      I don't think they preach hate. So many people today confuse hate and malice with dislike. Churches don't have to like things others do, that's the whole point of belonging to one. Differentiating yourself from others based on your shared beliefs. If you don't share the beliefs why are you there?

      August 23, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Socies are one big happy mob, err family. All win a prize.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  15. eprobono

    "With or without religion, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.

    But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • vanityofvanitys

      What a shame this website allows blind fools like you to pontificate endlessly, but someone who courageously and with reason tries to defend the Chrisitian faith is censored.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:59 am |
      • FYI

        Sounds like you ran into the word filter on these blogs. It looks for words within words that are "naughty" - like the "t.it" in Const.itution, the "c.um" in doc.ument, and a bunch of others. Don't be paranoid.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
      • Charles

        Really? Is anything having to do with Christianity's defense on the internet or in most of the US actually courageous.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
        • vanityofvanitys

          In most circles standing down blasphemers and mockers of the Christian faith is surely courageous. I can assure the MSM is as cowardly as can be, they only publish or air stories that make Christians look like hypocrites or phonies. All the while, they are shaking in their boots knowing one day they will die and there will be God waiting for them on the other side. It's a misery loves company kind of defense. The evidence for Jesus Christ and for Christian miracles is beyond any reasonable doubt. PS - thanks "FYI" for your response. Also, eprobono, I am afraid you are sadly lost. I am not sure how I can be of assistance? Your only consolation is you have the praises of men, if that makes you happy.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
        • BU2B

          "The evidence for Jesus Christ and for Christian miracles is beyond any reasonable doubt"

          We are still waiting for this evidence you are speaking of. And a 2,000 year old book is not proof. Historical evidence that Jesus existed does not mean he was the son of "God" or performed any miracles.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
        • vanityofvanitys

          To BU2B: July 13, 1917 Fatima, Portugal 3 children saythe Virgin Mary told them on October 13th a great miracle will occur for all present to see and know it is God talking to them. 70,000 are present on Oct 13 where it is raining heavily and muddy. The sun bursts through the dark clouds and spins and “dances” defying all cosmic laws. It shoots of rays coloring the faces and landscape green, blue, yellow, etc. It turns red and enormous charges the earth frightening everyone. Then it recedes, all is peaceful, and their clothes and the ground is inexplicably bone dry. The Lisbon marxist newspaper ‘O Seculo’ there to mock the prediction reluctantly reports the truth in their paper. Just one miracle of many. Look it up.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          you actually believe that nonsense dont you? you actually believe the sun charged towards the earth and apparently only dried up that part of Portugal.

          August 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
        • vanityofvanitys

          Sorry, cedar rapids, but you are fighting a lost battle. “When people stop believing in God they then do not believe in nothing, they will believe in anything.” (G.K. Chesterton)

          Even Wikipedia (no friend of Christianity) provides numerous quotes from the newspapers at the time and scientists observing the miracle.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun

          "Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people." ― Avelino de Almeida,[17] writing for O Século
          O Século was Portugal's most widely circulated[18] and influential newspaper. It was pro-government and anti-clerical at the time.[17] Almeida's previous articles had been to satirize the previously reported events at Fátima.[7]

          August 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          Except the actual translation of that article is this.....

          'In the astonished eyes of these people, whose att itude takes us back to Biblical times, and who, white faced with shock, with their heads uncovered, face the blue sky: the sun has trembled, the sun has made sudden movements that were outside all cosmic laws—the sun has “danced”, according to the typical expression of the country people.'

          Note.....'In the astonished eyes', not 'before' them. In other words its reporting what the 'country people' claimed happened, not what the reporter claimed to have seen. That is a huge difference.

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

          You are not doing yourself any favors, cedar. Read the whole O Seculo account and tell me these marxist journalists did not have a change of heart. Did you also not comprehend that hitherto all their reports were mocking the children and their claims? Did you also not read the eye witness accounts of the other journalists and the two scientists? Why do you persist with a hardened heart? That, I cannot explain.

          August 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          I'm not doing myself any favours?
          You should take your own advice and read the whole account. Nowhere does it mention a sudden drying of clothes (you would think that would be mentioned right?). Nowhere does it claim that the author had a change of heart, in fact it even says 'and caused astonishment —according to reliable sources—even in free thinkers and other people without religious beliefs' (so other sources and not from those people supposedly affected themselves) and yet does he not claim to be one of those people so effected.
          Not to mention that the majority of these reports and eyewitness accounts actually come from one source book written by a priest some years after the event. Or that these reports claim the sun was silver....or red.....or blue....or white....or maybe orange.....or purple.....and that it zig-zagged......or whirled around......or just came plunging straight down....or as reported by some.......did absolutely nothing whatsoever.

          August 23, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
        • Fatima miracle?

          The miracle is that in 1917 after a big announcement which brought 70,000 spectators, including 2 scientists there wasn't 1 camera. And how many of those spectators actually calmed to see the miracle?

          August 23, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
      • eprobono

        So Vanity, what you're saying is that I win.

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

        There are very few real Christians. There are MANY who claim be Christians however. Those claiming Christ in my own family fall very short of the teachings they cling to. My sister teaches Sunday school and her husband is a deacon – both own their own businesses and are the biggest tax cheats I've ever met. They have also walked away from hundreds of thousand of dollars in debt by filing for bankruptcy. Seeing this behavior up front and in my face is why I left the church years ago.

        Defend all you want but if the Christian community wants to be heard they need to clean up their own lives and behaviors.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • vanityofvanitys

          Jakes-Momma says: "There are very few real Christians." But he also says that he left the church because his sister and her husband are ostensible hypocrites. Question: What right do you have to tell God that you are justified to ignore him in worshipping him in His church as He so wants us to, just because you have some close to you who are abusing their faith? Question: Since you acknowledge there are "real Christians" then why do you not understand that is also your calling? Since being a real Christian matters to God in their case, it very well may matter in yours as well.

          August 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  16. bill

    I marvel at all of the comments about this so-called christian church. If it were truly a Church of Christ, and here I am referring to Jesus, then they would all be guilty of judging another. That my friends is not following who Jesus really is. Many of you need to read the book 'Jesus Plus Nothing', and learn that it is not about a physical church but the body of the church which is Jesus. These people are not in the body of Jesus but only into themselves and RobtK is completely ignorant of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus. Don't take parts of the Bible and represent them as wholly factual, read the entire book. Try it and you might find some interesting points about being a true follower of Jesus (not a church or denomination).

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

      "If it were truly a Church of Christ, and here I am referring to Jesus, then they would all be guilty of judging another."

      Sadly there is no basis in reality for any of it. Every religion is a narrative people choose to embrace because they like it better than the alternatives. Christianity is the go-to religion for the church-shopping type because there are so many variations.

      There so many religions and so many variations of Christianity because none of them are based on anything real. Instead they're just whatever one group or another of well meaning individuals came up with when they imagined a god or gods.

      This is also why Christians so often do what you just did: claim some other Christian or some other Christian church isn't "truly" Christian. Of course they would say the same of you but for different reasons. Thus in practice the definition of a "true Christian" someone who interprets the Bible the same way you do, and a Christian church is teaching "God's word" if they're teaching what you believe.

      To this atheist it's all rather amusing, but at the same time rather arrogant. None of you has even a shred of evidence to support the notion that your understanding of God and what he wants is any better or more accurate than anyone else's yet you are absolutely convinced your way is the correct way and everyone else is misled, deceived, and not following Christ.

      It also makes Christians hypocritical. When people bring up seeming inconsistencies in what Christians believe they often argue it only looks like an inconsistency because we can't know the mind of God. Yet the very people who say that will turn around and in the same breath decide they know the mind of God so well they can declare who is and isn't a "true Christian."

      August 23, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • jack

      You are forgetting that St Paul said it is a duty to correct a christian brother when he is on the wrong path, the path to Hell.
      He never said to jail him but only to warn him once alone and a 2nd time with the help of other brothers after deeply pondering the matter.
      If your sinful brother stubbornly clings to his sin, then give up.
      Neglecting doing so is partaking a bit in your brother's damnation.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        "Neglecting doing so is partaking a bit in your brother's damnation."

        I wouldn't respect any authority that damned my brother.

        August 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • skytag

        The problem I see with this is the fact that there is virtually no consensus within the Christian community as a whole with respect to what is and isn't an offense worthy of a rebuke from "the church."

        August 23, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  17. G F

    So that church claims the mother endorses "that lifestyle" by not publicly renouncing it. Do they apply the same standard to any member who commits adultery? Theft? Lies? Covets? In other words, by their standards, no sinners are allowed in their church. However, a church is for sinners and ALL of us sin. As Paul writes, "wages of sin is death". Sin be it one sin, 3 sins, 10 sins or more, no matter what the sin, the wages of sin is death. This church needs to rethink its principles.

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

      G F, to answer your first question, yes, the church seeks to apply the same standards to all sin. However, I believe your statement that 'by their standards, no sinners are allowed in their church' is inaccurate. We understand that everyone struggles with sin, the key word being 'struggle'. When a person gives themselves over to sin and is no longer penitent, they have separated themselves from the body of Christ!

      August 23, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
      • sam stone

        i do not struggle with sin at all

        why do you?

        August 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  18. eprobono

    "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

    August 23, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  19. jenjoseph

    I am a Christian, and this makes me sick. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. This is just another example of why I will remain a Christian, but am getting increasingly disenchanted with organized religion.

    August 23, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Just sayin

      Wow! Way to make a stand.

      Try using this to question the validity of living your life according to your personal take on a collection of plagiarized fairy tales.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  20. rick


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

      lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      You work for Reader's Digest??

      August 23, 2013 at 1:02 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.