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. Eric C





    August 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • Dippy

      Eric, please turn off your caps lock.

      August 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • John MacChesney

        Dippy, I agree with you completely.

        August 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  2. UncleJohn

    What the church 'elders' actually told her is that they are unworthy to have her in their midst.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • snowboarder

      no doubt

      August 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  3. Tanker

    God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son…

    This “church” is asking the mother to renounce her daughter…

    At least Christians are consistent…

    August 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • isolate

      Abraham, if such a person indeed existed was, of course, a proto-Jew, allegedly living about 2,000 years before the invention of Christianity.

      August 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  4. Bruce

    And people wonder why church attendance is in sharp decline. The reason so many of us have left the church is not because we have lost faith in God. Its because of bone heads like this group from Tenn. that have us looking to nurture a relationship with God in an environment that is based on love.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  5. Andrew

    Hypocrites unless they kick out every sinner. Then they have no more church. Hypocrites unless they welcome all who God loves.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  6. CommonSensed

    Go on Yelp and let them know how you feel.

    Facebook has already been hacked.

    Must all be their god's will.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  7. Concerned Citizen

    This is horrible and why many Christians atre hated.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  8. Coffeeclue

    Why would anyone WANT to attend a church like this?

    August 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Lilith

      You mistakenly added the words "like this" .. I'm sure it was just a typo.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  9. sgurdog

    Apparently church is simply a social club. Obviously not meant to learn the so called Gospel, but to serve as a court of judgement of it's own peers.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Lilith

      it's .. not the point.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
      • Dippy

        It "dulls" the point.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
        • Lilith

          I'll give you that .. it does.

          August 23, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  10. 99mystic99

    religion is a crock, and this just shows it. it's nothing more than a club, a clique, call it what you will. sorry if you feel the need to "belong" to such a group, they're mainly bigoted clubs for small-minded people who want to associate with others like themselves. no thank you, good riddance!

    August 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Jake

      Church is a support group for stupidity. It takes advantage of the gullible while supporting misinformation and bigotry.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Ms SeKY

      By your statements, you are just as close minded as the people in this particular church. You probably only like to hang around with those who share your views..and shun and make fun of those who do not believe the way you do.

      The people of this church will have to deal with denying a woman and her family from worshipping there. But she will be fine, I am sure there are many other churches who will welcome her with open arms. God Bless them all

      August 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  11. Tanker

    I just went to the website of the Ridgedale Church of Christ and left them a (respectful) note telling them what I think of their actions.

    I encourage you all to do the same.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  12. SKR

    Wow, if only there was something in the Bible telling people not to judge other people. That would be so handy! Too bad there isn't...oh wait..

    August 23, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  13. Jeff

    Are there other sinners in this church? If Bill and Hilary Clinton attended this church, would they have been kicked out because of Bill's adultery? What if you stole or murdered? Will you be asked to leave, too?

    August 23, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Guaranteed a multiple divorced Newt Gingrich would be welcomed and celebrated.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
      • tony


        August 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • RC

        Well, his money would be anyway.

        August 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Roger that

      If Dick Cheney were there, would they be ok with his support of his gay daughter because of who he is and the fact that he's a male?

      August 23, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  14. LLletstalk

    This is why I don't belong to a church, nor attend one.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • Wakehead

      I attend a church that is very tolerant of all races and lifestyles. ELCA.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
      • Lilith

        It's too bad your church needs to be "tolerant" rather than accepting of others.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  15. Jay

    CNN, you HEADLINES is so biased. Your news reads

    "Linda Cooper was given a choice: publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church."

    So she chose to leave the church......You cant say she was 'booted out'...She was given a choice and she chose to leave....There is a difference

    August 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • snowboarder

      @jay, an ultimatum is not considered voluntary.

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

        A church is not a political party.....although even if you were in a party and worked against the party, you can be booted out....The church on the other hand has absolute morals.....And if someone is going against it, it is the duty of the church to ask the person to repent....if the person chooses not to repent and still stand against the church then it makes absolutely no sense to be in the church....SO YES...The person walked away with her own free WILL and was not booted....if anything she booted herself out by renouncing the morals that the church is professing......Its HER problem not the church's.

        August 23, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
        • snowboarder

          @jay, based on the thousands of denominations and church doctrines, those so-called "absolute morals" are certainly not particularly absolute.

          yet, expulsion from the commune is a perpetual threat by religious organizations.

          August 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          no, it was the church's problem. they went to her and told her to repent or else. They made it an issue, not her.

          August 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
        • Arthur

          @cedar rapids,

          How is it the church's fault if she's the one who went against it in the first place?

          August 23, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • sgurdog

      So they do believe in freedom of choice then?

      August 23, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
      • Jay

        They believe in THEIR faith and THEIR morals much like you have your own morals and standards.........is someone mocking you for your belief? And if someone did, would it bother you? So why do you care or are interested in what they believe in if it doesnt matter to you? Or do you just get a kick out of mocking everyone else that does not agree with you?

        August 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  16. Melissa Greene

    Churches can do whatever they want and they can victimize whomever they want. I was raised in a Baptist Church, never going through that again. At one point we were kicked out because I had asthma so the church decided that I had asthma because my mother wasn't strict enough with myself and my sister. I think they found out we were wearing pants to school. And they make fun of witchcraft ! Ha ha

    August 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Dippy

      It's "me and my sister", not "myself and my sister".

      August 23, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
      • jk

        No, it is, my sister and I"

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

          Wrong, jk. It's the objective case, not subjective. Try again.

          August 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
        • FYI

          - mother wasn't strict enough with my sister...
          - mother wasn't strict enough with me...

          August 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
        • Dippy

          Good, FYI. Easy steps for the slow ones.

          August 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
      • skytag

        Stop being a jerk.

        August 23, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • pothead

        Dippy Doo needs a date!

        August 23, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
      • RC

        Hey Dippy-missed ya! SHUT UP!!!!

        August 27, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  17. mikethegothdude

    No problem. Come join the Episcopal Church. We're cool. (You also could choose the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the United Methodist Church; The United Church of Christ; Universal Unitarians....). Why would you want to be a part of a church that hates, anyway?

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

      God Bless.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • snowboarder

      my wife and I were married by a gay episcopal minister.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • RobK

      Those churches don't hate anything, even sin? They love sin? They tolerate sin? They are indifferent to sin?

      August 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Episcopal Church:

      All the stand-up-sit-down-fight-fight-fight without the papal baggage. Good stuff.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      My best friend is a United Church minister who has no issue accepting LGBT, fortunately this also means her two wonderful children will also be very accepting.

      August 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  18. eprobono

    You're right, Truthprevails. I'll try to do better in the future ];\

    August 23, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  19. Brother Maynard

    From the article:
    " ' The sin would be endorsing that lifestyle',Ken Willis, a minister at Ridgedale "

    I always forget the Chapter / verse where
    'Thou shall not endorse the gay lifestyle' is found
    Where is that again ?

    August 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  20. Jim

    @ null – Another irrelevant and off-topic post from someone who knows nothing about the teachings of Jesus. Try sticking to the actual subject next time. One can unconditionally love a person even when you cannot support that person's lifestyle. This article certainly doesn't give anywhere enough info to make a determination as to why the church did what they did let alone to cast judement on either side. Could the church be acting in an un-Christ-like manner? Absolutely. Could the family be lying about it just being unconditional love (and crossing over to supporting the lifestyle of their daughter)? Absolutely. This article gives almost no actual information. The headline and story are about the controversy, not the actual situation (like foscuing on the horse-race of an election instead of discussing the issues).

    August 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Brother Maynard

      "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."

      - Doesn't help when the instigator of the situation refuses to explain

      August 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
      • Caitlin

        They refuse to explain because they do not have to. It is an in-church private issue, and should remain as such.

        August 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
        • snowboarder

          that is what the catholics said about abusive priests.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'Could the family be lying about it just being unconditional love (and crossing over to supporting the lifestyle of their daughter)? '

      sorry, but in what way could they be lying about that exactly?

      August 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.