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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. Prayerful

    Sounds like the elders at Ridgedale COC gave Mrs. Cooper a real gift. To be free of an influence of judgment and hate can't be a bad thing.

    August 27, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  2. Reality

    Again, maybe there is no god and the situation of birth differences is solely random happenings in the womb and said randomness made you heteros-exual whereas said randomness resulted in Rock Hudson, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell being h-omose-xual. More circ-umstantial evidence that there is no god????

    August 26, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • What??

      What do you care? You are WAY too interested in other people's bedroom habits. Are you perhaps bi-curious? Sounds like it.

      August 26, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
      • Reality

        As noted previously on p. 27 of the comments:

        Only for the new members:

        o "Abrahamics" like the members of the topic church believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

        To wit:

        1. The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

        “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

        2. "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

        3. See also the From the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said review addresses the following “How do genes associated with ho-mose-xuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”
        "Most scientists who study human se-xuality agree that gay people are born that way. But that consensus raises an evolutionary puzzle: How do genes associated with h-omose-xuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?"

        http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/evolution/Gay-gene-deconstructed.html

        August 26, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  3. Liana Cura

    Generally I do not read article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to try and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very great article.

    August 26, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  4. Starr

    May God treat them the way they have treated this women.

    August 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
    • Jenny

      In defense of the church and The Lord Jesus Christ, where do you get from scripture that we are allowed to tolerate sin. Loving someone is caring enough to point them from walking off a spiritual cliff. Revelation 2:20 Jesus said, I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel who calls herself a professes and she teaches and leads my bond servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols, And I gave her time to repent and she does not want to repent of her immorality, Behold I will cast her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. Jesus is radical and does not tolerate sin, he calls His people to repentance.
      The world is bowing down to pressure and fearing man rather than God. God is holy and we must be born again and crucify the flesh, not endorse sin. The fear of man is a snare , but he who trusts in The Lord will be exalted. Probers 29:25
      2 thesalonians 2:3 talks about there will be an apostasy in the church and this is what is happening. A different gospel is being preached and its not from the bible it is from man. Galatians 1:8 But even though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel we have not preached to you, let him be accursed. We need to obey God, not doctrines of men. God will have the final word. Loving a child is not encouraging a sinful lifestyle that will lead to hell. You must be born again or you cannot enter the kingdom, which means to die to yourself and put on the righteousness of God. I will pray for the pastor/church and the mother. It is a difficult thing. Jesus said this" He who loves father or mother more than me is not worth of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. I think people have a twisted view of love. GOD CALL US TO SPEAK TRUTH not condone or tolerate sin that destroys. We will all answer to Jesus in how we obeyed His Word. Every knee will bow, those in heaven, those on earth and under the earth(Hell). We all need to fear God and repent, before it is too late.

      August 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
      • Johnny Davis

        Bravo Jenny, that is how you make a statement, let the scriptures speak for themselves. If someone wants to start their own religion they are free to do so, but their is only one Christianity.

        August 27, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
      • earthshoes44

        Jenny,

        This mother loved her daughter and demonstrated it by supporting her. Last time I checked that was not a sin. If we begin excommunicating church members because they love and support people who are living in sin (especially parents), we're going to have very empty churches. Excommunicating her served no one and it helped no one. She can simply go find another church who will not insert themselves into her relationships, with God or otherwise. They've lost at least one member (and probably others) and they've given those of the world yet another reason to not seek Christ out.

        I can quote scripture too, but it's pretty plain you know the Bible. However I think you need to file this away: lots of people throughout history have quoted scripture without any understanding of the love those verses are supposed to produce in us–both for God and for His people. Our primary job on this earth is to love one another. Had this church chosen to lovingly support this mother without condoning her daughter's lifestyle (and it can be done), they would not only still have her as a member, they would be in a position to minister to the daughter as well.

        August 28, 2013 at 8:57 am |
      • sam stone

        sin is a man made concept, jenny, just like heaven,hell and god. perhaps that will help you with your delusions.

        August 31, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
      • sam stone

        it is arrogance to claim to know the location of this "spiritual cliff"

        on the other hand, christians have not been known as modest people, except to other christians

        August 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
      • Haven

        Mmm-hmmm. So using that logic this church should also be kicking out anyone who knows and loves a liar, a thief, an adulterer,etc (aren't those all on the top ten list?). But they aren't. Can you really not see the hypocrisy?

        September 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
      • Bulletpoint

        Thanks for that wonderful clarity, Jenny. The same old testament that suggests man lying with animal and fellow man is an abomination, sets out rules for the God-sanctioned keeping of slaves. So is it ok for me to take a slave locally? (I am in South Africa and it would be quite easy, I reckon.) ALso, as I have asked elsewhere but have not yet received a reply from one of your cackling band of fun-lovers: What's the deal with hermaphrodites in your wonderful church? WHat gender lifestyle should they choose? Surely your god, who is apparently so obsessed with what grown adults do behind their closed bedroom doors, will have a few tips for him/her. Do they go to heaven for doing it with a man, or hell for doing it with a woman. I am confused on this and need to advise my child who was born an hermaphrodite and wants to start attending church.

        September 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  5. Kebos

    This church was doing this mother a favor. Useless organizations such as this do not deserve a person's time or respect.

    August 25, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  6. 7

    Everyone is invited to receive free music @... thetreasureofzion.com

    August 24, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  7. Robert Brown just got caught lying through his teeth

    Robert Brown
    I don't know if the church was right or not & I'm not going to go look up the verses, but if you go to a good bible website you can find some. For the Old Testament search something like "I will visit the iniquities" & for the new "it would be better if he had never been born."
    ------------–
    Typical lying christian apologist caught red handed
    "I will visit the iniquities" is about children being punished for the parents sins.
    "it would be better if he had never been born." Is about adults being punished for harming children
    Christians love to claim atheists take bible quotes out of context when the atheist doesn't quote the whole chapter and here we have a cristian so far out of context that won't even quote the whole verse.

    August 24, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • skytag

      It's more likely he was just mistaken if he got something like that wrong. He didn't claim to be quoting the Bible, he was just working off his best recollection. Grow up.

      August 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
      • Robert Brown just got caught lying through his teeth

        I stand corrected; a religious apologist misquotes 2 separate bible verses to support his position when there are actually no verses that support it. Of course it's an accident; a Christian would never do such a thing intentionally and certainly not Robert.

        August 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  8. Lets be Honest

    Does this church boot out women who get pregnant but aren't married? How about men who walk out on their wives and kids for another lover? How about people who are drug addicts, people who get drunk and abuse their spouses and children, or people who swear like sailors and have potty mouths?

    I was under the impression sin is sin and no sin is greater then the other. At least that's what the bible tells us.

    And they wonder why people look down their noses on *ALL* religion.... The hypocrisy knows no limits. Is it love to hold somebody accountable for the actions of another or to show unconditional love for their family members regardless of the situation? What type of looney back water world do these delusional religious nut jobs live in? I thought Christians were supposed to strive to be like Jesus, not strive to be like every other corrupted extremist society in existence.

    Sure this church does legally have the right to not allow somebody through their doors because they don't like them but it's not very Christ-like to pick and chose based on what you perceive to be lesser or greater sins.

    August 24, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  9. Brian

    It was my understanding that Jesus gave his life to free us from the laws of Leviticus – which are no longer practiced.

    August 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  10. Reality

    Or maybe there is no god and the situation of birth differences is solely random happenings in the womb and said randomness made you heteros-exual whereas said randomness resulted in Rock Hudson, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell being h-omose-xual. More circ-umstantial evidence that there is no god????

    August 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  11. George Stark

    Come on this is Tennessee enough said......

    August 24, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  12. Amy

    The mother is better off at a different church.

    August 24, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Athy

      The mother (as is everyone) is better off saying away from all churches.

      August 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  13. Andy

    The church is merely stating what it believes. If you don’t agree don’t go, also encourage everyone you know not to go. Don’t support the churches in anyway. Don’t give money and let them fade away.

    August 24, 2013 at 7:49 am |
  14. Bilbo

    My dad was a minister at Tipp City Church of Christ in Tipp City, Ohio. He was forced to retired because I am gay. My dad refused to talk to me which is fine with me because he abused me physically. He thinks he's superior than the rest of us. He disowned me. My mother wrote me a three page letters about gay. It was awful. I'd be more than happy to show you the letter my mother wrote. Let me know.

    August 24, 2013 at 1:52 am |
    • Observer

      Bilbo,

      Since no one can choose their parents, some get stuck with stupid hypocrites.

      If you read through all the comments here, you'll see what a huge amount of support gays have. Don't despair. The world has greatly changed in just a decade. The future is obvious. Ignorance and bigotry are being destroyed by education. You are the good and kind one in your family.

      August 24, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • skytag

      Thank you for the offer, but posting the hateful ignorance in that letter won't really help anything. There have always been ignorant people, hateful people, and people who can easily be manipulated to turn on family and friends. I'm sorry you had to deal with that.

      August 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Dale

      The letter I got was only 2 pages, but it came with a bible in the bag. Nobody can deny that Man wrote that entire bible. And much of it was through so called visions. Isn't it interesting that the people that still claim to have these visions in this last century were people like Heaven's Gate leader Applewhite – who lead his people into suicide to board a non-existent spacecraft trailing the Hale-Bopp comet, and Jim Jones, who decided all of his followers should be forced to drink poison – and don't forget Jim and Tami Faye Bakker and the PTL club who robbed many people to support a rich lifestyle – and I degress to the hierarchy of the catholic church that has repeatedly payed out large sums of the money to pay for child molesters within it's organization – and yet the sheep keep giving and following.
      I say it again – the bible was written by man – edited, revised and translated by man. Jesus never said a single negative word about gay people – not one. What is written in the bible came from those silly visions. Maybe we should start having visions that those who hate others for who they are will be condemned to hell. I absolutely believe it's true.

      Somehow we've lived through countless end of the world predictions. I can just imagine how gullible people were 1900 years ago when someone predicted another wrath from God. Thing about Global warming: it was caused by the earth's natural process of changing from an oval orbit to a round orbit (around the sun) followed by a lot of help from us dumping pollution into the air, land and water – yet some now say this is God's wrath for the sin in the world.
      My God fearing Christain family was plagued by alcoholism, drug abuse and infidelity over and over before I got that letter – and it came from those who did these things all while they made sure to attend church on Sunday to drop coins in the dish thinking that was how you paid for your sins.
      Not all churches are bad – but there are enough of them that are that I won't set foot in one anymore. We don't need a church to know right from wrong, to treat people as we would hope they would treat us – or to know a lie from the truth as we speak it. We can live right by using our moral compasses. Churches obvious can't steer evil out of people who are intent on living it. I feel sorry for people who fear God so much that they live tortured lives and drag others with them.

      August 27, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  15. Sara

    Looks like CNN's silly comment management has killed another set of discussions. Tip to the moderators: higher someone to fix your code.

    August 24, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • Dippy

      It's "hire", not "higher".

      August 24, 2013 at 1:38 am |
      • Sara

        Uh, yeah...hom.ophone typo. I'm pretty sure anyone who doesn't know the difference would have problems reading the user manual for the computer, but thanks for looking out for me.

        August 24, 2013 at 1:43 am |
        • Dippy

          It's "homophone", not "hom.ophone".

          August 24, 2013 at 1:47 am |
        • skytag

          Ignore Dippy. He's our residence homophone Gestapo agent. It makes him feel important.

          August 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
        • Dippy

          It's "resident", not "residence".

          August 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
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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.