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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. weedpatch

    there is NO god. you are an idiot and should be sterilized. it is my sincere hope you have no contact with children – and if by chance you do – you should be restricted access to children immediately. tolerance of religious idiocy is coming to a swift end...
    REPORT all posts that are filled with hate and make threats and spew hate speech

    BOYCOTT CNN ADVERTISERS

    November 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • OK

      Very well, I have reported your post as you asked.

      November 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  2. Pat

    Just more proof that they are a hate group and should be classified as one.

    September 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • msoh

      Actually, no... Mom can follow the bible and the church or pound sand.

      September 21, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  3. Joseph

    It is not the job of the church to judge. The fact is it is not the job of any person in this world to judge. Tolerance for all whether you agree or not is needed in this world. Besides, there is nothing in the bible that says a woman cannot be with a woman. It only talks about men. One might infer that it also correlated to women but I do not see that. Also, the parents did nothing wrong and they are being punished for the sins of their children. So lets go over every family tree in the church and see who has kids that have sinned and persecute the parents. I doubt you will see that as everyone sins not matter how religious they are. It is the same thing as ethnic cleansing where one religious group will kill an entire group of people because they do not share the same views. This is how it starts. They need to go back and reread the bible and check out the sections on forgiveness.

    September 15, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  4. gahh

    Oh to be so perfect, and without sin, as to judge somebody else. Every time I read a story like this, it reaffirms my dislike for churches. I lost my faith in churches along time ago, but I will never lose my faith in God.

    September 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Doooglas

      Amen!! Me too!!!

      September 25, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  5. Elf Odin

    Curiously, I've been called a model Christian by people who don't know me well. I am, for want of a better description, an atheist. Actually, an apathetic atheist: if there's a "God", I don't care.

    September 10, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  6. lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    "As an economic system, fascism is socialism with a capitalist veneer. The word derives from fasces, the Roman symbol of collectivism and power: a tied bundle of rods with a protruding ax....................."
    http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Fascism.html

    September 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Notice "bundle".
    fa*ggot1 esp US, fa*got [ˈfægət]
    n
    1. a bundle of sticks or twigs, esp when bound together and used as fuel

    September 9, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  7. lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Right on. Ya can't let women and children(gangs) vote and expect things to turn out OK. Those are just antichrist socie doctrines.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Even Roosevelt said you can't let gubmint workers unionize. Letting Public Servants and the contractors vote makes them a de facto(union) special interest voting block and will put the Masters in the poorhouse and the next thing ya now the 10 cent cup of coffee will cost 10 bucks.

    September 9, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  8. lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    lol?? Pithiest, YES!!
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Children of the god of this wurld shouldn't play with fire.

    September 9, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  9. couyon

    If Jesus came back to earth, he will chastised all these so-called churches who are distorting his teachings. Jesus. laid out a different plan on how to live our lives which is very different from what is written in the bible in many aspects.

    September 9, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Bull! The bible is the only place where one finds the supposed teachings of jesus.

      September 9, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  10. The Turk

    Its not the Church of Christ its the Church of Bigots.

    September 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • orean brown

      Turk

      Why do you call them bigots??? Just becuase they follow what God instructed Christ and the Apostles to follow.

      September 10, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  11. dj4life

    Typical Bullshyt Religon trying to control people. All of these Fanatics need to leave the planet.

    September 4, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  12. Eben

    Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise? The Coopers can now see the people they used to worship besides for exactly what they are. People who lack compassion and empathy. Which as I understand it is exactly what a Christian is supposed to practice and strive for. So if anyone is "unChristian" it's them, not the Coopers.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  13. David Allen Shaw

    They say God is coming back someday....If I was pastor of this church and saw god coming...i'd turn tail and run.

    August 31, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  14. Ryan

    This is why im a stay at home catholic. Im not gay but when I used to take my gf and baby to church id get dirty looks from people. And listen to sermons about living in sin cause im not married. I find it complete B.S. That people judge you based on things you do but at the same time your not supposed to judge people cause only God can judge.

    August 31, 2013 at 2:15 am |
    • sjenner

      The problem is that people focus on forms, not substance. It's far easier to be seen to be "doing the right thing" than to actually do it.

      August 31, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • couyon

      Exactly! If people could stop trying to find fault in others and look inwards at their own shortcomings and try to do something about these, the world will be a better place.

      September 9, 2013 at 8:43 am |
      • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

        Jesus came to save out of this world. If you love the world that's the wrong path. You can't love the world without getting dirty. Only God can do that. Forget what socie mob leadership sayz.

        September 9, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  15. WOT

    Those hypocrites in that church should all be exposed for their sins, all of them! Then close the gathering place for it is not a church but a hate den. Most of them know little or none of God's word, love one another, not judge.

    August 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Keh'Lyn

      Amen!!!

      September 1, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  16. earthshoes44

    Fortunately this church does not represent us all and I'd really like the world to know this. This is just Church of Christ and this is fairly typical.

    When I was a child, this was the church we attended. I say "we" but this "we" did not usually include my father, just my mother, myself, and my brother. My mother (who'd been raised Catholic, but converted to protestantism and specifically Church of Christ after she married my father who demanded it) made sure we went every single Sunday (both services) and Wednesday unless we were deathly ill. She attended, served as a Sunday school teacher, went to Bible studies and did her best to be a good Christian wife and mother.

    My father? He was on the road the majority of the time and at some point my mother discovered that he was sleeping around–girlfriends called the house, he brought home an STD, and so on. She'd confront him and he'd promise never to do it again and so on and so on. For ten years she tried to "fix" what was broken. At some point, she met the man she's now been married to for thirty-two years and she told Dad she was ending the marriage.

    Dad went crying to the church elders. They confronted my mother and when she refused to stay in a broken marriage, they excommunicated her. Dad became their "golden child", the poor victim of an unfaithful wife. He began attending regularly and still slept with girlfriends before the divorce was even final. I discovered this when ten year old me walked into his bedroom one day–I knew what they were doing, but I certainly didn't understand the ramifications of it until much later.

    Dad obviously had issues. He got help (he's bipolar) and he's been married for twenty eight years to a woman that I am fairly sure is a saint. In rare honest moments he will admit that he was in the wrong and that he made some terrible decisions that cost him his first marriage.

    The church, by excommunicating my mother and siding with my father, helped no one–not us kids (they told my mother she was relegating us to hell–I heard this through the bedroom door), not my mother, but most certainly not my father. He was allowed to go on living a sin-filled lifestyle that included sleeping around and drinking to excess for several years beyond marriage. They didn't know this because he showed up for church at every service, often with us children in tow.

    No thanks to them, I gave my life to Christ as a teenager and married a Christian man 24 years ago. It took my brother considerably longer to make his peace with God and, like me, he's now an active member of another church. Neither of us have any use for Church of Christ because we understand that what they did only made matters worse.

    I once overheard a conversation between a minister and another church member. The young man asked the minister if he should stop associating with a friend who was living a lifestyle of sin (don't remember the "offense") because his church had asked the friend to leave. This minister said sternly, "Absolutely not. Once upon a time when communities were smaller and churches less common, it might have served to force them to consider their place and decide whether being a part of that church was more important to them than what they were doing. Now days, all a church does by excommunicating members is teach them that the church doesn't love them. They will find that love somewhere else–be it another church, a person, or a secular group. As for your friendship–you can love him and be his friend and still not endorse his lifestyle. Christ did this–and so should you."

    Very profound. And I believe he was right.

    August 28, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  17. Dale

    I think we should start a rainbow house non-profit for the purpose of buying a house across the street from every hate filled church in the USA. If the church has no problem kicking out a member because they love their gay child, then the gay lifestyle should be rubbed in their noses. I don't think that mom is sorry to go – only sorry for supporting a bigoted church for so many years. If God ever does light this planet on fire, I pray that those churches of hate and prejudice should be the first to burn.

    August 27, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      LOL. You're upset that a person got kicked out of their imaginary friend club, but you've got no problem with your god burning and torturing people. That's a hoot.

      August 27, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • Doobs

      "gay lifestyle"?? Really, Dale? Is there such a thing as a "heterosexual lifestyle too? What would that look like? What about a left handed lifestyle or a blue eyed lifestyle?

      I understand that you mean your post to be supportive, but to refer to the way a person is born as a lifestyle perpetuates the myth that they somehow have a choice.

      August 27, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  18. mikemax0420

    Judge not less ye be judged

    August 27, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      1 Corinthians 2:15 – But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

      August 27, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
      • Not So Obvious

        I'm unsure of the context which you are attempting to use the verse you quoted. It was taken from a much larger passage where Paul rebukes the Corinthians for their spiritual immaturity.

        September 10, 2013 at 12:22 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.