August 22nd, 2013
03:07 PM ET

Gay detective's mother booted from church

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(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. jpip

    "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
    — Steven Weinberg

    August 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • The really for real Scotsman

      No, it takes people who feel their wants and beliefs trumps others. That doesn't translate to religion, that's humanity.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  2. Guillermo Perez

    "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."... is this about hate? I don't think so... Jesus told us that sometimes to follow him, we should stand in God's principles even if my mother or my daughter is against, if she thinks that support lesbians/gays is the way, let her go... 20 + years in the church and did not learn a thing... what a shame...

    August 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Madtown

      Sub-human filth.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        Thanks for identifying yourself Madtown

        August 22, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
        • Madtown

          oh my, was that ever funny.

          August 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  3. fritzb43

    Who was it who said, "I've got nothing against God, I just can't stand His fan club"?

    August 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • jpip

      It was Gandhi. Actually, he said this:
      "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

      August 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
      • fritzb43

        Gandhi knew a thing or two. Sadly, for many if not most Christians, he was absolutely right.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  4. CDG

    They certainly have a right to be hateful bigots. But if they want to be, they should have their tax-exempt status pulled.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • blf83

      I agree completely.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • The really for real Scotsman

      Sorry but if you don't like their beliefs is not a valid reason to pull their rightful tax exemption. Unless you want to change a fundemental aspect of our nation.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
      • CDG

        So if a group starts opens a church based on the teachings of the flying spaghetti monster, and adds in a bit of white supremacy and anti-semitism, do they have the right to a tax-exempt status as well?

        The 1st Amendment guarantees you the right to speak whatever hateful bs you want. It doesn't say anything about us having to subsidize it.

        August 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
        • The really for real Scotsman

          If a "church" is a place of worship that keeps out of the politics of the nation, then what can one do in regards to tax exemption?
          Now when the day comes that church tells people how to vote, then take it away.

          August 22, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        why do they need to be tax free? All they have to do is pray and god will give them all they need!

        August 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  5. Skydiverc

    She's better off without that hate group posing as a church.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  6. Holy Man

    It is un-Christian to turn away ANYONE from the church. These uneducated, backwards Tennessee folks aren't Christians, they're just hateful m-o-r-o-n-s.

    Kat, you and your family are welcome to come to my church any time. We welcome all with open arms and open hearts.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • The really for real Scotsman

      You know nothing of these people but one choice they made as a group. You have no idea what their educational background is and what the heck is wrong with being from Tenn? Would it make any difference if they were from Oregon?

      August 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        you're not really for real ...

        August 22, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
        • The really for real Scotsman

          Really I am and on top of that, I'm more real than anyone else. I just dare anyone to show they are more real than me. Lol.

          August 22, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  7. fritzb43

    Isn't Christian love & tolerance wonderful? (Notice what state this is in, of course.)

    August 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  8. Wayne

    To Jumphigh. What an idiot. Check out the dictionary since you don't know what judging means. This so called church not only is playing God (they are not),but is judging a parent's love for their child. This church does not now the meaning of love, especially God's love. The bible says, "Judge not ..." Period. This church is spitting in the face of God's word. Jesus is love and would kick out all the church members of this stupid congregation if He were here.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  9. Madtown

    Linda left the church.
    Congratulations to Linda! She made the right move, and will likely be much happier now that she's removed herself from association with those vile people.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  10. Michael

    "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." – Mahatma Gandhi

    August 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  11. Enlightened

    Time for all the open minded atheists to take this one story and dump on all christians and their faith.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Not all christians, just the ones using their belief to justify mistreating LGBT for something out of their control.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG


      if you're Christian you must believe every word of the bible, so you must agree with this vile behavior. If you don't agree with this vile behavior, you must not believe every word of the bible so you are not a true Christian. according to Christians, the bible is the word of god. you can't pick some lines that you want to believe in and others you disregard!!! are you saying that you know better than god?!?!

      and you accuse Atheists of being arrogant! we know there is no god. you believe there is one but presume to know better than him. that's the ultimate arrogance (or the ultimate hypocrisy!).

      aaaaah the mind numbing foolishness of religion!

      August 22, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  12. blf83

    That's no church. And ... it is absolutely un-Christ-like. The "church's" tax exemptions should be revoked.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  13. brandon umbarger

    Not all people from Tennessee are like these redneck , ignorant , peices of trash. Trust me....things are a lot better nowadays ..... most people in Tennessee are tolerant of others. Sure we've gotta long way to go. Our state votes Red no matter what.....still the red in our rednecks isn't as red as it used to be:)....IMO

    August 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • blf83

      Tennessee, New York, California, Nevada – all states have willfully ignorant people. Fortunately there are people who model the example of Christ who are more accepting.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  14. K-switch

    Props to the Church for standing up for thier beliefs even though they new it would draw unwelcome negative attention from the media... or for being so stupid and naive that they thought that wouldn't happen.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Michael

      Props for being bigots?

      Their hatred of gay people has nothing to do with Biblical morality. If it did they'd be kicking out any relatives that "supported" those who were divorced and thus committing adultery (you know, one of the Top Ten Big Sins.)

      August 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Madtown

      Props to the Church for standing up for thier beliefs
      Would you give southern slave-owners props for standing up for their beliefs?

      August 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Proud Canadian


      August 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  15. brian

    Luckily in this country, people are leaving the church in droves. I only wish it was that way globally (e.g. Middle East) so 95% of the worlds persecution would come to an end. "What?!?! You don't believe in the same set of riduclous magical fables as I do!?!? You must DIE!!!" Religious extiction can't get here fast enough. If you're that game day about God, do us all a favor and go hang out with him... ASAP.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Segoy

      Persecution will not end if religions suddenly disappeared. We humans will sadly make sure of that.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
      • brian

        ... no... but it would make one HELLUVA dent.

        August 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Counter

      Yawn... Another anti religious bigot.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
      • Johnny

        love the believer hate the belief

        August 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  16. Donnie the Lion

    Jesus would not approve of the exclusionary policies many churches exercise. I wonder if the church members realize that?

    August 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  17. PK

    "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 bible doesn't speak plainly about much, but apparently it specically says that supporting your daughter's lesbian lifestyle is a sin.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  18. james Pfeiffer

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. If this is true, then these people must be angels on earth...not to mention, the whitest sheep in the valley! The boundlessness of religious hypocrisy is, in my opinion, one of the great fundamental flaws of the human condition.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  19. Elisabeth

    Kat, you have wonderful parents! All children would be blessed to have the support a a loving parent. They are true Christians.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  20. Techno Viking

    If the church asks you to stop loving your child, then that's a church you shouldn't want to be part of. Find another church, plain and simple

    August 22, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • blf83


      August 22, 2013 at 4:17 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.