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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. Karin

    Bible Again! The same book that states raping, slavery, genocide and abuse are good things as long as their god commanded it. Yet, being gay crosses the threshold???? Religion needs to go away.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  2. JJ

    That church is full of "Biblians" not Christians. They idolize selected text of the bible, not the examples set by Christ.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Reality

      Hmmm, examples of Christ?

      Some amplification for the new members:

      Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?

      August 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • JJ

        "So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say? "

        At the very least, he set some lasting examples of how to get along with each other.

        August 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
      • Counter

        I care and what YOU ZTHINK MATTERS NOT. you are missing out on Gods love.

        August 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
        • LinCA

          @Counter

          You said, "you are missing out on Gods love."
          What makes your imaginary friend any different from the Tooth Fairy?

          August 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
      • Rett

        I will give you credit for disregarding the Bible without, in the same breathe claiming that Jesus was a "good man"....i have heard many skeptics take that route and it won't wash......based on what .jesus said he was either a lunatic, liar, or Lord...."good man" doesn't seem to be an option....it seems like you have made up your mind

        August 22, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
        • Johnny

          Or Jesus was just a guy who was executed and then had his life story embellished by his followers.

          August 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  3. sham

    It may have specific statements in the bible about a man laying with a man, not so sure it says anything about a woman laying with a woman if they want to go with what's clearly stated in the bible. On that note, I suppose that church has also shunned all single mothers (at least those who conceived outside of marriage) as well? My understanding is that the bible speaks pretty clearly about that too...

    August 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      It also speaks clearly of adultery.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  4. david saint

    Matthew 7:1 among others makes it very clear...its not our place to judge others. This type of hate is not what Jesus taught either...

    August 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  5. Ann

    That so-called church is morally wrong on so many levels!!!!!

    August 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  6. stevepatt46

    Ahh, religion rearing it's ugly head AGAIN!!

    August 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
      • RC

        Geez-there you go again.

        August 23, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  7. SkepticMario

    Bravo for that gay detective's mom to stand her ground out of love for her daughter. Boo to the church. I would criticize that church for adhering to medieval viewpoints, but the strict, literal interpretation of such a book like the Bible is two millenia older than that.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  8. mary

    Their sign in the video says "Righteousness lifts up a nation"...someone should remind them that self-righteousness can destroy it. There are many days when I am ashamed to live in this state...when I first read this story was one of them.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  9. snowboarder

    in a "church of christ" they could probably get the exclusion reversed by public opinion. i would lobby the parishioners.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  10. Jon

    As an independent faith-based group, they have every right, maybe even the responsibility, to choose who their members are. I disagree with their position 100%, but that is me- not them. The real question in my mind is why Linda wants to still be a part of this church group that condemns her and her daughter so strongly, other than the habit of 60 years (strong though that may be). Habit is not a reason to worship or worship with a given group. Conscious choice, that's important. I do not criticize church groups (who don't use hate to make their point) just because they are exclusive. I want them to exclude me.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • GEORGE

      True-but I think what offends most people is that the inclusion/exclusion decisions are made in the name of Christian love, which whether one is Christian or not, is in the fabric of our culture. For a church to ask a long-term parishioner to leave because she chose to support her daughter out of love is so contrary the teaching of Christian love that it is offensive at the same level that the mythic Jesus was offended at those who upheld self-righteousness and forgot about love

      August 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Tom

      The real question in my mind is how they can keep tax exempt status if they preach public policy issues and attempt to influence voting patterns from the pulpit .As a former member( having sat in their pews from childhood), I can assure you that this group does so regularly.

      .

      August 23, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  11. allenwoll

    How very Jesusey of that "Church". /sarc/

    August 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • greennnnnn

      It smacks of Scientology. Turn your back on your family if they want you to or order you to. Wow, what a bunch of messed up people.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  12. Bill

    "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.""

    How many gays did Jesus turn away?
    How many family members of gays did Jesus turn away?

    I sincerely hope somebody burns your church down with you in it.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  13. Shinea

    When the vessel you are riding in springs a leak you don't ride it into the depths, no matter how long you've been on it, you move to another vessel and continue on your journey ... especially when it's the crew that's drilling holes in it. This family is much better off without them.

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

      Ooooh, I like that analogy.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Mike F

    As long as a religion teaches love and about being a good person, anything beyond that usually ends up being like add-on legislation in government...totally unrelated, not needed, and pertains to a select few who will benefit from it. I don't care who you worship or what symbol you idolize as long as it helps you to become a better person. If it doesn't, then it's just a 'club' with snobbish members, ridiculous rules, dues, and usually silly hats.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  15. FredInIT

    The Church, under First Amendment* has a right to their opinion, and as a private organization, who may be a member or not. They simply said – here are your choices. They didn't have some sort of fire and brimstone sermon about this.

    * Regardless of the perceived thoughts of some long-haired sandal and linen robe wearing hippie.

    The family, as well, has the choice of taking their business (support, business, monies, and their green-bean almondine casserole (a hit a pot-lucks everywhere)) elsewhere.

    While the family is disappointed in the church's decision they have decided that the support of their own family is more important both short and long term than the opinions of the board at a private club that they have been members of for over 60 years.

    I would say give both the family and the Church their due. Neither appears to be asking for the money, guns, and lawyers like everyone else is wanting to do. That, in and of itself, should be applauded as much as the family supporting their child.

    Fred in IT

    August 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  16. Open Arms

    She is welcome at my church any time

    August 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  17. complicated

    This is a vey complicated issue.

    1. Jesus certainly dined with sinners. He forgave those who sinned against God's command. In fact, the only sin that the Bible states is unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

    2. The Bible does discuss Love and Forgiveness. If you want to read about Love go to Corinthians.

    3. The Bible also talks about holding sinners accountable. At times this means condemnation. Condemnation not in a hateful way, but in a loving way. It means that if you are my Christian brother, and I know you are in sin, it is my responsibility to call you on it, and hold you accountable to that fact. How you hold that person accountable and the manner of which you do it certainly is up for debate.

    Do I think this was handled the right way? No. I had a Gay family member before he passed away. I loved him dearly, treated him as a member of my family, but still was very honest that I did not agree or support his lifestyle. In this case, it is my opnion that the church should have kept its doors open to the entire family, while still not condoning the actions.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • LinCA

      @complicated

      You said, "This is a vey complicated issue."
      Not really. It only appears complicated to those that are deluded that there are gods, and that there is some truth to the folk lore written down in their "holy" books.

      Once you realize that gods are no more likely to exist than the Tooth Fairy, the situation becomes pretty clear. Discriminating against someone for who or what he or she is, is immoral.

      The despicable behavior by those that base their life on these fairy tales should be condemned in the most forceful way.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Madtown

      holding sinners accountable
      ---–
      Existing as God designed you is a sin? How can that be? Are you hetero? Is that your "lifestyle", or an immutable part of who you are?

      August 22, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • bibletruths107

      I'm not sure how they stood up for their daughter. Did they acknowledge that they loved their daughter but did not approve of their lifestyle?

      August 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
      • Athy

        Does that really matter?

        August 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  18. Tombstone

    Gimme that ol' time religion. Dangerous ain't it? Evil at its best.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  19. george

    I thought everyone committed sin. So, does that church tell everyone in the church to publicly atone for their sin – whatever that sin may be? Or do they have some sort of ranking of sin and a chart or something about which sins are to be deemed really bad or what? Wonder how often they are required to publicly atone?. I know that I and everyone else does some sort of sin every day of our lives. Do they have public atonements on a daily basis?

    August 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Open Arms

      Not the church, just "choose your own scripture" christians

      August 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  20. DonInLA

    To paraphrase Jesus, I would say to them "Let the one without sin remain a member of the church" Without judging them I feel that their congregation would be very small if not non-existent and I firmly believe that one of the new "non-members" would surely include Ken Willis. I would question if he is not one of the false prophets that the Bible warns us against. I cannot help but have these feelings but that judgment, too, I will leave up to God. Pray that they be delivered from THEIR sin!

    August 22, 2013 at 4:19 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.