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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
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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.

 

*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. ll

    Seems like there is a lot more hate in churches than there is in the gay community.

    God is not associated with hate.

    Are gay communities a truer church these days?

    August 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  2. woody pitt

    Righteousness is misguided self-indulgence.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  3. John Mann

    What kind, understanding, and tolerant christians they have at that church....NOT.

    Hey Ridgedale Church...you are a shameful example of Jesus' teachings and actions.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Michael

      Mighty christian of them.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  4. 505 Girl

    The people at that church are not true Christians if they turn their back on someone either for being gay or for supporting their gay children! They will be the ones answering to God for their actions!

    August 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      but the bible is the word of god ... and the bible tells them to do this ...

      @505, do you believe in god? if you do, you must obey him.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  5. Counter

    Another anti Christian rant. You need help.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  6. Dyslexic doG

    If God is powerful enough to create the universe, don't you think he'd have a more foolproof way of getting his exact message across to future generations than this endlessly translated, edited, confused, modified, twisted, corrupted book of stories that is changed by religious power brokers to suit each generation?

    Wouldn't god's word be carved on the moon, unchangeable and for all to see? Wouldn't it be spoken unchanged by a species of animal? Wouldn't it be written microscopically on every stone or every tree? Wouldn't there be some space age material that had god's voice recorded, uncorrupted over the centuries and there for everyone to hear. Wouldn't there be parts of God's word that reflect computers or artificial intelligence or DNA or modern medicine or future medicine or electricity or space travel to other parts of this amazing universe he created? Wouldn't there be talk of gender and race equality? Wouldn't there be talk of Asia and Australia and the Americas and Europe and Africa?

    Instead the bible is limited to horses and carts and herbs and grain and swords and shields and misogyny and racism and slavery all set in the deserts of the middle east. The Bible is so obviously a product of bronze age man, you must be in denial to even argue that it is the word of god. There may or may not be a god or gods, but this book of bronze age voodoo and oppression has nothing to do with him, her or them.

    And stop it with this "not the word of god but words inspired by god" cop out. That just means it was written by greedy, evil men who got their way by claiming that god told them to do something. That's a self serving scam that should be scorned, especially by anyone claiming to love an omnipotent god. That scam is an abomination and an insult to your god ... as is the bible!

    August 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Counter

      Nutcase alert. Paul and Jesus were not greedy. Far from it.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        wha?

        August 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  7. The Christian Right

    This is a peak at what a country of republicans will look like.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  8. Lisa B

    This is NOT a Christian church.

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

      Actions will give them away every time.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • craigorie

      This is not a church, it's a hate group.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
      • Athy

        What's the difference?

        August 22, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • sam

      So how shall we tell the 'real' christians from the rest?

      August 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  9. Logic?

    The Bible also teaches "Thou shalt not commit murder". Let's say this woman's daughter was a convicted killer, would the congregation expel her for visiting with her daughter or for sitting on her daughter's side of the courtroom during the sentencing? I strongly doubt they would raise such a stir if she had shown such compassion and support for her child after such a mortal sin.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Tom

      Good point. However, the more common scenario might be those divorced and remarried people ALL of us (even the most zealous of Church of Christers) accept into our families today. How do we really know some of them aren't adulterers- per the scriptures- in need of shunning ? Just how are they being vetted by The True Believers? Don't we have an obligation to ferret them out?

      August 24, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  10. TM

    I assume this church has also expelled those who have not disowned divorced relatives, or those with criminal records of any kind for violating one or more of the 10 Commandments?

    August 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • bobaussie

      And don't forget about those who have lusted in their hearts. Jimmy Carter would have been booted out years ago.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  11. bobaussie

    Why do people always say they follow the bible completely and explicitly, yet they don't stone their kids, they don't impale non-belivers, they don't burn gays? Why do they think that self-rightousness, is akin to rightousness and godly behavior, when it is, according to Christ's teachings, completely opposite? I'm a wicked man, and I'll enjoy watching all these so called Christians burn in hades with me! Only difference will be that I'll be enjoying the eternal bbq, while they'll be wallowing in their misery!

    August 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  12. mickeyg

    Allah Akbar !

    August 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  13. Brit

    Did Jesus kick out gays or their families from church? Just curious.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Sunnysmom

      Exactly, who would Jesus hate? lol

      August 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • bobaussie

      No, he did not. That's one way you can tell a true disciple of Christ versus those who just run at the mouth as though they were.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  14. rick

    and this is called being a christian? sure glad i don't practice their brand. please don't hate ignorance and stupidity. i personally feel very sorry for them.

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

      They're not Christians, they're phonies.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  15. JohnnyZ

    This isn't wrong. It is religion. Most every atrocity in the world starts with someone's supernatural and unfounded belief pitted against someone they disagree with, and blame the issues on an invisible all-powerful being. Let the church and all of its members feast on their own ignorance while you enjoy your lives.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • ll

      Religion = a man made set of rules
      Religion is not the same thing as spirituality.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  16. Mark

    This church sounds like it is full of "good Christians." I am so glad I am not a part of it.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  17. Sunnysmom

    Is there any doubt as to why church attendance has dropped off in America? I guess the parts of the bible like "love thy neighbor as thyself" and "do not judge or you too will be judged" are too complex for fundamentalists to follow.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • Understanding

      Most people do not understand the bible and sin is the reason why people are leaving the church. Sin is like junk food taste good but is bad for you.

      August 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
      • sam

        Then thank goodness sin, like most junk food, is man-made nonsense created to keep control over the masses and their money.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  18. Brit

    Exclusion is a form of hate.

    August 22, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Sunnysmom

      AMEN!

      August 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  19. diana horton

    wow, how Christian they are, our you judging? only God has that power. the church of Christ. made my mother feel so bad because of sin this sin that. she was, sending money to the church and those creepy t.v. preachers. one day, she ask me what I thought. so, I told her. mom, you have already been forgiven that's why Jesus died on the cross. and you need faith to believe it. you do not need a church to speak to god. ( p )

    August 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  20. yeppie

    There is nothing more hateful then a house of God, go figure....

    August 22, 2013 at 4:40 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.