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Church of Christ in Tennessee under fire for actions after same-sex decision (Updated)

Update: The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports on Sunday worship at the Ridgedale Church of Christ, which drew five protesters and includes additional comments from minister Ken Willis.
Just weeks after The Christian Chronicle published “Homosexuality and the church,” a news report on how Churches of Christ are responding to same-sex attraction, a Church of Christ in Chattanooga, Tenn., is at the center of controversy for its actions toward the family of a same-sex couple.
CNN reports:

The Ridgedale Church of Christ in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Photo via Google maps)

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.”

Read the full story.
The story has drawn a flurry of negative reaction from readers — including David Cook, a Times Free Press columnist.
“I wish someone would stampede in, overturn your tables and drive the homophobic madness from your pulpit. Exorcise you,” Cook writes. (Read the full column.)
Neal Pollard, minister for the Bear Valley Church of Christ in Denver, responds to some of the criticism in a blog post titled “Why Ridgedale church of Christ Is Getting Slammed.”
Pollard notes that “we do not have all the facts of the case” and asks readers:

Please pray for Ridgedale.  Encourage them and show them love.  The detractors are popular and validated by a world separated from God.  Let us have the courage to stand by God’s people who are willing to stand up for His will.

The Christian Chronicle has left messages for minister Ken Willis and leaders of the Ridgedale church, an 85-member congregation listed as “Racially Diverse” in the latest edition of the directory “Churches of Christ in the United States.”
Willis has released a written statement to media, according to CNN.

“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.”

Chris Barnett, preaching minister for the East Brainerd Church of Christ in Chattanooga, recently preached a series on the relationship between husbands and wives — focusing one lesson on sexual sins.
The situation at the Ridgedale church demonstrates that “this is something we need to talk about and discuss,” he told the Chronicle.

  • Feedback
    To let you know..the Ridgedale Church of Christ facebook page has been hacked.
    Sam McKinney
    August, 22 2013

    Love the sinner and hate the sin. The Bible is very plain and says that those who continue to practice homosexuality will be lost. The family is in a difficult place. They can love their child but not accept her lifestyle. I don’t expect the media to like this. Christians are the most persecuted people in America. I applaud the Elders for their adherence to scripture and doing their best to lead.
    Laura Angus
    August, 22 2013

    Interesting article. However, we do not have all the facts and therefore we should not judge anybody yet. For example, exactly how did Linda publicly support her daughter, Kat? Was it her expressing unconditional love for her daughter? Was it refusing to condemn her daughter? Has anyone thought that maybe Linda needed support from her brothers and sisters in Christ as she deals with this issue? Or was she left to bear that burden alone?
    Parents of children living in an “alternative” lifestyle are in a very sensitive place, and their goal is to make sure that their actions do not place a barrier to their child’s chance of returning to God. Turning their backs on their child is one way to insure that their child will be forever lost. Unconditional love is very critical, especially since we live in a world full of militant homosexuals who would love to take a lost soul cast out into the world on their own by their families and the church and turn them against God.
    Love the sinner and hate the sin is the way to go. Christ has shown us how to do it.
    Stephen Maple
    August, 22 2013

    These can be some very hard circumstances when it involves family members. Some of the strongest condemnation words in the Bible from God regards homosexuality. Contrary to David Cook’s opinion, negative reaction of any type towards homosexuality is not necessarily ‘homophobic’. There has been a very determined effort by supporters of homosexuality to paint all disapproval as synonymous with hating the person. That is simply not true. This type of thing is going to get harder and I pray that God in His infinite wisdom will bring aid to all who try to address this challenge.
    Ted Craig
    August, 22 2013

    Christians are not the most persecuted people in America. To believe that is to ignore the very real oppression of the poor and marginalized happening all around us. The fact that some people didn’t like the decision to boot a family from the church for standing by their daughter isn’t persecution; it’s argument.
    To the editor – I have to wonder why, in the interest of balance, you didn’t include quotes from members/ministers in Churches of Christ who wouldn’t have taken such drastic action. If you need me to connect you with some, I will.
    Nonsense like this – asking a family to publicly repent for supporting their daughter in a private matter – makes the Church of Christ look like a caricature of fundamentalist absurdity.
    Scott Lybrand
    August, 22 2013

    We cannot possibly have all the facts in this case. The Christian Chronicle has written objectively but could not possibly have investigated the full history of the relationship between Ridgedale Church of Christ and Linda Cooper.
    That said, one important fact is clear. The Ridgedale commitment to their interpretation of Biblical standards for congregational purity (Whom should be included and whom excluded from membership?) has come into intense conflict with a mother’s understanding of how best to lovingly support her child.
    The Gospels repeatedly present Jesus in similar conflict with the Pharisees. Consider one well known example where Jesus dines with “tax collectors and sinners” in Matthew 9:9-13. However, in the chapter 10 Jesus claims to not “bring peace but a sword” and uses the harsh language of setting family members against each other. Interestingly that section of verses sits sandwiched between expressions of divine compassion. And, if we read the first half of the chapter it would seem that Jesus believed his followers would be ostracized for exercising compassion as he did. (The servant is not greater than the master.)
    As American churches continue to discuss how to handle these tensions we cannot escape asking ourselves if we wish to follow Jesus or human tradition.
    Ron Johns, Jr
    August, 22 2013

    The issue here really is not about homosexuality. Romans 2, Leviticus, Genesis, and elsewhere demonstrate that homosexuality is a sin. The question is whether the lesbian daughter claims to be a Christian, whether the mother supported the “openly sinful, not a Christian” daughter, whether the mother supported the “yeah I’m a Christian even if I’m a lesbian” daughter (problematic), or whether she was seeking to make every effort to reconcile the “former believer, now leaving the faith” daughter before saying goodbye. If the daughter is not a Christian, the church’s response, I would argue, was not proper. If the daughter does not claim to believe in God, then make every effort to continue to love and show her Christ. If she DOES claim to be a Christian, and if the proper steps were made to try to bring her back to the faith, then the church’s response to the daughter should be one of dismissal according to 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (below). Jesus also speaks of how we are to separate our love for God above even family in Matthew 10:34-39 (below). In 2 Timothy 3:1-7, we have direction about what to do when “in these last days” there is someone who comes in causing division who is “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” If this was that mother, then it was right to remove her. We are called “to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles,” because they by “smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive,” (Romans 16:17-20) which is unacceptable to be allowed to continue within the Body of Christ, his bride, the Church.
    So the issue remains. If the mother chose the daughter over Christ and the words of God in Scripture, then according to Jesus, she’s not worthy of him. But, if she was seeking to love the one who had abandoned what was good in Christ Jesus, the church was greatly in the wrong. We can’t serve two masters. The particularly difficult issue is how to address those in the church who are not practicing homosexuals (presumably the mother was not) yet who support and rally behind the homosexual movement as a Christian brother or sister. More and more through Scripture’s teaching, I think these people may need to be avoided given the controversy they cause, and the way the lead away the naive.
    Scripture References:
    “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people�not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler�not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. �Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
    �Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39
    “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:1-7
    “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites,and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Romans 16:17-20
    Your Brother in Him,
    Dustin Hahn
    August, 22 2013

    This is a difficult issue for any church or family. How to deal with it in keeping with the teachings of the Bible and specifically Jesus is not readily determinable. One thing for certain, I am truly thankful that we are not to deal with issues in keeping with O.T. law. The equal problem, as I see it is heterosexual sexually active without marriage. The sin of fornication and adultery is specifically condemned in the N.T. and yet I have seen congregations tolerate it, even when it is known by the church and community. To me one type of sexual sin is as bad as another. Both will separate the individuals involved from God and it should be made clear to all concerned that to continue in such sin will result in loss of fellowship and ultimately eternal separation from God. I don’t like that and feel compassion for those who are ignorant of the truth of this matter but that does not change what the Bible teaches. That is the basis for right and wrong and must be followed to be right with God. I would say though that in any congregation there are some who will have to maintain family ties even if a family member is involved in sexual sin. I do not believe that God requires brethren to withdraw their family responsibilities from sinful family members. I don’t think that has even been taught in the church, at least that I am aware of. Even if a person is withdrawn fellowship from a congregation, that person is still a family member and must be treated as such. I believe Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 7 would imply that even if not specifically stated. I pray for the Elders at this congregation and for its preacher. I am confident they have done what they believe is right based on their specific knowledge of the events.
    Lindell Doty
    August, 22 2013

    Rather than weighing in and creating a clamor (on a specific situation we know little about), perhaps we should take the opportunity to weigh our own hearts (about which we are often self-deceived) and create a calmer, more humble and repentant climate for God to do His redeeming and transforming work. Loving like Jesus is cross-hard work.
    Alan Henderson
    August, 22 2013

    Loving one’s daughter unconditionally, and publicly supporting her to seek benefits for her same sex spouse are two different things.
    If Linda believes like her church, that Homosexuality is a sin and that biblical marriage is between a man and a woman, how can she support her daughter to seek benefits for a same sex spouse? Where is the love in this?
    Folks like to confuse issues and emotionally deal with them. As Christians, we must realize that we are up against a worldly system and government that is very powerful and dangerous.
    Those who believe in the biblical idea of marriage must “contend for the faith”. Christians must decide where they stand. We are either for or against. We can not be both at the same time.
    Arthur David
    August, 22 2013

    So if the church withdraws from a Christian husband, then the Christian wife should withdraw from him and not even eat with him, right? Just like this mother should stop fellowshipping her daughter! Doesn’t family responsibility supersede the church’s action? This is a classic example of “binding heavy burdens, hard to bear, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” Would this church withdraw from a banker who made money from predatory real estate loans? We all know the answer to that one.
    In all these discussions, don’t look for these preachers or elders to address the larger issue of whether homosexuality is a conscious choice or possibly something innate. They argue that sexual orientation is a personal choice, but refuse to tell anyone when they made the conscious choice to be heterosexual.
    Harold Williams
    August, 22 2013

    If the daughter was a murderer and supported by her mother, would the mother be kicked out of the Church? Sin is sin, why is homosexuality punished this way and others not?
    Phillip Hicks
    August, 22 2013

    It is easy to criticize this church for its actions, but I will not because I don’t know the facts. I pray that you who claim to follow Jesus Christ will reserve public criticism of this or any church of believers because doing so publicly does not help His kingdom, whether you are correct or not.
    Jason Azbell
    August, 22 2013

    First, Christian Chronicle would be of greater service if they did further investigation before reporting. It would be nice to have definitive information as to what the family support involved.
    Second, if the support was only as a parent supporting her child in requesting equal benefits under the law–it is a jump to say that she condoned the life style.
    Third, if as article indicated–Linda Cooper and her relatives in one private meeting–were given the ultimatum–that was a knee jerk response giving no time for God to work on their hearts.[Assuming their was sin as alleged].
    Fourth, if the parent and relatives were only supporting civil proceedings and not publicly condoning sin as the daughter alleges–it appears that not enough prayer and fasting proceeded the decision.
    In any case–it appears that even if the church feels that they “won the battle”–they stand to” lose the war”. Dealing with Homosexuality requires the church to come across as loving the homosexual individual rather than appearing “homophobic” Are we willing to allow homosexuals to attend our worship services and together with God work on their hearts?
    And are we willing to love and support parents and relatives of children who are homosexuals while they wrestle with the issue and their heart? Let us ask long and hard WWJD!
    David Dallas
    August, 22 2013

    Same-sex marriage is very sinful to all of us. Why do so many Americans as well as part of the continent accept the sinful decision? Let the whole world come to God and receive the true teaching, as He always takes care of us.
    In Christ name,
    Bro. Kalae of Kenya Deaf Church of Christ – Nairobi, Kenya
    Peter Okumu Kalae
    August, 22 2013

    Neal Pollard from Bear Valley C of C in Denver is right on in his comments. First, is the situation with the information: we see this in all the major, high profile legal cases today where the media presents what they either know or think and the general public comes to a conclusion based on what they hear (my daddy always said, “Believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see” and it is still good advice that we seldom follow). Mr. Pollard also mentions the fact of the general public not knowing the scriptures: I would go even further than that in saying that most members of the church of Christ don’t know the scriptures well enough (I have been teaching in the Lord’s church for almost 40 years and am always amazed at how little many in the church know).
    Anyone who believes that homosexuality (sodomy is the proper term) is OK with God or that we should support anyone (even a family member) in their quest to be accepted as a sodomite is OK with God is completely confused. For someone who had been in the church for as long as the elder Mrs. Cooper would understand the idea of reflecting negatively upon the church and its consequences. When we publicly support sinful actions, even if they are actions by a loved one, we are putting ourselves at odds with God and His church, meaning that we are, too, publicly sinning and bringing reproach upon the church of God. I don’t know what was said to Mrs. Cooper, but I have never known of the leadership (elders) of a church of Christ to “exile” any member. The process is to let the person know that they are living in public sin and it is expected that they repent. The actions of the congregation is to have no social contact with the member except to lovingly urge the person to repent and come back the Lord.
    I am always amazed at all the people who use Jesus’ statement about not judging others, yet we are often told to not associate with those who are openly living against the laws of God so that we do not also fall into the same mindset. In order to do that, we have to make judgements about others and God expects us to do so. Furthermore, we are often told to help one another in our shortcomings: how do we know those shortcomings if we are not making judgments. The command not to judge is intended to let us know that we do not have the authority to grant salvation or to condemn one to hell: that is within God’s authority and His only. We are keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.”
    Glenn Landrum
    August, 22 2013

    I wholeheartedly agree that we cannot be positive that we have all the facts in this story.
    However, the struggle for a Christian should be Good vs Evil–not “Better” vs “worse”.
    If a parent is not expected to refuse to emotionally support their child while that child is making any other sinful choice(and none of our children are perfect!), the parent should not be expected to in the case of this sin.
    An assumption that the mother supports the sinful lifestyle might not be an accurate one.
    Russ Sharp
    August, 23 2013

    There is very little information given yet from it folks have made their decisions to condemn or approve the actions of these Elders.
    In reading the article two things stand out in my mind.
    1) “Along the way, the mother publicly supported her daughter.”
    2) “Linda Cooper was given a choice: publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church.”
    Again, not much information but it appears the transgression would be the public support of the daughter. It also appears that the mother was asked to repent from such public support.
    My understanding is the woman had been a member of the congregation for “decades” so we should all remember this was likely no easy task for the Elders. They have accepted the task of shepherding the flock which sometimes call for hard decisions.
    It was the public support that the Elders needed to address and if the woman chose not to cease from offering her public support of a sinful situation then she was not simply “kicked out”, she chose to leave.
    In any case, remember to pray for all concerned in this sad situation.
    James from The Spring Creek Congregation of The church of Christ.
    James K
    August, 23 2013

    The subject of homosexuality is not addressed AT ALL in the Bible for the simple reason that the very word did not exist until the 19th Century. Human sexuality was not commonly understood to come in different varieties (homo- and hetero-) until the 1950s and, indeed, until the early 1970s, homosexuality was thought to be a psychological disorder. It is therefore intellectually dishonest to claim that any passage in the Bible addresses homosexuality.
    The story of Sodom and Gomorrah does not address sexual misconduct; the story does not specify what the great sin of the two cities was, but we know from other sources in the Bible (Ezekiel and Christ’s commissioning the disciples) that the received understanding in Biblical times was that it was a parable about how God deals with people who are arrogant, selfish, and unwelcoming to strangers. It wasn’t understood to have any sexual implications of any kind until the Fifth Century CE.
    In the time of Jesus and, later, of Paul, the only reference in “scripture” was found in Leviticus and it referred to a specific sexual act. It does not address lesbianism at all; it does not address other male-male sexual conduct. Indeed some Orthodox Jews to this day read the Leviticus passages as applying ONLY to the specific act cited. Beyond that, the text is somewhat vague and subject to varying interpretations (at one time, it was thought to prohibit sex between men and women in anything other than the “missionary” position. Also of interest, it is labeled with a term for which “abomination”, in the contemporary understanding, is probably a poor translation. “Unclean” or “unnatural” would probably come closer to the understanding of the time in which the text was written.
    Turning now to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Romans, the former reference seems to apply to male prostitutes. The latter seems to identify what Paul considered to be aberrant sexual behaviors as by-products of falling away from God.
    Many contemporary, scholarly Christians do read scripture in the context of contemporary knowledge and understanding. They do not, for example, look to the Bible for instruction on astronomy, physics, chemistry, or biology. Neither do they look to it for instruction in human sexuality, since our understanding of human sexuality is different by light-years from that of Biblical times (even of the 1950s).
    Ken Kemp
    August, 23 2013

    Ken, that was a very interesting and informative post. Thanks for that.
    Steve Allison
    August, 24 2013

    Thanks Ken Kemp for your excellent post! You are right on target with each point!
    Clay Hooper
    August, 24 2013

    The elders met privately with the family to discuss a matter that was already public and had been aired on television before the church leadership was involved. The church is not the party that publicized anything that may or may not have been said in a private meeting.
    Michael Summers
    August, 24 2013

    Putting the Cooper family in a position where they were forced to choose between their daughter and their church was wrong on the part of the minister and the Elders. The decision smacks of the Pharisees who made a great show of their belief instead of going into their closet to pray as Jesus advised. If a child asks for bread, do you give them a stone? God asks me to love my children unconditionally.
    Patricia Seagrove
    August, 25 2013

    If you don’t stand against sin then you are for it. GOd is specific! Christianity is for the brave. The Mother made her choice! We can only feel sorry for both their decisions but God demands respect for His ALL authoritative word! In Love!
    John Jansen
    August, 25 2013

    The Church of Christ is under seige by an unbelieving, a-moral world and society that is determined to force her to accept their goals and practices; one of which is homosexuality. They wish to silence the voices of God’s people on the sinfulness of this practice and to force Christians to accept as normal and acceptable to God, homosexual intimacy, same-sex marriage and other aspects of their agenda.
    Brethren should view this as a shot across the bow that precedes a full-scale attack.
    John Waddey
    August, 26 2013

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