Tennessee Church Kicks Out Longtime Members for Their Quiet Support of Gay Daughter’s Civil Rights

Police detective Kat Cooper (photo, right) became sort-of-famous in Tennessee earlier this month when she petitioned the city of Collegedale, a suburb of Chattanooga, to extend partner benefits to her wife, Krista (on left), whom she’d married in Maryland in May of this year.

“It should be of no importance to my employer if my lifelong commitment is made to a man or a woman — both are equal,” Cooper said [addressing the city commissioners]. “Small ripples can precipitate huge waves. In this case, a great opportunity lies in your hands.”

The commissioners voted on the matter on August 5, and the outcome, 4 votes to 1, was yes, fair’s fair, let’s do it. Case closed, right?

Kat Cooper (right) with wife Krista (via Chattanooga Times Free Press)

From the city’s perspective, yes. But for Ken Willis, the minister at Cooper’s family’s church, not so much.

Leaders at Ridgedale Church of Christ met in private with Kat Cooper’s mother, aunt and uncle on Sunday after the regular worship service. They were given an ultimatum: They could repent for their sins and ask forgiveness in front of the congregation. Or leave the church.

Willis argued to the Times Free Press that “the family’s support of Kat Cooper was as good as an endorsement of homosexuality.” It shouldn’t matter (but it’s worth pointing out) that the Cooper family’s support of Kat had been quiet and resigned. They didn’t distribute fiery flyers or stage demonstrations, and overall, they were careful not to burn bridges. To no avail.

My mother was up here and she sat beside me. That’s it,” said Kat Cooper. “Literally, they’re exiling members for unconditionally loving their children — and even extended family members.”

Of course, they could just find another church. But it’s not that easy for the Coopers. For one thing, their support for Kat makes them outcasts in much of the local community of so-called Christians. Matt Nevels, the presiding officer of Tennessee’s PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), points out that “Most of the churches in this area are homophobic.”

And then there’s this:

[Kat’s mother] Linda Cooper’s parents were practically founding members of the Dodds Avenue congregation, [father] Hunt Cooper said. [Linda’s] father was a church elder and his picture still hangs on the wall there. Kat Cooper grew up helping her grandfather clean the pews and helped her grandmother hang bulletin boards for Sunday school.

Hunt Cooper said his wife can’t comment; she is too distraught.

“She is just so traumatized and so upset,” he said. “It has been days and she’s still crying. It’s almost like losing a family member.”

 

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