Profile in Courage: The Coopers Had to Make a Choice Many Families Face Today

It was heartwarming to see the Cooper family rally and offer emotional support to daughter Kat Cooper, the police detective who won benefits for her same-sex marriage partner from the town of Collegedale—a first in Tennessee.

As a result of their public support for their daughter, the family has been expelled from the Ridgedale Church of Christ. In the church it’s called being “disfellowshipped.”

The church has been castigated for being narrow-minded. There has been outrage that a gay marriage, legal in Maryland where it was performed, has been recognized by a local government in Tennessee.

Having been members of the Ridgedale Church of Christ for 60 years, the Coopers certainly knew the attitude of the church on the issue of gay marriage. I also suspect that if Kat Cooper had not been gay, the Cooper family would never had a second thought about agreeing with the church’s position on the issue.

Nothing explains the dramatic shift in the public attitude and tolerance for gay marriage like the impact it has on families when they realize one of their loved ones is gay. Or someone they work with. Or have been friends with. As more people come out of the closet, more people know people who are gay. It is no longer some abstract thing that happens in San Francisco.

The Cooper family, at some point, chose to support their daughter and their daughter-in-law, Krista, even at the risk of public criticism.

It should come as no surprise to the Coopers, or anyone who has been a member of the Church of Christ, that they would be disfellowshipped. It is the duty of the elders of the church to see that church doctrine is upheld. In the Church of Christ, each church is an independent entity. There are no bishops, no structure beyond the congregation. The elders at Ridgedale would be failing in their duty as elders of the church had they not taken action.

I’m sure they have given ultimatums before to people who drink alcohol or “live in sin” before marriage. If you have publicly sinned you must go before the members of the church and confess the sin and ask for forgiveness. Or else. The church has every right to hold certain beliefs and to enforce those beliefs on people who wish to be a member. The question becomes: Do you want to be a member of a church that holds those beliefs?

Some people do. The Catholic Church is full of people who practice birth control and are pro-choice on abortion, and choose to ignore the church’s teaching on these subjects. I’m sure there are Baptists and members of the Church of Christ who are not in lockstep with the church’s position on all issues. I think most people think their church is the right religion, they choose to be members, and they choose to ignore the positions with which they do not agree. But they don’t do it publicly.

But sometimes, as in the case of the Cooper family, you have to make a choice. And they decided to support their daughter. It is a central tenet of the Church of Christ that the Church of Christ is the true church of the New Testament (Romans 16:16) and if you are not a member of the Church of Christ you cannot obtain salvation. If that has been drilled into you all your life, you can imagine the anguish of the Cooper family—they cannot just blithely become Episcopalians.

It isn’t like being banned from your club or drummed out of your fraternity.

I don’t know the Coopers, but having grown up in the church, I can imagine the emotional turmoil of a family cut off from the friends and fellow Christians they have known for generations. And to be cut off from the church they have been told all their lives is necessary for them to be saved.

So you see the decision of the Coopers to love their daughter and support her was not something they took lightly. All the more reason to admire their courage.

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