Ridgedale pastor stands firm as group protests 'bigotry' outside Dodds Avenue church

Ridgedale pastor stands firm as group protests 'bigotry' outside Dodds Avenue church

August 26th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

From left, Tim Hinck, Janelle Jackson, Jared Story (with Keziah Story) and Dennis Westmeier say goodbye to one another after demonstrating outside the Ridgedale Church of Christ on Sunday in Chattanooga. The church, in a stance against gay marriage, recently gave an ultimatum to the family of a gay daughter: repent or leave.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

POLL: Is homosexuality a sin?

After a week of controversy over Ridgedale Church of Christ's stance that a family should confess sin and repent for supporting a lesbian daughter, its pastor's Sunday sermon focused on the obligations of faith.

"Some people only want the love of God without the wrath of God," pastor Ken Willis told a small congregation of church members and supporters.

He said that some people think keeping Christianity in balance means compromise. But he quoted Old Testament prophet Elijah, who told the children of Israel they must choose whether to worship God or Baal: "How long will you halt between two opinions?"

Outside the small brick church on Dodds Avenue, the marquee sign bore the messages "Righteousness lifts up a nation" on one side and "Character is what you are in the dark" on the other.

Nearby, five protesters stood quietly in support of the family who severed their decades-long relationship with the church after leaders presented them with an ultimatum: Denounce their daughter and repent their sin, or leave.

"Welcome to the most peaceful protest you've ever seen," said Tim Hinck, who said the five came as individuals, not representing a group.

"I wanted to show solidarity with Kat and her family," Hinck said. "It's important to make a statement when things like this come up."

He called the church's action "close-minded" and said it is an example of "bigotry."

Dennis Westmeier said he wanted to "support the people involved and the family" and added, "they're being asked to do something antithetical to family structure" by turning their back on their daughter's actions.

The sin that drew the church leaders' wrath was Kurt and Linda Cooper's support for their daughter, Collegedale Detective Kat Cooper, who is married to a woman. Acting on her request, Collegedale recently became the first town in Tennessee to adopt health-care coverage for same-sex spouses.

Willis met with Cooper's mother, Linda, and an aunt and uncle and said their support was an endorsement of homosexuality, which he said is condemned in the Bible. He told them they must confess in front of the congregation and repent or leave the church.

Willis told the Chattanooga Times Free Press at the time that the church didn't expect the Cooper family to disown their daughter.

"But you certainly can't condone that lifestyle, whether it's any kind of sin -- whether they're shacked up with someone or living in a state of fornication or they're guilty of crimes," he said. "You don't condone it. You still love them as a parent."

On Sunday, Willis said the family is welcome to come back when tempers cool. He said the church loves people, but hates sin.

"God's mercy endures forever," he said. "But not for those who are in rebellion against God."

He said someone opposed to the church's position had hacked and defaced its Facebook page. Sunday afternoon, the page shows symbols for homosexual and heterosexual relationships and the words "Love is Love."

"It is not peacemaking when someone takes over your website," he said.

Willis also said the church has received many messages of support, some from as far away as Singapore, Ireland, Africa and Malaysia.

Some audience members Sunday also were there to show support for the church.

Titus Blair came with his family from Charlottesville, Va.

"I believe in supporting members of the church standing up in a time that's unpopular," Blair said. "What's at stake is not the rights of people, but what is right."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.