By Bob Allen
In a press release Jan. 7, the 1.3 million-member Georgia Baptist Convention protested the recent firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran for writing a religious book deemed intolerant toward gays.
Earlier, the 3,600-church state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention objected to the chief’s 30-day suspension during an investigation into whether publication of a book he wrote for the men’s ministry at his Southern Baptist church compromised Cochran’s ability to manage a diverse 750-member workforce in one of the nation’s most LGBT-friendly cities.
Georgia Baptist leaders said Cochran was “wronged” by his dismissal announced Jan. 6 and urged Mayor Kasim Reed to restore the chief’s position because “it is the right thing to do.”
“People of faith should not be punished for expressing their First Amendment rights,” the statement said. “Chief Cochran has violated no law, nor has he been accused of discriminating against anyone during his 34 years of honorable service including serving as U.S. Fire Administrator under President Obama.”
“Chief Cochran’s First Amendment rights guarantee him freedom of belief and speech,” the statement continued. “No one’s employer or government agency can deny those rights. The government is not to be lord over anyone’s conscience.”
Cochran, a deacon and Bible teacher at the 19,000-member, Georgia Baptist-affiliated Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, spoke about “the blessings of suffering” in a message Dec. 28 at First Baptist Church in Newnan, Ga., about what was then a suspension without pay.
“A few years ago I researched the word ‘suffering’ in the Bible, and it includes several things like persecution and trials and tribulations and tests and afflictions, all grouped under the word sufferings,” he said. “And God knows I’m experiencing some of those things as I go through this trial based upon the content of my book and the 30 days suspension without pay.”
Cochran said he wrote the book titled Who Told You That You Were Naked? — the question God asked Adam after he and his wife ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis — to help men in his church deal with feelings of condemnation.
“In the book I deal with sexuality as God intended it,” Cochran said, “for a man and a woman to be married and to have children to populate the earth, and that any sex outside of marriage and outside of a man and a woman in holy matrimony is against the word of God.”
“For that stand, I’ve been laid off for 30 days without pay,” he told the Newnan congregation.
The mayor, the grandson of a Methodist minister who also professes to be a person of faith, said the firing had nothing to with Cochran’s religious beliefs but with department policy that forbids employees to publish without proper clearance from city officials.
Reed did say that by making his views known Cochran opened the city to possible liability for allegations of employment discrimination. He added that the chief’s behavior of talking about his suspension despite a gag order during the investigation also raised questions about his judgment.
Cochran told the Newnan congregation he is “not a victim,” respects the mayor and remained confident “in our God that I will certainly be vindicated and he will be glorified in this set of circumstances.”
“This is not about Kelvin Cochran,” he said. “It’s about the Lord. It is not my reputation on the line. I took a stand for Christ. It’s his reputation on the line.”
“Jesus Christ never throws us under the bus,” Cochran said. “I know that he will be glorified, and I know that I will be vindicated once all the truth comes out.”
Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director Robert White told Todd Starnes of Fox News he believes the mayor succumbed to pressure from the city’s LGBT community.
“It’s a frightening day in the United States when a person cannot express their faith without fears of persecution following,” White said. “It’s persecution when a godly fire chief loses his job over expressing his Christian faith.”
Starnes, a one-time editor for Baptist Press who now specializes in stories alleging violations of religious freedom in the United States, said the Georgia Baptist executive believes the fire chief’s firing could spark public protests and demonstrations from the state’s Christian community.
“We’re past the point of taking a public stand,” White said. “Christians must stand up for their rights.”