By Bob Allen
Leaders of the Georgia Baptist Convention launched an online petition demanding reinstatement of a fire chief suspended for writing a religious book critical of homosexuality.
Last month Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced a 30-day suspension of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran after complaints over a self-published book he wrote in 2013 about condemnation and redemption titled Who Told You That You Were Naked?
In the book Cochran, a member of Georgia Baptist Convention-affiliated Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, describes homosexuality and practices like bestiality and pederasty as “forms of sexual perversion” and describes same-sex relations as one of many “vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways” in which sinful men dishonor God.
Cochran, a deacon and Sunday school teacher in his church, said in an address to the Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Committee that he wrote the book out of a passion for ministry to men.
“I just have a desire in my heart to see men evolve, develop into the men that God created us to be in the first place,” he said, “to be the husbands that God has called us to be and to be the fathers that God has called us to be, to be the leaders in the marketplace that God has called us to be, because the foundation of … God’s plan for the kingdom is the human family.”
City officials said Cochran violated city policy by publishing a book without permission and inappropriately distributing copies to other employees. While acknowledging the fire chief has a right to his opinion, officials said views expressed by Cochran raised questions about his ability to relate positively to employees who are gay.
The mayor ordered Chief Cochran to complete sensitivity training and suspended him 30 days without pay. “I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens — regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs,” Kasim posted on Facebook Nov. 24.
The Georgia Baptist Convention Public Affairs Committee responded Dec. 9 with a statement calling on 1.4 million Southern Baptists in the state to “stand up for biblical principles and fellow believers who are punished or marginalized for their faith.”
The statement called on Mayor Reed to “acknowledge Chief Cochran’s First Amendment rights, make a public apology for the suspension and grief it has caused the Chief and his family, and restore Chief Cochran’s pay and reputation as an honorable fire chief.”
“It is time for believers to stand up for their religious beliefs, biblical principles and fellow Christians who are punished or marginalized for their faith,” said Robert White, executive director of the 3,300-church affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention. He described the committee’s statement as “a call to action for all fellow believers to take a stand.”
Christian Index Editor Gerald Harris said Cochran’s words “are consistent with the teaching of the Bible” and called his suspension part of “an organized and concentrated assault” on religious liberty.
“Recently there have been multiple attempts to prevent Christians from speaking to the cultural issues of the day,” Harris editorialized Dec. 15. “The Christian Index has attempted to communicate to you, our readers, of some of the moves to silence believers, to push activist agendas, to stifle freedom and to intimidate our pulpits.”
The state convention website includes an online petition endorsing the public affairs committee statement under an appeal titled “Help us defend religious liberty!”
Glen Paul Freedman, chair of Georgia Equality’s board of directors, said Cochran’s punishment was too light and that the fire chief should be fired. Freedman told a newspaper he wonders how many LGBT fire department staff were not promoted because of Cochran’s views and that he expects more from a city that recently won a 100-percent perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index for the second year in a row.
Recently the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission held a national conference aimed at part in repairing the convention’s past reputation of being unloving toward gays.
“I do want to apologize to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of my community and me for not standing up against abuse and discrimination directed toward you,” J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said in the closing address at the Oct. 27-29 conference in Nashville, Tenn., on “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.” “That was wrong, and we need your forgiveness.”
Frank Page, head of the SBC Executive Committee, said in a blog Dec. 4 that coverage of the conference by secular media cause some Southern Baptists to wonder if the convention is in the process of changing its view that homosexuality is a sin.
Page said there is change is in rhetoric and tone but not in “unchanging biblical principles” that sex is moral only within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman. He compared the debate about whether or not people are born with a same-sex orientation to the fact that alcoholism runs in his family, and he does not know whether he inherited that disposition because he decided as a teenager that he would not drink.
“Perhaps there is some genetic predisposition towards certain lifestyles,” Page said. “However, we still must recognize the reality of choice and the recognition that people are called upon to make mature decisions based on what Scripture declares to be truth and right. God’s Word is clear and his way is always right. This is where Southern Baptists stand!”