Atlanta fire chief gets Baptists' defense

ATLANTA (BP) -- Georgia Baptist Convention leaders are rallying to defend Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who has been suspended without pay for a month and ordered to undergo sensitivity training over a book he wrote that upholds a biblical view of sexuality.

Cochran is a deacon, Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader at Atlanta's Elizabeth Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Kelvin Cochran
 
A two-time Atlanta fire chief, Cochran also served as U.S. Fire Administrator under President Obama from 2009-10.

J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia convention, said in a news release issued by the GBC Public Affairs Committee, "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." White affirmed the Public Affairs Committee for its "call to action for all fellow believers to take a stand."

The news release called on Christians and people of faith across Georgia to:

-- sign a petition in behalf of Cochran at http://gabaptist.org/petition on the Georgia Baptist Convention's website;

-- support Cochran by purchasing his book on Amazon, "Who Told You That You Are Naked?" which is at the center of the firestorm; and

-- enlist as many churches and believers as possible to contact Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to reverse his actions against Cochran.

To the mayor, the Georgia Baptist committee called on 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."

Reed suspended Cochran over such passages in the chief's 162-page self-published book as a definition of uncleanness being the "opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion."

Cochran's book stemmed from a series of men's studies at Elizabeth Baptist Church titled "A Quest for Authentic Manhood."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in an article about Cochran's suspension, also cited a passage in which the chief compared sexual relations between a man and a women to the pursuit of "sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways."

The newspaper noted that Cochran defined his role as fire chief in the book as cultivating a culture "for the glory of God" as well as saving lives and property.

Mayor Reed, in a statement targeting Cochran's statements about biblical sexuality, declared, "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."

In addition to suspending Cochran and ordering sensitivity training, the mayor ordered the chief not to distribute the book on city property.

Reed's spokeswoman Anne Torres also said Cochran is being investigated for whether he had discriminated against any employees and whether his personal views had interfered with his management of the fire department, according to the Journal-Constitution.

Gerald Harris, editor of state convention's newspaper, The Christian Index, wrote in an editorial about Cochran's suspension, "I realize that our churches are open and our religious institutions continue to function and everything on the religious front may look copacetic. But when you begin to look beneath the surface, acknowledge the threats and analyze them, you begin to realize that our religious liberty is under an organized and concentrated assault."

Cochran, as a layman, "never tried to market his self-published book, but has shared the book with his church and has given books to his colleagues at work," Harris wrote. "After work on Monday the Chief has hosted a Bible study for those who were interested. Other colleagues have frequently sought him out for spiritual counseling. He consistently provided counsel by sharing truths from the Word of God."

Cochran is a native of Shreveport, La., who joined the city's fire department in 1981, serving as fire chief from 1999-2008 until being tapped as Atlanta's fire chief. He holds an undergraduate degree from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and a master's degree from Louisiana Tech in Ruston.

According to the Georgia Baptist Convention news release, Mayor Reed can be contacted by email at mkreed@atlantaga.gov, by phone at 404-330-6100, or by mail at 55 Trinity Ave. Suite 2500, Atlanta, GA 30303.

Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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