Atlanta fire chief fired over pro-family book

ATLANTA (BP) -- Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has been terminated following a city investigation into a book he wrote that calls homosexual behavior immoral. But Cochran said the investigation, which has not been released to the public, produced no evidence of wrongdoing.

Allegations of discrimination against homosexuals were "completely unfounded," Cochran said Jan. 6. "The investigation shows that there is no evidence. Under no circumstances have I been discriminatory or hateful towards any member of the department in the LGBT community or a member of the LGBT community at large."

Cochran is a deacon, Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader at Atlanta's Elizabeth Baptist Church, a cooperating church with the Georgia Baptist Convention. A two-time Atlanta fire chief, Cochran also served as U.S. Fire Administrator under President Obama from 2009-10.

Cochran's 162-page self-published book, "Who Told You That You Are Naked?" seeks to help Christian men overcome feelings of guilt and condemnation over past sins. It discusses homosexuality for less than half a page, including a mention of uncleanness as the "opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion."

Cochran told Fox News that someone within the fire department obtained a copy of the book and gave it to openly-gay city council member Alex Wan. LGBT activists responded to the book by calling for Cochran to be fired.

Mayor Kasim Reed said Jan. 6 that Cochran's failure to obtain proper city permission to publish the book and his refusal to remain silent about the matter during the city's investigation contributed to the firing.

In November Cochran was suspended without pay for a month and ordered to undergo sensitivity training.

Though Cochran spoke to religious groups about his suspension, he said he obeyed the city's specific instruction not to speak with the media, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Despite my respect for Chief Cochran's service, I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to manage our fire department," Reed said at a press conference. "Every single employee under the fire chief's command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions. His actions around the book and his statements during this investigation have eroded my confidence in his ability to convey that message."

A "decision to retain Chief Cochran" could have caused the city to be held liable in potential antidiscrimination lawsuits, Reed said -- presumably a reference to potential lawsuits by homosexual employees alleging discrimination.

The mayor said he has received numerous phone calls and emails from Atlanta residents who support Cochran. Reed responded to claims that Cochran's religious liberty has been violated by saying his "personal religious beliefs are not the issue at all."

"The city and my administration stand firmly in support of the right to religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to freely observe one's faith," Reed said, adding that he, like Cochran, is "a person of very deep religious faith."

Critics who believe in obeying the Bible should recognize that Cochran violated the command of 1 Corinthians 14:40 to do all things "decently and in order" surrounding the book and ensuing investigation, Reed said.

Cochran said the city's investigation centered on four issues. The issues were, according to Cochran:

-- "Did I have permission to write the book?"

The city's ethics officer, Nina Hickson, "unequivocally told me it was appropriate and gave me permission legally that I could do it and use my name in the book as long as the book was not about government or the fire department," Cochran said.

Reed received a copy of the book in January 2014 and said he planned to read it on an upcoming trip, Cochran told Fox News.

-- "Have I discriminated against any member of the LGBT community or an LGBT member of Atlanta Fire and Rescue?"

There was no evidence of discrimination among members of the fire department or in the community at large, Cochran said.

"The greatest of my Christian values is a love without condition for all humankind," Cochran said. "In the fire service, I have had the privilege to live out this virtue every day for past 34 years to the extent that I would lay down my life for anyone in the communities in which I have served."

-- "Did I inappropriately distribute the book in the workplace?"

Three people interviewed by city investigators received a copy of the book without requesting it, Cochran said. But "I had distributed the book only to members of the department with whom I had already established a personal relationship as Christians."

-- "Was it appropriate for me to ... suggest that my responsibility [as fire chief] was to cultivate a culture that glorified God?"

The oath of office Cochran took ended with "so help me God," he said. "If it was a violation [of policy] to glorify God and cultivate a culture, I should have been fired at the very end of my oath."

Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press Cochran's firing is "a religious liberty issue."

"It comes down to his belief," Griffin said. "Would we have this discussion if he had written a book on hunting or fishing? I don't think so."

Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, told Fox News he believes Cochran was fired because Reed succumbed to pressure from Atlanta'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."

Atlanta's LGBT citizens, Cochran told Fox, "have a right to be able to express their views and convictions about sexuality and deserve to be respected for their position without hate or discrimination. But Christians also have a right to express our belief regarding our faith and be respected for our position without hate and without discrimination. In the United States, no one should be vilified, hated or discriminated against for expressing their beliefs."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorialized that Cochran was rightly fired for his "poor judgment."

"When you have more than 1,000 people working under your command, you can't go around publicly suggesting that some of them are perverts on a par with those who indulge in bestiality or child sexual abuse," the AJC's Jay Bookman wrote. If Cochran "were an adherent of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, and if he distributed Black Muslim pamphlets to the men and women who work for him, would the Georgia Baptist Convention defend that action under the banner of religious liberty? No, they would not. They would instead argue that such behavior was unprofessional and grounds for termination. And they would be right."

Griffin said Bookman is wrong and that the Georgia convention would defend any American's right to exercise religious liberty in the workplace.

"The Georgia Baptist Convention stands, as have all Baptists through history, for being champions of religious liberty," Griffin said.

Following Cochran's suspension, the Georgia convention issued a news release calling Christians and other 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; and

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

Cochran addressed the GBC's Executive Committee Dec. 9 following his suspension.

"I'm just standing still to see the salvation of our God because He will show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully His," Cochran told Georgia EC members. "And my heart is fully His."

Cochran said he will not try to get his job back as fire chief but he is considering other legal options.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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