Fired Atl. fire chief: 'I ... trust God'

ATLANTA (BP) -- Former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran is "pretty confident" he will take legal action against the city that recently terminated him following his publication of a book that calls homosexual behavior immoral.

Kelvin Cochran
 
"I believe there is objective evidence that should have exonerated me" of all wrongdoing, Cochran told Baptist Press in an interview Friday (Jan. 9). "It's on that basis that I believe I have been treated unjustly."

Cochran was terminated Jan. 6 by Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed following an investigation into his book "Who Told You that You Were Naked?" In November, Cochran was suspended without pay for a month and ordered to undergo sensitivity training.

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 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."

An employee of the fire department to whom Cochran did not give a copy of the book obtained one, delivered it to an openly gay city council member and highlighted the passages referencing homosexuality, Cochran said. The council member, whom Fox News identified as Alex Wan, showed the book to Reed and members of Atlanta's LGBT community.

Cochran did not previously sense hostility from the individual who delivered his book to Wan, he said.

Scripture has strengthened Cochran since his termination, he said, particularly Psalm 27, which he has recited daily for eight years along with Psalm 112 and Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

"Sometimes you get into a routine like that, and it becomes just that -- a routine," Cochran said. "You just forget what you're saying and you keep on doing it. Well, having gone through this experience, now when I go through those Scriptures, it dawns on me that there are specific portions of those Scriptures that completely minister to me in this situation."

In Psalm 27, King David spoke of "adversaries," "foes" and "false witnesses" who came against him. But he concluded, "I am certain that I will see the LORD's goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD."

In a Jan. 6 meeting with Atlanta's chief operating officer, Cochran was told he could resign or be fired, he told BP. When he refused to resign, believing the charges against him were unfounded, he was terminated.

Cochran said his dismissal was based on three charges: failing to obtain proper permission to write his book, distributing the book at work inappropriately and writing in the book that he sought to glorify God through the fire department.

Reed -- who was not present at the meeting with Atlanta's COO and did not accept Cochran's request for a personal meeting -- said at a press conference that Cochran's decision to make public comments during the investigation into his conduct contributed to the termination.

The city's investigation exonerated Cochran of charges that he discriminated against homosexuals, the former chief said, adding that there has never been a discrimination complaint filed against him.

"The love of a Christian is a love without condition for all people," Cochran said. "And just because we don't agree with their beliefs about sexuality does not equate to hate or discrimination."

Regarding the other allegations, Cochran said he obtained permission to write the book from Atlanta's ethics officer Nina Hickson, but Hickson told investigators "she couldn't remember the conversation."

Cochran admitted giving copies of the book to three fire department employees who did not ask for them, but he said he had established relationships with them as fellow Christians and did not exceed the city's $25 limit on gifts to coworkers. He said he was not aware of a policy precluding gifts that are religious in nature.

Cochran said he was told that writing about his intention to glorify God through the fire department also violated city policy, though no specific policy was cited.

"Each person that was interviewed in the investigation was asked, did they think that my spiritual beliefs actually influenced the culture and way in which I managed the department," Cochran said. "And all of them said yes. I think that's a testimony to my walk with God that all of them confirmed, because I have intentionally and deliberately tried to be a servant leader."

Cochran said his superiors have never complained about his "job performance or competency." He acknowledged, however, that as a "political appointee," he served "at the pleasure of the mayor" and could be terminated "under any circumstance." But he believes he was treated unethically because the stated basis for his firing was unsubstantiated.

Still, Cochran says he trusts in God's sovereign care.

"I don't think that anything has happened in my life that God has not permitted to happen," Cochran said, citing Romans 8:28. "I completely trust God to order my steps for the next assignment that He has for me in my life."

Cochran expressed confidence that God will provide for his family but said individuals wishing to help him can buy his book directly from him by emailing kelvin.cochran@yahoo.com. He does not receive any proceeds from sales through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, he said.

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