BOONE, N.C. (Christian Examiner) – The day after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Kelvin Cochran as the city's fire chief because of his religious views on marriage, Franklin Graham, who is head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization, came to the defense of Cochran, calling him "a man of fearless faith" and asking Christians to contact the mayor on Cochran's behalf.
Graham said he knows Cochran "personally" from the time the now former fire chief served as chairman of Graham's crusade in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2005. Cochran was fire chief for that city at that time.
Cochran came under scrutiny and derision in late November for comments he expressed in a book he published more than a year ago. Among the compilation of men's Bible studies in "Who Told You That You Are Naked?" he encourages sexual purity, naming homosexuality and lesbianism "forms of sexual perversion."
Reed subsequently placed Cochran under suspension for 30 days and ordered him to take sensitivity training.
On January 7, Reed fired Cochran, saying Cochran had published the book without permissions required by the city's standards of conduct and that he spoke about the controversy against Reed's orders.
Cochran steadfastly denies both charges.
Graham called Cochran's firing the latest incident of "politically-correct bullying against Bible-believing Christians" and said Cochran simply wrote a "book on biblical morality" that "restates God's position put forth in His Word, the Bible."
Graham also blamed "an openly gay city council member ... on a rampage" for Cochran's firing.
"Cochran didn't discriminate against anyone, he didn't persecute anyone for homosexuality or create a hostile work environment," Graham said. "Instead, he was persecuted and denied his career because of his privately held religious beliefs."
"The LGBT community wants us to be afraid of expressing our Christian beliefs," he added. "They want us to cower in the face of their threats to the livelihoods of believers. But we shouldn't back down!"
Reed has already stated that the LGBT community played a factor in his decision.
When he suspended Cochran in the fall, Reed posted a public condemnation on his official Facebook page, saying he disagreed profoundly with "the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community."
"I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in my administration," he said.
For his part, Cochran has said he did not discriminate against homosexuals and even defended their freedom to hold their beliefs.
"The LGBT members of our community 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," he told Todd Starnes, a Fox News reporter and commentator. "But Christians also have a right to express our belief regarding our faith and be respected for our position without hate and without discrimination."
Graham is urging Christians to contact Mayor Reed to share their comments or concerns: (404) 330-600 and http://twitter.com/kasimreed.