Baptists defend Atlanta fire chief

by Joni B. Hannigan , Editorial Staff |

Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

ATLANTA (Christian Examiner) -- After Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was suspended for 30-days without pay and ordered to undergo sensitivity training for expressing his belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, Georgia Baptist Convention leaders came to his defense by urging the Christian community to rally around him.

"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 J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention said in a Dec. 16 news release.

The GBC Public Affairs Committee, which represents some 1.4 million denominational members statewide, urged supporters to sign a petition on the chief's behalf or buy his self-published book on Amazon.

Cochran is a Sunday School teacher, Bible study leader and deacon at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta. He is in his second term as fire chief with Atlanta, having previously served from 2008 to 2009 before being tapped by President Obama to be U.S. Fire Administrator in Washington, D.C. He returned as fire chief for Atlanta in 2010 after a unanimous vote by the Atlanta City Council, according to his official bio.

He came under fire a year after self-publishing a collection of his men's Bible study lessons in "Who Told You That You Were Naked."

His book, according to a news release, explores the subject of men's sexuality within the context of the Bible's teachings on marriage and morality and that drew the ire of the LGBT community. His lessons include definitions and warnings taken from Galatians 5:19-21 about promiscuity, idolatry, jealousy, hatred, strife, envy, dissensions, heresies, murder, and drunkenness.

Cochran was notified about the 30-day suspension by Atlanta's Mayor Muhammad Kasim Reed in November, according to news reports, and was orderd to cease distributing the book on city property.

The mayor's reprimand was released on Facebook where he immediately distanced himself from the chief's views:

"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."

The GBC Public Affairs Committee issued its own statement calling 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.

Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index, in an editorial gave an extensive background of Cochran's interest in writing the book and said the heart of the issue is "religious liberty."

"But this issue is bigger than the impact it has had on Kelvin Cochran. It impacts every Baptist and every person of faith in Georgia and in the nation," Harris said.

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.

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