Southern Baptists have rallied behind terminated Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, calling his firing an instance of intolerance toward Christians who articulate a biblical view of sexual morality.
Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed fired Cochran Jan. 6 following an investigation into Cochran’s book Who Told You that You Were Naked? which calls homosexual behavior immoral. Though a city investigation found no evidence that Cochran had discriminated against homosexuals, Reed said at a press conference announcing the termination that “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.”
Gerald Harris, editor of Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index newsjournal, wrote in a Jan. 9 editorial that fairness and respect did not guide Reed’s employment decision regarding Cochran. The mayor “has a myopic view of life whereby he can see the faults of others much easier than he can see his own transgressions,” Harris wrote.
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.
“I believe that this is the time for Georgians to draw a line in the sand for the sake of Chief Cochran, the First Amendment, and religious freedom and ask Mayor Kasim Reed to do the right thing and repent of his own discrimination or step down from his position as Mayor of the city of Atlanta so that the city can indeed be a place of welcome for all people,” Harris wrote.
Reed’s actions not only affect Cochran, but also send a threatening message to other city employees who are Christians, Harris wrote.
“The Mayor’s decision to fire Chief Cochran does not serve to make Atlanta a more welcoming city to those who wish to express their Christian faith,” Harris wrote. “In fact, every Atlanta city employee who faithfully practices his/her commitment to Christ has been placed on notice: Christians need not apply for jobs in the city based on Mayor Reed’s firing of Chief Cochran.”
Roger S. Oldham, a vice president with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, called Cochran’s firing “another example of state-sanctioned intolerance.”
“Chief Cochran was fired for one reason only – he dared put in print that he believes what the Bible teaches about sexual purity,” Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, told Baptist Press in written comments. “By Mayor Reed’s own assessment, the fire chief had an unblemished record of competence and even-handed leadership. No allegation of discrimination. No instance of workplace proselytizing. Just the threat of a lawsuit from a highly-organized special interest group.”
Oldham acknowledged that Cochran “served at the will of Mayor Kasim Reed,” but he lamented that the mayor appeared to fire Cochran because of pressure from homosexual rights activists.
“Chief Cochran’s firing illustrates the political clout of the LGBT community,” Oldham said. “In their unbridled hatred of those who embrace biblical values of sexual morality, LGBT special interest groups target Bible-believing followers of Jesus Christ, wanting to remove them from all public leadership positions. Simply put, Mayor Reed caved under pressure.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Cochran’s termination represents an “ominous” and “absolutely frightening” threat to religious liberty.
“The fire chief of Atlanta has been fired not because he acted in any way that was discriminatory,” Mohler said Jan. 9 in his daily podcast The Briefing, “not because any employee brought any grievance against him for acting in a discriminatory manner, but merely … for having articulated in print his biblical convictions on issues of morality.
“The book wasn’t even primarily about sexuality or about homosexuality – at least as reported in the media – but it did contain those sections that evidently were so offensive that the mayor of Atlanta had to say, ‘The chief is out,’“ Mohler said.
The firing demonstrates “a conflict of liberties” in America, Mohler said, “with the newly defined version of erotic liberty trumping religious liberty over and over again.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd has spoken with Cochran.
“I reached out and called Chief Cochran as president of our convention, extending to him our deep appreciation for his biblical convictions, his leadership in the Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta and his passionate desire for God to use this adversity for God’s glory,” Floyd said in written comments. “He was a humble and godly man, excited about his new future. I prayed for him and shared with him our commitment as Southern Baptists to pray for him.”
In an interview with Baptist Press Jan. 9, Cochran said he is “pretty confident” he will take legal action against Atlanta. He also said he draws encouragement from three scripture passages that he has recited to himself daily for eight years – Psalm 27, 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.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)