Anti-gay Baptists back suspended Atlanta fire chief

Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran is being backed by the notoriously anti-gay Georgia Baptist Convention following his suspension for writing a book that included comparing homosexuality to bestiality among other slurs.

Cochran was suspended without pay for 30 days by Mayor Kasim Reed on Nov. 24 after the mayor learned about his self-published book “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” The GBC has now started a petition to demand the mayor give Cochran his job back as well as apologize. Cochran is a deacon for Elizabeth Baptist Church and also a Sunday school teacher and Bible study leader.

The GBC contends in its call to action to defend Cochran and demand Reed reverse its suspension that Cochran was fired for his religious beliefs; the mayor and his office have stated that Cochran was suspended for violating city policy.

Some 1,500 people have signed onto the “Help Us Defend Liberty!”  petition that states:

The Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) is calling on the Christian community to “stand up for biblical principles and fellow believers who are punished or marginalized for their faith.”

In response to the recent 30-day suspension of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran by Mayor Kasim Reed, the GBC’s Public Affairs Committee is initiating this petition. The committee has issued its own statement defending the Fire Chief and is 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.
• Restore Chief Cochran’s pay and reputation as an honorable Fire Chief.

GBC is requesting Christians and people of faith across Georgia to sign the related petition calling upon Mayor Reed to reverse his decision as outlined in the three areas listed above.

Cochran recently addressed the executive committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Listen to excerpts of that address by clicking here.

In of the excerpts, Cochran reads from the psalm of David that states, ” … for false witnesses have risen up against me.”

The Duluth, Georgia-based Christian Index, which touts itself as the “nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper,” published a Dec. 15 editorial describing Cochran as a “humble, dedicated, faithful servant of God.” The editorial explains that Cochran distributed his book to colleagues with the city of Atlanta and also held Bible classes after work.

“Cochran has never tried to market his self-published book, but has shared the book with his church and has given books to his colleagues at work. After work on Monday the Chief has hosted a Bible study for those who were interested.Other colleagues have frequently sought him out for spiritual counseling. He consistently provided counsel by sharing truths from the Word of God,” according to the editorial.

“Even when he gave his books to colleagues he never signed the books as the Fire Chief, because he did not want to appear to use his position in an untoward way,” the editorial further states.

“However on page 82 of Cochran’s book he wrote that uncleanness ‘is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty,bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion.’ Those words, which are consistent with the teaching of the Bible, are the words that prompted Cochran’s suspension. 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,” the editorial states.

Anne Torres, spokesperson for the mayor, told the GA Voice that Cochran was not suspended because of his personal religious beliefs.

“The Reed administration suspended Chief Cochran because he exercised poor judgment and violated city policy,” she said.

“By identifying himself as the Atlanta Fire and Rescue Chief in his book, Chief Cochran disregarded the city’s anti-discrimination policies. He also failed to notify the mayor of the book before it was published,” Torres explained. “City policy requires employees to notify their supervisor if they are publishing a book identifying themselves as city of Atlanta employees.”

Torres also said it is too soon to know if any additional disciplinary action will be taken against Cochran. “We will have to wait the investigation is over,” she said.

Cochran is mandated by Reed to undergo sensitivity training. That sensitivity training will be provided by an external agency and the training will also be for the entire Atlanta Fire Department command staff, Torres explained.

In a statement released Nov. 24 by Reed, the mayor said “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.”

Glen Paul Freedman, chair of the board of Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group, has called on Reed to fire Cochran.

The specific passage targeting LGBT people from Cochran’s book states:

• “Uncleanness — whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion.”

• “Naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, the same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”

The Georgia Baptist Convention has a long history of anti-gay actions. Recently it threw its support behind the “religious freedom bills” proposed in the last legislative session. The anti-LGBT bill did not pass but will be brought up again in the 2015 session.