“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16
Was Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran fired because he expressed his Christian Beliefs in a self-published book entitled “Who Told You That You are Naked?”? It’s almost certain that pastors across America, especially Georgia, will make the assertion that he was from their pulpits this coming Sunday (01/11/2015). However, any such assertion will not have been exegeted from the scriptures but rather ripped from the sensationalistic headlines of the Fox News Channel and Christian News services. Such an assertion will be used to gin up political fervor from increasingly apathetic and aging church crowds. If made, such an assertion will not be true. Nonetheless, the Georgia Baptist political machine is gearing up for Holy War. The conclusion of its argument already decided, it will cry “Remember the Maine” as its religious war hawks declare holy war against the wrong enemy.
According to Gerald Harris, editor of the Christian Index (a bi-weekly publication of the Georgia Baptist Convention), Cochran was indeed fired for expressing his religious faith. In a recently published article, Harris stated:
“Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired by Mayor Kasim Reed for expressing his faith and his understanding of biblical truth in a book called ‘Who Told You That You Were Naked.’ In the book he made mention of the scriptural truth that sexual sins, including adultery, bestiality, pederasty and homosexuality are “perversions.”
Harris’ assertion will engender a visceral reaction of disgust in the stomachs of many first-amendment-loving Christian Americans. Not only was Cochran fired for expressing “biblical truth”, he was fired for freely exercising his religion, Harris claims. However, the man who actually fired Cochran, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, contradicts Harris’ assertion. According to a statement by Reed, Cochran’s “personal religious beliefs are not the issue at all.” In an article published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, journalist Katie Leslie reported:
“Reed said he fired Cochran because of poor judgment and insubordination during his initial 30-day suspension. Specifically, Reed terminated the chief because he failed to receive required approval to publish the book, and then spoke publicly about the ordeal against the mayor’s request.”
Violations of city conduct codes, public insubordination, and potential lawsuit risk don’t make for very exciting news stories in The Christian Index. Violations of religious liberty, especially in regard to homosexuality, can set off a firestorm amongst Bible-belt Christians. Harris exhorts “people of faith” to “draw a line in the sand” over this purported firing over faith. He actually invokes the occasion of Colonel William B. Travis literally drawing a line in the sand with his saber at the Alamo as he prepared to die to defend his freedom. Harris stops short of proclaiming “Remember the Alamo!” but his point is made nonetheless. He ends his article by writing, “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 for 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 does not publish from within the dreary city limits of Atlanta but rather the ornate and palatial Georgia Baptist complex on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. Georgia Baptists, by and large, abandoned the city of Atlanta long ago. White flight has carried Georgia Baptists and their churches out of the city limits in droves during the last fifty years. The city is so lacking in Christian influence that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) designated Atlanta as a “Send City”. In other words, the national Baptist convention thinks that the city of Atlanta is so lost that it is sending missionaries to it. Given that Georgia Baptist Churches largely abandoned Atlanta long ago, it’s no surprise that politifact reports that “Atlanta has one of the highest LGBT populations in the country.” (Politifact also reports that “Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been criticized by some LGBT activists for not fully supporting same-sex marriage”.) It’s doubtful that suburban Baptists will be told this story on Sunday morning by preachers who read the Georgia Baptist Index.
What’s the Georgia Baptist Convention doing about the lostness of Atlanta and the flight of churches away from it? Harris’ article demonstrates. The Georgia Baptist Convention is complaining. It is doing so in an apparent attempt to work suburban white Christians into a frenzy over this “religious” firing. No mention is made of prayer or mission trips into the city. However, Harris’ story may stir up people’s emotions enough to make them more likely to fund propaganda outfits like the Christian Index of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Atlanta is overrun with homosexuals. The United States is a place in which people and organizations (such as the city of Atlanta) must fear being frivolously sued by interest groups. There are not enough churches in a major American city such as Atlanta. This is a tragic state of affairs. However, the most alarming tragic state of affairs will be in the pulpits of Georgia Baptist churches whose pastors have been fooled by Harris’ piece of yellow journalism. Harris’ publication is geared towards pastors, not every day lay people. Many lay people will never read Harris’ article but will only hear of it through their pastors, who they trust to make sound judgments. Any pastor who relays Harris’ claim will fail to make such a sound judgment. Hopefully, pastors will use their pulpit time to exegete scripture and not spread Gerald Harris’ relgiopolitical propaganda. There may be mistakes in newspaper, but God’s word contains none. It should be preached.
It’s gut check time for Bible belt Christians. Those flag-waving church-goers who view America as God’s chosen country may be in for a rude awakening in the coming years. The prince of the power of the air runs the show in this world. Christian persecution is prophesized but it’s hardly coming from Kasim Reed’s office. The Georgia Baptist Convention is supported by the tithes and offerings given in the plates at local Georgia Baptist churches throughout the state. It’s time for Georgia Baptists to draw a line in the sand and stop sending it money to pay the salaries of propagandists like Gerald Harris.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:10-13
UPDATE: Since the time this article was first published 2006 Republican candidate for Georgia State Representative of the 29th District, Mike Griffin has called for a “Standing on Faith Rally”. Griffin is Public Affairs Representative for the Georgia Baptist Convention. The following flyer is being distributed to pastors across the state of Georgia. If Georgia Baptists want something to protest, perhaps they can stand outside the gates of the Georgia Baptist Headquarters or Brewton-Parker College.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.