“Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because of his Christian beliefs. You could be next.” Dr. Don Hattaway, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention
“While you may have read articles that asserted the issue at hand was Chief Cochran’s religious beliefs, I can assure you that those comments could not be further from the truth.” Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta
“Drilling for fear makes the job simple, born on third, thinks he got a triple.” Eddie Vedder
On January 13, 2015, the leadership of the Georgia Baptist Convention organized a rally at the Georgia State Capitol to “stand for faith.” The rally came on the heels of an impassioned editorial published in the Georgia Christian Index (a Georgia Baptist news service) by its editor, Dr. Gerald Harris, and in the wake of the firing of Atlanta Fire Department Chief Kelvin Cochran. Despite statements to the contrary from the City of Atlanta, Georgia Baptist Convention leadership insists that Cochran was fired for expressing his faith by self-publishing a book dealing with biblical sexuality entitled “Who Told You That You were Naked.” Before Cochran was fired from his position, he was suspended. At the onset of that suspension, Georgia Baptist Convention leadership insisted that Cochran was suspended for his faith. This claim, too, is denied by the City of Atlanta. Either the Georgia Baptist Convention or the City of Atlanta is not telling the truth. Quite frankly, neither entity has a stellar reputation for high ethical standards. The claims and possible motivations of each entity should be considered. At the end of such consideration, the claims made by the City of Atlanta appear quite reasonable while those made by Georgia Baptist Convention leadership are tenuous at best.
“For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.” Romans 13:3
Gay rights supporters are powerful group in Atlanta, which has one of the largest LGBT populations in the country. Local politicians actively vie for their vote. Kasim Reed was previously criticized by liberals for not supporting “gay marriage”. He has since flipped his position and now fully supports expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Reed has a bright political future in the Democratic Party, and not just on the local level. In order to keep that future bright, Mayor Reed must appear to stand strong with liberals and the LGBT community. He cannot be seen as soft on issues of LGBT rights and expect to see political success after his term as Mayor of Atlanta ends. Kelvin Cochran’s book was and is an affront to liberals and gays. One current and one former Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department (AFRD) employee told city investigators that they were “intensely offended” by Cochran’s book.
This should come as no surprise to Christians. The gospel and a biblical ethic are an offense to sinners. The Bible teaches as much. The Bible is also clear that Christians will face persecution from unbelievers. However, the City of Atlanta or any other employer, according to any reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can’t just up and fire someone because of his religious belief. Doing so opens the door to huge legal liability. The Supreme Court, despite fear-mongering claims from evangelical leaders, still delivers what Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler calls “big wins for religious liberty.” While the leftists in the Reed administration may take personal pleasure in the dismissal of a conservative Christian employee such as Kelvin Cochran, the case can hardly be made that he was dismissed in violation of US law and because of his Christian beliefs. The legal risk of doing so is just too great to the city of Atlanta. Furthermore, the evidence presented by the City of Atlanta Law Department indicates that Cochran was dismissed for policy violations and insubordination.
A published investigation into Chief Cochran’s suspension and firing reveals the following:
“The Standards of Conduct provide a clear directive to “commissioners, deputy commissioners [and] department heads” to seek approval of the Board of Ethics before the department head “may engage in private employment or render services for private interests.” No such approval was sought or rendered in the publication of the book that is available on Amazon.com for purchase.”
“Chief Cochran insists Ethics Officer Hickson authorized both the publication of the book and the reference in the book to his position as AFRD Chief. His recollection is that he first contacted Ms. Hickson to determine if it was permissible to publish the book and that he later asked if it was appropriate to identify himself in the book as AFRD Chief. Ms. Hickson indicated that she did not approve publication of the book and had no authority to grant such approval. She said she told him that he would need to get the Mayor’s permission as well as a formal opinion from the Board of Ethics.”
“Chief Cochran acknowledged that he had given these three individuals unsolicited copies of the book.”
Chief Cochran was suspended for publishing and distributing a book without seeking and gaining permission through the proper channels. He was then fired for “exhibiting poor judgment and insubordination “ during that suspension. Mayor Reed appears to have been left with little choice but to fire Cochran after news Cochran began speaking out about the perceived slight to his religious freedom. Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director, Dr. Robert White, spoke out against Mayor Reed’s decision to suspend Cochran after he was suspended but before he was fired saying, “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.” White and the Georgia Baptist Convention encouraged people to contact Mayor Reed’s office to express disagreement with the suspension. If Cochran and his Georgia Baptist Convention interlocutors had remained silent during the suspension and concurrent investigation, Cochran might still have his job.
The vociferous protests of Georgia Baptist Convention leaders may come back to bite them as well as Cochran. The City of Atlanta’s investigation into Cochran revealed that he “suspended some firefighters after they posted a picture of themselves on Facebook at Chick-Fil-A. The picture was meant to support CEO Dan Cathy’s stance on homosexuality. Last year, Cathy spoke out against gay marriage. The same sentiments expressed in his book.” Georgia Baptist would have been hard pressed to find the story of Chief Cochran, a former Obama Administration official, suspending two of his employees for supporting Chic-Fil-A Appreciation Day in a Facebook picture in their uniforms and with their firetruck in violation of department protocol. When Cochran, a high profile employee, was himself suspended for a violation of department protocol, Georgia Baptist Convention leadership was more than ready to create a sensational news item. The firefighters whom Cochran suspended were rightly suspended, as was Cochran. According to the Firefighters’ Union president, Cochran was held to the same standard as his employees.
Plain and simple facts do not make for sensational stories. A sensational story is exactly what conservative Christians are being presented with by Georgia Baptist Convention Leadership and Fox News. According to Fox News conservative pundit, Todd Starnes, “God granted Kelvin Cochran the desires of his heart (to become a firefighter).” Though no such revelation cannot be found in scripture, Todd Starnes claims that God Himself granted it to Kelvin Cochran to become a firefighter. Now, Mayor Reed (in implied defiance of the will of God) has taken Cochran’s firefighting job away from him.
Stories like this just can’t be made up; they are unfortunately all to real. With Cochran, the Georgia Baptist Convention has a golden opportunity to rally its American flag-waving base against the evils of the liberal government. Cochran has and will make the speaking rounds in Georgia Baptist churches across the state. Cochran’s race is another fortunate convenience for the the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist denomination, of which the Georgia Baptist Convention is a part, is dwindling. Denominational leadership is seeking to grow the denomination’s base through previously excluded and disenfranchised people of color (It is not growing well through whites). Kelvin Cochran, or at least the Kelvin Cochran supposedly fired for his religious beliefs, is a potential golden goose for the Georgia Baptist convention.
The truth, it seems, doesn’t matter as much as demographic growth plans and political strategies. Seizing the opportunity to take advantage of a manufactured crisis of religious liberty, Georgia Baptist newsman Gerald Harris has called for the resignation of Mayor Reed and the reinstatement of Cochran. Harris’ public show is especially perplexing considering that he has not shown the fortitude to call for the resignation of the Caner brothers or Robert White, who are Georgia Baptist Convention employees of ill repute. Even among Georgia Baptists, the convention has a reputation of being a good ole boys club that looks out for the interests of its own elite. The Georgia Baptist Convention simply lacks the moral authority to call for righteousness in the state of Georgia.
On January 25th, Cochran is coming to my hometown of Cartersville, GA to speak during the worship services at Tabernacle Baptist Church. The pastor of that church, Dr. Don Hattaway, who is also the president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, sincerely believes Cochran was recently fired from his job as chief of Atlanta’s fire department for expressing his Christian beliefs. I believe Dr. Hattaway is sincerely wrong. Dr. Hattaway, according to what I’ve learned, is a rarity among Georgia Baptist presidents. Dr. Hattaway is a stand-up guy. Unfortunately Dr. Hattaway is standing up for the wrong thing. He has led other Christians in a rally at the state capitol to protest the firing of Chief Cochran. He has much bigger problems closer to home.
Georgia Baptist pew-sitters as a whole are too concerned with government politics and not the Kingdom of God. Perhaps they have forgotten the Apostle Paul’s words: “To Live is Christ, to die is Gain.” Georgia Baptists ought to be out protesting the act of their leadership using the manufactured controversy of Kelvin Cochran to put butts in the increasingly empty seats of churches. They should take a look at Cartersville itself. Cartersville’s Presbyterian church has formed a support group for “Christians” actively engaged in homosexual lifestyles run by a female “elder” and local judge, Velma Tilley. Judge Tilley has cooperated with the Baptists in Bartow County on at least one local initiative and spoken at an event hosted by Tabernacle Baptist Church. Her Presbyterian church, which flies in the face of the biblical ethic supported in Kelvin Cochran’s book, runs a daycare which is headed by a local Baptist woman. Yet the protest and outrage is directed far away to the phantom menace of Atlanta. Tabernacle Baptist Church sent a church bus to the rally at the state capitol in Atlanta. There is a Planned Parenthood office in walking distance of the Capitol building. Why not drive to Atlanta and protest the organization that murders babies? Because politics is apparently job #1…politics in Atlanta.
Don Hattway referred to the crowd at the “stand for the faith” rally as a “sleeping giant” awakened. Is that what the church of Jesus Christ is in Georgia? Asleep? I’ll remind the readers of the words of Jesus, “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.” I urge you, brethren, disengage yourself from politics and the Georgia Baptist convention. Seek God with your whole heart and you will find Him. The worst place to look is a protest at the Capitol building in Atlanta or at a Georgia Baptist Convention meeting.
Do not be deceived.
*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.