As Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran served a 30-day suspension over his controversial book with anti-gay slurs, he spoke to anti-gay religious leaders who then called on supporters to rally to his side.
Cochran spoke to the executive committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention on Dec. 9 as they met at the organization's Duluth headquarters. He discussed the 162-page book, "Who Told You That You Were Naked," the motivation for publishing it and his background, according to partial excerpts of the appearance. The excerpts do not include any comments by Cochran about the book comparing homosexuality to bestiality and sexual perversion, and saying that it's "unclean" and dishonors God, or being suspended by the city last month when the book was widely reported in the media.
But Gerald Harris, editor of the Christian Index, introduced Cochran at the session. He repeated referenced Cochran's suspension "for telling the truth." Harris' introduction was then published as an editorial in the Christian Index on Dec. 15.
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.
I realize that our churches are open and our religious institutions continue to function and everything on the religious front may look copacetic. But when you begin to look beneath the surface, acknowledge the threats and analyze them, you begin to realize that our religious liberty is under an organized and concentrated assault.
Recently there have been multiple attempts to prevent Christians from speaking to the cultural issues of the day. The Christian Index have attempted to communicate to you, our readers, of some of the moves to silence believers, to push activist agendas, to stifle freedom and to intimidate our pulpits.
Cochran thanked Harris for the introduction and joked that he wanted to take the editor on a book tour.
"Thank you for that wonderful editorial and introduction," Cochran said. "If I get the opportunity to go on the road and speak about this book, I am taking Gerald with me to do the introduction."
Cochran is a deacon and teacher at Elizabeth Baptist Church on Cascade Road in Atlanta. The church is a member of the Georgia Baptist Convention, which says it has 1.4 million members across the state. The organization has a long history of opposing LGBT equality, including rallying supporters to support banning gay marriage in 2004. More recently, the convention helped fuel an anti-gay witch hunt at Shorter College, lamented the Supreme Court's decision last year to dump the federal marriage ban, and threatened to boycott companies that opposed "religious freedom" bills earlier this year. LGBT critics said the legislation would lead to anti-gay discrimination and undercut gay-friendly policies in municipalities across the state. Harris has also called on gays to repent.
At the time of his Dec. 9 appearance, Cochran was two weeks into serving a 30-day suspension over the book. Mayor Kasim Reed launched an investigation into the book and its distribution to city employees, suspended Cochran for a month without pay and ordered him to attend sensitivity training. Cochran returns to work on Jan. 6.
In the wake of the suspension, Georgia Equality called for Cochran's firing while anti-gay activists rallied to his side. They complained that the city was persecuting him over his religious beliefs and that Cochran was being bullied by the "gay mafia." The city said Cochran ran afoul of the city's anti-discrimination policies and failed to notify the city ahead of the book's publication.
After Cochran's appearance, the Georgia Baptist Convention and its Public Affairs Committee rallied its supporters to back Cochran, called on Reed to publicly apologize for the suspension and "grief it has cause the chief" and said the city should restore the more than $14,000 in salary the suspension cost Cochran.
"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," J. Robert White, the GBC's executive director, said in a press release. "GBC's Public Affairs Committee's statement is a call to action for all fellow believers to take a stand."
The GBC also launched an online petition condemning Cochran's suspension. On Wednesday, the online petition had more than 1,250 signatures.
Mayor Kasim Reed,
The following signatures are of Georgia Baptists and others across the state of Georgia who are deeply troubled by your decision to suspend Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran and your complete disregard for his First Amendment rights. In your statement, you speak of making Atlanta “a more welcoming city for all of her citizens-regardless of their…religious beliefs.” It is unfortunate that you did not extend that regard to your Fire Chief who has an impeccable reputation in Atlanta and across the nation.