A trio of African-American religious conservatives said Thursday that the veto of an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill shows that Christians are under attack in Georgia and complained that LGBT people should stop comparing their fight for equality to the civil rights movement.
"The decision of Gov. Deal to veto the Free Exercise Protection Act provides ever increasing evidence that it is time for the body of Christ to rise. We have got to stand united on our core beliefs as Christians," Kelvin Cochran said. "It should not be against the law to be openly Christian in the state of Georgia."
Cochran was fired as Atlanta's fire chief in January 2015 over his anti-gay, misogynist and anti-Semitic book. With the help of the anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom, Cochran filed a federal lawsuit over his dismissal. On Thursday, he was joined by Bishop Garland Hunt of the Fellowship of International Churches and Bishop E.W. Jackson (top photo), a Virginia pastor and founder of conservative non-profit Staying True To America's National Destiny.
The part press conference, part prayer rally came three days after Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed House Bill 757, legislation that would allow faith-based organizations to discriminate against LGBT people and threatened LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in municipalities across the state. The event marked the second time in three days that religious conservatives took to the State Capitol to complain about Deal's veto and call for a special legislative session to overturn it.
"It offered very minimal protection just for the faith-based community so we are tremendously surprised, confounded and angry when the governor chose the economic pressure, the NFL, Disney, all of these ... in order to say we refuse to protect the faith-based organizations," Hunt said.
"He turned his back on us. Especially in our case, we do understand what it is to be put in the back of the bus. As Christians, we refuse to be in the back of the bus. We will stand strongly for what we believe," he added.
The men, who described themselves as "religious freedom fighters," called on lawmakers to overturn Deal's veto in a special session. But also Thursday, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston quashed the idea of bringing lawmakers back to address the veto.
Cochran, Hunt and Jackson said Deal and lawmakers should ignore the concerns of businesses that threatened to take their business out of Georgia over the bill – an economy be damned argument similar to one Hunt and other religious conservatives delivered during a press conference on Tuesday.
"They do not control the economy. God is in control of the economy," Cochran said.
'We are not here for bigotry'
Jackson complained that the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in June "overturned 6,000 years of human history."
"We didn't invent marriage between a man and a woman to irritate gay people. We are not here for hatred. We are not here for bigotry. We are not here because we want to hurt LGBT people. We are Bible believing Christians," Jackson said.
"The truth of the matter is that we love LGBT people. We are simply trying to be true to the God who has called us out of darkness," he added.
Jackson's conciliatory statements about LGBT people on Thursday stand in sharp contrast to his 2013 race for lieutenant governor in Virginia. That's when he was criticized for comparing gay men to pedophiles, describing them as "very sick people" and saying "no two males or females were ever meant to be together," according to the Washington Blade.
Hunt and Jackson also said that as black pastors, they understand the struggle for equality – without noting the irony that the legislation they want to become law threatens to invalidate the only current protections for LGBT Georgians.
"We do understand the history of fighting for rights. We do understand the history of being respected as human beings and the law. The most precious right that we have is to stand as a man or woman of God as a Christian," Hunt said.
Jackson added that he was gratified that he was joined by other black pastors.
"We hate discrimination. We know what it's done to black people. We don't want to discriminate against anybody," he said.
But then Jackson called comparisons of the fight for LGBT equality to the civil rights movement a "specious argument."
"Homosexuality is the equivalent of being black and that the struggle is the same – we are offended by that," Jackson said. "Nobody ever had to ask us if we were black before serving us in a store. This is something very different."
Cochran (second photo) said he supported the legislation, though it wouldn't have prevented his firing by the City of Atlanta. He declined to answer questions. But Jackson said Cochran's dismissal is part of their larger concern about "religious freedom."
"We see them as all part of one fabric to limit the freedom of the Christian community. All of the pieces we are fighting not as individual cases but as a whole mosaic to try and limit the efforts of Christians," Jackson said.
Hunt said religious conservatives "are going to stand firm."
"God is not going to be vetoed in our state," he said.