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Evangelicals joust over Trump; Kelvin Cochran honored

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see additional story below on former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran being honored with the 2016 Faith & Freedom Award.

WASHINGTON (BP) — Evangelical leaders debated the appropriateness of a vote for Donald Trump during a Sept. 16 event at the National Press Club sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters.

Two supporters of the Republican nominee traded opinions with two of his opponents as a divisive campaign moves toward the Nov. 8 election.

Evangelicals have not escaped the discord in response to the major-party candidacies of Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Some have said they will vote for neither of the major candidates, while others have thrown their support to Trump, with many citing him as the “lesser of two evils” and/or arguing a refusal to vote for him is a vote for her.

NRB President and CEO Jerry A. Johnson, a veteran Southern Baptist leader who served as moderator, said in introducing the debate, “Clearly there are some strong disagreements among evangelicals, but after Nov. 8 we will still be part of the same family with common concerns about our nation and common commitments to improve our nation.”

Before citing Trump’s oft-reported character flaws, Erick Erickson — conservative editor and Atlanta radio talk show host who opposes the GOP nominee — told the audience, “If you’ve decided that you’re going to vote for Donald Trump in the privacy of a voting booth, go for it. I’m not going to ask you to violate your conscience any more than anyone should ask me to violate mine.”

If evangelicals support Trump openly, however, Erickson said, “I think you harm your witness because we may be wrapped up in the politics of the day, but there are people longing for the Lord and are looking at Christians in this country saying, ‘If they’re putting their faith in a guy like him, what’s in their church for me?'”

National radio talk-show host Janet Parshall said evangelicals should think biblically and critically, and that begins with the Supreme Court. The next president may have the opportunity to nominate three or four justices who could serve three to four decades.

“First, last and always,” she asked, “what will you do with the court?”
“A flawed candidate should not prevent us from opposing a more dangerous one, one who has a profoundly, clearly articulated worldview,” Parshall said, adding Clinton believes “in the denigration of marriage” and “the annihilation of the preborn.”

Parshall told the audience, including viewers of C-SPAN, which broadcast the debate live: “God has a habit of using flawed and broken people even when it doesn’t look right to us. For me, I choose to keep the republic and secure the system” by supporting Trump.

Bill Wichterman, former special assistant to President George W. Bush and president of the Capitol Hill ministry Faith & Law, said he has found the “lesser of two evils” argument the most compelling for supporting Trump but has concluded “this justification is insufficient.”

He is concerned Trump “may be a threat to our democratic republic” because the GOP nominee “has too often demonstrated contempt for the rule of law.”

Trump also “corrupts us,” Wichterman said. “If we support him, we become complicit in his reprobate behavior.”

“Many people who won’t vote for Clinton because they believe she is a liar are voting for Trump because they hope he is a liar and he doesn’t really mean what he says,” he said.

Trump supporter Harry Jackson, an African-American pastor in Maryland and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, acknowledged the challenges to Trump about racism but said Americans are “living in an interesting time where he may be the only one who is able to bring some substantive healing to the racial divide” by offering practical solutions.

Jackson will vote for Trump over Clinton for three general reasons — religious freedom, the Supreme Court, and support for Israel — and four reasons of special interest to black and Hispanic evangelicals: education reform, urban economic empowerment, restoration of non-violent offenders after their release from prison, and pro-family tax incentives.

Clinton, he said, “will simply perpetuate the status quo, and the aura of criminalization in the black community and welfare dependency will be continued.”

Wichterman said he plans to vote for Evan McMullin, a conservative, independent candidate. “It’s an honorable path for those of us who want to be able to vote for an honorable conservative,” he told the audience.
Parshall said of such an approach, “Not voting for Trump is voting for Clinton. That’s inarguable. It’s simply a matter of math.”

Erickson, however, disagreed.

“If I’m not voting for Trump, therefore I’m helping Hillary, well I’m not voting for Hillary, so therefore I’m voting for Trump,” said Erickson, who said he will write-in former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning on his presidential ballot. Refusing to vote for Trump “just takes one voter out of the vote pool,” he said.

Jackson said of the electoral dilemma, “[U]ltimately, God is allowing us to see some of our biggest cultural flaws through the flaws of these candidates.”

In introducing the debate, Johnson noted as a nonpartisan association of Christian communicators, NRB neither supports nor opposes candidates for political office.

NRB will be making available video and audio of the debate to its members by request (email [email protected]). C-SPAN has archived its broadcast of the debate on its website. NRB also will be posting the video on its YouTube channel.

The debate was the final event of the Capitol Hill Media Summit held annually in Washington, D.C., for members of NRB’s President’s Council. Other speakers included: novelist Joel Rosenberg, Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who received NRB’s Faith & Freedom Award. Participants also met with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in his Capitol office and toured the Museum of the Bible, which is under construction near Washington’s National Mall, scheduled to open in November 2017.

The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is a nonpartisan, international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations represent millions of listeners, viewers and readers. Learn more at www.nrb.org.

See additional story below.

Tom Strode is a writer in Fredericksburg, Va., covering news and events for the National Religious Broadcasters, Baptist Press and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.


NRB honors former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran with 2016 Faith & Freedom Award
By NRB staff

WASHINGTON (BP) — National Religious Broadcasters presented on Sept. 15 its 2016 Faith & Freedom Award to former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, whose employment was terminated last year by the mayor because of his Christian faith and beliefs.

“Last weekend was the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and one of the images that comes to mind is that of the heroic firefighters and other first responders of that day. Well, Kelvin Cochran is a firefighter among firefighters, a hero among heroes,” said NRB President and CEO Jerry A. Johnson.

“Now, he has become a hero not just for protecting our communities, but for standing bravely in the face of what even some extreme liberals like former Rep. Barney Frank seem to think is unjust discrimination for his faith,” Johnson noted.

Among prior recipients of NRB’s prestigious Faith & Freedom Award is Mike Pence, governor of Indiana and 2016 Republican Party nominee for vice president of the United States. Pence was honored in 2009 as a congressman from Indiana.

On Nov. 24, 2014, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training” after complaints were received about a men’s devotional book Cochran had written on his personal time. Biblical sexual morality is mentioned only briefly in the 162-page book, and an investigation that included interviews with employees found Cochran did not discriminate against anyone. Regardless, the mayor fired him, citing as his basis the need to tolerate diverse views.

“Chief Cochran, my heart aches when I think of how you have been treated,” said Johnson, a Southern Baptist who formerly served as dean of Boyce College, president of Criswell College and seminary administrator and trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Your steadfast faith and your winsomeness even among those who have been unjust to you is a powerful testimony. We are honored to present you with NRB’s 2016 Faith & Freedom Award.”

In accepting the award, Cochran said he was “honored and humbled beyond words,” and also noted that his story “is but one of a growing list of many where a government entity and special interest groups have imposed adverse consequences on an American for publicly proclaiming a position based upon biblical truth that is not consistent with popular culture or the shifting pluralisms of political correctness.”

“The attack on freedom of religion and freedom of speech in our beloved United States of America is relentless,” he said.

“Every day, Americans have to make a choice as to whether they will live out their faith or keep their jobs or business,” he noted. “As such, there is a significant need for the Body of Christ to rise to unprecedented levels of unity and solidarity regarding religious liberty.”

Likening suffering because of his faith to biblical accounts of persecuted government officials, Cochran said today’s Christian public servants must have the same resolve and refuse to bow down.

“Like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel, it’s time for Christian elected and appointed government officials to wake up,” he said, noting the historical figures and their trials told in the Book of Daniel.

Cochran’s message to fellow Christian public servants is to be prepared for the inevitable suffering that will come their way.

“We should rehearse in our hearts and decree: God has prepared me for this. God is with me,” he said. “I’m not going to be discouraged by the worldly consequences of my standing. I’m going to rejoice in anticipation of the kingdom consequences that God has promised.”

On Feb. 18, 2015, a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta was filed on behalf of Cochran by Alliance Defending Freedom on grounds of religious discrimination. The case, Cochran v. City of Atlanta, is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.

Before becoming Atlanta’s fire chief in 2008, Cochran served in the same position in his hometown of Shreveport, La. In 2009, he was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as United States Fire Administrator. Cochran returned to his post in Atlanta in 2010. In 2012, Fire Chief magazine named Cochran as “Fire Chief of the Year.”

Cochran is an ordained minister and currently serves Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta as chief operating officer/chief strategic officer. He is married to Carolyn Marshall Cochran and the father of three children and grandfather to one grandchild.

NRB annually presents the Faith & Freedom Award to a stalwart defender of religious liberty at its Capitol Hill Media Summit, the annual gathering of the NRB President’s Council in Washington, D.C. Past award recipients include former Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), Alliance Defending Freedom President & CEO Alan Sears, former Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.), Rep. Greg Walden (R.-Ore.), Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R.-Va.), Rep. Trent Franks (R.-Ariz.), former Rep. Frank Wolf (R.-Va.), and Sen. Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.).
National Religious Broadcasters staff compiled this report.