COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Kelvin Cochran was living his boyhood dream. He had a good income. He was married, the proud father of three adult children, and a grandfather. And, the clincher, he was a fireman. But since being fired from his job as chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department in January, his dream has turned into a series of legal battles.
Cochran shared his story, and told of the faith that undergirds him through trails, at a Cooperative Program forum June 15 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, hosted the discussion.
The alleged offense leading to Cochran’s dismissal was the publication of a 162-page book he wrote after researching the subject of “authentic manhood” and human bondage to sin for a men’s Bible study he facilitated in 2013. Particularly controversial was the book’s claim that homosexual behavior is immoral.
The city of Atlanta defended the firing, saying Cochran did not receive city approval before publishing the book. But Cochran’s attorneys argue the book’s claim about homosexuality is specifically what offended his superiors and cost him his job. In February, Cochran’s attorneys filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Mayor Kasim Reed.
“When you’re dealing with challenges of the carnal nature with men, you have to talk about sex,” Cochran said. “So speaking in the book on biblical views on marriage between a man and a woman, and procreation and that sex outside of marriage is sin is, actually, what caused the controversy.”
Discussion of homosexuality comprised only one page of the book but apparently provoked Reed and city councilman Alex Wan, who is gay. They charged Cochran’s biblical views on sex created a discriminatory work environment. An investigation of the fire chief’s tenure produced no evidence of discrimination.
Comments made by Reed and Wan led Cochran’s attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom to conclude their client was fired explicitly for his Christian convictions. According to an ADF press release, Wan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”
Cochran told Adams, “I had no thought whatsoever that in the United States of America, me writing a book to express biblical truths about why God created man and sexuality … would cost me my childhood-dream-come-true, fairy tale career.”
As a 5-year-old boy watching firefighters put out a blaze at a neighbor’s house, Cochran was inspired. He wanted to be a fireman. He also wanted to be a “family man.” And he didn’t want to be poor. The latter two ambitions grew from a determination to change his life. Abandoned by his father, Cochran watched his mother struggle in poverty to raise him and his five siblings.
In 1981 he was hired by his hometown fire department in Shreveport, La., and quickly advanced through the ranks, being tapped as chief after 18 years of service. He was recruited by Atlanta in 2008. He served only a year before being named U.S. fire administrator by President Obama.
After Reed became mayor, he persuaded Cochran to return to the Atlanta post in 2010. Two years later Cochran was named Fire Chief of the Year by Fire Chief magazine. Less than three years later Reed fired him.
Cochran’s difficulties led him to God’s Word and his faith in the truth it conveys. In the early 2000s, he studied the word “suffering” and that lesson resonates today. Cochran is confident that God prepares believers for suffering, blesses those who stay faithful in the midst of it and, in the end, glorifies Himself.
Support from his pastor, Craig Oliver of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, and the Georgia Baptist Convention has encouraged Cochran and rallied religious liberty advocates nationwide.
“I’m still in a state of shock and awe that in our beloved nation we have to choose between keeping our jobs and living out our faith,” Cochran said. “And when a believer is caught between the decision to keep your job or live out your faith, the right decision is always to live out your faith even if it costs you your job.”