Firing a fire chief for his beliefs


In an age of political correctness, we often times can censor ourselves because we fear the ramifications of going against the “powerful” and “prevalent” voices of our society.

If what is happening to former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran is any indication, this fear is not unfounded. The attempt of this article is to evaluate the claims in this case and discuss the implications it has on all of us.

This case began with Chief Cochran publishing a book for his men’s Bible study group and sharing it with a member of his department who asked for a copy. The religious book eventually got into the hands of prominent members of the LGBT community who took offense, in particular to the following two sentences within the 160-page book: “Uncleanness — whatever is opposite of purity, including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion,” and, “Naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, the same sex, sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body/temple and dishonor God.”

These two sentences, even though they are based on his religious beliefs, caused powerful members within the LGBT community to call for Cochran’s firing.

Initially, Mayor Kasim Reed only suspended Cochran for one month on account of the situation. However, last week he announced that Cochran would be fired. Reed indicated that his firing was not for his religious beliefs, but for his “actions and decision-making” on this issue.

However, I am left to pause and ask the simple question, “What actions and decision-making errors has Cochran made in his 34 years as a fire officer and not once being accused of discrimination towards any people group and even serving as the U.S. Fire Administrator overseeing national efforts to prevent fires and improve fire response under President Obama?”

Again, I rhetorically ask myself, “What actions or errors in judgment that were so egregious that they warranted a man who was serving as a distinguished role model and mentor to young people in his department and community, be stripped of his title and not asked to retire, but publicly and dishonorably fired?”

To discover the answer to my questions, I read and listened to article after article about this case. And at the end of the day the rationale given for the firing seemed convoluted.

Consider the following: Mayor Reed indicated that Cochran should not have distributed the religious book – but the books were given to those who requested them.

Second, certain articles indicated that Cochran should not have published the book without the mayor’s permission. However, even if one needs the mayor’s permission to publish their book, Cochran states that he sought permission from the director of ethics prior to publishing the book to ensure there was no impropriety and even references the director in the book.

Third, an article insinuates that the real issue is that Cochran has spoken publicly about the issue. However, Cochran claims he never spoke to the media about it, and only shared the issue as part of giving his “testimony” in church settings prior to his ultimate firing.

Given that I was unable to find commentary on this issue prior to Cochran’s firing, I am inclined to believe Cochran’s claim.

Lastly, the one detail that has remained consistent in my research of this case is the mayor characterizing Cochran’s religious beliefs as “discriminatory,” for members of the LGBT community who may have difficulty working under him knowing his “religious attitudes.”

In choosing to fire Cochran, Reed essentially declared Cochran unfit to lead a diverse workforce, even though he has been doing it with distinction for 34 years. So, who is really discriminating against whom here?

The implications of Chief Cochran’s firing beg the questions: can one effectively lead a department and hold traditional, biblical Christian views? Is it possible to work alongside someone and have the most respect for that individual’s talent and yet, for example, express to them that having any kind of sex (homo- or hetero-) outside of marriage is wrong?

According to Reed, it would appear that the answer to these questions would be no. But the answers should be yes, if for no other reason than the fact that Cochran, like many other devout Christians, has been doing so for years. So, what are we to conclude here?

I think Chief Cochran put it best. He said, “The LGBT members of our community, [like every other citizen] have a right to be able to express their views and convictions about sexuality, and deserve to be respected for their position without hate or discrimination. But Christians also have a right to express our belief regarding our faith and be respected for our position without hate and without discrimination. In the United States, no one should be vilified, hated, or discriminated against for expressing their beliefs.”

The implications of what is now happening to Chief Cochran could not be clearer. Every devout Christian who holds to the tenets of scripture should be alarmed and praying for all parties involved. Every citizen should stand up for religious freedom.

It is undeniable that we are now in an age of political correctness where (for now) it is permissible to hold religious beliefs, but it is all too frequently not permissible to express them.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]