Faithful in the Fire

A conversation with former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

In January 2015, Kelvin Cochran was removed as Atlanta’s fire chief for writing, in a few paragraphs of a 162-page men’s Bible study he self-published, that homosexuality is not part of God’s design for sex. A federal court ruled last December that the city had violated Cochran’s constitutional rights, and the Atlanta City Council announced on Oct. 15 of this year that it would pay Cochran $1.2 million for legal fees and damages. Years before, Cochran, 58, had overcome many obstacles to become fire chief in his native Shreveport, La., and then twice in Atlanta, with a stint as U.S. fire administrator in the Obama administration in between. He spoke with Decision several days after Atlanta officials made their announcement.

 

Q: Your fight to preserve your constitutional rights went almost four years. How are you seeing the Lord use that experience?

A: God has shown Himself to be faithful after what I’ve been calling the fiery trial. Our victory in federal court establishes a standard in the law: Government employees don’t have to live in fear of living out their faith on their own time. And I believe that these four years have really transformed me. They have given me a passion and a determination to champion the cause of religious liberty everywhere I can, every chance I get.

 

Q: For those who don’t know your story, what led you to write the Bible study, and in your wildest imagination did you ever think that it would cost you your job?

A: I was leading a small group study called The Quest for Authentic Manhood at my church, Elizabeth Baptist, in Atlanta. And it was out of the experience with those men that I did a word study on the question God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden, “Who told you that you were naked?” So in this 162-page book, I spend about four or five paragraphs talking about Biblical sexuality and Biblical marriage. In the United States of America, I just didn’t think it possible that I could be terminated for writing a book on my own time that would simply encourage men to be the men that God has called us to be.

 

Q: Was it worth it, considering what it cost you?

A: I would say absolutely it was worth it. My foundational Scripture passage to this whole experience is 1 Peter 4:12-14: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you: But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you,” (KJV). By the grace of God, He gave me the strength to endure it.

 

Q: You were one of the first African-American firefighters in your hometown of Shreveport, La., amid lingering racism.

A: I was one of the first, and I was hired in 1981. When I share about the racism and discrimination I experienced, people are shocked that it took so long to begin that integration process. They can’t believe the degree of discrimination that was taking place in our country—even in 1981. But it was a reality that I had to go through. The things that I was taught as a child actually got me through those difficult years. Have faith in God, continue to learn the job, get a good education, respect the authority of the Shreveport Fire Department, and just treat the firefighters like I wanted to be treated, even though I was being treated differently.

 

Q: Even to the point that, early on, they had separate plates and beds for you, right?

A: Yes, some of the fire stations would have separate plates for the black firefighters. And we had a separate bed. I was on C shift and there was not a black firefighter on A or B shift. And so the firefighters on A and B shift wanted to know which beds the black firefighters slept in, so that they could avoid that bed.

 

Q: Over the past four years, were you ever tempted to say, “Lord, after all I’ve been through, why this?”

A: No, because God had been preparing me for this my entire life. I had gone through seasons of cultivation, seasons of suffering earlier on. And by that point, I realized that all of our sufferings as Christians work together for good for those of us who love God. The Christian walk is comprised of level plains, mountain climbs and valleys. And sufferings are an inherent and necessary component of fulfilling God’s purpose in our life. And I had matured enough as a disciple of Christ to know that when you experience a major suffering to that degree, God is certainly involved in it and somehow or another, He’s going to work it out for your good.

 

Q: You really believe He crafted and cultivated you for this moment.

A: I believe so. And I’m not some special kind of guy. I just believe that’s how God works in our lives. I had become accustomed to the track record of God using sufferings to glorify His Name and to elevate me in my walk of faith. That’s why I was not afraid when this happened to me.

If there was ever a moment of concern, my thinking was I know I’ve got to fight this, but how in the world am I going to pay for it for the long haul? And God addressed that situation; out of nowhere, He brought along the Alliance Defending Freedom law firm.

 

Q: Which attribute of God stands out to you through this ordeal?

A: God’s faithfulness. He is true to His Word. I have seen a side of God that I don’t believe I would have ever seen apart from this fiery trial.  ©2018 BGEA

 

Interviewed by Jerry Pierce, Managing Editor