What’s it to Utz? – To my close friend Kelvin Cochran

Posted by Decaturish.com January 15, 2015
Hans Utz

Hans Utz

By Hans Utz, contributor 

On Jan. 6, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Kelvin Cochran, Atlanta’s fire chief, over the distribution of a self-published book that condemns homosexuality and, among other things, equates gay acts with pedophilia and bestiality.

I should disclose fully:  I know Kelvin Cochran personally.  I consider him a good friend, and a man to whom I have turned in moments of great need.  I have long known he was deeply, conservatively Christian and though I hold different views I have never judged him for it based upon my own beliefs.

I should also disclose, fully:  I am a straight white male.  Those three things together mean that I will likely never touch the boundaries of my privilege.  It means that I have little comprehension of the unjust obstacles faced by a poor, young black man from Shreveport, La. He had a dream to be a firefighter and ultimately held the top firefighting position in the country and led a premier department in one of the largest and most diverse cities of the US.  I have nothing but admiration for what Kelvin Cochran has achieved.

Mr. Cochran, in a statement issued through his lawyers, said, “I am heartbroken that I will no longer be able to serve the city and the people I love as fire chief, for no reason other than my Christian faith.  It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning. What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”

Good question.  Let’s explore it.

First, let’s talk about “exclusionary.” I long suspected, even expected, that Mr. Cochran’s personal views on this subject matter differed from mine, and those personal views never encroached upon the professional job we were both called to do.  His personal views did not impede our ability to be colleagues, to serve the city we both love through thick and thin, and to develop a friendship, and a close one at that.  In other words, I never saw him “excluded” for his personal views; rather as professionals and human beings, his personal views were immaterial to our relationship.

The key phrase here is “personal views.”  Mr. Cochran led a department with 1,000 employees reporting to him.  Many of the men and women who were under his command are gay, and it is their civil right to not work in a discriminatory and exclusionary environment.  This is the basis of tolerance. You may hold personal views, but as a leader if your personal views scorn individuals for their sexual orientation, you cannot publicize those views without by default creating a discriminatory and exclusionary environment.

For a moment imagine if Mr. Cochran had instead used the Bible to justify segregation, or portray women as inherently weak. The outcry would be swift and unsparing, and rightly so.

Now, let’s talk intolerance.  Actually, let’s be more specific.  A person can be “intolerant” of a food to which they are allergic; there exist forms of intolerance that can be reasonably justified.

Instead, let’s talk bigotry.  Bigotry is the strong and unreasonable intolerance of individuals.  It is unreasonable because it is directed at aspects of the individual’s character that have absolutely no bearing or relevance to the bigot.  A white supremacist is rightly labeled a bigot because it is entirely unreasonable to scorn a person based upon skin color.  The only justified way you could be racially intolerant is if black skin somehow directly caused you harm.  That is ridiculous on its face, which is why it is more than simply “intolerant.”  It is bigotry.

An individual’s sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on you as an individual.  Thus being intolerant of a gay person is bigotry, plain and simple.  Trying to justify that bigotry with faith is a deeply unChristian thing to do, no different from the discredited fools who used their faith to justify slavery and condemn racial equality.

Kelvin, as your former colleague, as a current friend, as someone who heretofore has admired you unreservedly, with compassion, with love, and with a substantial amount of personal anguish, I say this:

You are a bigot, and you have defended that bigotry in the same manner as men in your youth used their misguided faith to try to prevent your equal participation in this great country.

But that is not why you were fired. You were fired because you publicly compared some of the fine men and women under your command to pederasts, people willing to prey on children, willing to break the most profound public trust which they had sworn to uphold.

In your flawed judgment you failed to realize that publicly stating this unjust comparison would indisputably create a discriminatory environment. Pretending that you are now being treated with intolerance is an unconvincing inversion of the sequence of events. You publicly called good people under your command horrible, unconscionable names, and made it clear through your disparaging and cruel words that the love they righteously cherish you view as comparable to the worst form of predatory criminality. Everything that has followed is a consequence of that atrocious lack of judgment.

Lastly, using your faith to justify your bigotry has put you in the same pantheon of Americans as George Wallace, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and William Joseph Simmons.  You are on the immoral side of history, holding tenets that are intensely unloving and unChristian.  I know you, and I believe you to be a better man than that.  You said God will see you and your family through this.  I believe He will.

The question is, will you see Him?

Hans Utz has lived in and around Atlanta for 25 years and formerly served as the Deputy COO of the City of Atlanta.  He writes about local and national politics. He and his family currently reside in Decatur.

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  • Alex


  • Bubba

    Beautifully thought, beautifully said, beautifully written. Well done and thanks Hans.

  • blackbird13

    I wonder what the reaction would be if he substituted “Jews” for “homosexuals”? After all, many Christians have used their faith to justify anti-semitism. Or imagine if he were Muslim and made such comments about Christians? How much support for his “religious freeedom” would he get then?

    • cc423

      He did. He made disparaging comments about Jews, women and gays in his book.

      • blackbird13

        Thanks for pointing that out. Another thing: I have no idea how many homosexuals there are in the fire department, but I’d guess there are far more divorced people. Did he condemn them too? The New Testament is far clearer on divorce than on homosexuality, with only adultery being an acceptable reason for divorce, (and a woman who divorces and remarries is an adulterer (Mark 10:12).

        • kiu

          Yes, those with multiple partners and sex outside of marriage. He’s entitled to those views. Most religions believe those outside the faith and of differing views within the faith are going to burn in hell -they have a right to that view and to write about it even if the members are public sector employees and the writing is critical of the state’s official policies. That their way of life and morality is the correct way of living. Mormons believe there’s is the only way. As do Catholics. As do Sunni Muslims. As do Mennonites. As do Jains. They have that right. Just like if he had written on Creationism or climate change denial or conspiracy theories about masons.If someone had written a book approving same-sex relations from a very liberal-agnostic theological viewpoint, that would be as permissible as this is.

  • Snerak

    I applaud your clear-eyed analysis of the events as they have played out. Fear and exclusion based on differences are correctly labeled un-Christian. Jesus always embraced and loved those that were different than Him. We should all follow His example.

    • Carina Santos

      This is not about fear and exclusion based on differences. This is about disapproval of someone’s behavior and habits. The Bible clearly condemns the LGBT lifestyle as “vile”, “unnatural”, and an “abomination”. How is it “un-Christian” to agree with this? It’s actually un-Christian to disagree with this. Kelvin Cochran’s stance on this is clearly that sexual orientation is not innate, nor is it immutable, so it cannot be attached to a person’s identity or character. In 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, Paul the Apostle, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly lists people who practice homosexuality amongst the kinds of wrongdoers who will not go to Heaven, but then goes on to say that “…such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” A homosexual can become an ex-homosexual if they wanted to and there are plenty of examples of people who have gone through that transformation. To say that to disapprove of homosexuality is the same as attacking homosexuals is to show disrespect to the ex-homosexual community and to deny them their place in society.

      • Gude2shuz

        Homosexuals that changed to Heterosexual? If you really believe that ther is a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. If it doesn’t affect your life leave it alone.

  • JC

    Very nicely stated

  • Carina Santos

    Wow! Calling someone a bigot just because he agrees with what the Bible says about homosexuality? How is that anything but homo-fascist?

    • Pg

      Which verse(s) in the New Testament or Comment from Jesus are you referring to?

      • Carina Santos

        It doesn’t matter whether it comes from Jesus or not. Everything that was written down in the New Testament that doesn’t come between quotation marks from anyone other than Jesus was inspired by God. Doubting that will take away any authority on whether Jesus said anything that the New Testament says that He said at all.

    • blackbird13

      Thank you for pointing out that the Bible is full of bigotry rather than glossing over what some Christians (and Jews) choose to ignore. You can believe Paul was under the influence of something all you want, but you have zero real evidence to support it, none whatsoever, while I could cite numerous studies about the innateness of homosexuality. Our governments are secular, and a fire department is not the place to “glorify God”, whatever one’s interpretation of that is.

      • Carina Santos

        1. Tell that to the First Amendment, which gives us the right to express and exercise our religion and our beliefs.

        2. Let me tell you something about these studies. None of them have given any conclusive evidence that hasn’t been questioned by the secular scientific community or even some members of the LGBT community. See here:






        3. Bigot: “a person who is intolerant of opinions which conflict with his own, as in politics or morals” see here: http://www.webster-dictionary.net/definition/bigot

        By this definition, no one is in any position to call anyone a bigot for disagreeing with certain things and condemning them for it without making themselves look like bigots. Bigotry goes both ways, and we need to accept that if we want to live peaceably with different opinions.

        • blackbird13

          The First Amendment does not guarantee the right of anyone to say what they want AND keep their job. People are fired all the time for things they say.
          As for the studies, I don’t dispute that the evidence is inconclusive, but there is SOME evidence, unlike the dogma that you choose to believe because the early church chose to include it in the canon. “Under inspiration of the holy spirit” is a claim that you present as a given, because you believe it. If you are only arguing about what other Christians should believe, that’s fine; the Bible says what it says. But others do not wish to be condemned based on personal beliefs sans evidence.

          • Carina Santos

            1. If those people were fired for expressing their beliefs in a way that would not have been constructive or would have showed disrespect for his colleagues, then they would have been other examples of people’s First Amendment rights being violated. What Cochran wrote in his book showed no disrespect towards homosexuals themselves, only disapproval for their homosexual lifestyle, just as it showed disapproval for any kind of sexual immorality as the Bible defines it.

            2. Just as there is inconclusive evidence pointing towards the idea of homosexuality being innate, there is actually evidence against that idea in that whenever identical twins are studied in this topic, not all of the pairs being surveyed have both twins identifying with a single sexual orientation. If homosexuality was actually innate, both twins in every case would be homosexual, as both twins would have the exact same DNA and would have been nurtured under the exact same prenatal conditions. See here: http://www.mygenes.co.nz/PDFs/Ch10.pdf

            3. Believe it or not, there actually is evidence that backs up the belief that the authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit, both within the Bible and outside the Bible. See here:




          • blackbird13

            I said real evidence. The Bible is not evidence of anything except what some church leaders over a period of time (hundreds of years after Jesus) felt was appropriate to include in it. Yeah, I know, all those people must have been inspired by the Holy Spirit too. The pretzel logic of religion is a hell of a thing.

          • Carina Santos

            If you actually read the articles that I cited completely and thoroughly, you would notice that they also talk about archaeological and historical evidence that backs up what is said in the Bible. The evidence is so compelling that it can cause a hard-core atheist who is looking deep into the Bible and its context to try to discredit it, like Lee Strobel, to end up converting to the faith instead.

    • JC

      Other Sin the Bible that Qualify for the Death the Penalty?
      I sure you advocate for all sin on the list, after all you do follow the biblical law, or does it just apply to Same Gender Love.

      Cursing Parents
      Working on the Sabbath
      Premarital Sex
      Worshipping any god but
      Loose Daughters of Clergy
      Girls who are Raped within the City Limits
      Anyone Who Tries to Deconvert Yahweh Worshipers
      Men who Lie with Beasts and Beasts who Lie with Men

      The Fight for equality is not over, rest assured we are up for the fight, bring it on!!!!

    • Bubba

      Huh. If homosexuality is such a terrible sin, how come it didn’t make God’s Top Ten list?

      Carina, what did Jesus have to say about homosexuals? And what did he say about rich people? Why don’t we have laws against rich people marrying each other?

      • Carina Santos

        1. God doesn’t have a Top Ten list for sin. All sin is equal in God’s eyes.

        2. Jesus said that marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life. You can find it in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10: 6-9

        3. If you’re gonna take Jesus’s words as said in the Bible to be true, you’re gonna have to take the non-quoted words in the rest of the Bible to be true. Otherwise, there would be reason to doubt that He said those things at all.

  • TommyB

    I think the sloppy logic that drives this article is sadly becoming commonplace now, as it appears to flow from the same toxic root as the NYT editorial on this controversy a few days ago. There’s a lot of intellectual laziness here and certainly a healthy dose of double standards – and I don’t mean to single Utz out, he’s in good company – company against whom it’s becoming more and more difficult to speak out against for fear of significant retribution (i.e., losing your job as fire chief). Depite all the problems with Utz’s logic, his biggest problem is simply that he gets his facts wrong: An investigation was done into whether Cochran discriminated and it was found that he did not. So the assertion that he “would indisuptably create a discriminatory environment” is indisputably wrong.

    • lachacha

      Tommy – You vaguely reference the writer’s “sloppy logic” but never explain what you’re referring to.
      You say “his biggest problem” (you’re strongest point, I assume) is that someone conducted an investigation which determined the chief was not guilty of discrimination and this proves his actions did nor create a discriminatory workplace environment?
      That, my friend, is a perfect example of sloppy logic.
      When the boss publishes a book that vilifies a portion of his employees, that clearly affects the working environment, whether hard evidence has surfaced on not.

      • TommyB

        You are correct, and it is fair to point out, that I did not use specific examples of logical flaws. I frankly wanted to write a short post and I kind of hoped the logical flaws would be self-evident to most semi-careful readers. The factual finding that Cochran did not discriminate, in my view, kind of rendered everything else moot. First, here is a sampling of the problems with Utz’ s logic. First, disagreeing with someone morally is not the same as discrimination. If I am your boss and I tell you that those who do not give to the poor are selfish, and you don’t give to the poor because you don’t feel any moral obligation to do so, we have a moral disagreement. But that is not discrimination. Have my feelings “affected the work environment?” Probably. Still, not discrimination. Pretty much everything a boss says or does will affect the work environment, so, like Utz’s, your logic fails as well. Second,. Utz likens moral disagreement about sexual actions to racism or sexism. But a sexual act is just that – an act. Criticizing conduct is very different from hating someone because they are black or a woman or attracted to the same sex. This distinction is so clear, yet somehow people cannot grasp it. He also – amazingly- likens Cochran’s opinions on sexual morality to those who discriminated against blacks during the Civil Rights era. Do I really have to explain this? Does anyone really think that gays who cannot marry are under some kind of regime similar to Jim Crow? If this wasn’t such a politically popular line of argument, it would be deemed flat out racist. Finally, Utz uses Christianity to try to shame Cochran. This is really just the worst. Orthodox Christianity and the Bible both explicitly disfavor homosexuality. There are rational counter-arguments to the Christian argument, but those arguments are NOT Christian, and, to the extent that someone claims they are, they are either showing their ignorance of the faith or just making up their own Christian-like religion.

      • TommyB

        Also see one of my comments above for another argument against the logic of calling Cochran “immoral.”

  • blackbird13

    After the horrible events in Paris, there has been a strong affirmation of the importance of freedom of expression, and rightly so. But what’s perhaps missing is an equally strong affirmation of the secularism of western societies. The following quote is from the first editorial in Charlie Hebdo after it was attacked:

    “We will hope that as of this January 7, 2015, strongly defending secularism will be second nature for everyone.”

    Yes, people have the right to believe whatever nonsense they choose to and speak about it, but they do not have the right to positions of authority over others while condemning them for not agreeing.

    • TommyB

      You equate disagreeing with someone’s actions or beliefs as “condemning.” Fine. So imagine a vegetarian who doesn’t eat meat because he believes eating meat is cruel to animals and morally wrong. He becomes a fire chief. He writes a biography and at one point he discusses his moral reasoning behing becoming a vegetarian. Everyone in the fire department, most of them meat-eaters, knows that their fire chief disagrees with them morally on the issue of eating meat. But the vegetarian fire chief has never shown discrimination or favortism based on his beliefs about eating meat. Has the vegetarian fire chief “condemned” those over whom he has authority? Should he be fired?

      • blackbird13

        It would depend on the language used, but I would not agree with equating someone’s sexual identity with the decision to eat or not eat meat. And I’ll ask a hypothetical of you: if he were a Muslim and he wrote a book that said Christians are condemned to hell if they don’t convert, should he be fired? I say yes.

        • TommyB

          First of all, you are shifting your argument. You first claim that, as a blanket rule, people “do not have the right to positions of authority over others while condemning them for not agreeing.” (I don’t agree w/ your use of “condemn” but for the sake of argument we will use your meaning). If this is the rule, why would “condemning” someone over who they sleep with be different than “condemning” someone over what they eat? (BTW, Cochran did not “condemn” “identity” but rather specific actions, and this is not a trivial point). Of course you realize that your blanket rule means that where the authority figure holds a very reasonable moral precept – such as “if you never give money to the poor, you are being selfish” – and his underlings have the means but never give to the poor – the selfless authority figure would have to be fired for condemning those over whom he has authtority. Your blanket rule fails. As for your hypothetical, I do not believe a Muslim should be fired for claiming that Christians go to hell. Assuming that eternal judgment is a tenet of the Muslim faith, shouldn’t I assume Muslims generally believe this? Why would it suddenly become unacceptable when he wrote it down? That’s ridiculous. Now, if such belief manifested itself in documented favorable treatment of Muslims and disfavorable treatment of Christians, then he has discriminated on the basis of religion and should be fired. But disagreement does not equate to discrimination. That is such a simple precept, yet it seems that fewer and fewer people understand it.

          • blackbird13

            So if I understand you, he could have written pretty much anything as long he didn’t discriminate in the workplace. He could have written that people who observed the Sabbath on Saturday (behavior here, not identity) deserved to die in the Holocaust for that behavior, and that would not be grounds for termination? If so, we simply disagree, and I’m confident the courts would disagree with you too.

          • TommyB

            No. There is a huge difference between saying, “You shouldn’t observe the Sabbath on Saturday” and “Those who observe the Sabbath on Saturday should have been killed in the Holocaust,” just as there is a difference in saying “You shouldn’t have sex with someone of the same gender” is different than saying “You deserve to be killed for having sex with someone of the same gender,” just as “You shouldn’t eat meat,” is different than saying “You should lose your life like that cow lost his.”

        • TommyB

          I would also like to point out that Utz calls Cochran “immoral.” This is exactly what Cochran said about gays. In both cases, we have people making moral claims. Yet only one is “hateful.” To be sure, I don’t think Utz is being “hateful” – I just think he’s being unreasonable and illogical. But what you have here is simply two competing moral claims. So who wins? Whoever’s is more popular? Who is the arbiter of morality? Mayor Reid?

    • kiu

      Except France bans public displays of faith including crosses, headscarves and yarmulke – you can’t wear those symbols and be a public servant. In America, you can – that’s religious freedom. The tension in France due to sidelining of religion -pretending it doesn’t exist whole simultaneously turning to the Catholic Church to affirm a sense of the nation’s history and heritage to create a ‘French identity’ devoid of religion has led to being white and Catholic becoming a de-facto unspoken national identity without any outward symbol of faith. Alternative secular identities in irreligious western European countries are increasingly becoming nationalistic due to lack of religion.

  • JC

    Enough Said Thank You

  • magnificently put.

  • Mystic_Scorpio

    Great article.

  • Lyinginbedwithmyhomohusband

    Carina Santos is a twitter bot. Ignore it.

  • kiu

    Actually there was no discrimination against his lgbt employees. The mayor admitted as much and his views on women were that they are the ‘weaker sex’ though that hasn’t caused quite as much of a stir. That is a pretty common position that men and women are distinct and different in Christian circles.

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