By / Mar 15

Often when the secular world speaks of evangelicals, these Christians are caricatured as lacking education, social and historical awareness, and even a realistic understanding of the way the world actually works. In 1957, the esteemed theologian Carl F.H. Henry wrote Christian Personal Ethics to equip the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and to engage the apparent hostility demonstrated by elites toward evangelical thought. Henry wrote this comprehensive account of Christian personal ethics in a period some have called a revival of fundamentalist scholarship. Henry’s treatise on Christian ethics was written as an introductory text for seminaries, colleges, and those desiring to be equipped to engage the debates surrounding philosophy, epistemology, and especially the role of the Bible in ethics. Henry’s aim was to expose the “severance of ethics from fixed values and standards” in modern culture, and show the ways that a Christian ethic must be rooted in the Word of God (13).

Henry was the founding editor of Christianity Today and served as a professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary. He authored the influential six-volume work, God, Revelation, and Authority, which he completed in 1983. He also wrote a number of other works including a companion volume to the present work called Aspects of Christian Social Ethics. The present volume was designed to address the personal aspects of Christian ethics. In the book, Henry walks the reader through a host of alternative ethical systems, showing readers the inherent faults of these systems in light of the moral revelation of Christianity. For Henry, “ethics is the incisive and universal requisite for survival,” meaning that ethics is essential to human existence (13).

Defining a Christian Ethic

In this work, Henry describes and analyzes the contours of a variety of ethical formulations and then lays out what he describes as a neo-evangelical ethic based on the presuppositions of Reformed theology. In the first section, which he describes as speculative philosophy, he walks the reader through an examination of naturalistic, idealistic, and existential ethics. Under each ethical system, he engages with many of the great ancient Greek philosophers as well as many modern figures such as Machiavelli, Spinoza, Kant, and Heidegger. While his critiques of these ethical systems are pointed at times, Henry’s wisdom and thoughtfulness is evident as he points out aspects of their thought that align with Christian revelation. Henry is quick to give credit to these various thinkers when they pick up a thread of truth. For example, he writes that the “world did not need to wait for Utilitarianism to assert that benevolence is good, that whatever imperiled the public good was not virtuous, that true morality tends to the welfare of the social whole. The revealed morality of the Bible had affirmed all of this” (41). Throughout the work, Henry reiterates the role of God’s revelation that shapes and produces a distinctly Christian ethic.

The second section of the book sets out Henry’s vision for Christian ethics, which is grounded in God’s revealed Word and in the life of the local church. A key aspect of Henry’s vision for Christian ethics is tied to the role of the imago Dei, which sets man apart from the rest of creation as one with reason and morality. Being image bearers, no human being can “escape ethical responsibility” (151). Henry speaks of the uniqueness of the Christian ethic based in love as the summation of the law and prophets referencing the double love command of Matthew 22:37-39 (221). He then shifts to walk through the Christian ethic as seen in the Old Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, and the larger New Testament canon. He ultimately argues that Jesus is the ideal of Christian ethics and that Christ’s humility is the hallmark of ethics, which “stands over against the high-mindedness and pride which speculative ethics approved” (417). He ends on an interesting note for a work of Christian ethics, speaking to the role of prayer in the life of the believer. Prayer is not just “the individual’s acknowledgement of creaturely dependence, but the whole souled confession that his true hope is in the supernatural world” (573). This conclusion reiterates the uniqueness of Christian ethics in a world that has been deluded with selfish ambition, pride, and haughty individualism.

The Role of Revelation

Henry speaks of Christian ethics as a revealed ethic given by God to his people, who are sinful and in rebellion. Henry states that, “Biblically-revealed ethics dismiss as shallow all evaluations of the ethical situation which hesitate to view sin, death, and Satan as determinative categories” (172). Henry’s emphasis on the role of revelation, specifically special revelation, is central to the work along with his emphasis on the fallen nature of humanity. The moral revelation of Scripture is key to defining a Christian ethic because it grounds the believer in God’s truth as he lives in the created world. “Christianity stresses the unity of Truth, and the universal validity of the Good and Right, and the universality of rational norms, along with its emphasis on special revelation, because it sets special revelation against the background of general revelation” (149). This interplay between general and special revelation is one of the most striking aspects of Henry’s Christian ethic because of the firm stance he takes regarding the role of natural law in Christian ethics, which he stridently opposes but interestingly leans upon at various points in the work.

Henry points out that an ethic of natural morality is inherently flawed and “ruled out” given the fallen state of humanity (159), but also speaks of the “implanted moral law” in humanity (154). He points out how the ethics of special revelation are not a straight-line continuity with the Thomistic tradition of confident rationalism (156), which seems to be his biggest point of concern with natural law ethics. He argues that the Thomistic tradition fails to deal realistically with the fact of a fallen human nature (196), especially as some who hold to natural law speak of the disordered will and desires of humanity, but do not emphasize the same effect of the fall on human reason. He goes on to state that, “Because Christian ethics is the ethics of special and not of universal revelation, it is not immanently accessible to all men on the basis of creation” (203).

Another of Henry’s critique of natural law ethics similarly flows from his high view of sin that extends to all of nature. He states that nature itself is sinful and split, which cannot lead one to conformity to God’s will (196). This is a consistent message throughout the work, especially as Henry rightfully exposes the flaws and dangers of naturalistic ethics earlier. While he is consistent with his emphasis on the fullness of the fall’s effects upon nature and humanity, this conflation of natural law ethics and naturalism seems a bit stretched in his critique of the Thomistic tradition. It seems that Henry actually holds to a similar understanding of natural law ethics, even if he does not use the same terminology or understand it to be salvific in any way.  This is clear as he argues, “The good and true may come through distorted and stretched. And men everywhere, who are also stamped with the image, acknowledge as good and true what reflects that image, even if sometimes in a crude way” (477).  To his credit, Henry is seeking to emphasize the particularity of the Christian ethic throughout this work, and his critique of natural law seems to be focused on defining this particularly rather than a blanket statement on the role of natural revelation in the Christian life. 

Overall, Christian Personal Ethics provides a wealth of knowledge for readers as it takes a broad approach to defining a distinctly Christian ethic in light of the multitude of ethical systems available. Henry’s engagement with these non-Christian ethics is accessible and trustworthy as he defines Christian ethics with an emphasis on the role of special revelation and the transformed life of the individual. Henry’s ending to the work on the role of prayer in a Christian ethics is laudable as well given the utter dependence of the believer on God for all things, including an understanding of morality in the first place.

By / Nov 9

We hope you enjoyed the National Conference on The Cross Shaped Family last month.

Attending conferences like these is always essential in giving us the boost we need to live out the gospel in our families and wider communities. But whether you attended in person or watched from home, the momentum we gain from such events can only last so long, and that’s why we need quality, biblical resources to equip us for everyday life and the journey ahead.

The Good Book Company’s strategic partnership with the ERLC is designed to highlight such materials. Below are three new books that we believe are deserving of your attention. And, as an exclusive offer to you, we’re offering 30 percent off on these titles until the end of November. Just use the code ‘ERLC30’ at the checkout.

1. Gender: A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors

The world around us is changing quickly, and it’s difficult to keep up with the debates about some of life’s most fundamental issues, such as gender. Whether you are a parent, mentor, pastor, or friend, this book will help you speak clearly to children on this subject in a world spinning in confusion.

Watch the authors speak about the book:

Individual orders and bulk purchases can be bought at

2. The Dignity Revolution

As Christians, we want to make a difference in this world. We want to have an impact not only on our immediate family and community, but on wider social issues. We want to protect the vulnerable and engage with the issues that really matter. But how?

This book shows us how wonderful, liberating, and empowering it is to be made in God’s image. It will change how we see ourselves and other people.

Watch Daniel Darling on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show

Grab a copy of The Dignity Revolution at

3. Real, The Surprising Secret to Deeper Relationships

Every woman longs for authentic friendships with others—but in a world of carefully-curated social media, most of us are merely keeping up appearances. Both online and offline, we're all prone to only presenting the best side of ourselves. Take a sneak peak at the first chapter here.

Watch Catherine Parks talk about why she needed to write a book like this.

Buy the book at

By / Aug 15

Steven Waldman’s book Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty is, at heart, a book about getting history right. It seeks to insert a composed, though not detached, assessment of our Founders’ vision of religion and religious liberty into the culture wars over religious freedom. The assertion underpinning this book is that “history seen through the lens of the culture war is history distorted” (194).

The imperative of religious liberty

In examining religion in colonial times, Waldman shows why we should not take for granted the religious liberty that we enjoy in this nation. As he shows, it was not a given that our founding documents would protect religious liberty. Waldman writes, “For more than 150 years, colonial governments actively supported the dominant faith of their states” (3).

With religious freedom enshrined in our Bill of Rights and the principle of separation of church and state so deeply entrenched in our civic and political discourse, it is easy to take the fact of religious liberty for granted. But as Waldman reminds us, a proper relationship between church and state was not, and is not, inevitable. We see this in history, also, as centuries of state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities in Europe attest, and by looking around the globe today; consider the terrible plight of religious minorities, even Muslim ones, in clergy-controlled Iran; or in China, where a one-party Communist state seeks to control and co-opt religion for its own purposes.

Founding beliefs

Because the Founders’ religious beliefs are so often proffered as reasons for doing one thing or another in matters of church and state, it is important to set the record straight on what they actually believed. Waldman does this ably, showing how the Founders disagreed on numerous issues and even designed founding documents, such as the First Amendment, so that they could be interpreted in different ways.

Waldman paints lively portraits of each Founder’s thinking on religion and public life. He makes clear that each major Founder believed that religion was important for the republic, namely because it encourages moral behavior. For example, Benjamin Franklin commented, “If Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion what would they be without it?” (22). John Adams “believed that religion has its problems, but we’d all be worse off without it” (36). Our first president articulated this principle with force: “Religion and morality are indispensable supports [for “political prosperity”] . . . Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle” (60–61). 

But the Founders did not support religion merely because they recognized that it would support the health of their nascent republic: theirs was also a personal, if mostly nonsectarian, commitment. “They were spiritual enough to care passionately about religious freedom,” writes Waldman, “but not so dogmatic that they felt duty-bound to promote a particular faith” (xv). Moreover, each came to support religious liberty in different ways, for different reasons. The examples of Jefferson, Washington, and Madison are instructive on this point. 

For Thomas Jefferson, who famously took penknife and paste to rid the New Testament of that which offended his Enlightenment sensibilities, the commitment to “the idea that people with unorthodox views should be tolerated was no mere abstraction” (76). As he wrote to the embattled Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, religion is “a matter which lies solely between Man & his God.” Although Jefferson strongly disliked and suspected organized religion, seeing it as historically opposed to freedom (75), he believed freedom of conscience was a natural right that the state could not—must not—impinge on. 

George Washington, whose “most significant contribution was his commitment to religious tolerance,” came to this position in large part through his experience as leader of the Continental Army. This was “one of the only truly national institutions,” and therefore Washington could not favor one sect over another if he wanted to maintain unity and succeed militarily. 

Finally, James Madison, who Waldman sees as the most consequential champion of religious liberty among the Founders, “wasn’t intensely attached to a particular [religious] approach,” so he could “embrace pluralism and the marketplace of spiritual ideas” (99). Madison was what we might call a strict separationist. In his view, “Congress had one simple assignment when it came to religion: Stay away” (154). 

Indeed, if he had had his way, we might not have the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as he did not think the Constitution should even mention religion. It may be said that part of Madison’s genius was in seeing separation of church and state as helpful to religion on its own terms. As Waldman writes, he “embraced and integrated the arguments of both Jefferson and the Baptists—that separation of church and state was essential for the functioning of democracy and for the flowering of faith” (200).

Lessons for today

What are some lessons that we who want to see and work for the flourishing of religious liberty, both at home and abroad, can take from this book? 

1. Work with others, even (or especially) when they are of a different tribe

Throughout Waldman’s book, we see examples of persons and groups who believe very differently from each other collaborating to promote religious liberty. Baptists, for example, welcomed the efforts of Jefferson to support religious liberty, even though many considered him an enemy of religion. “Baptists, believed state-supported religion violated Jesus’s teachings and deeply appreciated Jefferson’s efforts to keep government and religion far apart,” writes Waldman (x). 

Theirs was not an isolated case, either; at this time there was “a powerful alliance formed between evangelical Christians and some Enlightenment intellectuals” (xiii)—two groups who arrived at commitment to liberty of conscience from starkly differing philosophical frameworks. Two representatives of these groups were Benjamin Franklin and the Great Awakening evangelist and preacher George Whitefield, who enjoyed some affinity in part because Franklin admired Whitefield for his condemnations of slavery and promotion of progressive causes, such as education for blacks.

2. Sweat the “small” cases

Another principle present at the founding and worth repeating amid today’s challenges to religious freedom is that what may seem like trivial cases may, in fact, be of great consequence. Madison’s strong desire to keep church and state apart as far as possible is instructive here, because his position was borne not from suspicion of religion but from the conviction that strict separation was critical to maintaining the integrity of both religion and state. As Waldman notes, “[Madison] argued that even minimal government financial help for the church should terrify Americans. Be very wary of big principles being violated in small doses, Madison warned” (178). 

Many people scoff at cases where big principles are at play—for example, a young woman being asked to not wear her religious headgear during work hours at a popular clothing store; or a baker being told by the government that he has to create a cake for an event which he disapproves of for religious reasons. Many have dismissed these cases by saying things to the effect of, “So she won’t wear a head scarf for a few hours—big deal,” or “It’s just a cake!” Yet as Madison understood, when we allow important principles to be violated in seemingly trivial ways, we cannot expect them to stand in the face of bigger and more obviously consequential challenges.

3. Wisdom and charity is needed

The argument that we should do something because that was the Founders’ intention is commonplace. Implicit in this argument is the notion that the Constitution has a single and discernible intent on certain issues. Yet, as noted above, Waldman shows that the Founders did not enjoy consensus on the question of separation of church and state. Some Constitutional principles, such as those enshrined in the First Amendment, were shaped more by negotiation and compromise than by a deliberate and single-minded process of crafting language to embody a set principle (something we can more readily say about the Declaration of Independence, which had one primary author). So we should be wary of those who claim that there is a single, “constitutional” view of some these issues. 

In the light of this, Waldman calls for wisdom, and rightly so. He urges us to be less dependent on the Founders and to pick up the argument they began. “We need to ask . . . not Are these practices constitutional? but Are they wise?” (197). And indeed—is not wisdom what is most needed for those who are seeking to craft and shape public policy? This realization, moreover, should lead us to conduct ourselves in a spirit of charity. This entails not only treating our political opponents with the respect they deserve as God-made image bearers, but also refraining from assigning motives that cast them in the worst possible light. Waldman puts it well, “When we argue that our adversaries are wrong, we should remember that mostly they are likely wrong (or right) at the margins. They are inaccurate, not corrupt; mistaken, not evil” (198).

4. We have a legacy to uphold

Finally, Waldman’s book may serve as an exhortation to evangelicals to carry on a legacy of championing religious freedom. “Separation of church and state,” Waldman states, “would not exist if not for the efforts of eighteenth-century evangelicals” (xi). This is a noble legacy that we ought to uphold, if not recover. An essential part of this task is to champion religious liberty for others, not only ourselves. A true commitment to religious liberty may be seen in a readiness to defend the rights of others, especially those who are most different from us—perhaps brown-skinned Muslims and liberal atheists today—to believe and practice freely according to their conscience. 

As evangelicals, we ought to do this not only because violations of any person’s religious liberty poses a threat to the religious liberty of all, but mainly because if we truly believe God’s Word, which says that God created all people in his image (Gen. 1:27), then that means that all people have a God-given dignity that entails the freedom to believe and act on their beliefs as they choose. 

By / Dec 6

We live in a culture that demands success and esteems achievement. Constant pressure to perform, compete and excel shapes nearly every aspect of our lives. Yet in the end, our greatest desire is for friends and family to remember, not what we did, but who we were.

In The Road to Character, David Brooks offers a fascinating reflection on the decline of moral virtue in the Western world and contrasts our present condition with the (comparatively) better days that lie behind us.

The book is built around three sections. The core consists of eight chapters of biographical sketches that provide real-life examples of the kind of character that is noticeably absent from our society. The opening and conclusion feature the author’s incisive cultural assessment and critique. The following paragraphs highlight a portion of each section.

1. Adam II

At the outset, we are introduced to Adam I and Adam II, a concept borrowed from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitis’ book Lonely Man of Faith. Brooks contends that our natures are divided, and he adopts this paradigm to make sense of that division. Adam I is the part of us focused on the external. He looks outward, is driven by ambition and battles others to succeed or be recognized. But Adam II looks inside and is concerned with internal success. His goals are self-mastery and self-respect. Whereas Adam I cultivates his strengths, Adam II confronts his weaknesses.

2. A character repository

According to Brooks, “example is the best teacher.” Thus, almost the entire book is made up of the stories of real people whose lives were marked by character that most would regard as noteworthy. The examples span across the ages and display closely related traits. Among them are love, dignity and self-control. The cultivation of Adam II in each life was the key to their character.

3. Curbing the "Big Me"

The conclusion confronts what Brooks brands the “Big Me—” the pervasive mentality of modern culture that places self at the center of everything.

To remedy the long-term effects of this issue, Brooks offers a single proposition: humility. If society has been taken up with an overinflated view of self, the needed course correction is to “reassert a balance between Adam I and Adam II.” In order to promote a more balanced moral ecology, Brooks offers “The Humility Code—” 15 observations derived from the lives and character of the persons considered.

The road as Brooks sees it

Brooks is a perceptive cultural critic. He writes for The New York Times, which demands a certain soundness of thought. Brooks confesses that he wrote this book to save his own soul, realizing that intellect alone is not enough to fend off the erosive forces of culture. Brooks recognizes that we are in need of more than better thoughts. We need better loves.

“Most of us have clearer strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for how to develop a profound character,” he writes. Because character is the practice of a bygone age, Brooks would have us look backward as we make our way ahead. He shows that history often guides us better than we guide ourselves.

Application for the church

This book is of distinct importance to the church because it provides perspective. Christians should read this book to exit the echo chamber and hear the voice of a seasoned cultural observer from outside of their own tradition. So often our pulpits and tweets decry the downfall of a culture we know discernibly little about. The Road to Character provides scope and insight that is often unavailable in our limited spheres.

At the same time, Christians should read this book in order to confirm what they already know. Our natures are marred by sin, and this shapes the world in which we live. The Bible instructs us to master ourselves over against a culture that constantly screams, “Embrace yourself!” In this regard, Brooks is exceedingly helpful to point out the follies of cultural wisdom.

Finally, I would recommend this book to believers because the road to character looks, in many ways, like sanctification. Perhaps unknowingly, Brooks provides some helpful tools and vocabulary for discussing spiritual growth. The traits he surveys are often the result of the Spirit’s work in the life of the Christian (Gal. 5:22-24).

We certainly don’t agree at every turn, but I am deeply indebted to David Brooks for the wisdom and insight he displays in this book.  

By / Oct 30

If it seems like we are talking past one another too often in politics, the truth is, we usually are. Arguments that seem striking and self-evident to one side fall flat for the other, leaving the two sides no choice but to judge, claiming that their own failure to persuade must be due to the other side’s ignorance or (worse) sinister motives.

Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, offers three principles of moral psychology to help us understand why decent, upstanding neighbors and citizens can be so bitterly divided when it comes to religion and politics.

1. Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

Many of us think of morality as something we discover after rational and reflective consideration. But Haidt says we judge first, and then we look for (or invent) arguments that back up our moral judgments. Reason isn’t the determinative factor in our moral considerations. Reason is the reinforcement for our moral intuitions.

2. There's more to morality than harm and fairness. 

Haidt compares our minds to a tongue with six taste receptors: liberty, loyalty, authority, sanctity, harm and fairness. Politicians on the right tend to activate more of the receptors, while politicians on the left focus on harm and fairness as the dominant moral considerations.

3. Morality binds and blinds.

Once we’ve developed reasons for our moral intuitions, we look for people who share the same moral sensibilities. Haidt explains: “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds” (xxiii).

Haidt describes the liberal narrative as one of heroic liberation. Authority, hierarchy, power and tradition are chains that must be broken in order to set free the individual. Meanwhile, the conservative narrative is “heroism of defense,” where society is like a home that is being reclaimed from damage done by termites. Liberty is threatened, loyalty is declining, authority has been subverted and sanctity will disappear.

So how do we persuade?

Given the fact that humans are experts at spinning things to confirm what we already believe, how in the world can we have conversations about moral issues? How can a Christian ever expect to convince someone else of a biblical morality?

Haidt sees a powerful social element to our judgments. Social influence matters. We care deeply about what other people think, to the point we are willing to adjust our beliefs or look for justification for other perspectives in order to fall in line with what others are saying.

So persuasiveness in conversing about moral issues matters, but not for the reason you might think. “You can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments” (57). So, going into combat mode is not likely to succeed. Instead, “if you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. . . . Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide” (58).

And how do we empathize? Because intuitions are first and strategic reasoning second, you have to speak to people’s moral intuitions. You have to “elicit new intuitions, not new rationales” (57).

The antidote to a “self-righteous mind” must be a God-focused church.

Application for the church

As a Christian, I don’t buy into Haidt’s evolutionary assumptions or his rejection of a universal morality that transcends culture. But I find aspects of his study of human morality that back up what Scripture teaches. In our sinfulness, we are all self-righteous, and our self-justifying hearts go into attack mode every time we feel threatened, criticized or condemned.

The antidote to a “self-righteous mind” must be a God-focused church that delivers the gospel of grace with the humility of those who know the superior spirit that’s so often seen in our own hearts.

If “new intuitions” matter just as much as “new rationales,” then we need to be part of a community where biblical intuitions are created. We need to be a loving community where the combination of empathy and the convictions of a Christian perspective are on full display.

The Righteous Mind is a secular psychologist’s take on human morality, but it’s a book that points in various ways to what the Bible says about the human condition. In the end, there’s hope. The gospel doesn’t close down conversations between people who disagree; it makes them possible. It diagnoses our self-righteous tendencies and offers a breath of fresh humility into our polarized conversations.   

By / Jun 19

I frequently get asked to recommend books that introduce readers to the subject of Christian ethics. Actually, I get asked often enough that it’s time to write out a list of books that I can point people to quickly.

Below are books that I think anyone interested in Christian ethics should purchase and read, and more importantly, keep as a trusted resource.

This list is not exhaustive. Rather, what you’ll find below are Christian ethics texts that are meant to point interested learners in the right direction.

After each book, I’ve tried to write one to two sentences explaining its unique contribution.

Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World by Dennis Hollinger.

Hollinger’s book is one of my favorites because it takes into consideration various cultural and philosophical contexts in which ethics is done.

An Introduction to Biblical Ethics by David Jones.

Jones’ book is maybe the best intro book out there. One, it isn’t too long. Two, it is clearly written. This might be the best starting point for someone looking for their first book. Jones also does a good job of exploring intricate debates within the field of ethics.

Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options by Norman Geisler.

Geisler’s book is a classic ethical text. This book does a terrific job of explaining ethical dilemmas and various theories for solving supposed ethical conflicts.

The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics by Stanley Grenz.

This is probably my favorite ethics text because it explains both the history of ancient approaches to ethics as well as introducing readers to the various models of Christian ethics done throughout church history.

Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics by Oliver O’Donovan.

This is by far the most challenging text on this list, but maybe also the most rewarding. O’Donovan’s text is arguably the most important ethics text from an evangelical perspective in the twentieth century.

Ethics for a Brave New World by John and Paul Feinberg

This book has it all: Theories of ethics, applied ethics.

Many, many more books could be listed here, but not to overwhelm individuals who are making their first exploration into Christian ethics, the above books ought to send you on your journey toward discovering the rich field of Christian ethics.

By / Feb 20

Why was Atlanta’s fire chief fired?

In January Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because he had self-published a book on Christian manhood in which he describes homosexuality as a “perversion” like bestiality and pedophilia, and characterizes homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.”

Mayor Reed had first suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training” after activists who disagreed with Cochran’s Christian views on sex complained about the book. The City of Atlanta initiated an investigation that led to the chief’s being fired.

The mayor later argued that his firing of the chief had nothing to do with Cochran’s Christian faith, but rather with a lack of judgment on the part of a man charged with managing a 750-member department.

Who is Kelvin Cochran?

Kelvin J. Cochran was, until his dismissal, the fire chief of Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. Before going to Atlanta he has previously spent nearly thirty years with the Shreveport, Louisiana Fire Department. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him as U.S. Fire Administrator for the United States Fire Administration in Washington, D.C. He returned to Atlanta in 2010 at the urging of Mayor Reed.

Cochran has served as 1st vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association. He also authored two chapters  (Chapter 1, “Leadership and Management,” and Chapter 25, “The Fire Chief of the Future”) for the Chief Fire Officers Desk Reference. In 2012, Fire Chief magazine named Cochran “Fire Chief of the Year.”

Cochran is a deacon and a Sunday School teacher at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta.

What did the investigation reveal?

An investigative report by the City of Atlanta found:

  • Cochran did not seek approval to publish the book. Cochran disputes this claim.
  • Cochran originally stated that he provided the book to certain members of his command staff as a personal gift and did not provide it to anyone who did not request a copy. The investigation disclosed that the book was distributed in the workplace to at least 9 individuals, including 3 officers who claimed the book was given to them without a request on their part. Cochran later acknowledged that he had given these three individuals unsolicited copies of the book.
  • The investigation found no indication that Chief Cochran allowed his religious beliefs to compromise his disciplinary decisions. However, they found there was a “general agreement the contents of the book have eroded trust and have compromised the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”

Was Cochran fired because of his Christian beliefs?

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, city officials have publicly admitted that Cochran was fired because of his beliefs.

“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,” said City Councilman Alex Wan to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in November. Wan was a leader in the campaign to oust Cochran.

Mayor Reed also told USA Today, “I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all citizens…”

What happens now?

Cochran filed an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January claiming he was discriminated against because of his Christian beliefs.

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom have also filed a federal lawsuit on Cochran’s behalf. The lawsuit claims the “Defendants fired Cochran solely because he holds religious beliefs concerning same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct that are contrary to the Mayor’s and the City’s views on these subjects, and because he expressed those beliefs in the non-work-related, religious book he self-published.”

See also:Chief Kelvin Cochran suspended for telling the truth” by J. Gerald Harris