RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) — Kelvin Cochran was enjoying newfound popularity in 1981 as one of the first black firefighters in Shreveport, La., when women began following him to the fire station with their phone numbers in hand, charmed by his presence on the back of the fire engine.
The 21-year-old dated like “crazy” for four months, he said, until God woke him up one morning and changed his life.
“Son, this is not the life I called you to. You need to find yourself a wife,” Cochran remembers God saying to him. “So I took God very seriously and I thought, rather than trying to find someone that I never met, let me just take the time and pray and think of the girl that I admired the most growing up in Shreveport.”
His memories took him back to the fourth grade and a certain Carolyn Marshall, whom he found only after calling every Marshall in the Shreveport phone book. He persuaded her to invite him to the home she still shared with her mother in a public housing development.
He proposed on that very night over hot chocolate, and without a diamond ring, at the kitchen table as her mother sat in another room. He and Marshall were married six months later. They celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary in June and have three adult children and a grandchild.
Cochran sees his unconventional road to marriage as part of God’s plan to prepare him and his family for the difficult situation they now face since he was fired as Atlanta fire chief in January after he wrote, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” The discipleship book for men focuses mainly on the fruit of salvation in Jesus Christ, but lists homosexuality as one of many manifestations of a lack of spiritual discipline. The biblically based statements on homosexuality placed him at odds with the City of Atlanta, his employer.
“This is how God prepared my family [to persevere],” he told a group of 200 men gathered July 23 at the 2015 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C. “When you skip dating and courtship and go right to engagement, you’re going to have some sufferings in your marriage. It gave me a firsthand experience of how the grace and power of God can sustain holy matrimony, even without dating, without courtship.”
Growing up in a Christian home in poverty — sometimes with only bread and mayonnaise to eat — and the inherent difficulties in rising through the ranks to become the first black fire chief in Shreveport are all circumstances that have emboldened him to stand for Christ in difficult situations, Cochran noted.
“I came to realize that God has been preparing me for this my entire life. Suffering is an inherent and necessary component of fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.”
Cochran finds strength in God for his present journey battling the city of Atlanta in a lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, charging the city violated Cochran’s free speech and religious freedom by firing him.
One fruit of his current struggle is the call to preach, Cochran told the men gathered at the Ridgecrest conference, who surrounded him in prayer at the end of his “Man 2 Man” address.
“In this whole experience God has done many amazing things, but one of the things He’s done, He’s called me to preach the Gospel,” Cochran said. “It’s still hard for me to get that out, considering who I am and where I came from…. So I need your prayers.”
Cochran preached his first sermon in July at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he is also a deacon and teacher. It was through a Bible study he leads on the quest for authentic manhood at the church that the book was born. Cochran said he felt inspired to write the book after hearing men in the class talk about struggles with their sinful nature.
He began by researching the words “naked,” which means condemned and deprived, and “clothed,” which means redeemed and restored.
“This is what God told me, ‘I’ve got too many Christian men walking around acting like they’re naked. You need to ask them today, Who told you that you were naked?’ and that’s what that book is about. But because men have challenges with sexual sin, I had to talk about sex in the book.”
Cochran’s story appears to be symptomatic of an ever-increasing attack on the freedoms of religion and speech in America, and he encourages the church to stand united in defense of such freedoms.
“The divisions from my experience of what I’ve been going through since Thanksgiving of last year, the divisions by religious and secular standards by the Body of Christ in the United State of America have diluted the power and influence of our collective voice as believers to our elected officials, to big corporate business and to special interest groups,” he said. “And though we are the vast majority of Americans, there are smaller segments of groups in our nation who are transforming the very foundation of what our nation has been founded on.”
Most Christians have been quiet as the definitions of family and marriage have diminished, he said, and they must be protected to preserve society’s foundation.
“Life, family and marriage is how God intends to effect bringing the Kingdom of God into the earth. He does it through life, He does it through marriage and He does it through family. It’s His mechanism for bringing the Kingdom into earth.”
Cochran shared lessons learned since the controversy began over his book — namely, that God always prepares His children for sufferings they experience; there are worldly and biblical consequences for standing on biblical truth; sufferings are for God’s glory and those who endure sufferings will be blessed for their endurance.
“Brothers my back is not against the wall, I’m not at the end of my rope, and throwing in the towel is not an option. I am a son of the Most High God,” he said, and borrowed words from a favorite hymn. “I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”