MOUNT WASHINGON, Ky. (ABP)—The board of directors of a Kentucky Baptist child care agency voted against a proposal to drop its ban on hiring homosexuals, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention passed a symbolic vote of “no confidence” in the agency head who had recommended the change.
“Let us be clear about this vote,” said Joyce Smith, board chair of Sunrise Children’s Services in Mt. Washington, Ky. “With this decision, we are not promoting anything other than the physical, mental and spiritual welfare of our children. We remain focused on our mission of providing love and support to the victimized children that Sunrise serves, and our decision today will not affect the everyday care Sunrise provides to families and children.”
Suggestion to change the hiring policy
Sunrise CEO Bill Smithwick suggested changing the hiring policy, anticipating the time will come when the current policy of informing applicants the organization does not hire gay people will disqualify it for funding by the state.
The agency receives about $26 million a year in taxpayer funding to provide services for youth who are abused or neglected. The Kentucky Baptist Convention, which elects the Sunrise board of directors, donates $1 million.
The board understands and respects the position of those who will not like this decision, Smithwick said after the vote.
“For those that do not agree with our practice, we understand, and we would love to have you join us in putting the kids first and support our mission of helping the least among us—victimized children who need a safe haven and the chance to see love and experience hope,” Smithwick said.
Criticized by Kentucky Baptists leaders
Kentucky Baptist leaders voiced criticism of Smithwick’s proposal to allow openly gay employees at a convention agency. After the vote, Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood applauded the Sunrise board for “courage and conviction.”
“While I know, given where our culture is headed, government funding for Sunrise may someday be in jeopardy, I recommit my personal and financial support, as well as my advocacy for this Great Commandment ministry of Kentucky Baptists,” Chitwood said in a blog. “We will stand with this board.”
At the state convention annual meeting, messengers elected 11 directors for the Sunrise Children’s Services board, including Chitwood. The new board members replace six directors who were scheduled to rotate off the board and five others who resigned.
Since 2000, Sunrise Children’s Services has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State over the use of taxpayer funds by faith-based organizations that proselytize. The dispute began when the agency formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children fired a lesbian employee in the 1990s.