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Kentucky Baptists Vote on Foster Agency's Idea To Avoid Closure: Hire Gays

Trustees reject solution of Sunrise Children's Services president: 'I would rather homosexuals see the love of God through us than be denied employment by us.'

One of the largest providers of care for abused and neglected children in Kentucky hopes to find a way to preserve the state funding that supplies the vast majority of its budget.

But this week, Southern Baptist leaders in the Bluegrass State soundly rejected Sunrise Children's Services latest solution. The reason: It involved hiring gay and lesbian staff.

Baptist Press reports that messengers to the annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) have overwhelmingly voted "no confidence" in Bill Smithwick, president of the foster agency previously known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, over his proposal to drop a hiring ban against LGBT employees in order to avert the risk of losing state funds in the future. Donations from Baptist churches only amount to approximately 5 percent of Sunrise's budget, whereas state funds make up the rest.

"I would rather homosexuals see the love of God through us than be denied employment by us," said Smithwick in an August presentation to the agency's trustees. "I would rather see the ministry continue to help kids and share the Gospel than close."

However, Sunrise's board of directors rejected Smithwick's proposal on November 8. Chairman Joyce Smith said in a press release:

"Let us be clear about this vote. 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."

KBC executive director Paul Chitwood approved of the motion to adhere to Sunrise's current hiring practices, stating:

"I rejoice in the courage and conviction exhibited by the board's decision. 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. We will stand with this board."

Meanwhile, Associated Baptist Press reports that KBC messengers also elected 11 new directors for Sunrise, including Chitwood. Although the state convention has voted no-confidence in Smithwick, only the Sunrise board of directors has the authority to dismiss him.

Baptist Press offers more details on the controversy between Smithwick and the board.

Critics have accused Sunrise of firing a gay employee and promoting religion to children using taxpayer money. A long-running lawsuit seeking to cut off Sunrise's state funding for a Kentucky Baptist foster agency was finally settled by the State of Kentucky after 12 years of twists and turns. However, Sunrise disputes the terms and their possible consequences as discriminatory.

CT previously highlighted the key question at stake in the lawsuit: Whether taxpayers can challenge the state funding of faith-based social services, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that taxpayers cannot challenge the federal funding of such groups.

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