Kentucky Baptist agency won’t hire gays

Sunrise Children’s Services’ board of directors voted Friday not to change its hiring practices to allow the employment of gays.

By Bob Allen

The board of directors of a Kentucky Baptist child care agency voted Nov. 8 against a proposal to drop its ban on hiring gays.

“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.”

Sunrise CEO Bill Smithwick suggested changing the hiring policy, anticipating the time will come when the current policy of informing applicants that 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.

After Friday’s vote, Smithwick said the board understands and respects the position of those who will not like this decision.

bill smithwick“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,” said Smithwick.

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.”

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.

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