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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Kentucky agency that has served at-risk children since right after the Civil War is in danger of losing some of its biggest supporters.
The controversy involves whether the agency will hire gays and lesbians.
Sunrise Children's Services used to be known as the Kentucky Baptist Home for Children. In fact, Southern Baptists founded the agency in 1869. But now that relationship is in danger of collapsing.
For more than a dozen years, Sunrise was embroiled in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Alicia Pedreia.
Sunrise had fired her from her job as a therapist after a photo surfaced of Pedreia and her female partner.
The suit was settled earlier this year.
Now the president of Sunrise is asking his trustees to change the agency's policy to allow the hiring of open gays and lesbians.
In a statement, Bill Smithwick expressed concern about a possible future loss of state and federal funding, saying "The question is whether we will walk away from the pain, suffering, loneliness, and brokenness of the kids we serve... "
"I'm delighted. I'm delighted and equally surprised," said Pedreia. "I think this is a step toward acceptance. I'm sure there will be a lot of angry people."
Indeed Pedreia is not the only one surprised.
"I was shocked," said Paul Chitwood, the executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
He says the move could cost Sunrise support and funding, which amounts to about one-million dollars a year.
"Kentucky Baptists will always invest in caring for orphans and children that are victims of abuse or neglect. But I think they'll always want to invest in a biblically faithful, gospel-centered type ministry," said Chitwood.
Baptist contributions make up about 4% of the Sunrise budget. While Smithwick says it is needed, he adds Sunrise cannot survive if it loses government funding.
But Chitwood says there's no sign that's going to happen anytime soon.
"I don't disagree that there's a likelihood it may eventually come. But it would seem to me that he would want to deal with it at that time," said Chitwood.
This could all come to a head in the coming days. The Sunrise board of trustees meets Nov. 8th. And the Kentucky Baptist Convention Annual Meeting begins just four days later.