President of Baptist agency under fire for attempted policy chan - WDRB 41 Louisville News

President of Baptist agency under fire for attempted policy change

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The president of a Kentucky Baptist agency that has served at-risk children for more than a century is under fire.

The President of Sunrise Children's Services, which used to be known as the Kentucky Baptist Home for Children, tried to change its hiring policy to allow for open gays and lesbians. But during its annual meeting, the Kentucky Baptist Convention made it clear, it did not approve.

By what's being termed an "overwhelming" margin, the convention delegates, called messengers, passed a vote of no-confidence in Sunrise President Bill Smithwick.

The vote is non-binding, but KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood says it sends a clear message.

"That this is not the direction that Kentucky Baptists want to see their children's ministry go in."

The convention also voted in eleven new Sunrise trustees, nearly half the board. The new slate includes Chitwood himself, who says Smithwick's days may be numbered.

"For the churches to express no confidence in the leadership, I think, sends a clear message that we need new leadership," said Chitwood.

Sunrise has been involved in a decade-long lawsuit for firing therapist Alicia Pedreira in 1998 after learning she was a lesbian.

But earlier this month, Smithwick led a failed attempt to change the hiring policy, saying he was concerned about the possible future loss of state and federal funds.

Sunrise did not respond to a request for comment. But Smithwick told a Paducah TV station, he's not sure he'll stay with Sunrise.

"It's certainly sad for Mr. Smithwick who, it looks like, was really trying to move the organization in a direction that's in line with what a majority of all Kentuckians, all Americans, and the majority of Baptists, we believe, also think," said Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign.

Hartman says it's likely Sunrise will eventually lose government funding. But Chitwood says it's a risk the Kentucky Baptists are willing to take.

"This is an issue of what scripture teaches about our lifestyle, about sexual sin, heterosexual or homosexual, and us trying to be faithful to what the Bible teaches," he said.

The new Sunrise trustees are scheduled to meet in January. What is not clear is whether Bill Smithwick will still be president.

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