Embattled president of Sunrise Children's Services does not plan - WDRB 41 Louisville News

ONLY ON WDRB: Embattled president of Sunrise Children's Services says he won't resign

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The embattled head of one of Louisville's oldest child welfare agencies says he has no plans to resign.

The president of Sunrise Children's Services came under fire when the Baptist agency considered changing its hiring policy to allow for gays and lesbians.

"There's a lot of politics and culture that we can all get caught up in. That's not what this is about.This is not a discussion about that or a battle about it. It's about these kids," said Smithwick.

Bill Smithwick says he did not intend to step into a cultural firestorm when he asked his board to re-examine the Sunrise policy that prohibits the hiring of open gays and lesbians. He says he was simply doing his job.

"My job as the leader of this organization is to look forward for opportunities and threats. And I saw a threat coming," he said.

That threat was the Employment Non-discrimination Act. It prohibits discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation.

The bill passed the U.S. Senate but is stalled in the House. But Smithwick says he's concerned that the Sunrise policy could one day cost the agency millions in federal funds.

"It's not like it was in a children's home 25 years ago. These kids have very severe , intense needs. They need intensive care. And to provide that, we cannot do it on donor dollars alone. We cannot do it on just what Baptists give us," said Smithwick.

Sunrise is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which contributes about a million dollars of its $26-million budget.

News that the agency was considering changing its hiring policy sounded alarm bells.

"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," said Paul Chitwood, Executive Director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

The Sunrise board did vote to maintain the ban on hiring homosexuals.

But during its annual meeting, the Kentucky Baptist Convention passed a vote of no confidence in Smithwick, and voted in 11 new board members, raising questions about Smithwick's future.

"It's not about anything other than can I help the kids. If I can do that for as long as I can do that, I'll do it," said Smithwick.

When asked if he was going to resign, Smithwick said, "I don't plan to. Have not been asked to."

But regardless of his future, Smithwick says, one day, Sunrise will likely have to make a critical choice. Some call it a choice between God and Caesar. But Smithwick sees it differently.

"The church in and of itself cannot provide the resources that it takes to care for these kids. And the state in and of itself cannot do it without partnering with private providers like us, faith-based providers like us. It takes both. So, it takes God and Caesar."

The new Sunrise trustees are scheduled to meet in January. Likely topping that agenda will be Smithwick's future at the agency.

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