“It’s about the kids” is the oft-repeated mantra of Sunrise Children’s Services, formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children. It’s a slogan we have always affirmed. Pray with me that the board of trustees will continue to put the kids first and provide them with caregivers who share and model the gospel. Secular agencies that care for children who are the victims of abuse and neglect are easy to find but there is only one Kentucky Baptist agency that ensures holistic care, which includes gospel-centered nurture.
After a twelve-year legal battle and attorney fees reportedly over $1 million due to firing a practicing homosexual, Sunrise President Bill Smithwick is now recommending that his board of trustees change its hiring policies to employ people living alternate lifestyles.
That news had already been confirmed to me by several Sunrise trustees before Todd Deaton reported on the discussions of the board in last week’s Western Recorder. On behalf of Kentucky Baptist Convention President Dan Summerlin and myself, I requested a meeting with Smithwick to discuss the matter but was simply told, “We will communicated, in full detail, any warranted board actions relevant to the KBC should any be taken.”
What has led to Smithwick’s reversal of the stance he has so long maintained? His statement in the October 1 edition of the Western Recorder brings clarity. Regarding government money, Smithwick said, “We couldn’t operate without it…. If we lose our contract, we’re out of business.” In actuality, Sunrise operated for most of its 154-year history without government money and could continue to do so today, albeit with a much, much smaller budget.
In addition to what it would mean for the kids, another great tragedy of Smithwick’s recommendation is that it ignores the investment of untold tens of millions of Baptist dollars and surrenders the very reason Sunrise came into existence as Kentucky Baptists’ gospel-centered ministry to orphans and neglected children. The Covenant Agreement between the KBC and Sunrise states, “This relationship is built upon many years of faithful commitment and trust by many individuals and by many millions of dollars contributed by Kentucky Baptists in support.”
The Covenant Agreement also stipulates that Sunrise “shall maintain its distinctive Baptist character as set forth in its purpose and the support of the Kentucky Baptist Convention is based upon faithful adherence to that purpose.” If the trustees decide to follow Smithwick and surrender biblical values to maintain government funding, then clearly they will have forsaken the Baptist character of Sunrise and become the equivalent of any secular corporation that contracts with the state to provide childcare.
Recently, the state of Illinois threatened to terminate its contracts for foster children with Catholic Charities unless Catholic Charities placed children with homosexual couples. When Catholic Charities refused, they lost more than $30 million in government funding. Doing the right thing can be very costly. The state then placed the children with other contractors and Catholic Charities found other ways to serve hurting kids.
One of the more puzzling aspects of Smithwick’s recommendation is that it has come before the state has even required it. Nevertheless, should Sunrise trustees refuse to approve the recommendation, the day will probably come when Sunrise will be denied government money. And, like Catholic Charities, Sunrise will have to dramatically scale back its work in order to be faithful to Scripture and to model biblical values in front of hurting children
The next meeting of the Sunrise board of trustees is November 8. Pray that God will grant courage and wisdom to the board members, all of whom have been elected by the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Should you want to pray for them by name or contact them to let them know how you feel about the matter, a list of Sunrise trustees can be found at www.sunrise.org/board-directors. Their contact info can be found on page 145 of the KBC annual report.
Sunrise has always been different from secular caregivers because of the biblical values that undergird the ministry and are modeled by the caregivers. Hurting children need that from Kentucky Baptists. When the government will no longer help fund it, I pray Sunrise will continue to give gospel-centered care, even if it means a significant reduction in their budget. Either way, I am confident Kentucky Baptists will always minister to hurting children and will do so through a ministry with biblical values.