PADUCAH –Messengers to the 176th Annual Meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention today overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Bill Smithwick, president of Sunrise Children’s Services.
The motion is non-binding. Only the Sunrise Board of Directors can remove people from the agency’s employ.
Today’s vote comes after weeks of concern stemming from Smithwick’s proposal to the Sunrise board to reverse the agency’s hiring practice of denying employment to gays and lesbians.
Smithwick has said that the proposal was pre-emptive action to sustain government funding for the agency that cares for about 2,000 young victims of abuse and neglect annually.
The Sunrise board voted Nov. 8 to sustain the practice of denying employment to gays and lesbians.
The motion to take a vote of no confidence came from Tommy Tapscott, associate pastor and messenger of First Baptist Church of East Bernstadt.
Smithwick’s scheduled report from Sunrise Children’s Services preceded the no-confidence vote. He responded to several questions from messengers.
President for 16 years of Sunrise Children’s Services, formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, Smithwick said his proposal to the board was entirely focused on maintaining care of the thousands of abused and neglected children in the commonwealth.
Responding to a question from Hershael York, pastor and messenger of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Smithwick he said he could not rule out bringing the proposal to the Sunrise board again if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives or if it is enacted by presidential order.
Smithwick told Kentucky Baptists that they can ensure children hear the gospel and live in Christian homes by becoming foster parents. He also noted that children in Sunrise’s residential programs have opportunities to attend church and hear the gospel.
At the close of the Sunrise report, KBC President Dan Summerlin expressed appreciation for the respectful tone of the debate.
In the afternoon session, Tapscott said he was grateful to Smithwick for responding to Kentucky Baptists’ questions during his report.
He also expressed continued concern that Smithwick would put government funding ahead of biblical values.
Robert Franklin, pastor of Main Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, expressed opposition of taking the vote, pointing to the Sunrise board’s recent action to sustain the current hiring practice. Franklin said Kentucky Baptists could trust the Sunrise board to make good decisions.
Luke Bray, pastor of Jeffersontown Baptist Church in Louisville, also expressed concern about taking the vote. He said that he unequivocally supports biblical values but that messengers were not as informed on the realities of the work of Sunrise Children’s Services as the agency’s board members.
Ron Shaw, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Somerset, spoke in favor of taking the vote, saying that it would serve as a reminder to Kentucky Baptists to step up their personal ministry to children victimized by abuse and neglect, and to share the gospel with those boys and girls.
Stan Spees, a current member of the Sunrise board and member of Lone Oak First Baptist Church in Paducah, said Smithwick’s proposal divided the Sunrise board more than any issue raised in Spees’ six years of service.
In speaking in favor of the vote, Spees said, until July, he never had reason to question Smithwick’s leadership, but he was disappointed in how Smithwick had handled the issue with fellow board members, KBC leadership and Kentucky Baptists at large.
Spees chronicled events over the past four months to point out the numerous opportunities Smithwick had to meeting with KBC leaders, and the efforts made to remove from the Sunrise board directors that disagreed with Smithwick’s recommendation to change hiring practices.
“If all we want to do is feed, clothe and house children, then we’re no different from any secular child care agency,” Spees told messengers. He added that it was the fact that Sunrise has shared the gospel with children, and operated under biblical values, that differentiates it from other agencies that care for Kentucky’s abused and neglected children and youth.
by Dannah Prather, KBC Marketing and Media Relations Associate