Sunrise Children’s Services, which shelters and feeds more than 2,000 abused and neglected children every year, is facing a $7 million budget shortfall caused by the Kentucky Baptist Convention in order to prevent Sunrise from hiring gay people.
The trouble started last year, when Sunrise’s then-president and CEO, Bill Smithwick, suggested that the group end its ban on hiring gay people. Smithwick reasoned that, with LGBT nondiscrimination legislation on the horizon, Sunrise’s anti-gay policies could cause the charity to lose its taxpayer funding, which accounts for about 85 percent of its operating budget. Kentucky’s Baptist community, however, wasn’t so enthusiastic. As soon as Smithwick introduced the proposal, the Kentucky Baptist Convention encouraged its affiliates to blacklist Sunrise until it abandoned its proposed nondiscrimination policy. Church donors across the state immediately began withholding their usual contributions, refusing to donate a penny to an organization that might hire openly gay people.
Smithwick’s fall from grace was swift and brutal. The Sunrise board quickly voted down his proposal, and soon after, the Kentucky Baptist Convention as a whole passed a vote of no-confidence in Smithwick. This vote—really a public shaming—essentially forced Smithwick to resign. Only after his resignation did the convention agree to allow its affiliate churches to donate to the children’s charity once again. But that period on the Baptist blacklist may have damaged Sunrise’s budget beyond repair.