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Smithwick resigns as Sunrise president

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — The president of Sunrise Children’s Services, Bill Smithwick, has resigned amid disapproval from Kentucky Baptists over his support for allowing homosexual employees at the state convention-affiliated child care agency.

A statement from Sunrise’s board of directors said Smithwick, after serving “effectively and sacrificially” for 16 years, “has recognized the need for new leadership.”

Smithwick’s resignation follows an overwhelming vote of no confidence in his leadership by messengers to the annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention in November. Smithwick had recommended changing Sunrise’s hiring practices to allow homosexual employees.

Sunrise’s trustees rejected Smithwick’s recommendation after at least two trustees shared their concerns with state convention leaders, bringing the board’s discussions in August of the agency’s hiring practices to light.

In addition to a vote of no confidence in Smithwick’s leadership, convention messengers voted to replace a slate of six nominees for Sunrise’s 24-member board and filled five other vacancies created by resignations from the board.

“The board of directors has accepted [Smithwick’s] resignation with deep appreciation for his service,” the board’s statement said.

Smithwick reportedly had been on administrative leave. Meanwhile, Sunrise’s chief financial officer, Brandi Felser, also has stepped down.

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, told Louisville’s WDRB-TV, following Smithwick’s resignation Dec. 17, “We appreciate so much his faithful service to the children and to Sunrise over 16 years and wish him all the best as he moves forward.”

Smithwick reportedly proposed the change in hiring practices as a preemptive action to sustain Sunrise’s government funding.

“Sunrise provides a service. We care for children on behalf of the state. And the state needs us in that role,” Chitwood told WDRB. “For all I can tell, the state is grateful for the job that we’re doing. And we hope that partnership can continue.”

Trustees appointed Dale Suttles, a regional development director, as Sunrise’s interim president. Suttles was introduced to members of the KBC Mission Board Dec. 10.

Suttles told the Mission Board he believes Sunrise’s employees could get where they wanted to go if they went “hand in hand” with Kentucky Baptists.

“We are going to come back bigger and stronger than ever,” Suttles said of the agency. “But we can’t do it without [Kentucky Baptists], and we won’t do it without [the Mission Board].”

In a Dec. 9 letter to pastors, Sunrise board chairman William Hurley sought to reassure Kentucky Baptists.

“We will not knowingly expose any child in Sunrise’s care to un-biblical influences,” Hurley wrote. “We dare not do anything to lead any of these little ones astray.

“We as a board have asked and are continuing to ask God for His wisdom and discernment in all Sunrise business affairs, to sustain us and to sustain the children in our care,” Hurley wrote.

In a statement to the Western Recorder, Chitwood said the Sunrise board “is fully committed to operating according to biblical values for the sake of the children Sunrise serves and the churches and individual donors that lend their support.”

A search committee for the agency’s new president is expected to be named by Sunrise’s board chairman soon.
Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder (www.westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.