PADUCAH, Ky. (BP)—Messengers to the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s annual meeting voted overwhelmingly Nov. 12 to convey a vote of no confidence in the president of Sunrise Children’s Services to the agency’s board of directors.
Tommy Tapscott, KBC second vice president and associate pastor of East Bernstadt Baptist Church, brought the “no confidence” motion in Bill Smithwick, Sunrise’s president. The vote follows weeks of controversy stemming from Smithwick’s recommendation to allow homosexual employees at the Baptist-affiliated child care agency.
Although Tapscott said he was “very pleased” with the Nov. 8 decision by Sunrise’s trustees against changing the agency’s hiring practices and commended them for standing up for “biblical and Baptist principles,” he added that “the disturbing part” for him was that the recommendation had been advanced by Sunrise’s president.
Tapscott said he was “very disappointed, very let down” and left “wondering if this leadership will stand for biblical convictions” shared by Baptists across Kentucky. “I have no confidence of that to be the case,” he stated.
And while a vote of no confidence may not have any bearing on Sunrise’s current board, Tapscott said he hopes it would serve as “a strong wakeup call.” The convention’s no confidence vote is non-binding in the sense that only Sunrise’s board of trustees can dismiss its CEO and president.
Robert Franklin, pastor of Main Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, and Luke Bray, pastor of Jeffersontown Baptist Church in Louisville, both opposed Tapscott’s motion.
Pointing to Sunrise trustees’ decision to sustain its hiring practices, Franklin maintained Kentucky Baptists could trust Sunrise’s board to guide Smithwick and requested that grace be extended. Meanwhile, Bray observed that, according to the book of James, the testament to true religion is not necessarily “toeing the line” on homosexual employment, but caring for widows and orphans.
Ron Shaw, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Somerset, spoke in favor of the no-confidence motion, reminding messengers that while caring for children is important, the main goal is to uphold the Gospel because that is what will deliver them. He challenged Kentucky Baptists to be personally involved in helping children who are hurting because of abuse and neglect and to share the Gospel with them.
Stan Spees, a member of the Sunrise board from Lone Oak First Baptist Church in Paducah, told messengers that Smithwick’s recommendation had divided Sunrise’s trustees more than any other issue raised during his six years on its board.
Spees, one of two trustees who first brought the board’s discussions of Sunrise’s hiring practices to light, recounted events over the past four months, emphasizing opportunities when Smithwick could have changed his course but, instead, persisted. Smithwick refused to meet with the KBC’s executive director and president, sought to remove a trustee who held dissenting views and removed the trustees’ contact information from the agency’s website, preventing Kentucky Baptists from communicating further with them, Spees charged.
“If all Smithwick wants to do is care for the children’s food, clothes, housing and medical care, that can be done by a secular agency,” Spees said, implying that what differentiates Sunrise from other child care agencies is its mission of sharing the Gospel with children and operating with biblical principles.
Smithwick, in his report to the convention earlier that day, told messengers, “I’m the same man that I was who stood before you the first convention and the same man that stood before you the last convention.
“My scriptural beliefs about homosexuality ... and about our command to take care of orphans and to love kids and to love one another have not changed,” Smithwick stated. “I remain the same.”
Explaining that a part of his responsibilities as president is to look “down the road” to see opportunities and threats that could help or hinder Sunrise in fulfilling its mission, Smithwick recounted how he had made Sunrise’s executive board aware of how an issue with the agency’s hiring practices, he believed, could pose “a substantial threat” to its ongoing ministry. “The full board has voted on what to do,” Smithwick said. “We will continue to do things just like we’ve done them.”
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