By / May 10

A longstanding partnership between the Kentucky State Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Sunrise Children’s Services, one of the state’s oldest foster care providers, is in jeopardy of not being renewed after a months-long disagreement over language included in their annual contract. Sunrise Children’s Services, an institution of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, dates back to 1859, and their partnership with the state of Kentucky has been ongoing since the late 1970s. According to Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise, Sunrise Children’s Services “has helped the adoption of close to 600 children in state care become a reality over the last 15 years.”

What is the nature of the dispute?

As Todd Gray, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said last week, “the dispute comes down to a conflict over one sentence in the contract the state has refused to delete.” While declining to address the specific details of the contract, Suttles and Gray both insist that the aforementioned sentence is one that conflicts with the organization’s deeply held religious beliefs. 

Susan Dunlap, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, argued the agreement submitted to Sunrise is “an agreement required by federal law.” Adding to the confusion, the Courier-Journal, the paper of record in Kentucky, characterized the dispute with the misleading headline, “Baptist group refuses Kentucky state contract to provide care for abused, neglected kids.”

Why the dispute now?

In the relationship between the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Sunrise Children’s Services, there is a contract that must be reviewed and agreed upon by both parties on an annual basis. “In years past,” according to Gray, “an addendum or accommodation has been given (allowing for the exercise of Sunrise’s religious liberty), but that’s not the case in 2021.” After months of reaching out and attempting to discuss the contract with the cabinet, and arriving at no resolution, Gray stated that under these terms, “Sunrise cannot renew their contract with the state because of their deeply held religious beliefs.”

Without the addendum attached to the contract, as it has been in years past, Sunrise is unable to finalize the agreement. 

What are the consequences if no agreement is reached?

According to their website, Sunrise Children’s Services “provides care for close to 1,000 kids and family members throughout the state of Kentucky,” which includes foster care, therapeutic residential services, psychiatric residential treatment services, family services, and an independent living program for kids and families in crisis. If no agreement is reached, the commonwealth should “anticipate some degree of disruption” to its child welfare services, says Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. 

Though Suttles insists that Sunrise “won’t abandon Kentucky’s children,” it is undeniable that failure to reach an agreement with the cabinet will pose significant challenges to one of the state’s most valuable providers of children’s services and the children they serve. 

Where do things stand now?

While there are reports that Sunrise Children’s Services has refused the state contract or are “pulling out on the state,” Gray says that “nothing could be further from the truth. Sunrise would sign a contract today that respects their deeply held religious convictions.”

As it stands, the ball seems to be in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ court. If they are willing to adopt an addendum or accommodation, as they’ve done for so many years, that allows for the exercise of Sunrise Children’s Services religious liberty, Sunrise is adamant that they will promptly sign the agreement. But Suttles and Gray are adamant that Sunrise will not compromise their long-held religious convictions.

How does religious liberty factor in?

Religious freedom is a fundamental right. It is unconscionable that a government, which has for so long benefited from the services provided by Kentucky Baptists, discriminate against its citizens on the basis of their religion. No religious entity should be forced between the services they provide and the faith that motivates them to provide it. Kentucky’s children should not be used as pawns in the cabinet’s efforts to eliminate conscience protections for religious citizens in Kentucky.

Sunrise Children’s Services is a vital provider of care for children in crisis in Kentucky. The ERLC stands with Sunrise and Kentucky Baptists in this matter. And we urge the cabinet to make the necessary accommodations, actions that represent no material burden to Kentucky, to resolve this matter immediately. Child welfare is no place for the state to play games to advance pernicious social policy.

By / Nov 25

Like clockwork, lobbyists and interest groups annually release their policy agendas ahead of each new congressional term. These documents outline the goals an organization will seek to accomplish either through legislation or through administrative action in the coming years. The ERLC releases our own policy agenda each year to indicate the objectives we will pursue in Washington on behalf of Southern Baptists. While these documents are important, they are not guaranteed to secure any particular outcomes and are not typically met with much fanfare upon their release.

Even so, these documents serve a greater purpose than simply signaling an organization’s priorities. In most cases, such policy agendas give some level of insight into the future imagined by the organization. This is important because the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a far-left organization within the LGBT lobby, recently released an audacious policy agenda, which it intends to pursue in the 117th Congress upon Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

HRC’s “Blueprint for Positive Change

The document was unironically titled Blueprint for Positive Change 2020 and outlines significant steps to advance the aims of the sexual revolution at the expense of both religious freedom and the common good. As the HRC commented in a press release, the agenda “includes 85 individual policy recommendations, reaching across the federal government” and aspires to implement change in the United States and across the globe. Of the 85 policy recommendations, the HRC specifically highlighted the following aspirations in their press release:

  • Full-scale administrative implementation of Bostock v. Clayton County across all agencies enforcing civil rights statutes and provisions;
  • Establish an interagency working group to address anti-transgender violence;
  • Establish uniform data collection standards that fully incorporate the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity into federal surveys;
  • Establish an interagency working group to protect and support LGBTQ rights globally;
  • End discrimination against gay and bisexual blood donors;
  • Prohibit the practice of conversion therapy as a fraudulent business practice;
  • Rescind and replace regulations restricting coverage of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act; and
  • Eliminate discrimination against beneficiaries in charitable choice and faith-based initiatives.

These are merely highlights. But it is no exaggeration to say that from top to bottom, the proposals outlined by HRC pose serious challenges to religious liberty, a biblical understanding of human sexuality, and ultimately the common good of our society. One example not mentioned among the items bulleted above: HRC calls for the termination of the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits the distribution of federal foreign aid dollars to entities that support abortion. The fact that abortion is right now protected within the United States is shameful enough, but HRC calls for the incoming Biden administration to continue the practice observed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama before him of rescinding this policy and allowing funds from U.S. taxpayers to promote abortion in other countries.

Christian education

Particularly egregious is the HRC’s proposal to ensure “non-discrimination policies and science-based curriculum are not undermined by religious exemption to accreditation standards.” This is nothing but a thinly veiled attack on religious colleges and universities that refuse to bow the knee to the sexual revolution.

The document specifically targets the accreditation of such institutions. As HRC proposes, “The Department of Education should issue a regulation clarifying … [the] provision, which requires accreditation agencies to ‘respect the stated mission’ of religious institutions, does not require the accreditation of religious institutions that do not meet neutral accreditation standards including nondiscrimination policies and scientific curriculum requirements.” 

Commenting on the absolutely outrageous nature of this proposal, Albert Mohler stated, “the Human Rights Campaign summons the Biden administration to deny accreditation—or, at the very least, to facilitate the denial of accreditation—to Christian institutions, Christian colleges and universities, and, for that matter, any other religious institution or school that does not meet the demands of the LGBTQ orthodoxy. This would mean abandoning biblical standards for teaching, hiring, admissions, housing, and student life. It would mean that Christian schools are no longer Christian.”

Bostock v. Clayton County

As the ERLC noted this summer, “In a 6-3 ruling of a consolidated group of cases styled Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” With the legal expansion of Title VII, which applies to employment nondiscrimination law, HRC aims to press the implications of that ruling throughout all government entities. 

The exact implications of this are presently unclear, but as Justice Alito remarked in his dissenting opinion to Bostock, “the position that the Court now adopts will threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety.” HRC’s call to expand the scope of Bostock could require any organization that partners with the government in some form in order to provide services to their community to fully accept the demands of the sexual revolution. Such a decision would be disastrous not only for faith-based initiatives but also for the communities that these religious nonprofits serve. 

Contrary to the HRC’s contention, faith-based initiatives must be allowed to maintain the integrity of their religious identity, even when they partner with the government to serve their communities. 

Human sexuality

Another assault on religious liberty is found in the “prohibiting of conversion therapy as a fraudulent business practice.” Certain forms of conversion therapy, which are rarely if ever practiced anymore, are admittedly problematic. But the issues with such a ban are not about these troubling practices associated with specific forms of conversion therapy, but rather about the definition of “conversion therapy” itself. 

Every day numerous men and women seek the help of professional faith-based counselors due to confusion about or difficulty with their own sexual identities. The sweeping ban on conversion therapy endorsed by HRC would prohibit Christian counselors, who rightfully believe in the power of gospel to change a person’s life, from offering their services to those who seek their assistance. 

Obviously, the government cannot ban Christian conversion. The Spirit blows where he wishes (John 3:8). But HRC objects to practices it labels “conversion therapy” not because of any means but because of its end. The LGBT lobby rejects the validity of any approach that assumes that the gospel can lead to change and that sexual brokenness can be healed.

A better answer for human flourishing

It is difficult to imagine a presentation of gender and sexuality that is more at odds with the biblical understanding of these issues than that within the HRC’s blueprint. From its defense of a non-binary gender to the aim of normalizing all things LGBT, it is impossible to reconcile a Christian worldview with many of these policy initiatives.

Of course, Christians should always object to discrimination and to the mistreatment of any person. Where there has been genuine mistreatment of LGBT people, Christians should be the first to demonstrate love for them. However, love for LGBT people cannot include the affirmation of a lifestyle that is contrary to God’s will for His creation. Love does not ignore the truth, no matter who that truth may offend. 

Ultimately, the policies in the HRC document that promote the LGBTQ lifestyle will not result in more flourishing—neither for individuals nor society. Instead, they will result in restrictions on religious liberty and the promotion of sexual identities that are both contrary to God’s will and harmful to those who adopt them. 

For these reasons, Christians should reject many of the proposed policies in the HRC’s blueprint. And for the same reasons, the ERLC is committed to promoting better policies, which accord with the teachings of Scripture and the beliefs of Southern Baptists, to promote human flourishing and a better future for American citizens.

By / Nov 18

My wife, Alli, and I found our seats in a dimly lit conference room, awaiting the presentation to begin. We were giddy with excitement. This training was our first big step toward becoming foster parents. We had talked and prayed about it, but this was our moment to go public with our intent.

The trainer entered the room, connected her laptop to a projector and launched into her presentation. Over the next three long hours, the trainer lamented the challenges with the foster care system, expounded on the worst-case scenarios for families, and crassly described the average costs incurred by adoptive and foster families. Our energy sunk with each passing minute. What had felt monumental now felt lifeless.

Our foster care journey hit a major detour that night. We came into that training with fervor to serve our city’s most vulnerable children. We left uncertain about ourselves and about the system we hoped to work within.

The adoption organization hosting the training has noble ideals. It’s focused on helping vulnerable children find safe homes. But, this organization and its staff were not immersed and enlivened by these ideals. The result was a sterile, negative and patronizing culture that was passed on to those of us in the room.

This organization is a failing institution. It is an institution lacking a coherent vision. As a result, potential foster and adoptive families—and ultimately, our city’s vulnerable children, are suffering.

Philosopher Jamie Smith describes institutions simply as “spheres of action.” Author Andy Crouch suggests the Christian failure to understand the importance of institutions has hurt the church “more than most groups.” American Christians, Crouch says, are often more smitten by big personalities that lead short-lasting movements, rather than doing the often unglamorous work of building institutions that last.

What’s clear is the health of our society is built on the health of our institutions. Institutions shape us; from the God-given institutions like the church and the family to the institutions all around us—our schools, government agencies, recreation centers, businesses and nonprofits.

A few months after our deflating training experience, we signed up for an introductory training with Project 1:27. We walked into a church meeting room nervous about what we might hear. We held onto hope that foster care might be part of our story, but our confidence waned.

As soon as the trainer opened her mouth, though, we knew this session would be different. She shared vulnerably about her own calling to foster care. She described the joys and challenges of being an adoptive mom. She shared how God’s heart for children explodes off the pages of our Scriptures. And she prayed with us.

Just minutes into the training, Alli and I looked at one another, tears glistening in both of our eyes. This was what we were about. These were the reasons we wanted to open our hearts and home to vulnerable children.

Project 1:27 is an institution having a huge impact on families and children in Colorado and now across the country. It’s an organization that understands the magnitude of work to be done and accomplishes this work with passion and grace. Today, Project 1:27 is part of a network of churches, families and nonprofits that have helped to dramatically decrease the number of children awaiting loving homes in Colorado.

“Our God is a God to the fatherless by placing the lonely in families,” said Robert Gelinas, founder of Project 1:27. “The way God cares for the orphans of the world is by placing them in the empty room in our house, the extra seat in our minivans, the extra chair at our dinner table.”

When Gelinas, pastor at Colorado Community Church, began sharing the story of his story of adoption with his church, a movement began to grow. But he knew the movement would stop with sermons, and only with the people in his church, if he did not build an organization to sustain and grow the mission he cared so deeply about.

And so he planted an institution, a “sphere of action,” that would inspire and train families from churches across the country on how to navigate the complex foster care system of government agencies, social workers and legal systems. To do the important work of finding safe homes for vulnerable children, Gelinas looked longterm. He built an institution.

That night with Project 1:27—a remarkable institution—accelerated and enlivened our foster care journey. That journey took another significant step forward just this month, when we welcomed two sweet sisters into our home for a short-term foster care placement.

Institutions reinforce or repudiate our values. They develop or diminish the dignity of people living in our society. They can impair or allow us to accomplish more together than we could ever do alone. The sickness of one adoption agency almost stifled us, while the health of another led us to inviting two scared little girls into our home. And, because of Project 1:27, we’re confident we’re only just getting started.