LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Uncertainty over a short-lived proposal to open employment to gays at Kentucky’s largest private child care agency prompted many of its supportive churches to withhold giving last year, causing a multimillion-dollar shortfall.

Sunrise Children’s Services depends on giving from Baptist congregations in Kentucky, along with government funding. But Kentucky Baptist Convention executive director Paul Chitwood said those offerings dried up last year because donors were concerned that the proposal to allow gay workers might succeed.

The Sunrise board ultimately rejected the proposal introduced by Bill Smithwick, then CEO of Sunrise. But the flap left the agency that cares daily for about 600 children with a funding shortfall of about $7.5 million.

“Most of our churches decided not to take the annual offering for Sunrise because they feared that Smithwick was going to lead Sunrise away from” the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Chitwood said. The state convention, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and has about 2,400 member churches in Kentucky, is conservative on social issues and opposes gay marriage.

Chitwood and church leaders are hoping congregations statewide will be able to raise about $5 million during a drive in May to make up for the funding gap.

“Now we’re going back and asking them to make that up,” he said.

Sunrise Children’s Services, formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, has an annual $27 million budget and operates eight residential treatment centers around the state. The agency shelters abused and neglected children, and also offers psychiatric services. Its board is approved by the state Baptist convention and it has a covenant agreement that stipulates the agency “shall maintain its distinctive Baptist character.”

Smithwick was in his 16th year at the helm of Sunrise when he floated the proposal to open employment to gays. He had said he feared the agency’s ban would eventually lead to a loss of millions in government funding, meaning the agency would have to drastically scale back its budget, since most of its funding – Smithwick said 85 percent of about $27 million – comes from government sources.