July 17, 2002
BOLIVAR – H.K. Neely must have seen a burning bush.
That is what the controversial former university administrator and vocal critic of the Southern Baptist Convention and Missouri Baptist Convention said it would take for him to accept the position of executive director of the new state convention, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri’s (BGCM).
The 68-year-old Neely reportedly told BGCM leaders in June that he needed "a burning bush experience" to confirm God’s call to the job. In the end, the former vice president for denominational relations at Southwest Baptist University (SBU) was the unanimous choice of the BGCM executive board for the job once believed destined for Jim Hill, the former MBC executive director who resigned. Hill stepped down — after negotiating a lucrative severance package – when he found himself at odds with the increasing number of conservative executive board members elected by MBC churches.
Hill, a supporter of the new convention, is now president and chief executive officer of Springfield-based RDI Consulting, a company that specializes in fundraising for non-profit organizations. Windermere Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Southwest Baptist University, Missouri Baptist Children’s Home and William Jewell College are among the clients listed by RDI in a promotional brochure.
Meanwhile, Neely began his new duties July 1.
"I am convinced we need to reaffirm our Baptist heritage," he told the moderate newspaper, Word & Way. He added that he is committed to "the idea of cooperation" which, he said, includes a denominational structure. He went on to predict that SBC leaders will change their minds and cooperate with the BGCM.
"I just like to feel that we will eventually be able to work with them the same way Virginia does and Texas does," he said.
Those states each have two conventions, but in both cases it was conservatives who started new conventions after moderates implemented confusing giving plans that SBC leaders regarded as undermining the Cooperative Program. Similar type plans, offering multiple giving options, have been peddled in recent years by disgruntled moderates, particularly those supporting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). They have popped in several states, including in Missouri where it is being embraced by the new convention that Neely will direct.
Neely’s optimism concerning the SBC’s view of the BGCM seems misplaced given the statements of SBC leaders on the matter.
"I cannot recommend the Southern Baptist Convention enter into a relationship with your proposed new Baptist state convention in Missouri whereby you would collect Cooperative Program gifts to forward to us," said Morris Chapman, SBC Executive Committee president and chief executive officer, in a Jan. 25 letter to Jim Hill.
"A state convention is to be in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the SBC," Chapman wrote, referencing a key principle of Southern Baptist cooperation. "The Missouri Baptist Convention remains our Cooperative Program collection agent for Baptist churches in Missouri. It continues to act faithfully in regard to promoting the ministries of the SBC among Baptists in Missouri and forwards Cooperative Program gifts for national and international causes exclusively to the SBC," Chapman wrote.
The leaders of the proposed "Baptist General Convention of Missouri, however, "hold sentiments I would be hard-pressed to interpret as in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the purposes and work of the SBC," he continued. "The SBC is not perfect nor should we be exempt from criticism and differing opinions. We are, however, generally pleased with our direction, our confession, our leaders, and our emphases. To allow a group that is so openly in disagreement with the SBC to collect our CP gifts from the churches implies some kind of endorsement of the group’s point of view. We do not wish to send mixed signals to the churches in Missouri, nor do we wish to harm the work of the Missouri Baptist Convention or the SBC." Chapman wrote.
Neely was one of three individuals who gave a "testimony" titled: "Why I would consider becoming a part of a new Baptist state convention," at a BGCM organizational meeting earlier this year. He caught the eye of conservatives in the state when he terminated Michael Knight, the theologically conservative pastor of First Baptist Church, Viburnum, as an adjunct professor at SBU’s Salem branch.
That led to further controversy when Robert Johnston, a moderate who pastors First Baptist Church, Rolla, was named Knight’s successor. Johnston, who serves on the board of Word & Way, led the effort as chairman of the board to make Word & Way’s board of trustees self-perpetuating. Johnston also serves on the board of Missouri Baptist College, where he also voted for that agency’s board to become self-perpetuating.
First Baptist Rolla was one of the original 20 churches represented at the November 17, 2001, meeting in Sedalia which called for the formation of the new convention and initiated the alternative giving plans through the Missouri Baptist Foundation, according to the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association.