A plan for a fundamentalist takeover of Virginia's generally moderate Southern Baptist denomination has been discovered and given broad distribution by its opponents.

The fundamentalist plan, which involves the use of computers to maintain lists of where Baptist pastors stand on a variety of issues, is contained in a Sept. 11 letter from retired Air Force Gen. T.C. Pinckney of Alexandria.

That letter was intended for a select group of people already committed to the fundamentalist cause, "less than 100," said Pinckney, who said "I don't think I should give the actual number."

A copy of Pinckney's letter fell into the hands of the Rev. Fred Skaggs of Mechanicsville. He sent it, along with a fiery commentary, to 6,000 Baptist pastors and lay leaders throughout the state.

Skaggs called it "an alarming and astounding plot." Skaggs said the plan is evidence of "the cancer of politics that is beginning to eat away at the {Southern Baptist} Convention."

The letters come just before the state Southern Baptist convention, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in Williamsburg. Fundamentalists have already gained control of the 14.6 million-member national Southern Baptist denomination.

The Rev. William J. Cumbie, who heads the Mount Vernon Baptist Association of the 73 churches in Northern Virginia, speculated that Skaggs' widespread distribution of Pinckney's letter would swell attendance at next week's convention by moderates determined to beat back any takeover attempt.

In his letter, Pinckney solicited "your prayerful throughts about what {fundamentalists} should attempt to accomplish at the state convention . . . . "

Pinckney has no official position in the church but said he was only "being obedient to the Lord's call for me to do something."

His letter also asked for information on churches without pastors, so he can provide them with resumes of fundamentalist candidates for the vacancies. "Then the Holy Spirit will be able to work within the pulpit committee to guide them to the man He wishes," Pinckney wrote.

Each Baptist church selects its own pastor, often in consultation with the placement office of a denominational seminary or state convention, but the sending of unsolicited resumes from a group with an ideological ax to grind is frowned upon.

"We haven't had that kind of stuff in Virginia," said a denominational official in Richmond who asked not to be identified.

Pinckney's letter also said that he maintains a computerized list of every pastor in the Virginia Baptist Convention, categorized by "my best understanding of the position of each pastor relative to the controversy in our convention," he wrote. He sent each recipient a printout of the list of pastors in his local association, asking for "your help in correcting my computer files."

The categories were "votes with the conservatives," "votes against the conservatives" even though "he may be theologically conservative" and "unknown."

"Here I need the best judgment you can supply," Pinckney wrote in his letter.

He said that "with hard work we could get enough conservative delegates there to control the convention."

But he acknowledged that such a takeover "would not be easy" in the traditionally moderate Virginia convention, one of the four or five largest in the denomination.

Several state Baptist leaders said yesterday that Pinckney's efforts to fill empty Baptist pulpits with fundamentalists had been widely suspected, but that the Sept. 11 letter offered proof.

"I had been hearing about a takeover," said Skaggs, "but I refused to believe that evangelical good ol' boys . . . would lend themselves to such disruptive savaging of our denomination . . . . I refused to believe the character of this fundamentalist 'mean machine.' "

"Baptists have always lived by a sort of code of mutual trust," the Rev. Larry Mathews, pastor of the Vienna Baptist Church, said of the denomination's current blood-letting.

"It's kind of like the stock market; I don't think anybody thought that this could happen."