WILLIAMSBURG, NOV. 11 -- Virginia Southern Baptists turned out in record numbers at their annual convention this week to fend off a possible takeover by fundamentalists, who already control the 14.6 million-member national Southern Baptist denomination.
During the two-day meeting here, which ended today, delegates elected the Rev. Neal T. Jones, pastor of the 3,189-member Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. Jones' election marked the first time since 1963 that a president has been elected by acclamation, according to retiring president Carl W. Johnson of Richmond.
Delegates called messengers also adopted resolutions attacking fundamentalists on a number of fronts:
They sided with a Memphis church that was kicked out of its local association last month for hiring a woman as a pastor. They rapped the knuckles of the fundamentalist-dominated Southern Baptist Convention's Public Affairs Committee for endorsing, in violation of Baptist tradition, the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork.
They expressed "grave concern" for actions last month by the fundamentalist-dominated trustees of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., that resulted in the resignations of the school's president and dean.
They strongly criticized the efforts of an Alexandria layman to extend fundamentalist controls in Virginia, efforts that many church leaders credited with the record attendance here.
More than 2,500 messengers -- the previous record was 1,796 -- turned out for what under normal circumstances would have been a routine annual meeting. Church leaders said the turnout was in reaction to the disclosure last week of a letter from an Alexandria layman to fellow fundamentalists detailing plans to capture the generally moderate Virginia Baptist association, which has 600,000 members.
In the letter, retired Air Force general T.C. Pinckney described his computer program that categorizes each of the state's 1,200 Baptist pastors according to their stance on the fundamentalist-moderate controversy that has wrenched the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
The letter, which was not intended to be made public, also disclosed a plan to provide churches without pastors with resumes of fundamentalist candidates.
The actions taken here were a "rejection, not of the philosophy but of the political tactics" of the fundamentalists, according to the Rev. William Cumbie, who heads the Mount Vernon Baptist Association, which comprises 73 churches in Northern Virginia.
The convention passed a resolution expressing "strong disfavor toward any actions which would seek to categorize pastors, staff members, churches or any other entity of Southern Baptist life in Virginia by theological position and voting stance."
The actions of the Virginia Baptists, who have a tradition of moderation and a century-long veneration of religious freedom, were less surprising than those taken by other state conventions also meeting this week.
In Georgia, moderates captured the state presidency from a fundamentalist who by tradition would have been reelected, and they recalled an editor who had quit because of fundamentalist censorship policies.
Moderates also won in North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
The current Baptist controversy began nine years ago over the issue of Biblical inerrancy, the belief by fundamentalists that everything in the Bible is literally true. Moderates see in the Bible allegory, myths and parables as well as spiritual guidance.