The executive committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention last week overruled the convention's annual meeting and dismissed the longtime editor of its weekly newspaper by a vote of 57 to 54.

The vote was taken during an unprecedented closed executive session of the 120-member body in Atlanta Dec. 15, less than a month after the full convention had gone on record asking Jack U. Harwell to reconsider his decision to take early retirement.

Harwell, 55, has edited the Christian Index for 21 years.

The theological moderate announced in late October that he would take early retirement because a review board, established by the state convention in 1986, threatened his editorial freedom and integrity.

But the moderate-dominated annual convention last month dismissed the review board and asked Harwell to stay.

The Rev. Gene Tyre of Newnan, chairman of the executive committee, said he did not consider the convention's action to be a mandate to the executive committee.

The Rev. Billy Smith of Albany, chairman of the Index board, said that although the convention had authority to abolish the review board, it could not instruct the executive committee on personnel matters.

The executive committee's vote was denounced as "arrogant and inappropriate" by the Rev. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University, who has also been a target of Georgia fundamentalists.

He said it was "inconceivable that a committee of the convention would reject the will of the whole convention."

Harwell said he was "truly sorry" about the vote "because I wanted to stay and thought the convention wanted me to stay, but I have to honor the vote of the committee. They are my employers."

The editor will retire Dec. 31 with benefits, including a year's salary, ownership of the Index car and medical insurance, but he will not be eligible for pension payments until he is 65. He said he is considering several job offers.