RICHMOND -- A former religion professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has been elected president of the Baptist Theological Seminary, a new school being established here by moderates in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The selection of the Rev. Thomas H. Graves of Charlotte, N.C., was announced Monday at a news conference at Northminster Baptist Church here, which will be the site of the seminary.

Graves, 43, holds degrees from Vanderbilt University in Nashville; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville; and Yale University in New Haven, Conn. He was a professor of philosophy of religion at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., from 1979 to 1987, when he became pastor of St. John's Baptist Church in Charlotte.

In describing the need for the new seminary, Graves maintained that "with the imposition of fundamentalist documents as guidelines for teaching in our schools and employment in our denominational agencies, all resemblance between Southern Baptist life and traditional Baptist ideals has been lost."

According to the new seminary president, "we can no longer trust our denomination to keep alive our Baptist ideals. That can only be done with new institutions that are based not on a narrow creedalism, but on an appreciation for the key Baptist distinctive of Christian freedom."

Trustees have delayed the seminary's opening, which was originally scheduled for last fall, because they have not raised enough money. Graves noted that in accepting the presidency, "I do not go with a guaranteed future; this could fail." But, he said, "it will not fail for my refusal to share in its dream."

When it opens, the seminary will be part of the Richmond Theological Center, a group that includes Union Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian School of Christian Education and the Virginia Union University School of Theology.