The long-standing theological fight between moderates and conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention has split the state organization of Baptists in Virginia.

After an official vote Monday, there are now two state conventions in Virginia: the Baptist General Association of Virginia, which is dominated by moderates, and the new Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. The latter group, which formed three years ago, decided at its annual meeting to split from the 173-year-old Baptist General Association of Virginia and create its own convention.

The move is unprecedented in the 151-year history of the 15.6 million-member Southern Baptist Convention.

"We just began to sense that there was a falling away from the Southern Baptist Convention on the part of, unfortunately, some Virginia Baptists," Bob Melvin, outgoing president of the conservative group, told Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. "We just sensed there was no place for us there."

Among the concerns of conservatives was the decision by the Baptist General Association of Virginia to permit its churches to withhold donations to the national denomination and instead give money to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate Southern Baptist group based in Atlanta.

Reginald McDonough, executive director of the moderate-led group, disagreed with those who say conservatives were not fairly represented. "Some of us have worked very hard in Virginia to be inclusive and allow the widest possible participation," McDonough told the Associated Baptist Press, an independent news service.

Conservative Southern Baptists believe that the Bible is without error, while some moderates think portions of the Bible are open to interpretation.

Bill Merrell, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said in a statement that the national denomination relates directly to individual churches and does not exercise authority over other Baptist bodies, including state conventions. --