The Rev. Charles Stanley, a fundamentalist, won more than 55 percent of the vote today and a second one-year term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thwarting a "holy war" by moderates to recapture control of the 14.3 million-member denomination.
The election, partly a debate about orthodoxy and partly a leadership struggle, attracted more than twice the previous record number of "messengers" (voting delegates) to what many Baptists called the most critical convention in the denomination's modern history.
Stanley, 52, of Atlanta, a popular television evangelist and former vice president of the Moral Majority, defeated the Rev. W. Winfred Moore, 65, of Amarillo by 24,453 to 19,795 votes.
Stanley retains control of a $130 million annual budget, and appointive power to boards of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions and seminaries remains in the hands of the fundamentalist faction that has held the presidency since 1979.
Both men sounded conciliatory after the balloting and predicted a healing process. The messengers strongly signaled their desire for an end to strife when, by a 2-to-1 margin, they elected Moore rather than a fundamentalist incumbent as first vice president.
Moore had been nominated unexpectedly after announcement of the presidential results. He said he agreed to be a vice-presidential candidate only because he mistakenly assumed that Stanley had engineered the nomination.
"I have no reason to think he and I can't get along okay," Stanley said. He declined, however, a commitment to assuage moderates through such steps as power-sharing on appointments.
The number of fundamentalists among Southern Baptists has been increasing for nearly a decade, as have those within religious groups worldwide. In taking control of the SBC, fundamentalists said that, although membership had increased, baptisms had declined and the Bible was no longer interpreted strictly in Baptist churches, seminaries and college religion departments.
This year's campaign was billed as the uprising of the moderates, who expressed concern that, through appointment power over boards and commissions having staggered terms of membership, fundamentalists could institutionalize their orthodoxy throughout the church bureaucracy.
Southern Baptists, the nation's largest Protestant denomination and one of the most conservative, believe that a person can be saved and baptized only upon making an adult commitment to God.
Baptists have a rich history of warring among themselves -- the SBC was formed 140 years ago in a split with northern brethren over slavery -- and this year's campaign was unusually bitter.
Many members attending their first convention said they were pained by the harsh exchanges, and some said they interpreted the vote for Stanley as a desire to quiet the controvery as much as to endorse his policies. No incumbent president has been voted down, and few have been challenged.
In an address before the vote, Stanley reminded messengers that "we oftentimes have not been kind to one another" and warned that extensive worldwide missionary work would suffer if the denomination could not resolve conflicts in a spirit of "forgiveness and love."
"The world is not looking to see if all Baptists agree, they're looking to see how we disagree," said Stanley, who led the packed convention hall in a silent minute of confession and repentance.
Such gestures of reconciliation contrasted with rallying cries in a theological dispute whose roots are ancient and whose passions show no immediate sign of cooling.
The debate involves those who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, including miracles described in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, and those who believe that the faith's hallmark is an individual's freedom to interpret scripture.
Moderates voice fear that fundamentalists are trying to impose a strict creed and turn their denomination into a hierarchy like that of the Roman Catholic Church. Fundamentalists say "creeping liberalism" has been the death of great religions and will destroy Southern Baptists if not checked.
In a fiery address Monday evening, the Rev. W.A. Criswell of Dallas, father of today's fundamentalist movement, warned of the "curse, the rot, the virus, the corruption" of the "higher critical approach" that permits questioning of biblical details. He said such theology attaches itself "like a parasite to institutions already built" and produces a "dead sect."
Historian David O. Beale of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., who is thought to be more conservative than the main fundamentalist faction, called for a "purge" of liberals from Baptist seminaries. "The Bible does not teach parity," he said. "It teaches purity."
While most attention at the three-day convention has been riveted on the presidential contest, Baptists are expected to consider another controversial issue -- the role of women in the denomination.