When burglars broke into the offices of a mortgage broker in nearby Marietta one weekend last month, cash and checks were left undisturbed.
All that was touched, according to Lee Roberts, company president and a lay leader in his church, was his file on an important committee he heads for the Southern Baptist Convention.
The caper was merely the latest example of the passions fueling a war between moderates and fundamentalists for control of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
The seven-year battle is expected to come to a head Tuesday as an expected 40,000 to 50,000 Baptist delegates elect a new president.
The election pits the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, a fundamentalist and former president, against the Rev. Winfred Moore, a moderate pastor from Amarillo, Tex. Moore garnered 45 percent of the votes last year running against the incumbent, the Rev. Charles F. Stanley, a popular fundamentalist radio preacher.
The Rev. Paige Patterson, a Dallas pastor and strategist for the fundamentalists, is calling this year's convention "the Second Battle of Atlanta."
A 22-member Peace Committee, established last year to try to reconcile the warring camps, today asked for another year to complete its work and urged a moratorium on political activities by fundamentalists and moderates to take some pressure off the committee.
"There is no question that a certain amount of legitimate diversity is good, healthy and wholesome," said the Rev. Charles Fuller of Roanoke, chairman of the committee. "But it is also obvious there is a limit to how far our diversity can stretch without deteriorating our fellowship."
Fuller predicted the resolution of such theological conflicts, as the literal accuracy of the Bible will prompt some members to leave the the world's largest Protestant denomination.
While individual Baptist churches are fiercely autonomous in local congregational matters, the president can wield great power nationally through appointments to a series of policy-making and personnel committees that ultimately control the institutions of the national church.
The national church's holdings are worth about $4 billion, including a huge publishing house and six theological seminaries. Also at stake in the election is control over the public stances of the church on a wide range of social issues. Already the church has moved to the right by successive convention votes favoring antiabortion legislation and prayer in the schools.
The fundamentalist faction first launched its carefully planned campaign to wrest control of the denomination from the moderates in 1979.
Moderates were outraged that year when the fundamentalists' chief strategist, Texas state appeals court Judge Paul Pressler, used a sky box high above the convention floor in Houston to deploy aides armed with walkie-talkies to capture the presidency for Rogers.
Since then, Rogers' three successors have come from the fundamentalist camp. Each has filled available openings on denominational boards and committees with conservative appointees.
If Rogers wins another election as president, both sides agree, fundamentalists will gain majorities on most of the church's committees in the next two years.
Fundamentalist victories in past elections have been attributed by many to their packing of the convention with instructed delegates. This year, with 70 percent of 14.4 million Southern Baptists within a day's drive of the convention site, moderates are again predicting a packed house.
The struggle between fundamentalists and moderates, largely over interpretation of the Bible, has evolved from annual battles on the convention floor to year-round guerrilla warfare throughout the denomination. Some fundamentalist leaders have offered cash awards -- dubbed "snitch prizes" by critics -- to seminary students who will report "unbiblical" comments made by their professors.
Each side has branded the other as heretical. Not long before his office was burglarized, Roberts, who chairs the convention's powerful Committee on Boards, told a gathering of pastors that some seminary professors teach "slop . . . false doctrine and destructive heresies."
After last year's tumultuous convention in Dallas, president Stanley appointed the Peace Commission to try to patch things up. So far, it has not made much headway, both sides agree.
But officials are still trying. The theme for this year's convention is "Love Never Fails."