Southern Baptist moderates turned out in record numbers at state conventions last week for a show of strength that may signal a turning point in the long, bitter battle with fundamentalists for control of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Such Baptist strongholds as Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Louisiana -- part of "the Big Ten of the Southern Baptist Convention," according to North Carolina Baptist editor R.G. Puckett -- elected moderates to head the state organizations. In addition, those and other state assemblies easily passed resolutions sharply criticizing fundamentalists' tactics.

"I think it is a turnaround" of the fundamentalists' march toward control that began in 1979, said Walker Knight, editor of the unofficial moderate monthly, SBC Today, in Decatur, Ga. "I think the fundamentalists have overplayed their hand and it has energized the moderates."

Top fundamentalist leaders either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment.

In seven years, fundamentalists have gained control of the national machinery of the Southern Baptist Convention. But moderates apparently grew increasingly wary of efforts to consolidate that control at local levels.

Moderates' hackles were raised by several developments:A fundamentalist-dominated board of trustees of Southeastern Theological Baptist Seminary in North Carolina decreed that ideology -- belief in biblical inerrancy -- would be more important than scholarship or teaching ability in selecting faculty for the graduate-level institution. The school's president, T. Randall Lolley, resigned in protest.

However, the Rev. Robert Crowley of Rockville, Md., a fundamentalist and the new president of Southeastern Seminaries Board of Trustees, which meets Tuesday to begin selecting a successor to Lolley, said, "I really don't think that {the moderate upsurge} has anything to do with" the trustees' consideration of candidates. The Home Missions Board announced it would refuse financial aid to any church hiring a woman pastor. The board, one of the largest units in the denomination, also ruled out employing divorced persons for any job and required every staff member to sign a form of ecclesiastical loyalty oath.

Under the no-divorce rule, an Oklahoma church fired its pastor, who had earlier been honored for the large number of converts he brought in, because he had been divorced and remarried more than a decade earlier. A recently established Southern Baptist Political Affairs Committee recommended that the denomination withdraw funding from the multidenominational Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. The separatist PAC also endorsed the nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, contrary to church policy against endorsing political candidates. The Shelby County, Tenn., Baptist association, in which national SBC President Adrian Rogers is the most prominent member, expelled Prescott Memorial Church in Memphis for hiring a woman as pastor. An Alexandria, Va., layman, retired Air Force general T.C. Pinckney, wrote fundamentalist sympathizers about plans to extend that faction's influence in the state by flooding pastorless churches with resumes of fundamentalist candidates. He also solicited information for his computerized list of the 1,200 Baptist pastors in the state, categorizing them according to ideological stance.

But the letter was leaked to moderates, one of whom sent copies to every pastor in Virginia shortly before the state convention last week in Williamsburg.

A total of 2,522 messengers, as delegates are called, turned out for the convention -- more than 700 more than the previous attendance record. They elected by acclamation a moderate, the Rev. Neal Jones of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church.

And they adopted half a dozen resolutions favored by the moderates, including a condemnation of Pinckney's tactics.

"I know one pastor who read the letter from the pulpit and when he finished, 10 people stood up to volunteer to serve as messengers" to the state convention, said the Rev. Charles Nunn Jr., executive director of the Richmond association.

"Some of us are old enough to remember the McCarthy era, and we're not going to stand for that sort of thing happening in our churches," he said.

In Georgia, a record 4,700 messengers rejected the fundamentalist incumbent president, the Rev. Clark Hutchinson of Marietta, after only one year of the traditional two-year term, and replaced him with the Rev. James Pitts of Valdosta, a self-described moderate.

A month before this year's convention, a prominent fundamentalist layman, Lee Roberts, attacked what he called the moral and spiritual laxity at Baptist-related Mercer University in Macon, Ga.

In a 16-page letter sent to every Baptist pastor in the state and the parents of every Mercer student, Roberts, a mortgage broker, decried "debauchery and lewdness" at the school and accused Mercer's president, R. Kirby Godsey, of heresy.

Instead of cutting off the Georgia convention's annual allocation of $2 million to the school, as Roberts had asked, the moderate-dominated convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution censuring Roberts' tactics. And they gave Godsey time at the convention to rebut Roberts' charges.

The convention also abolished the fundamentalist-dominated review board for the Christian Index, the convention newspaper. The board had forced the retirement last month of Jack Harwell, editor for 21 years. Harwell is expected to return to his post.

Church leaders credit the extraordinary attendance of moderates at this year's convention to the controversy stirred by Roberts. "Some {moderates} in Georgia are ready to give Lee Roberts an award for getting out the vote," said Knight.

In North Carolina, where the changes at Southeastern are felt most keenly, a record 5,638 messengers -- 1,500 more than last year -- gathered to elect a moderate, the Rev. E. Leon Smith, president by 62 percent.

Tennessee, where the presence of the fundamentalist SBC president, Rogers, normally carries a strong influence, soundly defeated a resolution that would have endorsed the Shelby County association's ouster of Prescott Church and its woman pastor.

The surge in attendance at state conventions last week has come largely from lay church members. Moderate leaders say they hope that the momentum will carry over to produce a large representation at next year's national convention in San Antonio.

"Everybody's talking San Antonio," said Puckett of North Carolina. "We're going to fight the battle of the Alamo again, and this time the Americans are going to win."