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The Rev. Henry Lyons


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  • A Times Editorial

    A question Lyons hasn't answered

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 7, 1997

    The Rev. Henry J. Lyons keeps insisting that he hasn't been carrying on an affair with his friend and business associate Bernice Edwards, but that question really is none of the public's business. Meanwhile, Lyons still hasn't addressed the question that does concern the public, particularly the 8.5-million members of the National Baptist Convention USA: Have Lyons and Edwards misused convention funds to subsidize the luxurious lifestyle they have maintained together?

    Lyons, the National Baptist Convention's president, told his congregation at St. Petersburg's Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church on Sunday that he has decided to cut all business ties with Edwards, a convicted embezzler. Lyons also said he plans to take some time off for "rest and reflection."

    Edwards, hired by Lyons to serve as the convention's director of public relations, already has been in seclusion for a month, since Lyons' wife, Deborah, set fire to the Tierra Verde house Edwards co-owns with Lyons and caused their relationship to become a matter of public concern. Edwards might want to pop her head above ground long enough to check Lyons' latest maneuverings, because they look like the first steps toward trying to blame Edwards for all of Lyons' problems.

    It won't work. Lyons was well aware that Edwards was a convicted embezzler before he ever decided to give her an important job in the Baptist organization, before they ever decided to buy the house in Tierra Verde or a time share in a luxury condominium at Lake Tahoe, before they decided to open a joint checking account, before they decided to buy a $135,000 Mercedes-Benz. In fact, an attorney for Edwards told the judge who presided over her embezzlement case that "the National Baptist Convention has advanced funds" to pay for Edwards' court-ordered restitution.

    Cutting off his relationship with Edwards now that it has come to light is all well and good, but Lyons still owes the Baptist convention an explanation of how he came to put himself and his church in such a position in the first place. At some point, Lyons will have to try to explain himself to prosecutors. According to documents released earlier this week, the state attorney's office has begun a broad investigation of the National Baptist Convention's finances, including records from a local bank at which Lyons has maintained a convention account that other convention officials had never heard of.

    Rest and reflection may persuade Lyons to explain himself voluntarily, before authorities compel him to. Lyons might also want to tell some of his supporters to rest and reflect before trying to give him any further "help." For example, the Rev. Wilkins Garrett, pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, who calls himself Lyons' best friend, did his friend no favor when he addressed rumors that Lyons and Edwards were having an affair.

    "Now (Lyons) might have a mistress," Garrett told the Times, "but not (Edwards). She's too damn ugly."

    That crass statement is proof that Lyons isn't the only local minister who has embarrassed a congregation that deserves better.

      ©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.