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The Rev. Henry Lyons


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  • As the disgrace mounted, they all just said amen


    ©St. Petersburg Times, published July 12, 1997

    Instead, they sat and listened to Henry Lyons claim to be a loyal family man, persecuted by the media because he's black and financially successful.

    They knew better, that flock of sheep he marched into the church for something he had billed as a news conference Friday. They knew better.

    But they sat there. They applauded.

    They said amen.

    They should be as ashamed as the man who stood before them. And there is no question that he should be ashamed. If there is any shred of humanity, of compassion -- any of the Christian values that made him choose the ministry in the first place -- left in him, he should be ashamed.

    If he feels any duty to the ancestors who struggled and died to make it possible for him to rise high enough to matter to mayors and presidents, he should feel ashamed.

    He should feel ashamed, because instead of repenting for abusing the legacy of his ancestors, disrespecting his religion, his congregation and his community, he spat in their faces.

    He said all the allegations swirling around him since his wife started a fire in a sprawling home owned by him and another woman are creations of the media, perpetrated because he is black and black people don't own the media.

    And the people in the church said amen.

    I hope they were in his amen corner because they know that black people have been persecuted because they were successful. I hope they were saying amen in that historical context.

    Henry Lyons doesn't fit that context. The media is not persecuting Henry Lyons because of his money. The media isn't trying to bring Henry Lyons down because he is a black man with power.

    Henry Lyons did that to himself. He was dumb enough, or cocky enough, or so contemptuous of what people thought of him that he left a paper trail of public documents that paint him as a man who lived not for his church, his convention or even his God, but for himself, sometimes living left of the law.

    No reporter told him to hire a convicted embezzler and then buy a $700,000 home with her. Nobody at the St. Petersburg Times told him to lie about his marital status on the mortgage documents. No Times reporter told his wife to set a fire in that home and tell sheriff's investigators that she was upset by his lack of faithfulness.

    The people sitting in that church Friday know that. His congregation knows that. Half the community knows that.

    Still many of them sat there and applauded and said amen.

    This man has brought discredit to the illustrious history of their church, and they said amen.

    This man has diminished the prestige of the Baptist convention he headed. And they said amen.

    This man belittled the experience of every black man who really suffers an injustice because of his color, and they said amen.

    This man pressed every hot button he could get his desperate fingers on, and a following rewarded him.

    Amen, they said. Over and over.

    Perhaps they responded out of habit. Congregations do that for their preachers. It becomes almost automatic.

    Maybe that explains how Lyons ended up where he did Friday, standing in front of a bunch of microphones and cameras trying to explain allegations of immorality that keep piling up against him.

    People continuously said amen to his lame excuses and he never had to account for his actions. So those actions became increasingly brazen, until his wife was driven to set a fire.

    None of that had anything to do with the media or him being black and persecuted.

    It had everything to do with him being something other than a man of God -- and with a congregation that knew that, but kept saying amen.

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