The Rev. Henry Lyons
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Assets raise questions about source of money
By MIKE WILSON
©St. Petersburg Times, published July 9, 1997
He has five cars, including two Mercedes-Benzes and a Rolls-Royce.
There's also a 23-foot pleasure boat.
As allegations of turmoil in Lyons' personal life became known this week, a puzzling question emerged: How does a minister, the head of the nation's biggest black church group, finance such an opulent lifestyle?
It remained unclear Tuesday exactly how much money Lyons receives as minister of his church in St. Petersburg or as president of the 8.5-million-member National Baptist Convention USA Inc.
The Rev. F. Brannan Jackson, a board member of the national Baptist group, said he has no idea how Lyons might have paid for the cars or the homes. But Jackson was certain of Lyons' power within the group, his almost unquestioned authority.
"In the Baptist church the president is the man," said Jackson, of Gary, Ind. "He's the lead man in our convention. That's the way it is. It's just like in the Catholic church -- the pope is the man. . . . In our church, the president of the National Baptist Convention is the pope."
Was it possible that the convention bought a $700,000 house in Tierra Verde without Jackson knowing it? Yes, he said.
"The convention owns a lot of things. And I can't sit here and tell you I know all about them," he said. "I've got my hands full here in Indiana."
"I'm sure that if you call members of the board, there are many things they don't know."
Lyons, elected president of the convention in a hotly contested race in 1994, receives no salary for his role, said the Rev. Samuel Austin of Brooklyn, president of convention's religious education arm.
Instead, the convention reimburses him for all expenses, including those for living, travel and clothes. "When you get everything you need," said Austin, "why do you need a salary?"
Asked where Lyons might have gotten the money to buy two expensive homes, Austin said, "That's something I really couldn't help you with because I don't know."
It is fund raising, in fact, on behalf of the Baptist convention that convention officials cite as one of Lyons' greatest achievements. Lyons, who is in his first five-year term, comes up for re-election in 1999.
"He's given more money to black colleges than the previous administrations did in over 50 years, and he did that in just three years," Austin said.
Among schools receiving money from the convention are National Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn., and Virginia Union College.
Lyons' predecessor built the Baptist World Center in Nashville. Then-president T.J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, La., took out a $7-million loan from Third National Bank in 1988 to build the center, which has office space, a sanctuary with room for 2,000, a bookstore and other facilities.
"Dr. Lyons picked up that big debt and he paid it down," Austin said. When he took over they owed about $6-million; now the debt is closer to $4-million.
"He's had a heavy load on him," he said. "When he took over there was nothing in the treasury."
Back in St. Petersburg, as pastor of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, Lyons likely earns a "a good livable salary," Austin said, although exact figures were unavailable.
Lyons also is the president, chief executive officer and board member of Revelation Corp. of America, a for-profit company that seeks to build economic strength in minority communities by selling items like auto insurance, life insurance, sausage and motor oil from companies with which it has agreements.
Lyons is not compensated for this, that group's founder said. Though the Baptist convention holds stock in the company, Lyons holds none. Revelation does not cover his expenses to attend board meetings.
Asked about his finances, Lyons declined to comment Tuesday from Nigeria.
A day earlier, his wife, Deborah, was taken aback by a reporter's questions about money. "My husband works every day; he works hard."
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