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  • Baptist board gives Lyons full support

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published July 18, 1997


    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons spoke for an hour to the board of directors of the National Baptist Convention USA, offering his explanations for a series of recent revelations about his finances and lifestyle.

    Then he asked the crowd of 200 if they had any questions.

    Silence.

    The directors made a unanimous pledge of confidence in their president and emerged from a downtown Nashville hotel ballroom to offer Lyons unqualified support.

    "We are standing behind him," said the Rev. Lundy Savage of Illinois.

    The meeting Thursday was the result of a promise last week by Lyons to give the directors of the 8.5-million member convention "a detailed report" that would answer questions raised about personal and financial issues.

    The report was made necessary after Lyons' wife, Deborah, was charged with arson when fires were set inside a $700,000 Tierra Verde home Lyons owns with Bernice Edwards. Edwards is a corporate affairs public relations specialist for the national Baptist group.

    When arrested, Deborah Lyons told deputies she was angry because she had found the deed to the home and believed her husband was having an affair with Edwards.

    Mrs. Lyons later said she was misunderstood by deputies and the fires were an accident. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Lyons and Edwards have denied anything other than a business relationship.

    Revelations about Edwards' past soon followed. She has a criminal conviction for embezzlement. Lyons, who listed himself as single on documents related to the house, once spent a year in a pretrial intervention program and paid $85,000 in restitution after he was investigated for federal bank fraud.

    Thursday, though, the board of directors of the National Baptist Convention unanimously adopted a resolution to accept Lyons' explanations of recent reports.

    "The media and others have raised questions about our president," Dr. Roscoe D. Cooper Jr., general secretary for the convention, told reporters after the meeting.

    "We have not raised questions about our president," he said. "Our confidence in our president has not been undermined."

    Most directors who attended the meeting refused to say how Lyons answered each of the questions raised by recent news accounts. Members of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist, Lyons' church in St. Petersburg, chose the same path a week ago after he spoke to them in a closed-door meeting.

    The one exception was Savage, who said Lyons flatly denied knowledge of a $925,000 Charlotte, N.C., estate that four people involved in negotiations said Lyons and Edwards had planned to buy. "He did not know anything about that," Savage said.

    Other delegates willing to address reporters gathered outside the ballroom would say only that they were pleased with Lyons' statement.

    "I am fully satisfied with what he said," said the Rev. Marshall Ezell of Mobile, Ala. "Everything was laid on the table."

    Lyons apparently was buoyed by the support.

    "His spirits are very high," said Grady Irvin, his attorney.

    The Rev. C. L. Fairchild of Waukegan, Ill., who chose not to attend the meeting, said Lyons should not get too comfortable.

    "I don't think he is secure," Fairchild said. "He is carrying too much baggage now. Again, I do not think it is his fault. I think it is our convention's fault. He hasn't taken anything. We gave it to him. I think that the way that the convention is structured, we encourage corruption."

    Fairchild said he thinks Lyons may "get some challenges in September" when the entire convention meets in Colorado.

    But those who gathered in Nashville went to great lengths to present a united front.

    "We really think that this whole thing has totally been blown out of proportion. Dr. Lyons has done absolutely, positively nothing illegal at all," said Irvin, Lyons' attorney. "The witch hunt has to end at some point. . . . We don't have to explain the house in Tierra Verde. We don't have to explain anything to the media."


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