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Connecticut Baptist leaders protest Lyons

By MONICA DAVEY

©St. Petersburg Times, published December 17, 1997


The Connecticut branch of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. announced Tuesday it will withhold contributions to the organization as long as the Rev. Henry J. Lyons is president.

"We're giving no more financial support until Lyons steps aside," said the Rev. Robert Perry, vice president of the Connecticut Missionary Baptist Convention and pastor of Union Baptist Church in Stamford. "We're encouraging other conventions to do the same."

Twenty-five ministers, representing about 50 Baptist churches, reached the decision with little debate Monday night during a specially called meeting in Milford.

The pastors faxed their statement to Lyons on Tuesday: "The moral integrity of the National Baptist Convention is at stake in this crucial hour in history. . . . As a result of his admitted lack of good judgment and the overall appearance of impropriety, the Baptist pastors of the state of Connecticut go on record as standing on the side of right."

Lyons could not be reached for comment Tuesday at his church, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist in St. Petersburg.

State and federal officials are investigating Lyons' financial dealings, including the purchase of a $700,000 waterfront house with funds from a Baptist account and corporate deals in which Lyons and two other convention officials received as much as 75 percent of the money generated.

"Everyone is deeply grieving over the state of our convention," Perry said. "We felt as though we had to make a bold step, at least register our dissatisfaction."

The debate among the ministers was not over whether to criticize Lyons' behavior, Perry said, but about how to "keep the language palatable."

The Connecticut pastors' withholding of money could mean a loss of $100,000 in contributions for the convention during the next year, the pastors estimated.

Lyons, meanwhile, is continuing his appeals for money to solve the convention's shaky finances. In a Nov. 26 letter to convention members, Lyons called for help for the group's "immediate needs": the mortgage payment on the headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., damages to the convention's college in Nashville and a non-specific "serious financial setback" of one of the convention's branches, the Sunday School Publishing Board.


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