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The Rev. Henry Lyons



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A Times Editorial

How low can Lyons go?

©St. Petersburg Times, published September 13, 1997

Every time the story of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons' hypocrisy seems to have hit rock bottom, another revelation comes along to plumb new depths.

Mouthpieces for Lyons now find themselves scrambling to explain the repugnant news that Lyons diverted thousands of dollars in charitable contributions intended to help rebuild African-American churches destroyed by fire. As usual, the explanations are far-fetched and contradictory. But the bottom line is this: Despite Lyons' written assurance that $210,000 in contributions had been distributed to six destroyed churches, most of that money is unaccounted for. The Anti-Defamation League, which made the national plea for aid and then asked Lyons to help disburse the money, naturally wants some straight answers. Given Lyons' track record, ADL officials may be in for a long wait.

Lyons' attorney Grady Irvin told the Times that the ADL's contributions have been sitting in a convention bank account. He told the Tampa Tribune that some of the money was used (without the ADL's knowledge) to pay for "emergency situations" at unspecified black colleges supported by the convention. He told both newspapers that the letter bearing Lyons' signature, which falsely assured the ADL that $210,000 had been distributed to needy black churches, was a "draft" that should not have been mailed. If matters hold true to form, Lyons and his apologists will refine these excuses in the days to come. And of course -- now that the discrepancy has been revealed -- they promise to see to it that the ADL contribution is properly distributed.

This episode is only the latest of several in which Lyons -- sometimes with the assistance of white accomplices -- has made needy African-American church people the victims of his schemes. Yet Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention, has cynically maintained the support of many of those victims by portraying himself as the target of a massive racist conspiracy.

Many people, black and white alike, resort to playing the race card when they find themselves in trouble. But no one has ever bent, folded and mutilated the race card more thoroughly than Lyons.

Who suffered when Lyons and his women friends bought houses, cars, jewelry and other extravagances with money that should have gone into church coffers? Who suffers when reputable congregations cut off contributions to the National Baptist Convention out of fear that the money will be misused? Who will suffer when outside organizations withhold future contributions to worthy African-American causes after learning of the ADL's experience? And who profited when Lyons cut a deal with a white-owned Canadian funeral home operation to funnel off business that previously went to black morticians with longstanding ties to the convention?

Lyons, who victimized African-American people of faith while building his influence and wealth in the predominantly white world, has a lot of gall blaming racism for his current problems. But then, we have seen in recent weeks that Lyons has a lot of gall, period. Once you reach the point of diverting money that was supposed to be used to rebuild burned-down black churches, you have sunk to depths most people can't imagine.

And, as the revelations keep coming, we still can't be certain that we know just how low Lyons will go.

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