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The Rev. Henry Lyons


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  • For the church's sake, Rev. Lyons must face reality


    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 9, 1997

    In increments that come almost daily, unholy pieces of Henry Lyons' second life keep turning up.

    Stuck to each piece, and getting dragged through the same dirt, are innocent bystanders who may never be able to wipe themselves completely clean.

    With each installment, Lyons is identified as president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., as head of the largest black church group in the country, as leader of the largest black organization, period, in the country.

    In those same stories, he is also identified as a man who apparently diverted money from that organization for his personal use and for the use of women other than his wife. In those seemingly endless stories, he is identified as a man who apparently betrayed the trust of his congregation, constituents, his wife and family.

    Those stories also identify him as reverend and doctor.

    All of these elements come together with a resounding crash: There is disharmony when a reverend puts self and money ahead of everything else. There is disharmony when a doctor fails to weigh the immediate -- not to mention long-range -- consequences of his actions.

    These are not the actions of a man of God. These are not the actions of a man of letters.

    These are the actions of a man in need of moral and spiritual guidance.

    These are the actions of a man who needs to talk with his minister.

    That shouldn't be hard for Lyons to arrange. His organization has about 35,000 churches under its umbrella. Most of those have at least one minister, so it shouldn't be hard for him to find one to talk to.

    The problem is that he will probably not go looking for one. His behavior, uncovered in the weeks since his wife started fires in the $700,000 house he co-owned with another woman, shows his judgment is impaired.

    One of those preachers needs to go to him. For the sake of the church, one of them needs to go to him.

    For the sake of the words they preach, one of them needs to go to him.

    It will not be easy, but they have chosen a profession that has never been easy. The task will be made doubly hard because Lyons has risen organizationally above them all to a perch where he is more accustomed to being listened to than to listening.

    The talk must be blunt: Huge egos recast criticism that is ambiguous into compliments.

    Henry, let's swallow a dose of reality here, the minister should say. Your name will never command the respect it once did. It will never exert the influence it once seemed to have. As a matter of fact, it may remain the subject of jokes that are starting to crop up.

    You will never again be courted by politicians. The smart ones, in fact will try to deny that they ever had anything to do with you in the past. Some of them are already calling their association with you accidental. Notice how no one claims any knowledge of how you wound up standing on the platform when the mayor appointed the city's first black police chief?

    Your number has probably already been ripped out of the president's Rolodex. From now on, he'll call somebody else to find out what black folks are thinking. He will call some other black man his friend to impress black voters.

    What I'm telling you, Henry, is that your reputation is irretrievably soiled. You horribly abused your calling and you got caught.

    That is not a judgment, just a minimum statement of fact. It is not up to me to judge you.

    Look forward from here, Henry. Your actions have destroyed your good name. Don't let them also destroy the good name of the church. Tell the world that the mistakes were yours. Don't force the church to carry your burden or clean up the mess you made.

    There's something worth saving here that's more important than yourself.

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