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The Rev. Henry Lyons


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Elijah Gosier column

Lyons is left with shame of wasted blessings

©St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 1997

Somewhere inside Henry Lyons, there must be a knot of pain so agonizing that it dwarfs any hurt a state or federal prosecutor could inflict.

The rim of that pain comes from the realization of an opportunity that was not only missed but mangled beyond repair.

The core of it, however, comes from something a little more basic, something he touched on Wednesday in his speech to the press.

Lyons assumed the presidency of the National Baptist Convention USA at a time when the chance was ripe to parlay that position into one of the nation's top leadership posts. His voice could easily have become the dominant black voice in the country. Although the convention's inflated claim of 8.5-million members has been repudiated, the organization legitimately represents a large block of Americans, with logistics in place for quick mobilization.

When he took office in 1994, the NAACP was still in disarray, trying to recover from the moral improprieties and financial misconduct of its newly ousted leader. It and the old order civil rights organizations, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, already had slid into obsolescence. Jesse Jackson remained in the margins as the voice without a constituency.

Race relations was re-emerging as the most pressing issue confronting the nation amid a virtual dearth of strong black voices in the discussion.

Henry Lyons was in position to be the strongest of such voices. Henry Lyons was in position to counsel the president on the state of affairs in the communities that make up his congregations, but there is no indication he took advantage of that opportunity. Lyons was in position to influence national policies to help feed and educate children. There is no evidence he did.

He was in a position to add his voice, not just as a leader, but as a black religious leader, to those of all the other voices of conscience that have been calling for condemnation of Nigeria's murderous regime. Instead, Lyons lobbied for its support.

For a few pieces of silver, Lyons sold his opportunity to make the world a better place.

For a few pieces of silver, he sold his voice.

For a few pieces of silver, he sold his people.

Somewhere inside, he has to hurt for that.

As he spoke Wednesday, however, the opportunities he passed up by selling the National Baptist Convention began to take a backseat for me.

He spoke of his childhood and the hard-working, strongly moral, loving people who raised him with an appreciation for the simple life.

In his story I found a lot of parallel to my own childhood. It was an upbringing that, nearly 48 years later, I cannot travel far from. It was an upbringing that still reins me back in to remember what's truly important whenever I'm on the verge of getting too big for my britches.

It is impossible for me to imagine that the reins were not pulling on Henry Lyons over those years as he was spending extravagantly with women not his wife. The reins had to be pulling on him when he allowed money given to help rebuild burned out churches to go to other, less humanitarian purposes. The reins had to be pulling. But he must have just ignored them.

For a few pieces of silver, he betrayed his upbringing.

Somewhere inside him, that has to hurt.

Maybe it was that pain that made him confess Wednesday to -- unintentionally -- almost doing some wrong. Maybe it was the reins still tugging on him to be a man and own up to his wrongdoing -- and not prosecutors' breath on his neck -- that made him stand before the press and almost do that.

But, maybe it's just that the few pieces of silver have carried him so far from the reins that he expects public sympathy for almost telling the truth instead of the whipping he deserves for lying so long.

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