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The Rev. Henry Lyons


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  • Lyons paid another woman

    By MONICA DAVEY and DAVID BARSTOW, Times Staff Writers
    ©St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 1997

    JACKSONVILLE -- It was a decade ago, but John B. Monroe still remembers the woman who came to him with a story of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a powerful preacher, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons.

    Monroe sat Earlene Battle down in his law office.

    Battle, then 36, told of meeting Lyons at a revival here in October 1987. She described how impressed she had been by his preaching, how he introduced himself to her and later invited her to begin "one-on-one spiritual counseling" with him.

    A widowed mother and devout Baptist, Battle said she agreed to begin counseling. Lyons, then president of the Florida General Baptist Convention, visited her during trips to Jacksonville, she said. He called her frequently. Talking to Lyons was intoxicating, she said, almost like talking to God himself.

    In late 1987, Lyons brought her to St. Petersburg for a week, she said. He told her it was time for her to "grow" by taking vows that only "husbands and wives" were allowed to take. They became romantically involved, she told Monroe. Lyons moved some of his clothes into her Jacksonville home. They were, she said, known in Jacksonville as husband and wife.

    Then the relationship faltered. During a trip to West Palm Beach in April 1988, she told Monroe, Lyons became angry and struck her several times in their hotel suite. He abused her verbally, so much that she became depressed and suicidal.

    Now, she told Monroe, she wanted to hold Lyons accountable. She had been hospitalized for depression, she said. Lyons should pay her medical bills. He should pay for using his position and the Bible she loved to seduce and abuse her.

    Records obtained by the Times show that Lyons or organizations affiliated with him paid Battle at least $1,700 in the months after she threatened legal action. Lyons wrote at least four checks to Battle from Florida General Baptist Convention accounts, money he controlled as president of the state convention. The most recent check was from 1990.

    Battle is the third woman to be romantically linked to Lyons, who has been married for the past 25 years to Deborah Lyons. She is the second woman to accuse him of physical abuse. Lyons' first wife raised similar allegations in 1968 during their divorce. Patricia Demons Lyons said in court papers that Henry Lyons slapped and punched her, beat her with his belt and threatened to kill her.

    Now president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., Lyons faces new questions about his use of convention funds in his relationships with two Baptist Convention employees, Bernice Edwards and Brenda Harris.

    Lyons could not be reached Thursday for comment about his relationship with Battle. He has denied any romantic link with the other two women.

    His attorney, Anthony Battaglia, declined to discuss the matter. "I don't know how anyone in the world could put credibility in something that happened 30 years ago," he said. "It's not news."

    Asked whether Lyons has made payments to Battle from accounts of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., Battaglia replied: "I have no idea."

    Earlene Nelson Battle, now 47, declined to talk to a reporter Thursday evening.

    Dressed in a black sequined outfit, flawless makeup and glasses, Battle stood at the door of her brick home while a toddler tugged at her skirt. She stared into the distance and said little.

    Asked about checks made out to her from organizations connected to Lyons, she said, "That does not show anything."

    Asked whether she had had a romantic relationship with Lyons, Battle said: "I have nothing to say."

    Battle used to work for a labor union in Jacksonville. She is currently unemployed. She owns a house, recently assessed at about $50,000, on a wooded, dead-end street on the northside of Jacksonville. Battle was widowed in the early 1980s and has grown children and young grandchildren.

    Members of her Jacksonville church said Battle had attended the revival meetings Lyons has led this week at a different church here, St. Thomas Missionary Baptist. They remain in contact.

    "I know that she and Rev. Lyons have been friends," said the Rev. Moses Javis, pastor of Day Spring Baptist Church, where Battle is a member. The romantic relationship between Lyons and Battle is in the past, Javis said.

    Javis, himself a National Baptist Convention member, has been a critic of Lyons' tenure and has called for tighter, more professional controls of the organization's finances.

    Javis would not comment on what happened between Lyons and Battle, saying he has a duty as her pastor to keep her confidence. "She is a member of our church and I hold her in high esteem." Battle has been considering learning to preach herself, Javis said.

    Battle first threatened legal action against Lyons in August 1988 when she approached St. Petersburg lawyer John E. Swisher.

    "It is my understanding that Ms. Battle engaged in counseling sessions with you which became much more personal and involved," Swisher wrote to Lyons in a letter dated Sept. 13, 1988. "As a result of your "counseling,' Ms. Battle is now diagnosed as being acute depression, threatening suicide. She has been seeing a psychiatrist for several weeks and has incurred medical bills as a result."

    Swisher asked Lyons to contact his insurance carrier to report a possible malpractice claim against him by Battle.

    Copies of checks obtained by the Times show that Lyons made several payments to M. Battle after Swisher's letter.

    • Oct. 11, 1988: A $400 check from the trust account of the Florida General Baptist Convention.

    • Oct. 16, 1988: A $100 check from Ecumenical Council for Community Concerns Inc., which has the same address as Lyons' church, Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church.

    • Dec. 23, 1988: A $300 check from Henry and Deborah Lyons' joint checking account.

    Two other checks were written to M. Battle from the IMA Federal Credit Union, of which Lyons was a founding director. One, dated March 21, 1989, was for $300. The other, dated July 31, 1989, was for $200. Both checks were signed by Brenda Garrett, a credit union official and the wife of Lyons' close friend, the Rev. Wilkins Garrett.

    Asked about the checks, Brenda Garrett said, "I don't remember them at all." She would not say whether she was authorized to write checks on an IMA Credit Union account.

    She said she doesn't know anyone named M. Battle or Earlene Battle.

    A copy of an undated receipt from the Quality Inn in Lake City indicates that M. Battle shared a room with Lyons. The Garretts' home phone number was listed on the hotel registration for Battle. Brenda Garrett said she didn't know why her number would have been listed on the registration.

    Rev. Garrett did not respond to messages left at his home or his church office.

    In the summer of 1989, Battle turned to Monroe, now a literary agent in Atlanta. She complained to Monroe that Lyons was not living up to the terms of an agreement Lyons made with Swisher.

    Monroe wrote a letter to Lyons on June 16, 1989.

    "Your conversation with Mr. Swisher acknowledged your involvement with her and your commitment to an amiable resolution, making further involvement by Mr. Swisher unnecessary," the letter states. "Since you have failed to comply with certain provisions of the original agreement, Ms. Battle has retained me to represent her in following up her initial claim against you."

    Monroe also wrote that Lyons' "commitment" to Jacksonville psychiatrist Dr. David Chesire and a Jacksonville psychiatric facility "are unaffected by this letter."

    He gave Lyons seven days to indicate his intention "to comply with the agreement and avoid legal proceeding."

    Copies of checks show that Lyons made more payments to M. Battle after Monroe's letter.

    • May 29, 1990: a $300 check from the Florida General Baptist Convention Inc. trust account.

    • November, 2, 1990: a $100 check from a different Florida General Baptist Convention Inc. account.

    -- Times staff writer Mike Wilson and researchers John Martin and Kitty Bennett contributed to this story. 

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