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The Rev. Henry Lyons


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Rev. Lyons preaches a good game


©St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 1997

In the continuing saga of the Rev. Henry Lyons, the only part that may matter in the end is the epitaph his congregation is writing:

Henry Lyons was a good preacher.

Meanwhile, he was in the news again this week. Newly uncovered information strongly suggests that he was a paid but undeclared lobbyist for the murderous regime in Nigeria. While the country's dictatorial ruler squelched his opponents with bullets and prison -- and deposited a third of a million dollars into accounts controlled by Lyons -- Lyons encouraged anyone who would listen to use their influence to sway the U.S. government toward embracing the African nation.

If that scenario is true, then Lyons' actions were immoral and illegal. Again.

But don't expect to see any immediate consequences. The Kevlar reverend has survived the barrage of accusations thrown his way to this point without being felled, though he has suffered severe wounds to his ego and reputation.

There is little reason to expect any different result from this latest string of disclosures.

As the evidence stacked up against Henry Lyons, I wondered along with many other followers of the unfolding saga, when would the full weight of its implications fall on the people around him.

It is heavy evidence, tonnage, as reported in the pages of this newspaper over the past several months.

There was strong implication that he was unfaithful to his wife, yet she has stuck by him.

A strong case has been made that he diverted for his own use money donated for the larger work of the convention. Yet the convention voted to support him.

The reactions of the victims in both those instances, though perhaps disagreeable, are understandable. In both instances, the simple question of innocence or guilt was clouded with many other issues of equal or greater importance to the victims. The answers were never as simple as: This man stole from me or cheated on me, therefore I cannot support him.

The complexities of race, self-determination and media persecution factored into one decision; the mixture of complicated feelings and emotions present but different in every marriage surely played a part in the other.

Decisions on the legal side will be less complicated by conflicting viewpoints and emotions. State and federal authorities are investigating and if they collect presentable evidence the law has been broken, they prosecute; if they don't uncover such evidence, they don't.

My curiosity was never piqued by the actions of his wife or his convention , nor by the mandated actions of law enforcement and justice officials.

All of them, in one way or another, had the exercise of free will taken from them. The actions of one group close to Lyons, however, was less understandable, seemingly less mandated by the mix of circumstances.

From the beginning, I could not understand the continued support Lyons got from his congregation, from people who knew firsthand many of the stories that subsequently became scandalous when they were printed in the newspaper. Now I understand. It boils down to this: Henry Lyons is a good preacher.

Some members of the congregation said it is the Word, not the man that they follow. Few are better at preaching the Word than Lyons, they said.

The Word tells them no one needs forgiveness more than he who has sinned. The Word tells them no soul needs to be saved more than the one that has gone astray.

That is the Word that they heard from Rev. Lyons.

They say it would be un-Christian to judge him and forsake him. So the flock is determined to save the shepherd. It is the Christian thing to do.

Apparently he taught them well. He was a good preacher.

But none of them said he was a good man.

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