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The Rev. Henry Lyons

 

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Text of Rev. Henry Lyons' statement

Here is the text of the Rev. Henry Lyons' statement at Wednesday's news conference:

Thank you. I do appreciate your presence today. And we also appreciate your patience. We're getting started just a bit late with this news conference. I trust you'll understand.

I want to thank each of you who are here, thank my wife, Deborah, and Vonda. Stephanie called in from school, she's teaching her class today, and Derek called in. He's at home, at work in West Palm Beach.

After a great deal of personal reflection -- in particular, reflecting a lot on my being raised as a child by my grandparents and engaging in conversation after conversation with them about becoming a minister someday -- and reflecting on the grace of God which led me to the ministry -- I want to take this time to share with you my immediate future as it relates to certain aspects of my personal and spiritual life, my pastorship at this church and my position as president of the National Baptist Convention.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and to those of you who may be of other denominations or faiths, I sincerely today apologize for any disappointment or uneasiness in which my actions -- or actions of those persons I have been associated with over the past several years -- may have brought to the sacred institution we call religion. Here today, at this hour, I publicly apologize to you with the same humbleness I have bowed before God and repented for my errors.

Many of you who are either personally hearing my comments here today or who will learn of those comments by looking at today's or tonight's news or reading of it in tomorrow's newspapers, first became familiar with me through newspaper articles, television reports or word-of-mouth from those who had never heard the name Henry James Lyons prior to this summer. It is not my intention here today to be critical of the media -- because I have learned the hard way that my perception of the media is truly irrelevant and they will report whatever they desire. The damage and any misinformation which I have perceived on certain, but not all reports, will take a lifetime to restore. Instead I am hear to speak directly to you about that which truly matters in my life, the life of this church and the life of the convention.

Twenty-seven years ago, after two brief but nevertheless failed marriages, I met a beautiful young lady while I was studying in the Midwest. That young lady was Deborah. Today we have been married for 26 years and have raised three wonderful children. Some of you have called two of those children my stepchildren, but to me they have always been, and always will be, my children.

Prior to marrying Deborah I was married on two separate occasions. I have never forgotten about my two previous marriages as has been reported, but as I promised Deborah 20-some-odd years ago, I put those marriages behind me and focused on my future with her. To my respective spouses in those previous marriages, I want to say that I am sorry if any of the published reports over the past four months have caused you any invasion of your private lives, and furthermore, I apologize to you for any embarrassment or pain I have caused. My prayer today is that you and your families are doing well and that God will watch over you.

This past September, many of you became aware of my wife's personal bout with alcoholism, a personal matter my family and I truly desired to remain private but nevertheless it became public. Despite this, I believe many of us have been strengthened by her courage. To Deborah, but especially to our three children, I want to say despite all that the kids and I did over the past years to show our continued love and affection for dealing with this matter, I wish that I could have somehow done more. I am pleased today that through the grace of God, we as a family have embraced one another and we're moving on.

In the past five months I have more contact with lawyers, attorneys, than I have in the 55 years I have been in this world. However, with all due respect, despite all that has been said by attorneys, I recognize that what matters most is my spiritual salvation, having the courage to account for one's moral transgressions. Therefore, I would like to share with you some quiet personal acknowledgments at this time.

Fifty years ago, in the midst of my childhood in Gainesville, Fla., I witnessed my grandparents work hard five to six days a week to pay household bills, to keep a roof over our heads, to put food on the table. My childhood was not filled with financial wealth or material possessions. Instead my childhood, like many of you, was filled with a wealth of love and a lot of religious faith. Almost 50 years later I have found myself somewhat removed from the simplicities instilled in me by my grandparents I knew as Momma and Daddy. If you will forgive me for just a moment, I need to take a side-track here. I want to pause here because up until now I was truly angered by somehow some people in the media tried to pit me against the mother who gave birth to me. Those people have absolutely no idea of the hardship of my family or my real mother faced back in those times. My childhood and our hardships simply were none of your business and it was not newsworthy.

Now back to the simplicities I was speaking of. I should have stayed with the simplicities of life. There is no excuse, nor do I attempt to fathom one here today, for some of the admitted luxuries which have surrounded me, my family or certain persons I have been associated with or somehow linked to. While I cannot bear on my shoulders the extravagances enjoyed by others, I am accountable for my own weaknesses in allowing my judgment to be impaired by such things as replacing a 17-year-old car that I drove for that length of time with an overwhelmingly expensive car, or civil rights and humanitarian groups memberships with exclusive club memberships, or simple suits with designer-named suits, or a better lifestyle for my children than the simple lifestyle I enjoyed as a child. For my own personal weakness I accept responsibility. Despite how entitled I may feel I was to the fees or gifts I received from corporate deals, I should never have allowed this to change my simple way of life. For that I am truly, truly sorry.

With this increase in finance came an increased opportunity for temptation and to get away from the simplicities and the simple teachings of God. Over the past months there have been news reports that I've had close associations with female independent contractors of the National Baptist Convention. Prior to today's message, I have reached out to these persons who have been the subject of such news reports. I have expressed my deepest apology to them for any instance in which I may have allowed myself to shirk any responsibilities I owed to my wife and to my children. I have also expressed my apology for any event, whatsoever, in which I may have failed to make certain that I would not subject myself to human frailties. The dignity of women, the dignity of wives and the dignity of children should always be the greatest priority of any man and of any father. This priority should never lose its place, and I pray that through Christ Jesus this is a promise that we all can make and that we all can keep.

This takes me to acknowledge the misgivings I now recognize for allowing myself to enter into business opportunities with certain corporations.

I recognize that I essentially bared my soul to corporations with a lot of money, corporations that wanted access to the billions of dollars spent by African-American consumers, voters and churchgoers. In return for granting corporations the access to make hundreds of millions of dollars from certain African-Americans, these corporations were willing to pay the president of the convention or those representing the president a substantial fee. Despite the fact that the constitution and by-laws of the convention did not prevent me or even my predecessors from engaging in business opportunities by essentially making [Lyons' written text said "marketing"] their personal influence, I should nevertheless have risen above this defect in the by-laws, stated that my endorsement was not for sale and demanded that these corporations nevertheless offer their products to this targeted group. My actions, no matter how legitimate they were perceived to be at the time, should have been directed to expanding the base of economic opportunity for all people and not for myself.

Once I allowed myself to be influenced by business opportunities, immediately came the unfortunate task of trying to merge the life of a modest-income preacher with the life of a capitalist or entrepreneur. It eventually came clear that these contrasting lifestyles could very well amount to a change in me. To hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of Convention churchgoers, Henry Lyons was nothing more than a simple preacher who enjoyed preaching and discussing the Bible; however, that same preacher had now been introduced to the opportunities of becoming better-off financially by trading his influence to corporations who desired to enrich their shareholders with the dollars of targeted consumers.

Since 1995 I have had a substantial increase in income or financial gifts. The increase has been significant and the amended tax returns I voluntarily filed with the assistance of a certified public accountant and without any request or notification from the federal government demonstrates this. But please understand that I have never -- even up to this day -- I have never reached into the offering plate and taken money that parishioners gave to this church Sunday after Sunday -- not to this church, not to the convention and not to any church. I have never taken a dime of money from any church or the convention. I received gifts, fees or the like, from corporations who wanted to use my influence.

About 40 years ago, when I was a teenager, I labored with a dozen or so others in the hot Florida sun to build my home church, the Johnson Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Gainesville, Fla. This would not be the last church I helped to build. The same financial struggles we had in building Johnson Chapel existed in 1993 when I was president of the Florida General Baptist Convention and we completed the construction of a seven-building Family Life Retreat Center in Palatka, Fla.

When a series of fires struck a number of churches in the South several years ago, the National Baptist Convention raised money among its members so that it could help some of those churches. That money was immediately disbursed to that effort. At the time we were making these contributions in the South, it was a particularly difficult financial time for the convention, which was funding a number of outreach programs and theological seminaries and colleges. During the convention's financial struggles, from time to time my wife and I, and I would personally make significant financial payments to some of the outreach and educational programs historically supported by the convention. There is no question that a great deal of our payments came from the gifts or monies I had received from my relationships with corporations. My payments to these causes came while I was personally contributing at least $26,000 a year -- Sunday after Sunday -- to my own church here in St. Petersburg, Bethel Metropolitan, for at least the past two years.

As organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League began to join the ongoing effort to help rebuild at least some of the burned churches in the South, I was faced with a very difficult dilemma. The convention had some significant debts or financial obligations. For instance, many of its outreach programs were in need of funds -- and some previous personal or business loans which I consider to have been made to pay certain obligations of the convention -- I found out all too late and all too often, those bills I inherited were not unpaid.

As many of you know, the ADL gave approximately $240-plus-thousand to the convention to help with the church project in the South. Several months ago I saw to it that over $200-plus-thousand was returned to the ADL. Despite this repayment, as well as an identification of the churches that received financial contributions from the rebuilding project, I must accept the responsibility if I have as president of the convention fell short in this effort to help in the churches project. I apologize to any of the churches that may have suffered, and I pray to God that my immediate return of the $200-plus-thousand will eventually make its way to the needy churches. I sincerely pray that if I have exercised any poor judgment, and such judgment may have caused any harm, that God will see the sincerity and pain I feel in my heart on this issue.

I have addressed some of the troubling moral concerns and how I have attempted to deal with those concerns through my faith in God. Nevertheless, if I have violated any state or federal laws it was not my intent. It certainly was never my intent to do any act which would cause financial harm to anyone. I was attempted, I have attempted to take responsibility and responsible steps to correct any perceived wrongdoing I've made, or may have committed; however, I understand that the authorities may very well be intent on prosecuting me. By this I am saying that I have committed any criminal wrongdoing, that I have not done that, and furthermore, I am not seeking to upstage or obstruct the work of Mr. McCabe or Mr. Wilson. I am simply saying that I am ready to face whatever charges that I need to face or should face.

I am a preacher who made some serious errors in judgment and what be my lot will be my lot.

As I prepare to close there are just a few other points I would like to address -- and each leads to my immediate future with this church and the convention.

Some of you may recall [the remarks] I gave upon my return my return from Africa this summer. On reflection, I have come to realize that some of those remarks were definitely made out of anger. Principally, I am speaking of my remarks about being black -- and in particular being black with some degree of financial success. I was wrong to imply or even to suggest that everyone was out to get Henry Lyons simply because he was black. It is without question that racial problems still exist in this country. They exist in our schools, on our jobs, they exist in the selection of our criminal juries, they exist in some of our churches. As a person of Christian faith it was my duty to not lean on perceived racial unfairness, but instead to admit that blacks, just as whites, are not immune from temptations.

It was recently brought to my attention that any editorial writer, that an editorial writer from one of our local newspapers recently published an editorial calling for the members of our church to oust me as pastor. I truly wish that prior to that writer sitting down to prepare his opinion that the writer would have stepped into my shoes for the 20 or so years in which I have been pastor of this church -- for that writer truly does not know the love and compassion I have for this church. The writer does not know the many times in which members of this church and I have stood vigil in the wee hours of the morning at the bedside of a fellow member who was dying of cancer, or of leukemia, or even AIDS. That writer does not know of the many, many times in which I have either gone without a significant paycheck or raise from my church because the priority at that time was not Henry Lyons but keeping the lights on or making sure that the heat would be in the church for Sunday morning services. I simply wish that the writer of that story was not so bent on going after Henry Lyons, but instead would realize that I have made some mistakes in my life, that as a preacher I have recognized that I should not allow myself to give in to the human frailties of importance, or trying to give my children and my family the very, very best in life. I should have recognized that the many humanitarian causes I have undertaken over the past decades, and the humanitarian and honorary awards I have been fortunate enough to receive, have made me a greater man than money ever could or ever would. Yes, Mr. Editorial Writer, yes, I have fallen short of the glory of God in some respects, I have erred, yes, I agree, I have sinned, and I have displayed human weakness and human frailties. But I am no monster -- I am no devil. I am a man, and despite whatever you may write, I am still a child of God.

At this time, God has placed on my heart the burden of transforming my errors and misfortunes into a personal testimony that Satan knows no bounds, that he can reach up to the highest levels -- even the church -- and lay temptation at your footstep. In 12th grade, God touched my heart and called me to preach the Gospel. Here I am -- 38 years later, hurt, wounded, and saddened -- but yet, somehow, I feel that I'm blessed. God has not asked me to put away my Bible; instead he has placed on my heart the task of taking my renewed spirit, and showing the world that God truly lives. Therefore, I believe that God's work with me is not yet done. With the blessings of my family I will continue to pastor at Bethel as long as the church has a forgiving heart and is guided by Christian beliefs. I plan to serve out my term as president of the National Baptist Convention and complete the tremendous regrowth we have undergone since I became president three years ago. I never created the statistic 8.5-million members and 33,000 churches, I inherited that, but I will work hard to make sure that somehow our convention can continue God's work no matter whether we have eight members or eight million members. That is my resolve.

I thank you for coming today. I thank you for your attention. May God bless you and keep you. Thank you.


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