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  • Column:

    This fall from grace dwarfs one man's sins

    By ELIJAH GOSIER

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published July 19, 1997


    Henry Lyons doesn't matter anymore. Not really. Not even if all the allegations that point to philandering and impropriety with church money are true.

    If he has cheated on his wife, as the accusatory finger of circumstantial evidence suggests, the story's significance will fade as soon as a new scandal comes along to replace it.

    Even if he were to go to jail for jumbling tax-exempt church money with private money and paying the IRS less than its due, Henry Lyons' story won't be important.

    The group of people who filed out of that hotel in Nashville Thursday made sure of that. When the board of directors of the National Baptist Convention walked out of that meeting and said they unanimously supported their president, Henry Lyons ceased to matter.

    Lyons was pushed out of the center of the controversy when they said they unanimously supported his actions in office.

    They took his place.

    Perhaps in their self-absorbed arrogance they thought they could stop the growth of the pile of dirt sitting at their doorstep. He explained everything to our satisfaction, they said, he doesn't owe an explanation to anyone else.

    Maybe they believed that.

    Therein lies the news.

    This group of people, who purport to speak for 8.5-million black Christians, said by their haste that they're not bothered by adultery.

    This body of people, who are in positions to influence what is said from pulpits around the country, said they see nothing wrong with spending church money on luxurious homes and cars and jewelry.

    This group of religious leaders, who should be the first line of role models for the black youth of the nation, said it's perfectly okay to cavort with a dictator who makes money off drugs and wins arguments by killing the opposition.

    Of course, they should not have hastily assumed Lyons guilty of any of those allegations. It is remotely possible that he is the victim of a series of gross misunderstandings. But they should at least have investigated them.

    It would have been reasonable to expect them to withhold judgment until they had taken time to do that. There is so much damaging evidence to be examined that an investigation was the minimum reasonable response. The business of the board at the meeting Thursday should reasonably have been only to decide what status to grant Lyons while the investigation was going on.

    Instead, they put their stamp of approval on his actions.

    Rather than ensuring that the leader of the largest black church organization exemplified the highest standards of morality and Christian values, they didn't even bother to rule out the possibility that their leader is a scoundrel, maybe even a criminal.

    "We have not raised questions about our president," Dr. Roscoe D. Cooper Jr., the general secretary for the convention, told reporters after the board's brief meeting. "Our confidence in our president has not been undermined."

    With their indifference, or arrogance, or complacency, board members took the spotlight off Henry Lyons and turned it onto the church itself.

    In doing so, they turned a news scandal that should have lasting bearing only on the life of one man before it disappears from the pages of newspapers into a significant event that could affect the lives of millions and find its place in history.

    Thursday may be recorded as the day the black church fell from grace, knocked down by a few men who stumbled over their vanity in Nashville.

    They may have unwittingly rotted the moral core that has historically cast black America as the conscience of the nation.

    That is news that dwarfs the transgressions of a preacher from St. Petersburg. Henry Lyons eventually will fade into obscurity, but history will not forgive them -- even if they know not what they did.


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