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The Rev. Henry Lyons


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  • A Times Editorial

    'No written limitations'

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 1997

    A lawyer representing the Rev. Henry J. Lyons has offered an astonishing rationalization for Lyons' apparent misappropriation of National Baptist Convention USA funds. Attorney Grady Irvin told the Times this week that Lyons, as convention president, has "virtually unbridled authority" to spend the organization's money as he sees fit.

    "As best I can tell," Irvin went on, "the president of the Baptist convention has no written limitations in the constitution or bylaws . . . which limit his spending authority."

    In other words, if Lyons were to decide to use contributions from the convention's 8.5-million members to help pay for expensive homes, cars and other luxuries for himself and his various women friends, he's entitled.

    That odd defense of Lyons' brand of religious leadership may be challenged at the Baptist convention's annual gathering in September. Some other convention officers were surprised to learn that Lyons has maintained a local bank account, called the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. Baptist Builder Fund, that, according to the organization's financial records, does not exist. They also were surprised to learn that a secretary at Lyons' Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg has used a letter bearing Lyons' signature to cash $28,000 worth of checks made out to the national convention.

    Irvin's explanation also may pique further interest on the part of the Internal Revenue Service, which should be curious to know whether Lyons has scrupulously declared every instance in which he has used his "virtually unbridled authority" to divert convention funds to his own use.

    In one respect, Irvin has a point: The National Baptist Convention has a sorry history of corrupt, autocratic leadership. In the early 1960s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of several reform-minded ministers who left the organization because of their disgust over scandals associated with its then-president, the Rev. J.H. Jackson. And when he was elected in 1994, Lyons cast himself as a reformer who would clean up the financial and ethical problems left behind by the convention's longtime president, the Rev. Theodore J. Jemison.

    Now, Lyons' attorney sounds as though he intends to try to use Jemison's financial and ethical problems as an excuse for Lyons' own. Even if that excuse somehow works, it is a long way down from the kind of moral leadership Lyons promised to bring the National Baptist Convention just three years ago.

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