Skip to comments.Convicted pastor seeks leadership post
Posted on 04/04/2007 6:15:44 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
MIAMI - The former head of a national organization of black Baptist churches spent four years in prison for stealing millions of dollars from the group. Now he wants one of his old jobs back: leader of the organization's Florida chapter.
The Rev. Henry Lyons, 65, was wildly popular before his conviction and is still highly regarded by many church members. He was vying with two other ministers Wednesday to lead the Florida General Baptist Convention, a chapter of the National Baptist Convention USA, which claims to represent some 7.5 million members of black churches nationwide.
Representatives of member churches were voting through Wednesday evening in Fort Lauderdale, but it was unclear when a winner would be announced. Calls to the national and state conventions and to many member churches and pastors went unreturned Tuesday and Wednesday.
Lyons, who was released from prison in 2003, was competing with the Rev. James Sampson of Jacksonville and the Rev. Michael Johnson of Pensacola.
Lyons rose to power with a blend of charisma, fiery preaching and political skills. He led the Florida and national conventions and St. Petersburg's Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church.
While the minister was on a 1997 trip to Africa, his wife, Deborah Lyons, discovered he had purchased a $700,000 waterfront home with a mistress, Bernice Edwards, a convicted embezzler who worked as public relations director for the national convention. Deborah Lyons set the home on fire.
The resulting investigation unmasked Henry Lyons' use of his leadership role to access millions of dollars to finance his lavish lifestyle. Officials estimated the minister took about $4 million to buy luxury homes and jewelry and support his mistresses.
Lyons was convicted of racketeering and grand theft in 1999. He resigned as president of the National Baptist Convention and pleaded guilty to federal charges of tax evasion, fraud and making false statements.
Edwards later died in prison.
Lyons, now divorced, is still on probation but is pastor at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa.
Larry Hardaway, an attorney who befriended Lyons while he was in prison, said he has seen the pastor do great good.
"I have seen him uplift people who have had problems and are down, who are spiritually down in their lives. I have seen him move large crowds in churches and other spiritual gatherings. I have seen him relate teachings from the Bible in a way I have never heard before," Hardaway said.
The lawyer said his friend shows potential to perform well again in an administrative role, but he understands questions about his suitability.
"There's always been a question as to whether he should embark back into that old track," Hardaway said. "And it is a concern of many people those who care about him and those who do not."
The Rev. Henry Lyons preaches at the First Baptist Institutional Church, Nov. 30, 2003, in Lakeland, Fla. Lyons, who spent more than four years imprisoned for stealing millions of dollars from the national organization of black Baptist churches he headed, is seeking election Wednesday, April 4, 2007, to head the group's state chapter. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr., Pool)
A black person stealing from other black people?