The Rise, Fall, and Return of Henry Lyons
While I was reading my Google Alerts, I came across this fascinating story:
Nowhere is the economic crisis more evident these days than in the Black church. With more people struggling financially and without jobs, less money is going in the collection plate. There’s also less grant money coming in from government programs to support longstanding faith-based community social services.
For the General Baptist Convention of Florida (GBCF), which makes up 180 churches, giving is down 30 percent to 40 percent, according to Dr. Henry Lyons, its president. When the convention met in December in Daytona Beach, the economy dominated the agenda.
“The funds are not coming in and are down 30 to 40 percent on an individual church basis. I talk to pastors all over the country on a daily basis and they have reported a decrease in the giving. Many say the crowds are better but the offerings are fewer in terms of revenue. And one thing for sure – people asking for help is way up,” Lyons told the Florida Courier.
The thesis of this article (Tithing Down) is not what caught my attention. Giving is down in most Baptist churches. Although a 30%-40% percent deficit is um, staggering.
What caught my attention was the name of Dr. Henry Lyons who the article lists as the president of the General Baptist Convention of Florida.
Lyons was once a powerful voice in Black Baptist life. An extremely ambitious minister, Lyons became the first vice president of the Florida General Baptist Convention in 1977. The Florida General Baptist Convention is a state arm of the 7+ million National Baptist Convention USA Inc. which is the largest African-American denomination in the United States.
Shortly thereafter, Rev. Joseph H. Jackson aka the “black pope”, perennial president of the National Baptist Convention USA, named Lyons an assistant to the Rev. T.J. Jemison who served as the General Secretary of NBC USA. Lyons’s role on the national scene helpe him to become president of the Florida General Baptist Convention in 1982 at the age of 40. A few months later, Lyons helped dethrone the Rev. Joseph Jackson (the man who had let Lyons in the National Baptist “inner circle”) from his position as president of the NBC, a position he had held since 1953. Lyons was rewarded by the new president, T.J. Jemison, with the position of vice-president of the NBC’s Southeast region.
Lyons continued to be re-elected president of the Florida General Baptist Convention. In 1994, Lyons was elected president of the National Baptist Convention USA. As president, Lyons had access to the White House. The First Lady Hillary Clinton even attended one of Lyons’s services at St. Petersburg’s Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, where he preached. Publicly, Lyons promised to bring reforms that would help alleviate NBC’s financial struggles.
Stuff soon hit the fan for Lyons. In February 1998, Lyons was charged with one count of racketeering and two counts of grand theft. He was indicted by federal prosecutors for fraud, extortion, money laundering, conspiracy and tax exasion. Initially, Lyons claimed to be innocent and claimed there was a racial motivation for the charges. In 1999, Lyons was convicted sentenced to serve 5.5 years for “misappropriating” more than $4 million from the National Baptist Convention USA during his tenure as their president. Lyons stole more than $250,000 from the Anti-Defamation League that was meant to rebuild burned black churches.
According to Lyons’ successor, the Reverend William J. Shaw (who spoke at last year’s New Baptist Covenant), Lyons left the National Baptist Convention USA with a $900,000 past-due mortgage, $325,000 in other unpaid bills and financial obligations, and five lawsuits. Shaw also reported a 30 to 40 percent drop in the number of local Baptist churches registering with NBC USA and attendance at the convention-operated American Baptist College in Nashville had declined, all as a result of scandals involving Lyons.
After being locked up for nearly five years, Lyons was released from prison in late 2003. Four months later, Lyons was back in the pulpit as interim pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida.
In 2007, Lyons entered the race for the presidency of the Florida General Baptist Convention. This time around Lyons (who was still on probation) was soundly defeated. However, Lyons did receive approximately 30 percent of the vote.
Subsequently, Lyons and his supporters formed the General Baptist State Convention of Florida of which Lyons is the President. The Lyons-led new convention lists 110 member churches with a combined 33,000 members. Here is their mission statement:
The General Baptist State Convention of Florida is a fellowship of pastor’s and churches working cooperatively to reach the lost and teach the saved. Our mission is to fulfill the work of Jesus Christ by helping churches accomplish their Biblical mission; providing channels for cooperative ministry in Florida and the world.
It’s also worth noting that CREDIBILITY is one of the convention’s core values. Ironic to say the least.
According to this unnamed source, Henry Lyons “has been frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Presidency of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. for the 2009 election.”