Church Leader Avoids Ouster: Critics Overruled Twice in Two Days

Article excerpt

DENVER - The embattled leader of the nation's largest black denomination survived his second no-confidence vote in two days after a raucous floor fight here yesterday.

Supporters of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons defeated by 3-to-1 a motion for him to step down at this week's meeting of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., based on accusations of financial and personal misconduct.

"I do consider this a serious, serious wake-up call," Mr. Lyons said shortly after the vote. "We must tighten up our ship.

"The people have spoken, and they spoke in a great way," he said, pledging to implement reforms that will better protect church funds.

The vote came hours after dissidents tried to take over the stage. Leaders initially refused to give them a forum to voice their objections to Mr. Lyons' presidency. In the melee that followed, hundreds shouted "Let the people speak!" as convention leaders tried to drown out their voices by singing hymns.

The floor fight came the day after the convention erupted over a floor maneuver aimed at bolstering Mr. Lyons' teetering presidency. After the Tuesday morning session, his supporters offered a resolution to absolve Mr. Lyons of charges that he misused almost $1 million in church funds for personal luxuries, including a diamond ring, a Mercedes-Benz and a waterfront villa for a female church worker purported to be his mistress.

Mr. Lyons, a 55-year-old minister in St. Petersburg, Fla., has denied spending church money on personal items or having an affair.

The resolution was approved, but critics quickly denounced the vote, noting that only about 3,000 of the convention's 45,000 delegates were present for the 12:30 p.m. balloting. Many of those attending the morning session said they were never notified of the lunch-hour resolution.

The tactic set the stage for yesterday's angry confrontation between pro- and anti-Lyons factions. …