The nation’s largest black church embraced its embattled president on Monday, voting to oppose efforts to unseat the Rev. Henry Lyons and drop an investigation into allegations that he misused church funds.
The 200-member Board of Directors of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Inc., joined by an additional 1,000 church leaders in a packed convention ballroom, approved with no dissenting votes a motion to drop “the whole matter,” said the Rev. E.V. Hill, head of an 18-member Ethics Commission that had investigated the allegations against Lyons.
Earlier Monday, amid some cheers and a scattering of boos, the board reported that it had found no misappropriation of church funds or any other reason for the Florida pastor to step down.
At the same time, the Ethics Commission recommended that the church hire a full-time executive officer and not allow any other bank accounts to be opened without approval from the Executive Board.
Stressing a biblical theme of forgiveness in song and sermon at the opening of the board’s closed-door meeting later Monday, one pastor evoked media harassment of the late Princess Diana in calling on church members to support Lyons.
“Don’t let us destroy him. Don’t let us kill him,” the pastor said in an emotional prayer that could be heard but not seen by reporters. “Don’t let white America tell us how to do your will.”
The board of the 8.5 million-member National Baptist Convention U.S.A. met behind closed doors Monday to take up allegations that Lyons of St. Petersburg, Fla., used church accounts to buy expensive jewelry, a Mercedes-Benz and a $700,000 home with a woman he allegedly was having an affair with.
On Sunday night, a contrite Lyons bowed his head and thanked supporters at a packed prayer meeting where speakers praised him for admitting mistakes in his handling of church funds. He denied criminal wrongdoing.