Despite his indictment on federal perjury charges connected to boxer Mike Tyson's rape trial, the Rev. T. J. Jemison is expected to preside next month over the annual convention of the 7-million-member National Baptist Convention U.S.A.
Jemison, who has served as president of the predominantly black denomination since 1982, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges in Lafayette, La., and has been scheduled for trial Oct. 5.
After Jemison was indicted in late July, the Rev. Franklyn Richardson, second-ranking officer of the denomination, and other National Baptist ministers warned that Jemison should be considered innocent until proven guilty. On Wednesday, other ministers in the denomination, based in Nashville, voiced their support for Jemison.
Some said his attempts to intervene in the Tyson case--he had made public appeals calling for support of Tyson during the boxer's trial--reflect traditional patterns of black church leadership to act as pastor to both parties in a dispute.
In such a case, the church should be forgiving, said Rev. Brenda Brown-Grooms, associate minister at Berean Baptist Church in Nashville. "This is the church and whether he's right or wrong, in the church we don't abandon you."
The church's annual convention, which Jemison will preside over as president, will be held in Atlanta Sept. 7-13.
The 72-year-old church leader is accused of lying to prosecutors who asked him, during a trial in an unrelated case, whether he had offered $1 million to beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington to drop rape charges against Tyson.
Two years earlier, Jemison had announced an offer from the boxer to help pay off half the $10-million debt on the Baptist World Center in Nashville, but church officials say the money was never received.