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Religion | Religion IN BRIEF

Baptist Leader Gets Forgiveness, Cash

September 12, 1998|Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The beleaguered president of the National Baptist Convention USA went before his congregation Thursday asking for forgiveness for an affair. He got it--and thousands in cash to fight federal charges of extortion, fraud and money laundering.

The Rev. Henry J. Lyons roused delegates to their feet with a sermon on forgiveness that focused on the word of the Bible.

"I want you to know today, from the bottom of my heart, from the bottom of my soul, I am truly sorry. I've come here to ask you, to ask America, white America and black America, for your mercy," Lyons said.

Lyons, 56, is charged in Florida and in federal court with stealing millions of dollars from convention funds to support a lavish lifestyle for himself and women other than his wife. He repeated his innocence on the federal charges.

"His speech was marvelous," said Darlene Brown of Fulton, Mo. "We all make some mistakes. It takes a man to get up in front of all these people and admit he's wrong and ask for forgiveness."

Four days earlier, Lyons admitted to the board of directors that he had an "improper relationship" with Brenda Harris, a convention employee. The board voted to forgive Lyons and Harris.

Before Lyons took the podium Thursday afternoon, members of the convention's board of directors took up an offering for Lyons' legal defense fund. More than 70 ministers each donated $500 or more and ushers emptied dozens of baskets filled with cash into a large trash bag at the front of the convention hall.

The convention is one of the nation's largest black denominations. Its nationwide membership is about 8 million.

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