A last-minute legal effort to prevent the presidential election for the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. failed Wednesday afternoon. The vote will proceed as planned Thursday as Henry Lyons, senior pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., is set to face the convention’s vice president-at-large, Julius Scruggs, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala.
Lyons, who led the National Baptist Convention from 1994 to 1999 before resigning and serving four years in prison for racketeering and grand theft, sued the convention last week, charging that new bylaws governing the presidential election violate the convention’s constitution. He asked the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to prevent the convention from holding the presidential election until his lawsuit had been heard.
On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Jeanette J. Clark denied both of Lyons’ motions that would have delayed the presidential election. Lyons was present in the courtroom for the hearing.
Although his attempt to prevent the election failed, Lyons’ lawsuit will continue. The next court hearing for the case will be on Oct. 30. Joining Lyons as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the church he pastors and Leonard King, president of the United Missionary Doctors State Convention of Ohio and pastor of Solid Rock Missionary Baptist Church in Irvington, N.J.
Wendell Griffen, parliamentarian of the National Baptist Convention, reacted to Wednesday’s legal ruling.
“As Parliamentarian of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., I am authorized to say that our President, Dr. William J. Shaw, our Board of Directors, and the thousands of Convention members gathered in Memphis for our scheduled presidential election … are delighted that Judge Clarke denied the attempt by Rev. Henry Lyons to prevent the election,” Griffen wrote in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com.
Griffen said the judge rejected Lyons’ claim that the election procedures violate the convention’s constitution, adding that Lyons failed to offer proper objections to the procedures earlier.
“Judge Clarke basically saw Rev. Lyons’ lawsuit as a last-minute attempt to overturn the internal procedures that the Convention adopted three years ago to make our election process more equitable, transparent, and ethical,” said Griffen. “As she mentioned during her ruling from the bench after hearing arguments from the lawyer for Rev. Lyons and the lawyer representing the Convention, our election procedures are consistent with our Revised Constitution. Those procedures were proposed in January 2006 and adopted by Board of Directors and the Convention as a whole in September 2006. Rev. Lyons never objected to those procedures until he filed the lawsuit last weekend. His lawsuit cast an unnecessary cloud of uncertainty over the election that has now been removed by Judge Clarke’s decision.”
Lyons previously served as president of the National Baptist Convention from 1994 to 1999. In 1997, his then-wife set fire to a $700,000 home that he shared with one of his mistresses. The fire sparked an investigation into his finances, which revealed that he used his presidential post to take nearly $4 million from corporations doing business with the convention and stole nearly $250,000 that had been donated to rebuild African-American churches that were burned down. In addition to being convicted on state charges of racketeering and grand theft, he pled guilty to federal charges of fraud and tax evasion. He spent more than four years in prison and was ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution. He apparently still owes nearly $140,000.
In 2007, Lyons attempted to regain the presidency of the Florida General Baptist Convention, which is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention. After he lost that election, Lyons and his supporters started a new state convention, the General Baptist State Convention of Florida, of which is he currently the president.
An estimated 40,000 people are expected to attend the National Baptist Convention meeting this week in Memphis, Tenn. Some National Baptist pastors have suggested that a Lyons victory in the presidential election could split the 7.5 million member denomination. Additionally, many fear he would once again harm the convention’s reputation.
The convention’s outgoing president, William J. Shaw, has been widely credited for stabilizing the convention and restoring its credibility in the aftermath of Lyons’ scandals. Shaw, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia, was one of the plenary speakers at the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant last year.
Griffen, in last night’s e-mail to EthicsDaily.com, offered his assessment that the legal action by Lyons could impact today’s presidential election.
“Unfortunately, his lawsuit also suggests that Rev. Lyons would rather disrupt our Convention’s hard work to re-gain respectability and integrity than abide by the consequences of that work,” Griffen said in his e-mail. “The members of our Convention will no doubt bear this in mind as they vote tomorrow.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.