MEMPHIS — A day after losing his bid to regain the presidency of the National Baptist Convention, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons sent a letter to the organization challenging the election.
The letter was read Friday to hundreds of delegates gathered at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Lyons said he was challenging the results for several reasons, including the discrepancy in voting totals that showed him losing by such a large margin, garnering only 18 percent of the 5,032 votes.
His request for an investigation was denied through a standing vote of delegates. Lyons and his wife were the only two people who stood in favor of opening an investigation.
The disgraced preacher who wanted to regain leadership of the National Baptist Convention, lost his bid to stop the organization’s election.
Lyons filed a lawsuit in a Washington, D.C., court alleging that new bylaws governing the election violate the National Baptist Convention’s constitution.
Lyons complained that the bylaws limit the number of representative members eligible to vote and give some additional votes if they are designated as representative members by more than one church, association or state convention. The suit claimed that such changes constitute a breach of contract.
Lyons was in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon when Judge Jeanette Clark denied his motion for a temporary restraining order.
The judge “basically said that Rev. Lyons did not follow the convention’s procedures and did not suffer irreparable harm,” said the Rev. Wendell Griffen, parliamentarian for the convention and a member of the board of directors.
The judge added that Lyons “knew that the procedures had been in place since September 2006 and he sat and he waited until the last minute to file a lawsuit rather than going to the convention and complaining about the procedures,” Griffen said.
The judge also ruled that there were no inconsistencies between the bylaws that Lyons was complaining about and the convention’s constitution, he said.
The election for president of the convention, said to be the largest African-American religious group in the United States, went on as planned in Memphis.
Lyons, 67, was running against the Rev. Julius R. Scruggs, 67, of Alabama, the current vice president at large. It’s a paid position. The outgoing president, the Rev. William Shaw of Philadelphia, earns $100,000 a year.
Lyons’ effort to retake the convention’s presidency had been divisive. Supporters said he should be forgiven. Others, however were saying forgiveness does not mean another chance to lead the organization.
Henry Lyons’ problems began in July 1997, after his then-wife, Deborah, started a fire at a $700,000 Tierra Verde home he owned with another woman. The incident set off an investigation into his finances, and Lyons was eventually convicted on state racketeering and grand theft charges.
Delegates at the National Baptist Convention decided overwhelmingly Thursday not to give the Rev. Henry J. Lyons a second chance to lead the organization he was forced to leave in disgrace 10 years ago.
Lyons received just 924 votes of 5,032 ballots cast — about 18 percent — at the group’s annual convention. The Rev. Julius R. Scruggs, the group’s vice president-at-large, was elected president of what is said to be the largest African-American religious organization in the nation.
After the results were announced Thursday night, Scruggs thanked group members for trusting him to lead.
“I do not take your trust lightly,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to seek to live up to your trust.”
Lyons could not be reached for comment after the vote.
“I was surprised by how resounding the victory was,” said the Rev. Ronald Bobo, one of Lyons’ supporters. “But this is the will of the people and we will move forward.”
The Rev. Vincent Mitchell, 47, of Greenville, S.C., said he was not surprised by Scruggs’ victory.
“The election was based on trust and not on forgiveness,” Mitchell said. “All of us have something to be forgiven for, but we need someone we can trust.”
Lyons had spoken to the convention Tuesday, and told members that God had forgiven him, said Beverly Burnett, a convention member from Virginia. She was not impressed. “He wasn’t humble,” she said.
Then Lyons filed a lawsuit against the convention claiming election bylaws were not fair, didn’t go over well with some members.
Hundreds of members converged in a room at the Memphis Cook Convention Center late Thursday night to await the results. Many men were dressed in Sunday best suits, many women in glittering dresses.
Two women wearing T-shirts that said “Yes we can re-elect Henry J. Lyons” drew stares from some attendees.
The Rev. Dwight Montgomery, 59, who pastors a church in Memphis, said he has been playing the role of mediator, especially since the city is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life.
“I have been advocating unity and brotherhood,” he said.
But he gave a hint about the way he might have voted when he went on to praise the outgoing president, the Rev. William J. Shaw, under whom Scruggs was vice president. He said Shaw had done a great job of establishing a convention of vision, integrity, structure and accountability
“And because of that, I certainly want the convention to continue in that vein,” Montgomery said.
Lyons served nearly five years in state prison for swindling more than $5.2 million from the organization’s corporate partners. He is now pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla.
About 20,000 to 30,000 people gathered for the convention this week, less than the 40,000 or so who normally attend, said Deacon Nathaniel Crook, media relations coordinator for the convention. He blamed the economy for the lower numbers.
The organization claims a membership of about 7.5 million.
The Rev. Robert Perry of Union Baptist Church in Stamford, Conn., had voted by early afternoon. He cast his vote for Scruggs and said he is embarrassed by the Lyons candidacy.
“I feel as though it puts a blemish on the convention in terms of its leadership. We have overcome the scandal,” under Shaw, he said.
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