Former President Sues Baptist Convention over Election


Henry Lyons, lower left, claims that he won more than 80 percent of September's vote for president of the National Baptist Convention. (Photos: General Baptist State Convention of Florida and National Baptist Convention)
A former president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. has filed his second lawsuit in two months against the convention.

 

Henry Lyons, who led the NBC from 1994 to 1999 before resigning and serving four years in prison for racketeering and grand theft, ran unsuccessfully for the presidency at September's NBC annual convention. Lyons had previously sued the NBC in an unsuccessful attempt to delay the presidential election.

 

Wendell Griffen, parliamentarian of the NBC, reacted to the news of Lyons' most recent lawsuit. Griffen also serves as pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.

 

"The Convention denies the allegations made by Lyons," Griffen wrote in an email to EthicsDaily.com. "Moreover, the Convention deeply regrets his latest attempt to involve secular courts in the governance of a religious body in clear violation of our constitution and the First Amendment."

 

In the latest lawsuit, Lyons asks the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to declare the recent presidential election "null and void." His nearly 100-page court filing claims the convention is guilty of "breach of contract," "fraud" and "negligence." Included as a plaintiff in the lawsuit is New Salem Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., where Lyons is currently senior pastor.

 

Lyons contends that the election was rigged and that the results were not properly reported. The lawsuit alleges that the convention "knowingly and intentionally misrepresented … its true plans for operating and certifying the election results" and "knowingly and intentionally concealed true results of" the election.

 


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As first reported by EthicsDaily.com, Lyons sued the NBC the week before September's presidential election. He charged that new bylaws governing the presidential election violated the convention's constitution and 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.

 

The judge in Lyons' previous lawsuit ruled against his efforts to delay the presidential election. Lyons went on to lose the election by a margin of 4,108 to 924. He was defeated by the convention's vice president-at-large, Julius Scruggs, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala.

 

Lyons now claims that "many violations of established procedures occurred in the voting process," therefore "destroying the integrity of the September 10, 2009 Presidential Election." In addition to alleging "voting irregularities," Lyons contends that the actual vote total was "[t]he exact opposite of what was announced the night of the election."

 

Thus, he claims that he – and not Scruggs – won more than 80 percent of the vote. His lawsuit asks the court to declare his numbers to be the official result, therefore "making Henry J. Lyons the winner."

 

Lyons argues that even though the convention "is a religious organization," the court can rule on areas that "are not premised upon consideration of doctrinal matters." He also claims that the convention is not "a necessary integral of the Baptist faith."

 

Lyons previously served as president of the National Baptist Convention from 1994 to 1999. A marital conflict led to an investigation into his finances. 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, of which 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 he is currently the president.

 

Prior to the recent presidential election, some National Baptist pastors suggested that a Lyons victory could split the 7.5-million-member denomination. Additionally, many fear he would once again harm the convention's reputation. 
 

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.

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