COMMENTARY: Rev. Lyons should `act on religious convictions’ and resign

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c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Phillip Morris is an associate editor of the editorial pages for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.)

UNDATED _ If the name Patricia Lucile Demons means nothing to you, don’t feel unenlightened. The name doesn’t mean anything to her divorced husband, either. The same goes for Camilla Smith. Don’t recognize it? No problem. The minister who spent three years in her bed seems to have forgotten that they ever wed.

Demons and Smith are now registering as tiny blips on the national radar screen, not because they are particularly noteworthy or because they clamor for attention _ but for much the opposite reason: They both appear to be quite forgettable.

The Rev. Henry Lyons, head of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., claims in a marriage certificate never to have been married to either woman. But that’s a lie. According to Lyons’ hometown newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, Lyons married Demons in 1966 and divorced her in 1969. Within months, he married Smith, then broke up that union in 1972, when he married his current wife, Deborah Manuel.

Lyons’ marriages and assorted private dealings would be of little general interest were he not a man who routinely dons a robe and stands in judgment of others. But as leader of the 8 million-member National Baptist Convention, USA, Lyons is justly under attack because he has demonstrated himself to be a hypocrite of the first order and unworthy of his high office.

Indeed, as Lyons’ lavish lifestyle continues to unravel, it becomes more and more intriguing to see how long he will continue to twist in his own intricate web of deceit. Just how long will this fast-falling minister continue to blame others for his greedy effort to get a big taste of heaven here on Earth?

America has grown accustomed to political and civic leaders who cheat on their wives and brazenly exploit the perks of their office.

But a top religious leader who flouts his marriage, appears to lie with abandon and has the arrogance to believe that his duplicity can be explained as the misrepresentations of a vicious and racist press is still quite the rare spectacle.

Such claims rarely work for desperate politicians. That a formerly respected preacher like Lyons would adopt such a face-saving effort is the essence of cowardice.

Yet Lyons, one of America’s most powerful clergymen, would have the faithful believe his lies about the ex-wives, his questionable investments of church money and the house he shares with a woman other than his wife are nonissues calculated to destroy a highly visible black man.

Lyons knows the truth, however. He has made a career of defining unrighteous behavior and interpreting the truths contained in the Scriptures. It is time for him to quit looking for scapegoats and excuses, and start confessing his lies and deceptions.

It has been some time since the nation has received a public apology from a national religious leader who screwed up and was courageous enough _ or obviously guilty enough _ to own up to it.

Billy Graham apologized for unwarranted comments he made in regard to AIDS and homosexuals a few years ago. And who could forget the slobbering and embarrassing performance by TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart after he was busted in a slow car with a fast woman?

Now, it’s Lyons’ turn. He’s human. He screwed up by betraying his wife, his church and, arguably, his God. He then guaranteed himself a long, hot summer with his unwarranted and cowardly attack on the press.

Now it is time for Lyons to step down from his seat at the National Baptist Convention, USA, and to act on the courage of his religious convictions.

Assuming he has any.

MJP END MORRIS

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