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Baptist leader survives another no-confidence vote at tumultuous convention

September 3, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ Dissident ministers shouting ``Let the people speak!″ were drowned out by hymns and reporters were thrown out of the meeting hall Wednesday as the president of the nation’s largest black denomination survived his third no-confidence vote in three days.

The Rev. Henry Lyons, accused of misusing church funds, promised immediate reforms within the 8.5-million-member National Baptist Convention U.S.A.

``The people have spoken, and they spoke in a great way,″ Lyons said after the raucous vote in his favor. ``I do consider this a serious, serious wake-up call. We must tighten up our ship.″

The Rev. Calvin Butts of New York City had moved for Lyons’ ouster, accusing him of ``deceptive acts.″ The motion failed by a voice vote of the 1,000 delegates.

Lyons, whose five-year term ends in 1999, has been accused of using church money to buy real estate, cars and jewelry for a woman not his wife. He has denied having an affair with the woman or misusing funds.

About 150 dissidents tried to mount the stage Wednesday morning after church leaders refused to address their objections to previous votes to keep Lyons in office. One of those votes was taken Tuesday after more than half of the meeting’s delegates had left.

The dissidents were drowned out by hymn-singing by the Rev. Roscoe Cooper, general secretary of the church.

After about 10 minutes of singing, Lyons stepped in and asked that seven of the dissidents be allowed to speak, along with seven of his supporters.

As the seven dissidents took the stage, church officials roughly herded about 50 reporters out of the meeting hall, pushing those who refused to leave, as delegates shouted: ``Go, go, go!″

The reporters were allowed to return after the dissidents finished speaking and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb interceded.

``They want you out so you can’t see the corruption that happens in this convention,″ the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. of Atlanta told reporters. ``This is not what the Baptist church is about. It’s about the freedom to express ourselves.″

Before the vote on Lyon’s expulsion, the dissident ministers had distributed copies of what they called new, documented evidence of improprieties by Lyons, including a canceled check to a St. Petersburg, Fla., jewelry store for $10,000.

``How can I go back and tell them what we’ve done?″ the Rev. Ollie Wells said of his New York City congregation, as he denounced the decision to keep Lyons.

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