Religion News


Issue: "Wedgwood shooting," Oct. 2, 1999

The era of Henry Lyons is over
William I. Shaw, 65, a Philadelphia pastor, won the presidency of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., last month in Tampa, Fla. One of 11 candidates, he ran on a campaign platform that promised to bring fiscal, structural, and spiritual reform to the troubled denomination. He succeeds Henry Lyons, the disgraced St. Petersburg pastor who is serving a 5H-year prison term on state and federal charges in a federal facility near Ocala, Fla. Tampa's Ice Palace resembled a national political party convention as candidates and their campaign managers worked the aisles, their supporters waving colored banners and chanting slogans. Pastor Shaw, a Colgate Rochester seminary graduate with a reputation as a scholar, businessman, and pastor of 43 years with an unblemished personal life, received 3,694 votes. He complained that Mr. Lyons and his backers in the NBCUSA establishment who kept him in power until after his conviction had brought shame to the once proud denomination. Another reform candidate, Yale-educated W. Franklyn Richardson, 50, a Mt. Vernon, N.Y., pastor, finished a close second with 3,451. Edward V. Hill, 65, a Los Angeles pastor, strong Lyons supporter, and choice of the NBCUSA governing board, placed third with 2,097 votes. None of the others won more than 185 votes. Many churches and members had cut their giving to NBCUSA headquarters during the Lyons scandal. Debt piled up, and programs suffered. "Our problems stem from a lack of accountability and a failure to center the convention around Christ," Mr. Shaw declared. He called for 40 days of fasting and prayer. He said he would put an immediate freeze on spending, order an audit of the denomination's finances, and call a national assembly next month to plan how the Nashville-based NBCUSA should change its way of doing business. He also said he would employ a statistician to find out how many members there are. Membership (average age of members is about 60) has been variously estimated at between 1 and 8 million, but no official count has ever been made. Member churches don't report their figures. Mr. Lyons had used the 8 million figure to attract lucrative business deals with corporations interested in reaching that many predominantly African-American church members. Authorities alleged he pocketed more than $1.4 million from these deals and failed to report it on his income tax return. Farewell to anger
In a stunning development at Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, the board of trustees by majority vote Sept. 14 fired President Mark T. Coppenger for getting angry too many times at too many people. The action came following 13 hours of closed executive sessions in a special called meeting of the board, attended by 31 of the seminary's 34 trustees. "After hours of agonizing discussion and interviews with Dr. Coppenger and vice presidents, a majority of the board concluded that the expressions of anger admitted to by Dr. Coppenger had irreparably damaged his ability to lead the seminary," board chair Carl Weiser, a Lynchburg, Va., pastor, told reporters afterward. Mr. Coppenger, 51, said through a spokesperson he would make no comment, and Mr. Weiser placed a gag order on the trustees. Michael Whitehead, seminary vice president for business affairs, was named acting president. Earlier, the board's executive committee conducted a two-month investigation into complaints about Mr. Coppenger's outbursts and use of profanity. In a meeting of the committee on July 30, Mr. Coppenger acknowledged "misappropriation of anger" and embraced the committee's recommendations regarding steps to repentance and restoration (WORLD, Sept. 11). However, some board members had been unaware of the complaints and the executive committee's action, and they called for last month's full meeting of the board to explore the matter. Mr. Coppenger, a leader of the conservative movement in the Southern Baptist Convention, was elected president of the 700-student SBC school in 1995.

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman


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