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(UNDATED) An Alabama pastor was elected president of the National Baptist Convention, USA on Thursday (Sept. 10), overwhelmingly defeating the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, the denomination’s former leader who was sent to prison for fraud.
The Rev. Julius R. Scruggs, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., won the presidency during the denomination’s annual meeting in Memphis, Tenn.
Lyons, who now leads a church in Florida, received just 924 of the more than 5,000 votes cast.
Scruggs has led the Huntsville church for more than 32 years, and has served as the vice president-at-large of the predominantly black denomination. He succeeds the Rev. William J. Shaw, who served two five-year terms.
Lyons resigned from the presidency of the denomination in 1999 after being convicted of swindling millions from corporations wanting to market products to church members. He was released from prison in 2003.
The Rev. Riggins Earl, an ethics professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, said the overwhelming vote demonstrated that members wanted to put the Lyons’ controversy behind them.
“It means that the leadership of the churches of this convention as well as the members, lay members of the convention, are …
unequivocally clear that they want leadership of integrity,” said Earl, who attended the meeting in Memphis and voted for Scruggs. “They have spoken loudly that they want that.”
The Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, professor of African-American studies at Colby College in Maine and an assistant pastor of a Massachusetts church with ties to the NBCUSA, said the vote indicates a desire for leaders who don’t prompt questions.
“It looks like people are ready for new leadership and an opportunity to move forward and to really, I hope, build on what Dr.
Shaw has done,” said Gilkes, who did not attend the meeting. “At this time, I think it’s really important that our leadership in our religious life be forward-looking and be ready to basically be in a position that’s unassailable.”
The Rev. Joseph Wright, a Florida pastor who supported Lyons, said he considered the outcome to be a “divine right” and was not disappointed with the outcome.
“I’m hoping that now that this is over, that we’ll start mending some bridges and start establishing a new direction for the convention and begin a healing process,” said Wright, pastor of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla.
In the days before the election, Lyons sought a temporary restraining order to halt the process because he thought it was unfair, but a federal court denied that request and the election was held as scheduled.
Lyons, the pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., made an unsuccessful run for president of the Florida General Baptist Convention in 2007.
Scruggs said during his campaign that he hoped to expand the mission work of the denomination beyond Africa to countries like Haiti, where individual NBCUSA churches have had a presence. He also said he wanted to see the denomination develop a public policy commission to better address issues such as public education and health care.
By ADELLE M. BANKS c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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