Keeping the Faith

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.: Henry Lyons, president of the nation's largest black denomination, shows signs of becoming the Marion Barry of religion. State and federal authorities charged Lyons on Wednesday with racketeering and theft -- formalizing months-old accusations of bigamy, fraud and using church funds to buy cars, jewelry and a condominium for his mistress.

Yet the 8.5 million members of National Baptist Convention USA don't seem willing to fire their leader. Lyons has survived repeated no-confidence votes from the church membership, using a unique mix of denials and Swaggart-style confession. TIME's Dick Woodbury covered the church's national convention in December -- and marveled at Lyons' hold on his flock. "It's charisma, and the fact that he's been around forever," he says. "Plus, many of them believe that the accusations are coming from the white establishment. These charges may make him even more of a martyr." A conviction, of course would be harder to ignore.