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Remembering Don Lyon: Pastor and Politician

rev. don lyon stands and preaches
Rev. Don Lyon, Rockford Faith Center

By Sunday, 18 October 2020 08:11 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Before Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee appeared on the political scene as governor of Arkansas in the 1990’s and presidential candidate a decade later, and before Rev. Pat Robertson ran for president in 1988, there was Rev. Don Lyon.

When Lyon (who died last week at age 89), founder and head of the Rockford Faith Center in Rockford, Illinois decided to take on liberal Rep. John B. Anderson, R-Ill., in 1978, he was looked upon by the national media as something of a trailblazer for the embryonic "religious right."

Like other conservatives, Lyon was incensed that Rep. Anderson had moved from the right to the left during eighteen years in Congress.

Rated 88 percent for his first six years in Congress, Anderson opposed Medicare and federal aid to education, supported the House Committee on Un-American Activities and, on three occasions, he proposed a constitutional amendment to characterize America as "devoutly recognizing the authority of Jesus Christ, Savior and ruler of nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God."

"John B. was conservative, all right, and the church community liked him," Lyon recalled to Newsmax following Anderson’s death in 2017, "But in the '60s, he changed. Like a lot of ambitious Republicans, he wanted The Washington Post and The New York Times to like him. And, he wanted the money of the Rockefellers behind him. So he moved liberal."

By 1978, Anderson had changed from supporter to opponent of the Vietnam War, backed Richard Nixon’s resignation, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

So the silver-haired Lyon took on the nine-term congressman. Fledgling groups of evangelical conservatives such as the Moral Majority mobilized volunteers on his behalf, and Jim Martin, future head of the SixtyPlus Seniors Association, oversaw a direct mail campaign that raised funds nationwide for Lyon.

In March of 1978, Anderson emerged triumphant over Lyon with 58 percent of the Republican primary vote — thanks in large part to the crossover votes of Democrats and independents.

"Anderson survived the first assault by Rev. Lyon but he saw the handwriting on the wall," recalled Jim Martin, "So he took an easy out — he ran for President in 1980." (After failing to break single digits in several primaries, Anderson bolted to run as an independent and drew about 5 percent of the vote against Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Jimmy Carter).

Don Manzullo, a conservative Republican who would represent the Rockford-area district in Congress from 1992-2012, told us how he had worked part-time for Rep. Anderson while attending American University in Washington from 1964-67.

"I considered John my mentor and supported him when Don Lyon challenged him in the primary," said Manzullo, "But that's when I got to know Don who ran a very clean and issued-oriented campaign. When Anderson ran for president in 1980, I backed Don in his race against [realtor] Dick Crosby and [State Sen.] Lynn Martin—all three excellent candidates.. Lynn won that primary, and held the seat for five terms. Don and I became good friends, and my family appreciated him so much. My Dad died in 1988, and Don Lyon, a Pentecostal preacher teamed up with Dad's priest, Father Jim Murphy, and performed his funeral."

Born in Egeland, North Dakota and raised in Oregon, Donald M. Lyon graduated from the Open Bible College in Des Moines, Iowa. Having married childhood sweetheart Donna Faye Swaggart, he moved to Rockford in 1954 to found and become pastor of the Open Bible Center. The Center would grow to 1200 parishioners and included a day-care center for families in which both parents worked.

Lyon’s much-praised sermons led his hosting "Quest for Life," a 30-minute weekly television program produced by his church and he launched the first Christian radio station in Rockford (WQFL).

He also built the first Christian academy in Rockford and the fully-accredited Rockford School of Theology to train ministers and lay leaders.

"When I decided to run for Congress, one of the first people I visited was Don," former Rep. Manzullo told us, "My relationship with him continued over the years. Whenever I drove by his church, I looked for his car and had uncountable cups of coffee as I savored his advice, counsel and prayers. Those visits continued until the spring of 2020.

"We have lost a great lion, who is now with the Lion of Judah-- Jesus Christ."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2020 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Before Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee appeared on the political scene as governor of Arkansas in the 1990's and presidential candidate a decade later, and before Rev. Pat Robertson ran for president in 1988, there was Rev. Don Lyon.
Sunday, 18 October 2020 08:11 AM
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