Preachers and Pirates

One of the more colorful characters, albeit briefly mentioned, in Jon Butler’s New World Faiths, is Rev. Henry Loveall. While not a major historical figure in any sense of the word, and as a man who is known without the benefit of his own account of himself, the little we know of him intrigues. According to Butler, Loveall was dismissed as pastor from the Baptist church in Piscataway, New Jersey (a town in which I once worked) on charges of bigamy, prompting the Philadelphia Baptist Association to note he’d chosen an appropriate name for himself. Genealogical records online indicate that his given name was Desolate Baker and that he was born in Cambridge, England. As a youth he found himself in trouble for immorality with a woman at his church and he moved to America. Records are sketchy, but he apparently moved from Rhode Island to New Jersey to Maryland to Virginia. He had married but had gone to Virginia with another man’s wife. Even the usually forgiving genealogical records indicate some suspicion of his character.

Loveall lived in the eighteenth century when the world was still large enough to hide in. While I’m not the one to be impressed with Disney’s attempts at profundity in the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies, there is one parsimonious line from At World’s End where Barbossa and Sparrow are discussing the incursion of business interests (in a delightful irony for a Disney film) into the free-spirited world of piracy. Barbossa avers that the world is smaller, but Jack Sparrow retorts that it’s not a smaller world after all, but “there’s just less in it.” Our world has been rapidly reduced to the pixels we can see on the screen in front of us. Bloggers are acclaimed as experts while those who’ve gazed across the war-torn promised land from atop the Mount of Olives with its frenetic network of churches start to doubt what their own eyes have revealed to them. We are content to let the Lovealls and Sparrows live it for us.

Our names are seldom a matter of choice. Like being born, they are factors in the midst of which we find ourselves—someone else supposed that we might turn out like this. The names we would select for ourselves show the size of our inner worlds. To love all is a noble sentiment. A sparrow is nervous, flighty, and has but a small brain. Our inner worlds are partially constructed by our religions. Declaring on divine authority what we must and mustn’t do, we find ourselves born into religions like we’re born into names. Few question the faith tradition fed to them by parents with such certainty, and that religion, just as surely as our name, becomes an integral part of our identity. History tell us little of Henry Loveall, a man who changed his name, and a clergyman who lived religion on his own terms.

Baptized!

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