The Flying Baptist and other stories

The Flying Baptist and other stories May 14, 2021

• Robyn Pennacchia brings us the story of yet another would-be insurrectionist getting arrested after bragging about it on social media.

This guy — a Florida man — posted quite a bit about the race riot in the Capitol. Some of his posts condemn the lying media for describing the January 6 riot as violent, arguing instead that everyone there was a peaceful patriotic Trump supporter and that he didn’t see any violence. Some of his posts condemn the lying media for saying that the insurrection involved Trump supporters, arguing instead that he was one of only a few MAGAs in a sea of violent antifa leftists.

He seems to be practicing the art of “believing” both of those contradictory statements to be true. This is a trick required by his need to believe one or the other at different times, depending on which of them allows him to tell himself that he is — in this as in all things — innocent. When reality crashes through for a guy like that, it’s gonna be devastating.

• This is a wild story: “First Baptist of Fort Lauderdale splinters over money, power and concerns for church’s real estate riches.”

Back in the ’80s, my dad was hired as an attorney by the former trustees of a small nondenominational Pentecostal church. They’d been fired by the church’s pastor after they’d tried to fire that pastor and he had, subsequently, moved into and locked himself inside their church building. Dad helped convince them all into working out a settlement without going to court through the shrewd legal strategy of shaming them all into realizing what this sort of thing did to their Christian witness. (This worked, in part, because the ex-pastor hadn’t brought enough food for a prolonged siege.)

This Fort Lauderdale story seems even twistier and nastier than that one, if only because there’s so much more money involved. (“In their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”)

• Of I’d come across this sooner, I’d have included it with those Twilight Zone writing-prompt items the other day. Behold: The Ezekiel Airship.

The picture above is a replica, based on the original plans, on display at the Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Center:

The airship was inspired by the prophet Ezekiel’s encounter with a flying entity resembling, “…a wheel within a wheel.” Reverend Burrell Cannon first designed the craft around 1884, and built a proof of concept in 1900. After relocating to Pittsburg, Cannon convinced the townsfolk to help him form the Ezekiel Airship Manufacturing Company. They sold stock and raised $20,000—equivalent to over $600,000 in today’s dollars.

Assembly of the machine took place at a local foundry and the airship was said to have flown in a nearby field in the late spring or summer of 1902. If accurate, that would mean the Ezekiel Airship took to the air before Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved powered flight on December 3, 1903. But a question remains: Did the Ezekiel Airship actually fly?

No one can say with certainty. Some in Pittsburg still tell of those who passed down stories of witnessing the airship lifting off and making a brief, wobbly flight across an empty field. Three years later, Reverend Cannon loaded the airship on a flat rail car bound for the St. Louis World’s Fair. The exhibition had a concourse for anyone who built and successfully flew a “one-seater self-propelled flying machine.” Flyers could compete for a $100,000 prize offered by the U.S. government. But Cannon never made it to the competition. Somewhere near Texarkana, a storm blew the Ezekiel Airship off the rail car and shattered it.

I’d like to see the Rev. Cannon’s airship make an appearance in some alternate history sci-fi stories, but the entire story — perhaps slightly tweaked at the ending — would also make for a great old-school Rogers & Hammerstein-style musical.

In the meantime, please keep this story in mind whenever you encounter right-wing white Christian nationalist Baptist preachers. Since they never listen anyway, feel free to respond to them by saying, “I miss the good old days in America, when instead of meddling in politics, Baptist pastors just built factories for prototype airships, as God intended.”

• Speaking of Baptist pastors … Beth Allison Barr responds to Al Mohler’s claim that women preachers are unprecedented in Baptist churches. (Never tell a historian that something is unprecedented unless you’re prepared to have them come back with a long list of precedents.)

I’d add Calista Vinton to Barr’s list. She was a preacher commissioned as a Baptist missionary in 1834 — before the Southern Baptists splintered off in defense of slavery. Her husband Justus was ordained. She was not. But she did most of the preaching while he focused on translation work. The Mohlers of her time expressed their “concerns” about that but she responded that 1) God had commanded her to preach in the Great Commission, and so their permission was not required, and 2) She was obviously very good at it, so maybe they should just sit down and get out of her way (which they begrudgingly did because, well, she was).

Barr also mentions, briefly, that a Baptist battle over ordination is odd because “no ordination theology exists for Baptists.” I’d put that differently, Baptist/Anabaptist “ordination theology” holds that baptism is ordination. Which is to say that it makes no sense, in terms of Baptist/Anabaptist theology, to restrict women to being laity because the category of laity isn’t supposed to exist.

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