Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Let me tell you about our next book ....

I usually post articles like this on my personal blog, but this one will go here. I’m smooshing [yes I know that’s not a standard English word] together my new research and Mr. Schulz’s 1990 research paper. This will be the last full chapter of volume one of our new book. It tells the tale of the 1878 disappointment, Barbour and Russell’s eventual separation, and the controversy that followed. 

Most people know the basics, I think. The story is told in two or three paragraphs in most histories of the Watch Tower movement. I can tell you now that you don’t know the full story. Wickedpedia and other silly sites reference A. H. Macmillan’s story about some standing on the Sixth Street Bridge at midnight. It didn’t happen. His claim that Russell saw much work ahead and didn’t expect translation is also false. I’m not saying he lied; he just got it wrong.

Russell tells an entirely different story. We’ve found a lot of that, people making claims that can’t be sustained. We start this chapter with one of those:

“Little of this story has been told. As with much else in this era of Watch Tower history, we find significant purposeful nonsense and just plain bad research. For example, Graig Burns asserts that “the Bible Students had split off from a group of Second Adventists under N. H. Barbour, which later became the 7th-Day Adventist Church.”[1] We’re fairly certain Seventh-day Adventists would be surprised to know this. We certainly were.”

It’s fun to be a little bit snippy. So much we read is just silly.

Much more interesting to me is Russell’s separate doctrinal development. While he and Barbour were slugging it out over the Atonement doctrine, Russell was perusing an independent Bible study that lead to new approaches to previous beliefs. This is all new research for us, but I think we grasp the basics. What were these new thoughts? Read the book when it’s published.

Not surprisingly, we find Barbour misstating events. He does that. He thought he was God’s special mouthpiece, the “leader” of the little flock. He, at all costs, appeared in the best light possible, even if that meant that he lied about his associates.

An obnoxious fabricator claims that Russell stole the Herald of the Morning subscription list. This is a stupid claim. The Herald had fewer than 1000 subscribers. Russell sent his new magazine to 6000 individuals. More importantly, Russell was part owner of the Herald, even if Barbour later denied this. Notices in the semi-monthly issues said so as did periodical listings in the public press.
Click the illustration to view it all.

Right now, this remains a complex, tangled mess. That won’t last. Research always starts that way. This book is nothing like what we imagined. The real story is so much more interesting – and … well … different.

We puzzle through why they believed what they believed. I do not mean we don’t understand their chain of reasoning. They published all that. I mean I want to know why they believed what was sometimes improbable. Charles Pierce, a contemporary of Russell’s, wrote that, “The characteristics of belief are three. First, there is a certain feeling with regard to a proposition. Second, there is a disposition to be satisfied with the proposition. And third, there is a clear impulse to act in certain ways, in consequence.” It’s hard to argue with that proposition. They wanted to believe. So they believed. The limits of belief were the scriptures as they understood them.

Doubt also plays a part in this story. Pierce wrote that doubt “may approximate indefinitely to belief.” That is, as long as there is belief, there will be doubt. He gave several causes for ‘doubt,’ and I think we see them all at work in this story. Doubt in this history drove investigation. And investigation is the life blood of cogent thought. The theologies that descend from Russell, Barbour and others were driven by investigation and doubt. We, of course, do not express an opinion on the success of any of the actors in this story; we only tell you what they did, and if they let us know, why they did it.

We’ve worked hard to turn names into living personalities. Everyone with even mild interest in Watch Tower history knows the name B. W. Keith. Benjamin Wallace Keith had a personality all of his own, built out of experiences and friendships. His aged father ran off and married someone far his junior. We tell you that. He married twice. He lost children to disease and bee sting. We tell you all those small details. And we hope that the story comes alive through them.

Sunderlin was adopted. He and Keith were both wounded in the Civil War. Sunderlin suffered endlessly from a wound that ran down the length of his spine. Best we can put together is that he was prone, shooting, and a bullet traveled down his spine. He became an opium addict. Didn’t know that did you? He found relief from his pain and the addiction in a medication that probably only had a placebo effect. But it worked for him.

We have photos of Keith and Sunderlin. They’ll appear in the new book.

L. A. Allen, one of the original Watch Tower contributors, was a young woman. We tell you some of her life issues. This is a partially told tale. We simply do not know enough detail to say more than what we will say. I wish we did. Her issues lead her to Universal Salvation belief.

Russell, in a very obscure, hard to find place, tells of looking through a blast furnace peephole and thinking about the horrors of hell. Knowing that doesn’t add much to the story, really. But it’s colorful. It gives a flat story something of his personality.

Bet you didn’t know about Russell’s furniture store? His stock market investments? Read the book when it comes out, and you will.

We “take to task” a number of writers on both sides of the aisle. So much [insert slightly vulgar word here] has been written … and believed … that we have to address some of it. Zydeck’s book comes in for a thrashing. It’s not nice to make things up. Bits of things found in dissertations and thesis are beat with a hammer. Most of you won’t have read any of those, but some of them rest at the back of books and pamphlets you would have read if you’ve pursued this at all. Our goal is to present as accurate a history as we can.

An example? Here’s a paragraph:

Owen W. Muelder wrote that Storrs “studied at Princeton, graduated from Andover Theological Seminary, and was a professor of theology as Western Reserve College in Ohio. In 1828, he lived in South Carolina where he observed the grim reality of a slaves’ life.” None of this is true. Records of his ordination and ministry have him in New Hampshire through all this period.[2] A brief biography prefacing one of his books appears to be a product of Storrs’ own pen, and, as such, probably speaks authoritatively about his early religious beliefs. Not surprisingly, his introduction to spiritual thought came from his mother. Storrs and his siblings received their first and primary religious instruction at her knees. Storrs remembered her as “ever watchful over their religious instruction, while the father was most studious to promote their temporal welfare.” Lucinda Storrs “gathered her children around her, particularly on the Sabbath, to give them instruction in the things pertaining to God, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

We want it “right.” If we fail, it’s our own fault, of course. But we strive for accuracy no matter where it takes us.

Another example, this one from a discussion of the Allegheny Bible Class:

A. D. Jones was not a member, despite claims by various writers. Neither was George Stetson, though he may have met with them on the odd occasions when he was in Allegheny. Jones came into the picture in 1878, and Stetson was centered in Edinboro and could not regularly attend though he preached to the Church of God congregation every other week for a period, and in December 1872 he preached there twice each Sunday. The claim made by an Internet based encyclopedia that George Storrs attended regularly is a fabrication. The entire article in which that claim appears should be rejected by serious researchers.

Wading through secondary sources for this period (roughly 1870-1887) leaves the stain of Augean Stables on one. … Which is a nice way of saying really bad stuff about what most have written. We understand that we’ve had extraordinary access to some material not available to most writers. But most of this story has been available to anyone who looked. They just haven’t looked.

Writing this has been a challenge. Melding two writing styles into one readable document is not the least of our challenges. Finding material has been an even bigger task. If you’ve read this blog for a while you’ve seen a long list of “needs and wants.” We still need most of those.

On the other hand, family members of some of those we write about have found us or we’ve found them, and they’ve contributed surprising things. We’ve had help from Wendells, Barbour descendants, von Zech’s family, J. A. Brown’s distant granddaughter, and others. This has added richness to this story.

Mr. Schulz often says, “The story is in the details.” This is an excellent maxim.

[1]               G. Burns: Exit From Soul-Abuse: Redefining Extremist Cults, Trafford Publishing, 2012, page 454. Burns is an ex-Witness. One wonders how he could associate with that religion for twenty-four years and not know the basics of Watch Tower history.
[2]               O. W. Muelder: Theodore Dwight Weld and the American Anti-Slavery Society, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2011, page 89. Storrs ministry in this period is well documented, presenting this record: Admitted on trial to the New England ME Conference 1825; Ordained deacon by Bishop Hedding at Lisbon, June 10 1827 and elder by the same at Portsmouth, June 15 1829; Appointments Landaff, 1825; Sandwich, 1826-7; Gilmanton and Northfield, 1828-9; Great Falls, 1830 and 1832; Portsmouth, 1830-1; Concord, 1833-4; Henniker and Deering supernumerary 1835; left the Methodists 1840; Without charge, Montpelier Vermont, 1841; Supplied Albany, New York, 1841-2. – See N. F. Carter: The Native Ministry of New Hampshire, Concord, 1906, page 428.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I truly look forward to the publication of this book - and reactions to it.

'Getting history right' is satisfying and fulfilling - but one slip and EVERYTHING is questioned.