Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fretting

I've written and rewritten my introduction. I threw everything out and wrote this instead. Rough Draft follows:


My Turn: Rachael’s Comments

 

Bringing this volume to print isn’t exactly like giving birth, but there are similarities. Original research has its own set of pains, agonies, and irritations. And it has its joys.

 

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            We knew error and fabrication colored how this story has most often been told. We did not appreciate the extent to which this is true. We expected a reasonable amount of competence among those who have tackled Watch Tower history, and we found some authors reliable. Most are not. Even among the most reliable, we found a tendency to turn presumption into “fact.”

            Many of those who preceded us were polemicists. This is true of some who presented themselves as credentialed historians or sociologists, and it is especially true of most clergy who’ve written on the subject. It amazes me that these writers are taken seriously merely because they were published.

            We do not fault anyone for having a point of view. We have our own, and privately we debate issues ranging from our personal theologies to interpretation of historical evidence. However, a point of view should not lead one to turn presumption into ‘fact.” It should not lead one to fabricate.

            The works of some are characterized by logic flaws. An anonymous writer substitutes capital letters for reason, presuming that capitalizing random words proves a point. This reflects a seriously defective education on his part and on the part of those gullible enough to find this convincing. He also withholds from his readers documentation. If the antiquated psychological descriptor “anal retentive” has any validity, it applies here.

We reject this approach. We tell you what our sources are, and though that results in copious footnotes, it leaves no doubt about the trail we followed. Occasionally we tell you where to find rare or otherwise hard to find sources. Don’t ignore the footnotes. We adopted the dictum “the story is in the details,” probing and poking at original sources, following hunches and hints where ever they led.

After reading rough drafts of some of our chapters, another writer suggested that this book is destined to be the classic presentation of Watch Tower history. I appreciated the kind comment, but we see this work as preliminary, as the first step in research that should have been undertaken decades ago. We look for more and better research from others more competent than ourselves or who are willing to follow trails we could not. Where we reached “dead ends,” others may find a trail to follow.

A major flaw in previous research is willingness to parrot unfounded assertions of others. If you take up the themes we’ve opened in this volume, ask this critical question of each writer you consult: “How do you know that?” Check their sources; probe for detail.

The story we tell here is, as Mr. Schulz observed in his introductory essay, different from what we presumed it would be. We presumed a “unity of belief” among Russell and his associates that did not exist. In volume two we will detail the divisions and separations and early controversies that resulted in ecclesiastical unity, a separate religion. Our premise as it finally developed is that a group exploration of Bible teaching resulted in a settled doctrine developed out of debate, difference and controversy. The doctrinal set finally settled on created a new religious unity. It peeled off dissenters who went their own ways.

In this volume we examine the historical and theological roots of Zion’s Watch Tower. That the story is more complex and often different than usually presented should surprise no one. One largely accurate history presents this entire period in six paragraphs. We presume the author told us everything he knew or thought important. The fault isn’t in what he wrote. It is in what he omitted.

Theologically I’m a skeptical believer. I approach historical research in the same way, which means I question everything including commonly believed “facts.” Many of those proved absolutely true. Some proved false. As you explore this first volume, you will encounter the familiar and the new.

The men and women in this story, long dead though they are, produced an emotional response. I came to like some of them. Some of them are remarkably distasteful, mean spirited and delusional. No historian writes an impartial history. But we have written to the full measure of our ability an accurate one. Despite our best efforts, we have probably made some errors of fact. We hope not, but given the depth and complexity of this research – and the newness of some of it – it seems inevitable that we got something wrong. It won’t hurt my feelings if someone points out the flaw, but I expect proof, not mere opinion. I expect critics to be as competent as we are, and I hold them to the same standards of historical research we manifest here.

A number of people have taken an interest in our research, assisting in various ways. We cannot name them all, and some wish to remain anonymous.

            Institutions that were especially helpful included the Methodist archive at Wofford College through Dr. R. Philip Stone; the State University of New York at Plattsburg; Franklin County Ohio through archivist Sandy Eckhart; the Archives of the Episcopal Church at Austin, Texas, through archivist Laura Kata; Ohio State Historical Society through Elizabeth Plummer; Almont District Library though its librarian, Kay Hurd; Junita College through librarian Janice Hartman. I’ve probably left out others equally helpful. I apologize to those I’ve omitted.

            Some institutions were distinctly un-helpful, even hostile. We’re still waiting on replies to emails and letters sent to some several years ago. The Library of Congress was hostile and unhelpful. The National Archives of the United States of America sent us key documents connected to one of Russell’s early associates. They refused to help when we requested other documentation that may hold the Department of Justice in a bad light, even though the material is about a hundred years old. The archivist at Boston University refused to provide photocopies of key material based on her reading of the papers. One of the friends of this research traveled there and made the copies in person.

            Though the Watch Tower Society declined access to a key document, they forwarded nine pages of photocopy, four of which we did not have. They are, of course, not responsible for our research or our conclusions. Given the opportunity to review volume one, they made no comment. They did not sponsor this work.

            Some individuals were exceptionally helpful. This would be a significantly diminished work without their help. Some names that should appear in this list do not because of privacy concerns.

            ** and his wife took time from a business trip to photocopy archival material at an archive that was reluctant to help. This provided key documentation.

            ** provided photocopies of rare material.

            An individual we’ll leave unnamed visited the New York Public Library to view and copy documents we would otherwise not have seen.

            ** of the Netherlands provided significant research assistance, forwarding his “finds” on a regular basis. Key documentation came from his efforts.

            ** of the United Kingdom gave us access to much of the material we used to develop our profile of George Storrs. He helped us analyze a mass of One Faith material and he obtained in our behalf rare magazines and pamphlets. He carefully read our manuscript, challenging some statements and adding to our understanding of some issues. Our greatest debt is to ** and **.

            Dr. ** sent copies of key early booklets. This book would not be as accurate without access to them.

            William Buvinger allowed access to the Buvinger family archives and provided the relevant photos used in this book. Members of the Barbour, von Zech, Wendell, and J. A. Brown families forwarded important material, including wills, family papers and photos.

            Jan Stilson, editor and author of Biographical Encyclopedia, Chronicling the History of the Church of God Abrahamic Faith, 19th & 20th Centuries, shared her research with us and read a key section of this book. She helped us access material from the archives of Atlanta Bible College.

            ** of Italy transcribed the articles found in Appendix 2. He said nice things about us in the two books he edited, and he provided moral support that I found valuable.

            ** and ** helped us overcome copyright issues connected with two photographs. Additionally, we found ** research very helpful.

            ** of Austria provided key help with some of Russell’s earliest associates.

            I’m certain we’ve left off many who helped in various ways. To those not found in this list, I apologize. To those who wish to be anonymous but who helped in various ways, my thanks.

 

Rachael de Vienne

 If you should be on this list and don't see yourself here, email me. I didn't intentionally leave anyone off except those who should remain anonymous.

 

 

 

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