Conley, Faith Cure and Money
While the prophetic failures of 1881 precipitated division, they were not the prime cause. Paton’s deflection centered on declining influence and a return to his universalist belief. From the beginning, he and Russell were separated by their beliefs, and separation was inevitable. Jones sought in rejection of key portions of the Bible an excuse for behaviors few Christians would accept. William Conley’s slow, painful withdrawl from Watch Tower association dates to the same year, but there is no evidence to suggest it was related to failed prophetic expectations. Russell connected it to status and finance:
The nearest we ever came to asking money from any convinced us that such a course is wholly contrary to the Lord's will. That instance was in 1881, when over a million copies of “Food for Thinking Christians” were published and circulated. We then remembered a Brother, who was well-to-do, and who had repeatedly shown a deep interest in the cause, and who had said to us, “Brother R____, whenever you see something good, something specially calculated to spread the light and needing money, something in which you intend to invest, let me know of it – count me in on all such enterprises;” and we merely laid the matter before him, explaining the plan and the amount of money that could be used, without making any direct request. The Brother gave liberally, yet apparently the offering brought him only a partial blessing. And, perhaps from fear that we would call further opportunities to his notice, and from a lack of full appreciation of our motives in the matter or of the light in which we regarded it (as a favor toward him to let him know of the opportunity), that Brother has gone backward and lost much of his former interest. How much the above circumstance had to do with his decline of interest we know not, but it doubly strengthened and guarded us on a point on which we were already well settled, namely, that no direct and personal appeals should be made to any in our Lord's name. All the gold and silver is his. He neither begged nor commissioned any to beg for him.
This is an obvious reference to Conley. We should note that Russell continues to call him ‘brother’ in 1890, revealing a continuing relastionship he did not have with Barbour, Paton or Jones. But as a brother, Conley had taken a step backwards. Russell saw Conley’s four thousand dollar donation to the tract work as liberal and speculated that fear of further calls on his wealth caused Conley to withdraw.
Evidence suggests that Russell mistook the nature of Conley’s “deep interest.” Conley supported many religious causes, including those whose beliefs differed from his own. He gave room in his home for Paton to lecture, but in 1894 he wrote to Russell saying: “As to myself, you an rely on one thing; viz.; All report stating that I deny the ransom are aboslutely false. The no-ransom people may talk, but they ‘have nothing in me.’” Conley advertised in Jones Day Star, but we think it was recoup money owed to Conley & Ritter, rather than as support for Jones’ later views. The Conleys supported alternative religious movements in various ways out of a sense of ‘doing good.’
Russell is correct when he suggests that Conley did not appreciate his motives. Conley was a religious gad fly. He did not share many of Russell’s beliefs. He was not committed to an urgent last days’ message. While Russell was divesting himself of commercial interests, Conley was cultivating his. The Allegheny belivers were diverse, and Conley’s last religious belief suggests he retained his millennialist Lutheran beliefs throughout the years he associated with Russell. What united them was a belief in the nearness of final judgment. They were not united in most basic doctrine, and when they were their emphasis was different. Much of Conley’s drift away from Zion’s Watch Tower is due to this shift in emphasis.
The faith cure movement as expressed in this era come to America from Germany and Switzerland, but it took on a distinctivly American flavor. Russell encountered it at least by 1878 when me met Jenny Smith at the New York City Prophetic Conference. As you will recall from volume one of this work, Smith believed herself cured by faith. Russell was interested, if not in her personally, at least in her claims. Other Watch Tower associates were interested too, and the topic was discussed in The Watch Tower.