Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Just an extract ...

The following paragraphs are from my introductory essay, revised to accommodate new research. All credit for the new material goes to Rachael. Please refrain from asking me to cajole her into returning to the blog. She's a big girl, except in physical size. [She's 4 feet ten inches tall and weighs under 90 lbs., as some of  you know.] Neither you nor I have any business imposing our wishes on her. You can make both of us happy by posting a comment on this revision:

            In this volume of Separate Identity you will find much that is unfamiliar to you. Some of what we present changes the narrative – call it the story line – usually presented by those who write about the Russell years. But more often we simply elaborate where others have abbreviated. A more complete narrative gifts readers with a better understanding of Russell era history. This occasionally makes us myth-busters. Occasionally a reviewer criticized our impatience with the poor work of some who’ve written on similar topics. Perhaps we should have lowered the sound level when we expressed our distaste. But ultimately, we have no apology for having noted partisan, misleading, and false statements. Writers owe readers their best efforts. Not lies or sloppy research.

            Criticisms have been few. Some continue to believe that Russell was a Mason, part of a conspiracy seeking world domination. If he was, he was very ineffective. Though this conspiracy theory is dying a slow death on Internet boards, we readdress this in appendix one. Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, some continue to assert that Russell was an Adventist. We think the evidence presented in volume one is plain. Watch Tower adherents and other Literalist believers rejected that identity. If it was wrong to identify them as Adventist then, it remains so today. Those who identify Rusellites as Adventists should do so on the basis of some evidence other than speculation about what ‘might have been.’

            Among those who continue to present Russell era believers and descendant religions as Adventist is Zoe Knox. This is disappointing. We expected better from her, given her history of thoughtful and careful research. Her most recent book, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Secular World, continues the myth of Russellite and Watch Tower  Adventism, which she supports with a quotation from Rogerson: “In 1969, Alan Rogerson observed that most of Russell’s interpretations were not new and that many or them originated with various Adventists or his day.”[1] Rogerson did not support his claim; a critical eye would wonder why he failed to do so. The reason, of course, is his claim is insupportable. Using unsupported claims as the basis for your own work – without a minimal amount of verification – is not best work. Nothing in Rogerson’s claim can be sustained from contemporary documentation. What can be sustained is that Russell derived his doctrine from Literalist belief. Much of what we wrote in volume one of this work proves that.

            The fault is that Rogerson and others define Adventism as belief in the near return of Christ. That’s not Adventism. Adventism is a belief system derived from the Millerite movement of the 1830s and 1840s. It has a distinctive doctrinal set. Belief in the near return of Christ is apostolic belief with a connected history up to the Millerite nonsense and extending to today. Russell’s doctrine did not come from Millerism. It came from what was then called Age-to-Come or Literalism. Literalism’s history in America extends back to the earliest colonial era. It characterized British believers of most faiths, including that of the established church.

            Defining Russell’s belief as Adventism and Bible Student and Witness congregations as descended from Adventism is wildly inexact. It is just wrong. The tendency to confound belief in the near return of Christ with Adventism is not new. It was commonly done in the Russell era. An example is found in the August 1, 1881, Kingston, New York, Daily Freeman where the parents of an Anna Lewis of New Britain are described as “Second Adventists in belief and members of the Baptist church.” Somewhat later, in Buffalo, New York, the editor of the Evening News misrepresented a congregation of about two dozen believers as “akin to Second Adventists.” This drew a rebuke from one of the group whose beliefs mark it as very likely the Watch Tower adherent congregation in Buffalo:

Lest the grave charge of numerical insignificance be inadequate to the complete extinction of a ‘half dozen’ religious worshipers, they must be brought into the inquisition again to be placed upon the rack and be thrust through with the deadly charge of being ‘akin to the second adventists’! We were not aware of any kinship existing between us and the second adventists, without it could be established upon the isolated truth of the personal second advent of Jesus to this earth. But mark you, if that isolated truth can establish a kinship between us it will also prove and establish a kinship between Rev. Dr. Lorimer [then a prominent Baptist clergyman] and the second adventists, and, by your curious and extraordinary method of gauging a man’s standing, it would place him, as well as the ‘six in the small upper room in the American Block,’ under the ban and the fetters of social and religious ostracism. For his sermon on ‘the future of Jesus’ is a scholarly, elaborate and eloquent vindication of the doctrine of the personal, visible and pre-millennial second advent of Jesus to this earth. [Original spelling and punctuation retained.][2]

            We acknowledge that Dr. Knox said positive things about our work in her newest book. She also wrote a largely positive review but added this suggestion: “Schulz and de Vienne make little attempt to connect their work meaningfully to research on nineteenth-century American religious history, which they might have done by, for example, considering what was unique about the emergence of the Bible Students as compared with other ‘American originals.’”[3] We think we made the most significant connections in volume one, but her comment has led us to reflect on the current approach to American religious history. Frankly, we thought the elements of American religious history so obvious – so widely known – that we did not need to address them. We were wrong.

[1]               Zoe Knox: Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Secular World, page 54.
[2]               The Halfbreed Church, The Buffalo, New York, Evening News, July 12, 1882.
[3]               Zoe Knox: The History of the Jehovah’s Witnesses: An Appraisal of Recent Scholarship, Journal of Religious History, June 2017, pages 251-260.


Edward said...

I thought you proved rather convincingly by the use of contemporary sources in volume one that Russell's beliefs did not derive for Adventism. That researchers and commentators still insist on relating Russell beliefs to Adventist teachings (even after commending your research) is just part and parcel of people doing what you highlighted in the above post. That is relying on secondary sources with seemly no desire to do any fact-checking on their own.

So they relate any who believe in the nearness of the the Second Coming of Christ as being derived from Adventist teaching just as many, without nary a thought, think of any who do not believe that Jesus is God as having Arian belief. People, even educated ones, just get stuck in certain modes of thinking and the only way they will change is if they are continual reminded by those who know better what the facts are and where they can be found. The work you are doing in volumes one and two is just the beginning of a process that will eventual lead to a more factual representation of the Watch Tower's past by the scholarly community.

jerome said...

The extra two paragraphs to the version of the preface published for a brief time before are very interesting. They provide yet more proof that the sloppy misuse of the term Adventist by journalists and others goes right back to the early days, in this instance to the early 1880s. It would be nice if someone could actually prove that the Buffalo group were an early Watch Tower congregation, but even if not, the point about the misuse of the term Adventist right down to our day has been well made.

Andrew said...

I am glad you are not apologizing for calling attention to sloppy research and poor scholarship. I am writing a history of my local congregation, and your example of how to write accurate and verifiable research has made my project ten times better than it would have been without your example. I cannot thank you enough, and I cannot wait for the next volume.

One more thing: Your readership is far larger than you imagine. There are dozens in my local congregation who read your blog, but fear to comment, being afraid that they might be criticized for not using "official" research channels. They have asked me to extend their thanks to you for your outstanding research.


Gary said...

Thank you for this. The addition of the quote re. Buffalo New York adds usefully to the argument that sharing some belief in common with the Adventists does not make one an Adventist anymore that practicing total immersion makes one a Baptist. Similarly the term 'American originals' can be misleading since many considered such show obvious signs of British and European Separatist origin.

Semer said...

Thank you. I've enjoyed this as always.
Anyway, although I have nothing to do with Millerism, doesn't "Millerite nonsense" sound a little too harsh?

B. W. Schulz said...

If I thought it was too harsh, I would have written something else. I think it's history defines it as nonsense.