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.” 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.]
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.’” 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.