Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Our post below drifted off topic, but let's continue

From the Laramie, Wyoming, Boomerang, April 15, 1918:


Andrew Martin said...

The report of C. T. Russell refusing to pray in response to President Wilson't proclamation (if indeed true) is in marked contrast to the following, from page 199 of the 1975 Yearbook:

"One compromise had been the cutting of pages from The Finished Mystery, this to please those who had assumed the position of censor. Another occurred when The Watch Tower of June 1, 1918, stated: 'In accordance with the resolution of Congress of April 2nd, and with the proclamation of the President of the United States of May 11, it is suggested that the Lord’s people everywhere make May 30th a day of prayer and supplication.' Subsequent comments lauded the United States and did not harmonize with the Christian position of neutrality.​"

The timing of the above Watch Tower notice is interesting. The President's proclamation was evidently issued on May 11, but J. F. Rutherford and his associates had been arrested on May 8, three days before. The question arises: In Rutherford's absence, who decided to respond to the proclamation? Or was Rutherford still in sufficient contact with the office to either initiate or approve the Watch Tower notice?

On page 99 of the same Yearbook, the following report appears, giving further details of the Medford incident:

“April 12, 1918, at Medford, Oregon, E. P. Taliaferro was mobbed and chased out of town for preaching the gospel and George R. Maynard was stripped, painted and driven from town for permitting Bible study in his home. . . ."

Andrew Martin said...


First, the correct 1975 Yearbook reference mentioning compromises was page 119, not 199.

Also, I located a copy of a notice from the Watch Tower, entitled "The I.B.S.A. and The War", which confirms that C. T. Russell indeed did decline to join the prayer event, although he explained his stand much more respectfully than "God wouldn't alter his plan for President Wilson".

His words began: "Our honorable President with praiseworthy intent. . ."

and ended: "can we expect him [the Almighty] to reverse the program at our [notice, not "at President Wilson's"] behest?"

Gary said...

Thanks for your comments Andrew, and to Rachael for posting this interesting newspaper article, albeit diversionary from the usual time period and subject of the blog.

I'm not sure who was responsible for the compromise that supported the national day of prayer during Rutherford's imprisonment and, in a way, it doesn't matter since the organisation has admitted it was wrong. I'm less critical of the decision to cut out pages from the Finished Mystery however. If state censorship is going to force this anyway it may be argued that discretion is the better part of valour. While it was obviously unchristian to support war, to oppose a governments intentions on censorship is another thing, and may well be seen as challenging "the powers that be" (Romans 13) a situation that Bible Students were keen to avoid.

Whatever faults we detect with the benefit of hindsight, it should not be forgotten that in America at the time any political or religious groups that bucked the trend were swiftly identified and suppressed. The IBSA stood out especially as a result of a book it published. As Philip Jenkins noted:

"In 1918, when federal and state authorities were deeply concerned about pro-German subversion and sabotage across the United States, much of their activity focused on suppressing one densely packed theological rant, namely The Finished Mystery." (The Great and Holy War p.141)

Accused of hindering the draft and violating the Espionage Act, Rutherford and his fellow governing body members received 20 year prison sentences at the hands of Judge Harland B. Howe, who considered these seven Bible Students "a greater danger than a division of the German Army". The Socialist Eugene Debs is usually quoted as the classic example illustrating American governmental suppression of anti-war sentiment. However, it is surely telling that the sentence Debs received amounted to only half that given to Rutherford and his fellow IBSA members.

Andrew Martin said...

Gary, I suppose Eugene Debs' sentence was substantially less because he had not angered the religious leaders?

Actually, I can imagine one way in which the identity of the person behind support for the national day of prayer might be of interest - but only historically. That would be if the person responsible was not wholly in harmony with the move towards complete neutrality. Of course, the same person could just as easily have caved in under pressure. My tentative guess would be either Andrew N. Pierson, who was serving as Vice-President, or Russell's final secretary, Menta Sturgeon - but those are only guesses.

Having just briefly perused the offending pages again (247-253, right?), I find them almost tame in comparison with some of the vitriol currently online and in media, 100 years later!

One statement on page 247, however, has always stood out to me as mostly true, although I would suggest that the phenomenon was misnamed:

"Nowhere in the New Testament is Patriotism (a narrow-minded hatred of other peoples) encouraged."

Personally, I would substitute the term "Nationalism" (following the definition of: 'an extreme form of [Patriotism], especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries') for "Patriotism", and let it stand.

Gary said...

Andrew, you ask if Debs' sentence was substantially less because he had not angered the religious leaders? From a historians point of view it may simply be that the Finished Mystery put Rutherford and Co. at the forefront of public attention at precisely the wrong time. (But I could also argue, from a spiritual perspective, that providence determined Rutherford was put precisely in the right place at the right time for a greater purpose!)

The Finished Mystery presented the American government with the first major public challenge following its decision to join the war. To get a more rounded picture, some researcher, preferably in America, could do with collecting references made to Bible Students by prominent clergymen at the time the US entered the war.

I can only refer to the most notable comments of Shailer Matthews and Shirley Jackson Case, Professors from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. These two took particular interest in influencing public opinion toward the social gospel and against Premillennial thought. Much of their opposition initially appears to have been produced to oppose their premillennialist neighbours at Chicago's Moody Institute. But, whoever it was intended for, as we shall see, it directly impacted on the Bible Students.

Case commented that "Two thousand dollars a week is being spent to spread their doctrine. Where the money comes from is unknown, but there is a strong suspicion that it emanates from German sources. In my belief, the fund would be a profitable field for Government investigation."

Shortly after Case's allegation, U.S. Government officials took possession of the IBSA's account books but found nothing to indicate German involvement. Rightly or wrongly, the Bible Students took Case's comments as a direct attack on them and considered the investigation to have resulted from Case's allegation.

Case's attack was not over yet, however. By the time Case's article entitled The Premillennial Menace appeared in print in The Biblical World, Case commented that "several of the leaders of one of these movements have been found guilty of disloyal utterances and sentenced to prison."

In the article Case said that pre-millenarians "strike at the heart of our religion if not of our patriotism" stating that it was "an assault upon our faith in a God who works through human ideals and sacrifice for the sake of a better world" and that it was "too dangerous to be permitted without protest and exposure." He continued:

"Among pre-millenarians the Russellites have perhaps been the most ready to press their principles to a logical issue. As a result they, along with their I.W.W. neighbors, have fallen under the ban of the authorities both in Canada and in the United States."

In referring to the Russellites "along with their I.W.W. neighbors" Case bundled the IBSA in with Socialists who opposed America's involvement in war for very different reasons.

Interestingly, Case noted the vacillating response of other religious groups who had formerly opposed the war by stating that "Government interference with the Russellites has had a disturbing effect in other Premillennial camps and has called forth declarations of patriotism, even though there has been no abatement of effort to proclaim the early end of the world and its irredeemable wretchedness."

I understand these comments to be an acknowledgement that Case considered Bible Students to be the leaders of the premillennialist pack.