Rutherford.jpgThe death of the founder is a crisis in any religious movement. What does it take to change a secterian movement centered on a single charismatic
individual to a long-living religion? The fascinating life and works of Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the second leader of the movement we know as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, provides interesting clues to what inspires such a transition.

Av Jan S. Haugland (publisert 12.09.2006)

Master Thesis in History of Religions,
University of Bergen, Norway
Fall 2000

The Successor Problem: A focused biography of Joseph Rutherford,
2nd leader for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1916-1942

Table of Contents

1. Preface
Source Considerations
Selection of Material
Jehovah’s Witnesses Today

2. Historical background
The Adventist Movement
Nelson Barbour
Russell’s Early Ministry
Russell’s Later Years

3. Historical Overview of Rutherford Era
Securing Power
‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’
‘Religion Is a Snare And a Racket’
Dissent Within
The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany
The Last Years
The Legacy of Rutherford
Written Works
Identity from Conflict
The Distant Leader

4. Changes and Causes of Changes
Milestones and Categories of Changes

5. Organization
Organizational Life Cycle Theory

6. Conclusion

Rutherford and Russell Publications
Other Watchtower Publications



On October 31 1916, Charles Taze Russell died. Russell had founded a religious sect known as the International Bible Students, which would later become known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Like the followers of many other charismatic leaders, Russell’s followers experienced a traumatic time upon and after his death. In fact, sects often disappear altogether when their founders die. As we know, this sect not only survived the ordeal following its founder’s death, it thrived and grew. At the time of Russell’s death, it had about 10,000 followers. Today the movement has about 6 million active and zealous members worldwide.

The person who laid the foundation for this impressive growth was Russell’s successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. He became the 2nd President of the Watch Tower Society (hereafter: WTS) in 1917, and shortly thereafter he was the supreme leader of the movement.

At Russell’s death, it is no exaggeration to say that the sect was focused primarily on his person. It took determined effort from Rutherford and many confrontations to secure the loyalty of the community. When Rutherford died in 1942, the organization had no problematic successor problem. The members of the sect had at that time loyalty more towards the whole organization than a single individual.

The major objective of this thesis is to investigate some factors in Rutherford’s presidency that caused this change. A religious community founded primarily on loyalty to a single individual will naturally experience a crisis when this individual passes away. A religion that exists for a long time does so because its followers have loyalty towards the movement itself. Since religions are often founded by charismatic religious leaders –and Russell surely was one of them – what we can call the ‘successor problem’ may well be a general one. This thesis will describe the specific solution that Rutherford’s presidency proved to become.

It is also an objective of this study to briefly look at some issues concerning change in a religion more generally. In more ‘mature’ religions, change is a complicated process. In the case of the Bible Students/Jehovah’s Witnesses, at this stage, the change was initiated mainly by the decision of the leader. Russell and thereafter Rutherford had very much power to personally initiate change in both organization, policy and even the major doctrinal framework, and they both had enough charisma to make the majority of their followers accept even 180 degree turns on major, fundamental teachings.

To facilitate the study of these questions, this text will first investigate the presidency of Rutherford. We will look briefly at the background of the movement – the American Adventist movement, and will also look at key events and developments in the leadership of Charles Taze Russell. A major part of the study will be concentrated at Rutherford’s presidency in the Watchtower movement, investigating important events and pointing out what this author will argue are milestones in the movements’ history. We will also try to put these milestones into a theoretical framework investigating the importance of the leadership in changes. By employing a model provided to us by organization theory, life-cycle analysis, we will also look at these changes and milestones from the perspective of the organization itself. Perhaps unique to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the concept of organization has taken a religious meaning. This author argues that a number of interesting similarities between the Watchtower organization and a modern business corporation make theory from management science particularly useful, while also pointing out important differences, especially related to the concept of power and leadership succession.

As noted earlier, Rutherford was a charismatic leader just as Russell had been. It is a major subject of this thesis that Rutherford initially had to change the loyalty of the followers to the late pastor Russell’s person (and his ideas) into loyalty to himself. If Rutherford then had been the same sort of leaders as Russell was, a similar crisis would occur on Rutherford’s death. What Rutherford did was create what was first and foremost loyalty to an organization. Rutherford’s personal charisma notwithstanding, his followers indeed had their primary loyalty directed at an organization that ensured continuity and easy acceptance of whoever succeeded him.

I can no doubt be accused of emphasizing one person’s influence and downplaying the influence of a community of thousands of members. The same problem faces any student of history. Did, for example, Adolf Hitler merely exploit a social trend in his days and enjoy a ‘lucky break’ given by history, or can we make a good case for the idea that without Hitler’s magnetic personality, Nazism would have been a fluke in the history of ideology and WWII was unlikely to have happened? I don’t purport to answer such questions in a general way, but I can state that my research on the role of Rutherford in the Watchtower movement has convinced me that individual decisions, caused by that person’s circumstances, actually contributes considerably to creating major teachings that guide the lives of thousands many years later.

One example, that may seem out-of-place in a study of this type, is the discussion of Russell and Rutherford’s marital problems. As we will see, Russell’s troubled relationship to his wife actually contributed to the creation of one of the primary doctrines of the Bible Students and later the Jehovah’s Witnesses, namely the ‘faithful and discrete slave’ or ‘that servant’ teaching. We will see that a number of such seemingly arbitrary decisions[1] and events that were outside the Witness community’s control contributed heavily to its makeup – both doctrinal and social. If this thesis is correct, it lends supports to the position that the leader’s personality and individual decisions are very important in ensuring the survival of a religious group over time.

During Rutherford’s presidency, the movement went through what can only be described as major changes. The leadership and the followers experienced crisis upon crisis.

First, Rutherford and his associates experienced that a significant number of the other leaders – appointed by Russell in his will – objected to the style of leadership. Rutherford won the power struggle, but many leading members left the movement.

Second, strong attacks on militarism and clergymen during World War I, when patriotic fever was rampant, caused a serious backlash which culminated in Rutherford and seven other Watch Tower leaders in 1917 being sentenced to long prison terms for sedition. The Bible Students were subject to harsh persecution, which included both legal challenges and mob violence. Even though all eight WTS officials were later released and the rulings against them reversed, the harshness of this period would mark Rutherford for the rest of his life, and it actually was a decisive influence on his religious decisions later. Persecution would also become a very important topic during and after WWII, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses were subject to the harshest persecution by Nazi authorities in Germany and the occupied countries.

The first book published under Rutherford’s presidency, Studies in the Scriptures VII – The Finished Mystery, published in 1917 and indeed a primary source of material used in the sedition charge, should also prove an embarrassment in another way. It had, like Russell’s writings earlier, made a lot of predictions about major prophetic events, especially in 1918, 1920 and 1925. It is interesting to look at how Rutherford dealt with disappointment. The concept of a sacred chronology, including prophecies for specific dates, has been fundamental to this movement from the beginning. When these dates failed to fulfill the expectations of the members, we could expect the followers to experience a crisis of faith. It’s important to look at how Rutherford handled this crisis.

Rutherford also made a number of major doctrinal changes, many of which offended those who had been followers of Russell. After one set of such changes, in 1928, perhaps as many as 4 out of 5 members left the movement. It is interesting to look both at what may have caused Rutherford to make such changes and why these changes caused this reaction. Again, how Rutherford responded to the crisis is an important object of study.

Lastly, it is not possible to say anything about Rutherford without mentioning his enormous production of writings, ranging from books, booklets and pamphlets to magazine articles and tracts. Publication has indeed been a major hallmark of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a number of later Watchtower writings discuss Rutherford’s person, his decisions and even interpret major events in Rutherford’s presidency as being direct fulfillments of Bible prophecy.

Source Considerations

There is no biography of Joseph Rutherford currently available. Neither is there, to the best of my knowledge, diaries or other close sources that would help a biographer. Thus, I will use a number of different sources to throw light on Rutherford’s presidency.

A number of primary sources are available to us today. Rutherford was a particularly productive author, and we have a significant number of books, booklets and especially Watchtower magazine articles written by his hand, and others written by his coworkers. We have existent gramophone records with Rutherford’s voice, originally used door-to-door in the preaching work. There are also court documents from the numerous court cases that involved Russell and Rutherford. There exist a number of newspaper articles, including interviews with Rutherford, from all over the world. A number of contemporary articles in other religious journals and critical books, not to mention personal notes, letters and other documents from the era, complete this quite extensive list of primary sources. This author has available many of these sources, and has read extensively from them. However, a systematic analysis of all primary sources is well beyond the scope of this thesis.

To some degree, the references for this text will focus on the secondary sources. First among these, we have the more or less modern works by historians, sociologists and other scholars about the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Penton 1985, Botting 1984, Beckford 1975, Rogerson 1969). Second, there are the official history versions from the Watchtower Society, the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership (Proclaimers, Yearbook 1975, Yearbook 1974, Purpose, various Awake! and Watchtower articles[2]). Third come two specific and important books written by individual Jehovah’s Witnesses, but published outside the organization (Macmillan 1957, Cole 1955). Fourth, books written by former Jehovah’s Witnesses, which often mix personal testimonies with discussions of historical or doctrinal material (Franz 1983, Jonsson 1983, Harrison 1978, Schnell 1956).[3] Fifth, and finally, we have writings about Jehovah’s Witnesses written by members of competing religious communities, often somewhat polemic in nature (Gruss 1970, others).

There is obviously a major source critical challenge here.

The primary historical treatise on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the Rutherford era, is the historian M. James Penton’s Apocalypse Delayed – The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This work shines primarily as a source-critical analysis, since Penton carefully investigated the original sources, which we outlined earlier, and debunked a number of ‘accepted’ opinions about early events in the Watchtower movement.

Sad to say, the official WTS versions of the organization’s history leave much to be desired. It is not difficult to understand that such sources are reluctant to admit that significant teachings have been reversed, that prophecies have failed, together with other events that would be embarrassing for today’s believers. The basic problem is that the official WTS works are not only ideological, they are sloppy and suffer from so many errors, inaccuracies and outright falsehoods that even books that have been written against the movement sometimes makes the mistake of putting too much stock in the official versions of history. Fortunately, the latest official history version, the 1993 book Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (here: Proclaimers) goes a long way in correcting outright errors; probably this has been necessary after the publication of especially Penton’s book.[4] Proclaimers does suffer, however, from having a less than logical organization; it is largely ‘thematic’ instead of chronological. The fact that it is well indexed and is supplied in fully searchable form on the Watchtower Library CD-ROM[5] compensates somewhat for the poor organization. As we will see, however, even this book contains serious errors and falsehoods.

Most books contain an explicit declaration of the positions of their author(s). When a book is published by the Watchtower Society it is pretty obvious which way the bias goes, even though it is not explicitly stated. The same is true about books from ex-members or members of competing denominations. One exception included in my bibliography is Cole’s Jehovah’s Witnesses: The New World Society. This book somehow pretends to be written by an unbiased observer, even though Cole certainly was a member of the sect, and his work was sponsored and directly influenced by the WTS leadership. It is journalistic in style, that is, it contains no actual references.

The second book in this category, Macmillan’s autobiography Faith on the March (1957), is a more important source. Macmillan was a senior Watchtower official largly responsible for Rutherford’s rise to power. As a first-hand source it cannot be underestimated, but his work is, unfortunately, tainted by several examples of selective memory. Also, while being quite detailed in describing events leading up to 1930, Macmillan is much less forthcoming when dealing with the last years of Rutherford.

Some writings by former members are also of primary importance. Raymond Franz’ Crisis of Conscience (1983) is the candid and impressive personal testimony of the only member of the supreme Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who left the organization.[6] Much inside information would not be available without this book. As a source germane to the Rutherford era, though, it is generally second hand.

Carl Olof Jonsson’s writings (e.g. 1983) are written as historical and doctrinal exposès, but offers so much insight and information from new sources they can hardly be overlooked. Jonsson has gone through early material that to the best of my knowledge had never been published before. Lastly, Barbara Harrison’s Visions of Glory (1978) is an interesting mixture of personal biography and an historical analysis. Harrison grew up in the sect after the end of the Rutherford era. Since Harrison is a feminist writer – she has for example written for Ms magazine – it is no surprise that she pays much attention to the gender aspect of the religion, including Russell’s and Rutherford’s relationships with and to women. The book is invaluable in that way; it doesn’t hurt that it is also arguably the best-written Jehovah’s Witnesses book.

Writings by former members are usually rejected outright by believers, and are sometimes also treated with much skepticism by scholars (e.g. Wilson 1990, 6). It is, however, a fact that current members are unlikely to disclose information considered bad publicity, especially in a sect with a very high missionary zeal. On the other hand, those that have never been members have neither studied the subject in enough detail, nor do they have the experience peculiar to having been a JW; thus these are likely to misunderstand the special vocabulary of the sect’s literature and culture as well as often failing to appreciate the sociological milieu in which JWs are immersed. I will give two examples of this from otherwise credible sources:

First, as Penton points out (1985, 361), it is somewhat illogical for Beckford (1975, 106) to assert that the Jehovah’s Witnesses “‘believe in’ ghosts,” considering that they don’t even believe that the metaphysical soul exists. Second, Garbe (1997, 500) says that, in 1933 Germany, between 25,000 and 30,000 people professed to belong to the ‘faith community’ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This number was derived from a report of 24,843 people having attended the ‘Memorial’ (comparable to the Eucharist) celebration that year (Yearbook 1974, 110). Neither a member nor an ex-member would be likely to commit the error of assuming that this ceremony should be taken to define the lower bounds of membership or religious profession. This is because witnesses are encouraged to, and frequently do, invite a significant number of friends, relatives and other ‘interested ones’ to the Memorial.

One former member source does, alas, confirm some of the worst fears one could have about books written by ‘disgruntled’ ex-members intended to warn people against a ‘dangerous sect.’ W. A. Schnell’s Thirty Years a Watchtower Slave (1957) could have been a major, even the most important, source of information about the movement’s inner workings during Rutherford’s reign. The author was a senior member of the ‘Bethel’ (headquarters) staff in Germany and the United States during the late 20’s and the 30’s, and his book contains much information. It is a shame that Schnell does little to document his statements,[7] and he also engages in strong, almost violent, anti-Witness polemic in what seems to be every paragraph of the book. Yet, this author have yet to see examples of outright falsehoods in the book, and a thorough knowledge of Witness culture and history will tend to confirm that more often than not, Schnell’s claims are correct.

Books written by religious opponents who never were sect members suffer from some of the same problems. Some, like Walter Martin’s famous and widely available books, are so riddled with error that the reader is better off leaving them unread.[8] Others generally rehash information better available elsewhere, and supply polemics of little scholarly interest. Some few (e.g. Gruss 1970) are valuable sources of information and provide good summaries of historical information and excellent analyses of the religion.

Selection of Material

No matter how truthful the facts in an account are, everyone can be accused of bias in selection of material. It is always tempting for any scholar, when challenged to distill an enormous amount of material, to emphasize the sensational and downplay the ordinary. However, since the emphasis of this work is change in religion, it is natural to look at the defining moments in the sect’s history, when the course was changed, and these are, per force, the most dramatic moments.

Moreover, since my main thesis is that the individual leader’s heavy influence on the development of a sect is critical to its survival in the ‘marketplace of religion,’ it follows that some or many aspects of the leader’s personal conduct are important to discuss. It is also worth noting that other influential characters in the Watchtower leadership, for example Woodworth and Macmillan, contributed heavily to creating the social world that would become the community of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But primarily it was the masterful voice of Judge Joseph Rutherford that directed its course.

Jehovah’s Witnesses Today

Before discussing the historical background of the Rutherford era, and the historical events during Rutherford’s reign, it is worth looking at some key issues that defines the Jehovah’s Witnesses today, particularly for the reader who may not be familiar with the movement.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of the Adventist tradition of Bible based Protestant Christianity, but their doctrines are considered heretical relative to mainstream American Protestantism. JWs reject certain doctrines, like the Trinity, the teaching of the immortal soul and hellfire. JWs do believe in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the original autographs of the Bible (unavailable today). They deny that its leadership are inerrant and inspired, but claim ‘divine guidance’ and will ‘disfellowship’ (expel and subsequently shun) members who express any disagreement with current doctrine.

The movement has vacillated between an outright hostile and a distanced view of the secular world and secular authorities. JWs refuse military service, and until very recently, even compulsory civil service. They do not vote in general elections or seek any political office. Members are expected to attend a number of weekly meetings (instructional in nature more than devotional), and to use as much time as possible preaching door-to-door. The primary vehicles of propaganda are the magazines Watchtower and Awake!, but the Watchtower Society, the publishing house and de facto governing institution, has an enormous range of books, pamphlets and tracts.

The harsh discipline towards any dissenters and ‘wrongdoers’ and its refusal to participate in common holidays and do military service has attracted much public criticism and sometimes, outright persecution. Also, the JWs refusal to accept blood transfusions provoked hostile reactions, especially when members die unnecessary.

JWs are proud of their internationalism. There are publishing houses and congregations in practically all countries and regions of the world, but the significant numbers can be found in Christian countries.[9]

Currently there are about six million Jehovah’s Witnesses that report active participation in the ‘witnessing program’ worldwide. About one million are in the United States, its place of origin.[10]

Historical background

“[We] will present the Bible evidence proving that the full end of the times of the Gentiles, i.e., the full end of their lease of dominion, will be reached in A.D. 1914; and that that date will be the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men.” – C. T. Russell, The Time is at Hand, 1889, pp. 76,77 (in 1907 edition)

Millennial and eschatological expectations lie at the core of the Christian religions, but these ideas are expressed more typically in revivalist, counter-establishment and sectarian movements than in the established churches. Such movements enjoyed a great popularity in English speaking countries, and in particular in the United States, in the 19th century. The following briefly reviews some of the history of this movement.

The Adventist Movement

One important proponent of such ideas in the U.S. was William Miller (1782-1849), originally a Baptist preacher. He started to preach that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would occur some time between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. Miller’s followers, who were to become the Adventist movement within Protestant Christianity, may have numbered as many as 100,000. When Christ failed to materialize within the appointed time, Miller set a new date, October 22, 1844. What followed has been called the Great Disappointment, and the different responses various leading Adventists chose to this challenge were to form the major denominations within Adventism.

Generally, there are three different avenues available to a body faced with a failed prophetic prediction. First, it can admit error and post no new statements beyond an apology. Second, it can claim the date was correct, even though the expectations for this date were obviously wrong. Third, it can set a new date on which the predicted events will occur.

William Miller actually chose the first option. This, in fact, brings him out of the picture. This was not to become a very typical example for later Adventists to follow.

Some followers of Miller, notable among them Joseph Bates, James White and in particular Ellen Harmon White, chose to believe there was nothing wrong with Miller’s date calculations. The error was what they had expected. They chose the second avenue outlined above. These, who were to become known as the Seventh Day Adventists, started to teach that Christ had indeed returned in 1844, not to Earth but to His heavenly Sanctuary (fulfilling, they taught, Daniel chapter 8 verse 14), and thus started a day of preparation. Still, the actual Second Coming, the Parousia, was imminent. (Smylie 1988)

Other Millerites (as the media had called them) started to believe there was something wrong with Miller’s prophetic calculations, and started to come up with a number of new dates. One leader, Jonathan Cummings, declared that the Parousia would occur in 1853-54. This movement later became the Advent Christian Church, which aside from the Seventh Day Adventists is the most important Adventist Church.

Nelson Barbour

Another Millerite, Nelson H. Barbour, was originally among those who had been disillusioned in 1844 and started doing something else. He went to Australia to dig for gold. On his long voyage home, he started to reinvestigate the Bible prophecies that had been the basis on which Miller’s predictions were built: namely Daniel and Revelation. Barbour came to believe that the correct date for Christ’s Second Coming was 1873, not 1844. When he came back to the United States, he immediately started to spread this message, in particular through his 1870 pamphlet called Evidences for the Coming of the Lord in 1873: or the Midnight Cry, and his monthly The Midnight Cry from 1873. In the meantime, 1873 had become 1874, but that did not prevent another disappointment.

This brings us back to the second of the three options outlined above. Barbour and his followers now started to reexamine the evidence. One of Barbour’s readers, B. W. Keith, came up with a solution. Having obtained a new translation of the New Testament, Benjamin Wilson’s The Emphatic Diaglott, Keith noticed a marginal alternative translation of Parousia, the Greek word normally translated ‘coming,’ namely ‘presence.’[11] None of these men were skilled in Biblical Greek, but the idea took hold that what had started in 1874 was indeed Christ’s invisible presence.[12] (Jonsson 1983) This year, Barbour said, started a millennial morning, and the periodical The Midnight Cry became The Herald of the Morning. Barbour failed to convince many of his original readers, but he did manage to convert one young man. This man was Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916).

Russell had an exceptional talent for business. Being in his early teens, he worked with his father in a very successful clothing store business. Yet, his primary interest was religion. He did, according to his own words, take exception to many doctrines preached by the major Churches, in particular the teaching about a fiery hell. This problem caused him to doubt Christianity. He credits the Second Adventists, in particular the preacher Jonas Wendel, for having rebuilt his faith in the Bible. Around 1870, he started to study the Bible with some friends. They had met at a Second Adventist meeting, but he never joined that denomination. One day he received a copy of The Herald of the Morning from Nelson Barbour. Russell somewhat ironically recalls that he “examined it with some curiosity to see what time they would next set for the burning of the world.”[13]

According to this account, Russell was astonished when he learned that Barbour had come to the same conclusions as himself. At this time, Russell said, he and his fellow Bible students had already come to the conclusion that Christ would not return to destroy, but to bless mankind. Russell taught that the Second Coming would be accompanied by the resurrection of the whole of mankind: “all must come forth from their graves and be brought to a clear knowledge of the truth and to a full opportunity to gain everlasting life in Christ.”[14] Russell also seems to claim that he had come to believe in the two-stage coming of Christ before he read about it in Barbour’s periodical, but that is unlikely to be true.[15]

Russell, being a wealthy young man, paid for Barbour to come down from New York to meet him in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and during the conversation Russell was convinced that Christ had indeed returned invisibly in 1874. When Russell learned that Barbour’s periodical was almost suspended due to financial problems (the original readers were far from convinced by Barbour’s explanation of the 1874 disappointment), he agreed to help finance its publication. Also, he made Nelson Barbour write a booklet that set forth these chronological ideas, which was published and distributed at Russell’s expense. This booklet, Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World, was published in 1877 with both names on the cover, although Barbour wrote it alone.

Three Worldswould impress many who read it, with its seemingly amazing number of advanced calculations based on Biblical figures and symbols, all leading up to an array of prophetic dates in their own time. The harmony between many allegedly independent calculations, all pointing to the same overall pattern, made this an important work in the history of this branch of the Adventist movement. In this system, the 6th millennium of humanity ended in 1873. Christ’s invisible Parousia started in 1874. This year also started Armageddon, a period of great calamities for mankind, which would end with the full establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth 40 years after the start of his parousia, in 1914. Three and a half years into this period, corresponding to the length of Jesus’ ministry, the remnant of the 144,000 saints – Christ’s church on Earth, along with them Russell, Barbour and their followers – would be raptured. This was 1878, the following year. At the time, Barbour was “not willing to admit that this calculation is even one year out.”[16]

Russell, being relatively new to this line of thought, was nevertheless more than willing to ‘spiritualize’ the fulfillment of this prediction also, when 1878 came and went.[17] Barbour, however, became disillusioned. It is quite apparent that there were a number of disagreements between the two, culminating when Barbour published a series of articles where he rejected the substitutionary atonement doctrine as Russell taught it: that Christ had died as a “corresponding price” or “ransom” to pay the price for Adam’s sin. Russell answered in later issues of the Herald, and the rift between the two former associates grew. Russell writes that because of this difference over the ransom doctrine, “I therefore […] withdrew entirely from the Herald of the Morning and from further fellowship with Mr. B.”[18]

Another of Barbour’s close associates, and an important person in the Second Adventist tradition, J. H. Paton, followed Russell, but should part from him already in 1881, over similar doctrinal differences. B. W. Keith was the only important person among the original followers of Barbour’s ideas on chronology and eschatology who stayed with Russell.

Russell’s Early Ministry

Immediately after the schism with Barbour, Russell decided he needed to publish his own periodical. In July 1879 the first edition of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence[19] was published. The same year, Russell married Maria Frances Ackley, a woman who shared his interests in prophecy, and also was at least his match in writing and preaching skills.

Russell continued, from the first Watch Tower issue, to revise the chronology he had learned from Barbour. When he moved the rapture to 1881, it no doubt served to take his followers’ attention away from the failure of the predictions about 1878. And yet, after that year, Russell sometimes even denied having made such predictions (Penton 1985, 25ff).

Russell was a tireless writer and he also traveled widely to preach his understanding of Scripture, and the number of his followers grew. Using his personal wealth, Russell made sure the Watch Tower was widely distributed, and his sermons were printed in a large number of newspapers all over the United States. By the time of his death, his total production totaled some 50,000 printed pages, and nearly 20 million copies of his books had been distributed worldwide (Penton 1985, 26). The first of his real books, Millennial Dawn or Studies in the Scriptures was published in 1886. This would become volume I in a series of six books with the same title, and the book was later known as The Divine Plan of the Ages.[20] Full-time preachers, called colporteurs, and missionaries, as well as ‘normal’ Bible Students – as Russell’s followers started calling themselves – distributed his publications near and far. The Bible Students succeeded in establishing churches – choosing the Greek name ‘ecclesia’ – overseas: First in England and later in a number of other countries in Europe. Russell’s texts even reached an interested audience in Africa, where it had an unwanted and unexpected political potency.

The books, and also the Watch Tower, were translated into German, Swedish and Dano-Norwegian. Russell also traveled. In 1891 he went to Scotland, Ireland, England, Russia, other European countries and even the Middle East.[21] Especially in England and Scandinavia were people receptive to Russell’s preaching.

At this time, it is worth looking briefly at what Russell taught:

·Chronology: The importance of Biblical chronology, as we have outlined earlier, can hardly be understated. A large portion of the first three volumes of Studies in the Scriptures was dedicated to various ‘prophetic’ dates.

·Anti-organization: Russell had learned from George Storrs a clear dislike of organized religion. In Adventist circles, it is common to refer to the Roman Catholic Church as ‘the Whore of Babylon.’ Storrs, and also Russell, widened this application of the apocalyptic symbol to refer to all organized churches and denominations. Russell denied forming a new denomination, even though later events would make it hard for observers to spot such a difference between his own and other groups.

·Neo-Arianism: Unlike Barbour and Paton, and even Storrs who were unclear on the question of Christology, Russell openly and directly denied the Trinity doctrine.[22] The preaching of Neo-Arianism, or more correctly a denial of the Trinity doctrine,[23] should place the Watchtower movement outside mainstream Christianity and lead to much opposition from established churches.

·Conditionalism: The denial of the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, and especially the emphatic denial of the hell-fire doctrine, was dear to heart to Russell, and is no doubt the reason he was attracted to the Adventist movement. Russell found the idea of God’s eternal torture of the souls totally repugnant and spared few chances to say so. This was met with hard opposition from the mainstream churches.[24]

·Zionism: The return to Palestine of the Jews, and later, in 1914, a wholesale miraculous conversion of the Jews to Christianity, was a teaching Russell shared with Barbour. Russell was certainly a friend of the New York Jews and Zionism.[25]

·Near-Universal Salvation: It was the central belief of Russell that Christ returned, not to destroy but to save mankind. He taught the salvation of four different groups, and in this order of importance: 1) The 144,000, the ‘bride of Christ’, in short: the original first-century Christians and Russell’s followers. 3) The ‘Great Company Class,’[26] Christians not fully worthy of the ‘high calling’ of the 144,000. 2) Israel Restored. 4) Mankind generally. Russell taught that all the three latter groups would be given a new ‘test’ of loyalty after being taught about God’s Plan, and he assumed the majority would remain loyal. Those who did not (and Russell seems to assume there would be few) would be annihilated.[27]

While all the above doctrines had a central importance to the Bible Students, it is clear that to Russell, they all – with the exception of the salvation doctrine and the atonement – were secondary compared to the chronology. Alan Rogerson explains, referring to the Studies in the Scriptures:

“The most surprising thing about the six volumes was their lack of discussion of basic doctrines – less than sixty of the 3,000 pages were devoted to discussing the trinity, the immortality of the soul and hell-fire. The second volume contained no doctrinal material at all; … (One last example: in the first volume Russell devoted only two paragraphs in the whole book to showing that the idea of eternal torment was unscriptural.)” (Rogerson 1969, 17)

Nevertheless, clergymen did not take lightly on Russell’s preaching. While laymen ministers were certainly not uncommon in the United States, the clergy took exception to their Church being referred to as the whore of Babylon, not to mention the fact that Russell did not restrain himself from calling them liars and hypocrites.

At this time, the combatants generally limited themselves to verbal and written attacks. Later in his career, however, Russell should become very familiar with courtrooms. Luckily, then, a member of the staff at Bethel – which the headquarters were called – was a lawyer and former auxiliary judge. This man was Joseph Franklin Rutherford.

Russell’s Later Years

The serious problems for Charles T. Russell started in the later years of the 19th century. Maria Frances Russell had an important position in the Bible Student movement. She wrote a significant number of Watch Tower articles, and even had an important role in the writing of his books.[28] One of her most important contributions to later Jehovah’s Witness doctrine is the peculiar interpretation of the parable about the “the faithful and wise servant” in Matthew chapter 24 verses 45 to 47. Maria Russell brought forth the idea that her husband indeed was “that servant,” and Russell himself and his followers later accepted this doctrine. Later, the application should be changed somewhat, but would still remain the de facto ‘Biblical’ basis for the authority of the Watchtower leadership, from Rutherford to the present collective Governing Body. Maria later changed her opinion, and claimed that the following verses, describing the “evil servant,” better fitted her husband in his ‘fallen’ state.

The hostilities between the Russells gradually escalated, and culminated in 1903 with Maria Frances suing him for divorce from bed and board. The evidence showed to the court, including various letters sent by C. T. Russell to his wife and her relatives and friends, was devastating to his case. (Harrison 1978, 59ff; see also Penton 1985, 39)[29] These issues continued for some time to cause many problems for Russell, both in court and in his congregations.

The information about the marital problems of Russell, deemed inappropriate for a pastor, were widely spread and used to ridicule him. There were also accusations of inappropriate, if not immoral, conduct towards very young women, all adding to a very negative publicity. Russell had also naïvely involved the Watch Tower Society in a scandal by publicly advertising and selling “miracle wheat,” a seemingly amazingly productive strain of wheat that proved to be a useless mutant. A newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle, attacked and ridiculed Russell over this and other affairs. Russell sued for libel but lost in court. There were a number of other issues as well that we will not go into here (Penton 1985, 43).

In 1907, Russell added internal turmoil to the outside pressure by starting to teach that the Christians were not subject to the New Covenant, something that caused a serious schism in his movement (Penton 1985, 42).[30] Since this was considered a central doctrine, it cost his movement hundreds of members. Then, the next year, those who were concerned that Russell had started to develop an authoritarian streak had their suspicions further confirmed. He created a “vow” where an important issue was to promise to never be in a closed room with a member of the opposite sex (family excepted), and then started to pressure both headquarters staff and full- and half-time preachers to take the vow. This caused massive opposition even among formerly loyal Bible Students.

Russell, however, continued to preach his message, both in print and by personally traveling near and wide. Former time prophecies had failed, but the final important year in Russell’s (or Barbour’s) chronology remained: 1914. As it approached, it was obvious that the events Russell had predicted for the years prior to 1914 would not materialize. No worldwide socialist revolution occurred, and the world was not thrown into anarchy. Russell bought another year by making 1914 into 1915, and he was more and more cautious about his formerly very confident predictions. Then, in August 1914, what we now call World War I broke out in Europe. Even though this was what Russell had explicitly said would not happen in 1914, he nevertheless claimed it as a remarkable fulfillment of his prophecy. This was, said Russell, just the final spasm of the current world.

The Bible Student community clearly experienced another disappointment when the first excitement about the war had settled. They had expected to be taken to heaven, and it did not occur. It was in this situation that disaster struck the sect: On a train near Waco, Texas, Charles Taze Russell died, October 31, 1916.

Historical Overview of Rutherford Era

«Individual persons are of small importance, and classes of persons are made more prominent by the Word of Jehovah God, and it is important for one to get into one of such classes. Jehovah has laid down his rules that relate to each class, and in His due time those who comply with his rules find a place in one of his provided classes.» – J. Rutherford: Salvation, 1939, p. 50.

Russell had left a will that outlined his wishes for the future of the movement. No single person should take over the editorial control of the Watch Tower, but Russell named five members of an editorial board. Everything printed should be approved by all five board members if possible, but certainly by at least three. Joseph Franklin Rutherford, who had become attorney for both the Society and Russell himself and probably helped Russell to draft the will, was listed in it only as one of the five alternative members of the editorial board (and, as we will see, even this can be questioned).

Rutherford’s ‘background’ is outlined in a box in the most recent Watchtower history version (Proclaimers 67), and it is fitting to quote all of it, since it contains a number of biographical details that will help us understand Rutherford’s conduct.

J. F. Rutherford’s Background

Joseph Franklin Rutherford was born of Baptist parents on a farm in Morgan County, Missouri, U.S.A., on November 8, 1869. When Joseph was 16, his father consented to his attending college, provided that he pay his own way and that he pay for a hired laborer to take his place on the farm. A determined young man, Joseph secured a loan from a friend and managed to go to college while also studying law.

After completing his academy education, Rutherford spent two years under the tutelage of Judge E. L. Edwards. By the time he was 20, he became the official court reporter for the courts of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit in Missouri. On May 5, 1892, his license to practice law in Missouri was granted. Rutherford later served for four years as public prosecutor for Boonville, Missouri. Still later, he served on occasion as a special judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri. That is why he came to be known as “Judge” Rutherford.

Interestingly, to help pay his way through school, Rutherford sold encyclopedias from house to house. It was not an easy job—there were many rebuffs. On one occasion he almost died when he fell into an icy stream while calling on farms. He promised himself that when he became a lawyer, if anyone ever came to his office selling books, he would buy them. True to his word, he accepted three volumes of “Millennial Dawn” from two colporteurs who appeared at his office early in 1894. Several weeks later he read the books and promptly wrote a letter to the Watch Tower Society, in which he said: “My dear wife and myself have read these books with the keenest interest, and we consider it a God-send and a great blessing that we have had the opportunity of coming in contact with them.” In 1906, Joseph F. Rutherford was baptized, and a year later he became the Watch Tower Society’s legal counsel.”

Rutherford’s career is the Watchtower movement can easily be described as remarkable. It was no doubt helped by the fact that Russell often found himself needing legal representation.

Securing Power

To understand the events that follow, we will have to summarize the persons involved. The will, along with a number of letters and other statements about the administration of the Watch Tower Society, was printed in the December 1, 1916 edition of The Watch Tower.[31] To the positions in the editorial board, Russell’s will had named W. E. Page, W. E. Van Amburgh, H.C. Rockwell, E. W. Brenneisen and F. H. Robinson. Quite curiously, Russell’s will writes about “the five whom I suggest as possibly amongst the most suitable from which to fill vacancies” (emphasis added) and then lists six names: A. E. Burgess, R. Hirsh, I. Hoskins, G. H. Fisher, J. F. Rutherford and Dr. J. Edgar. It is certainly possible, but this author has not found it possible to fully confirm or reject this theory, that one name was added to the list after Russell had written it: Rutherford’s. Whatever the case may be, Page and Brenneisen declined to be on the Board for personal reasons, and Hirsh and Rutherford replaced them.[32]

In addition, two important persons must be mentioned: First, Alexander H. Macmillan, who served as manager of the Watch Tower administration, a de facto interim president. Russell had himself appointed Macmillan. Second, Paul S. L. Johnson, who had been a prominent member of the Bible Student movement. He had made many eager and not always well thought suggestions to Russell on theological and administrative questions, and there is no doubt a good reason he was not named to any position in Russell’s will. He certainly had illusions of grandeur, which frankly was not uncommon among these men.

Russell seems to have foreseen possible problems of succession. Russell’s portion of the shares that gave legal control of the Watch Tower Society was distributed to five loyal female Bible Students who would be “trustees for life.” Women could hold no position of responsibility in the Bible Student movement, especially after the conflict between Russell and his wife. Russell no doubt thought this separation between legal and ‘spiritual’ power would make it even more difficult for anyone to get complete power over the movement.

The official history versions of the WTS points out that many were ambitiously plotting to gain control of Russell’s position at this time. That is no doubt true. Macmillan describes the period up to the election in January 1917 with these words:

“As the day for election of the Society’s officers approached tension began to mount. A few ambitious ones at the headquarter were holding caucuses here and there, doing a little electioneering to get their men in, However, Van Amburgh and I held a large number of votes. Many shareholders who know how to buy shares, knowing of our long association with Russell, sent their proxies to us to be cast for the one whom we thought best fitted for office.” (Macmillan 1957, 68)

Rutherford was their person of choice for the position as president. According to Macmillan, Rutherford didn’t even know about this plotting.[33]

Shortly after Russell’s death, the executive committee, consisting of certain members of the editorial board as well as the leading officers of the WTS (among them Rutherford), had sent Paul Johnson to the WTS branch office in England to encourage the Bible Students there. He was well received there, but – according to the WTS sources – he let this praise go to his head. Johnson started to argue that he was the “steward” in Jesus’ parable about the penny, and that he was really the right man to take over Russell’s position. He tried, again according to Rutherford, to take control over the bank accounts of the London office, and he dismissed two of the officers from their positions.

On January 6, 1917, J. F. Rutherford was elected president. Van Amburgh became secretary-treasurer and A. N. Pierson vice-president. But this was not a done deal, as there was not general agreement what this position meant. Van Amburgh, Macmillan and Rutherford himself had little doubt that all of Russell’s old authority really belonged to Rutherford. The editorial board, on the other hand, believed they were in charge, in accordance with Russell’s will. They considered, according to Macmillan, the president a ‘figurehead.’ (Macmillan 1957, 77)

Soon, open conflict broke out in London. Rutherford sent cables to Johnson, demanding that the dismissed officers be reinstated. Johnson replied with a number of cablegrams where he compared himself to various Biblical figures and offered Rutherford a position as his ‘right hand man’. Rutherford was not impressed, and ordered Johnson to return to New York. Some of Rutherford’s men succeeded in barring Johnson from control of the London branch’s bank accounts and even physically barricaded Johnson in his room. Johnson had to escape through the window and climb down a drainpipe. A letter from the London manager, which was later published by Rutherford, gave the full account. It noted that “the milk deliverers saw the ludicrous sight of a man in a tall hat and frock coat and, as they said, with goloshes only, letting himself down from the balcony into the street.”[34] (Penton 1985, 49)

Johnson went back to New York, and realizing he would receive no support from Rutherford, contacted the four other members of the WTS board.[35] At this time, they were more than ready to listen to criticism of Rutherford. The president had insisted that the board passed a series of bylaws, which gave the officers greatly expanded authority. Macmillan himself was deeply disliked by the directors, who considered him a schemer and a church politician of the worst kind, an opinion at least partly supported by the content of his own 1957 autobiography. Van Amburgh on his part kept the Society’s accounts and books an absolute secret to everyone except Rutherford. Even the vice-president, Pierson, was told he could only see the financial records if he then agreed to resign from office! The board members naturally objected to this secrecy. The most important cause for the trouble, however, was Rutherford’s personal behavior. All sources and parties agree in describing Rutherford as blunt, direct and sometimes harsh in his dealings with subordinates, a notable contrast to Russell. Macmillan nevertheless insists that Rutherford also treated others with love and care, but it’s hard to find others who agree with this (Macmillan 1957, 73; Penton 1985, 51-53; Beckford 1974, 23).

While Rutherford and the rest of his triumvirate continued to run the WTS behind the backs of the rest of the WTS’ board of seven, the conflict built up to a climax. On July 12, 1917, Rutherford secretly had the four opposing directors removed and replaced them with Macmillan, W. E. Spill, J. A. Bohnet and G. Fisher, all Rutherford loyalists. Also in secret, Rutherford had supervised the writing of a new publication, the seventh volume of Russell’s series Studies in the Scriptures. The book, titled The Finished Mystery, was written by George H. Fisher and another Rutherford supporter, Clayton J. Woodworth, loosely based on notes and statements made by Russell, and was styled the posthumous work of Pastor Russell. On July 17, Rutherford announced the book to the assembled ‘Bethel family,’ the headquarters staff. The official Watchtower version of the events, carefully following Rutherford’s own account, follows:

“The completed manuscript was approved for publication by officers of the Society and was released to the Bethel family at the dining table on Tuesday, July 17, 1917. On that same occasion, a startling announcement was made — the four opposing directors had been removed, and Brother Rutherford had appointed four others to fill the vacancies. What was the reaction? It was as if a bombshell had exploded! The four ousted directors seized upon the occasion and stirred up a five-hour controversy before the Bethel family over the administration of the Society’s affairs. A number of the Bethel family sympathized with the opposers. The opposition continued for several weeks, with the disturbers threatening to “overthrow the existing tyranny,” as they put it.” (Proclaimers 67)

Rutherford, Macmillan and the WTS further claims that Rutherford was in his full right to do this. First, they say, he had a moral right and duty to restore peace and order since Johnson and the four directors were disturbing the work, Rutherford had the support and loyalty of the Bethel staff, and finally because Rutherford was put in his place by ‘The Lord’ (Macmillan 1957, 77). Second, they allege, he had a legal right to do so, which is a bit hard to see. The president had no right to dismiss or appoint directors neither according to the WTS charter nor Russell’s will. Rutherford, however, claimed that according to the charter of the WTS, a Pennsylvania corporation, all directors had to be reelected annually in that state (something that had not happened since the headquarters moved to New York). Thus, the four were not legally elected. His opponents naturally objected that if the directors were not legally elected, neither were Rutherford nor any other officer of the Society. Rutherford’s response was that he was a legal officer of a subsidiary corporation, called People’s Pulpit Association, which Rutherford indeed had used to publish The Finished Mystery. This Association was legally incorporated in New York to allow the Pennsylvania corporation to operate in New York, and was wholly owned by it,[36] so it’s very hard to see how this argument carries any weight.

Most modern observers agree that Rutherford was lucky that the directors never took the case to court. Rutherford put an end to the quarrels at the headquarters by having the directors and Johnson physically thrown out, and on one occasion he actually attacked Johnson physically. For some time, the vice-president, Pierson, sided with Rutherford’s opponents, but he eventually landed on Rutherford’s side. (Penton 1985, 52-54; see also Purpose 71)

It is to be expected that the official WTS history versions side with Rutherford in this struggle. However, it remains a fact that in maintaining this position, a number of thorough distortions of fact have been propagated in WTS sources, and a number of modern authors have been mislead to accept some of these claims.

First, the WTS claims the opposition was primarily to the content of The Finished Mystery. While it is certainly true that the opponents should later ridicule that book – and it has proven a thorough embarrassment for the WTS ever since – it is patently untrue that there was any opposition to its content in the summer of 1917. Yet, in rewriting Johnson’s favorite parable about the penny,[37] Woodworth claimed that this was the case, and Rutherford and every WTS history version since has repeated the claim (Proclaimers 67; Purpose 73; Yearbook 1975, 50-51). The directors, on the other hand, claimed about the July 17 quarrel “the matter of the seventh volume was entirely outside the issues under dis­cussion on that occasion.”[38] It is interesting to note that when Rutherford was asked about this in the 1918 court case against him, he gave exactly the same version as the directors, and contradicted his own ‘Harvest Siftings’ version.[39]

The second WTS claim is that Rutherford through all this was long-suffering and did everything to reason with his opponents (Macmillan 1957, 77, 81). The weight of the records available to us today, some of which outlined above, does nothing to suggest that this claim has anything to do with the truth. It must be emphasized that the Bible Students who witnessed this struggle first-hand could easily find faults at both sides (Penton 1985, 54). In balance, however, it’s hard to find that the directors’ request to at least be taken in on the decision making process in the WTS was unreasonable. For the unbiased observer it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the ‘triumvirate’ actually plotted for complete control by intentionally squeezing out the opponents.

Two more acts remained of this spectacle. First, Rutherford immediately started to distribute his version of the events in a pamphlet titled ‘Harvest Siftings’ (August 1, 1917). Johnson and the ‘ousted directors’ promptly responded with the pamphlet ‘Light After Darkness’ one month later, trying to get their version of the events across to the Bible Student community. A tit-for-tat war of pamphlets led up to the election in January 1918. Rutherford launched a successful preemptive strike against the would-be revolutionaries by calling for a referendum vote among all Bible Student congregations on November 1, 1917. Most of the members were totally unaware of the struggles that had happened, or they only knew Rutherford’s version. It comes as little surprise that of the 11,421 votes cast, 10,869 wanted Rutherford as president (Purpose 72). This vote of confidence no doubt helped Rutherford, even though it carried no legal weight. The shareholders that met in Pittsburgh on January 5 1918 reelected Rutherford and his men – except the vacillating Pierson, who was replaced by Anderson (Rogerson 1969, 38, 39) – and all the opponents were thrown out of their positions.

Rutherford and his party were now firmly in control of the Watch Tower Society and, through it, the Bible Student movement. The sociologist James Beckford calls this a Pyrrhic victory, since the turmoil caused a serious drop in the number of loyal Bible Students. He further claims, “the number of Bible Students sufficiently loyal to Rutherford at least to carry on subscribing to The Watchtower fell to less than 3,000.” (Beckford 1975, 24) It’s difficult to understand where Beckford obtained this figure. Official figures for Memorial[40] attendance shows a decline from 21,274 in 1917 to 17,961 in 1919, indicating a loss of around 4,000 associated members (Purpose 73).[41]

The ‘ousted directors,’ Paul Johnson and their followers now left the movement permanently. Johnson formed the Layman’s Home Missionary Society, and others formed a number of different Bible Student movements, some of which still exists and continues to reprint Russell’s writings. At the same time, unrelated to this struggle, other long-time loyal Bible Students formed a breakaway group called the ‘Standfasters’ because they did not approve of Rutherford ‘compromises’ with the authorities regarding military service. In hindsight, this seems quite ironic.


It will be a mistake to believe that the ongoing internal turmoil did not allow Rutherford to accumulate external enemies as well. Especially the Finished Mystery, but other writings as well, contained harsh and vile attacks on the clergy, and did not restrain from attacking militarism, politicians generally and also ‘Big Business.’ At this time, the United States became involved in World War I, and patriotic feelings were strong. The Bible Students generally sought exception from military service, and some also refused the uniform.

The persecution started in Canada, where the government banned Watch Tower publications, and then spread south. Penton writes:

“The clergy and others took up a cry against them in the United States. Bible Students began to be arrested, mobbed, tarred and feathered, and harassed throughout the country.” (Penton 1985, 55)

It is interesting to note that according to Russell’s predictions, as set forth in The Finished Mystery, the ‘harvest work’ would end in 1918, when ‘false religion’ would be destroyed by the rage of the world’s nations. The persecution thus fit nicely into the Bible Student’s expectations, but its sheer ferocity may have surprised even them.

Rutherford did try to appease the government by discontinuing the publication of the offending statements, which invited much criticism from the group that would be known as “Standfasters.” What was worse: this did very little to please the government prosecutors. The Proclaimers book admits:

“When it had been learned that the government objected to the book, Brother Rutherford had immediately sent a telegram to the printer to stop producing it, and at the same time, a representative of the Society had been dispatched to the intelligence section of the U.S. Army to find out what their objection was. When it was learned that because of the war then in progress, pages 247-53 of the book were viewed as objectionable, the Society directed that those pages be cut out of all copies of the book before they were offered to the public. And when the government notified district attorneys that further distribution would be a violation of the Espionage Act (although the government declined to express an opinion to the Society on the book in its altered form), the Society directed that all public distribution of the book be suspended.” (p. 652)

In a further attempt to appease their enemies, Rutherford published statements in The Watchtower urging Bible Students to buy war bonds, participate in a day of prayer for allied victory and only stopped short of encouraging armed service.[42] The Proclaimers book says:

“Although they endeavored to do what they felt was pleasing to God, their position was not always one of strict neutrality … Thus, in accord with a proclamation of the President of the United States, The Watch Tower urged the Bible Students to join in observing May 30, 1918, as a day of prayer and supplication in connection with the outcome of the world war. [The Watch Tower, June 1, 1918, p. 174]” (p. 191)

This did very little to stop the harsh persecution. Bible Students were subject to mob action and police harassment all over the United States, and many were arrested. Eight of the directors of the WTS were also arrested. These were Rutherford, Van Amburgh, Macmillan, R. Martin, C. J. Woodworth, G. H. Fisher, F. H. Robinson and G. De Cecca. They were charged with sedition under the American Espionage Act, “The Offence of unlawfully, feloniously and willfully obstructing the recruiting and enlistment service of the United States when the United States was at war” (Botting 1984, 40; Rogerson 1969, 42).

After a short trial they were sentenced to twenty years each in a federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia (except De Cecca, who received ten years). The court refused bail during the appeals process, and the eight were taken to Atlanta where they should remain in prison for nine months. The Bible Student community was in total shock, and in many ways the movement appeared to be destroyed. A number of members left the movement, and only a core of Russell’s movement now remained loyal to his successors.

Macmillan describes how the prisoners were expecting to be taken to heaven any day. Despite this perilous situation, and the ongoing harassment and persecution of the Bible Students, the annual election of the WTS’ officers took place in Pittsburgh the following January. With most of the officers in prison, Rutherford was nervous that opponents could gain the upper hand. He need not have worried, of course, since, first, his outspoken opponents had been ousted or had left the movement, and second, the unreasonable prison sentences gave the prisoners all the benefits of martyrdom among the members, who themselves experienced harsh persecution at the time. Yet, when word reached Rutherford that he had been reelected, he was very happy and stated that this was evidence that Jehovah was really running the Society. Rutherford also swore, according to Macmillan, that if he came out again, he would put an end to ‘creature worship,’ that is, the open veneration of the late Pastor Russell among the Bible Students (Macmillan 1957, 106).[43]

In the meantime, the war had ended, and the patriotic fever subsided. The appeals process proceeded. In March 1919, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the prisoners to be released on bail. In April, the appeals court declared that the defendants had not received the “temperate and impartial trial of which they were entitled” and reversed the judgment. Evidently realizing that a more sober jury would not again find them guilty of the wartime crime, the government dropped all charges against them a year later (Penton 1985, 56; Rogerson 1969, 44; Macmillan 1957, 107-109).

Ironically, the prison sentence and the persecution may have succeeded in doing for Rutherford what he perhaps would not have obtained otherwise: convincing the Bible Student community that he could fill the vacancy left by Pastor Russell. The persecution created an esprit de corps among the remaining Bible Students. It also succeeded in taking away the focus from the failed prophecies about 1914 and 1918.

Rutherford immediately started to rebuild the organization. The two main buildings in New York had been sold during the persecution, and the only headquarter left was a small office in Pittsburgh. Thanks to generous contributions from at least one unnamed wealthy Bible Student, Rutherford and the other Watchtower leaders could start reorganizing the work (Macmillan 1957, 110). While Van Amburgh, Macmillan and the new vice-president C. A. Wise were busy setting up new headquarters in New York, Rutherford was in California. On May 4, 1919, he addressed a large audience in Los Angeles, and this success encouraged the group. The same day, however, Rutherford developed a serious case of pneumonia that he never really recovered from. Yet, shortly afterwards the group organized an assembly (convention) for all Bible Students at Cedar Point, Ohio, to begin September 1.

At Cedar Point, Rutherford announced a sister magazine to The Watch Tower, called The Golden Age.[44] It was to be the main vehicle for what Rutherford now announced to be the primary work for the movement: the preaching work. In a number of speeches during the assembly, Rutherford emphasized the importance of going door-to-door selling publications.

‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’

Shortly before his imprisonment, on February 24, 1918, Rutherford had delivered to a Los Angeles audience a public talk titled “The World Has Ended – Millions Now Living May Never Die.” In 1920, Rutherford published a less tentatively named booklet, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, and also started a major speaking program with the same title. The booklet was translated into eleven foreign languages and became a massive bestseller (Penton 1985, 57).

A primary reason for the excitement was the prediction that God’s Kingdom would be established on Earth by 1925, a year that would also witness the resurrection of ‘ancient worthies’ like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to come back to rule the world on God’s behalf. Sometimes tentatively, but just as often not, Rutherford and the Bible Student community emphasized the end of the world and their own return ‘home,’ to heaven, in 1925. Reports tell that numerous Bible Students refused to seed their spring crops this year and mocked those who did (Penton 1985, 58). The year 1925 had supposedly been pointed out already by C. T. Russell, but it was The Finished Mystery that had brought this year to the forefront of Watchtower chronology. Along with it, of course, that publication had predicted Babylonian ‘church members by millions slaughtered’ in 1918, and the fall of all governments leading to total anarchy on Earth in 1920,[45] but the Bible Students still had much faith in predictions about 1925 (Penton 1985, 58).[46]

There are many examples in Watchtower – and Adventist – history demonstrating that few things attracts converts as much as a date prediction for the end of the world. The movement’s following rapidly increased as that year approached. As the year was still some time off, Rutherford’s predictions held few words of caution. After telling its readers that “the physical facts” demonstrated that 1914 had indeed fulfilled expectations, The Watch Tower issue for September 1, 1922, said:

“The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures because it is fixed by the law God gave to Israel. Viewing the present situation in Europe, one wonders how it will be possible to hold back the explosion much longer; and that even before 1925 the great crisis will be reached and probably passed.” (Page 262)

In the issue for April 1, 1923, a question from a reader about 1925 was answered with these words:

“Our thought is, that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures, marking the end of the typical jubilees. Just exactly what will happen at that time no one can tell to a certainty; but we expect such a climax in the affairs of the world that the people will begin to realize the presence of the Lord and his kingdom power.” (Page 106)

One year later, in the July 15, 1924 issue, we can see some caution:

“The year 1925 is a date definitely and clearly marked in the Scriptures, even more clearly than that of 1914; but it would be presumptuous on the part of any faithful follower of the Lord to assume just what the Lord is going to do during that year.”

When the expected year arrived, Rutherford began to demonstrate some second thoughts in the issue for January 1:

“The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during the year. This may be accomplished. It may not be.” (Page 3)

As the year drew to an end the Watchtower had to exercise damage control:

“It is to be expected that Satan will try to inject into the minds of the consecrated, the thought that 1925 should see an end to the work.” (September 1925, page 262)

In 1926, when it was clear that the movement had experienced yet another great disappointment, Rutherford blamed his followers:

“Some anticipated that the work would end in 1925, but the Lord did not state so. The difficulty was that the friends inflated their imaginations beyond reason; and that when their imaginations burst asunder, they were inclined to throw away everything.” (Page 232)

During the same time, Rutherford saw fit to introduce some serious doctrinal and organizational changes. This did little to ease the tension, and it is unclear what offended long-time Bible Students most: the prophetic failures or the abandonment of cherished and central Russellite doctrines. The Proclaimers book says:

“’Birth of the Nation’—that was the title of a dramatic article appearing in the March 1, 1925, issue of The Watch Tower. It presented an enlightened understanding of Revelation chapter 12 that some found difficult to accept.” (p. 78)

This specific article was fundamental to later developments in the sect. Indeed, it has provided Macmillan with the title for his treatment of the whole Rutherford era (Macmillan 1957, 65-176). And it contained far more than a reinterpretation of a chapter in the Book of Revelation. It reinterpreted the whole movement’s position relative to the world and to God. Charles Taze Russell had learned a deep distrust of organizations, mainly from the Second Adventist George Storrs.[47] Russell had again and again emphasized that organization was “wholly unnecessary” and “out of harmony” with God’s plan.[48] Rutherford now told the Bible Student community that God’s plan was indeed that they were God’s organization, a nation chosen by God.

The ‘Birth of a Nation’ article was written even against the wishes of the editorial committee, even though it was filled with Rutherford loyalists like Van Amburgh. This committee was later to be abolished, which to Rutherford indicated, “The Lord himself is running the organization.”[49] (Penton 1985, 59, 322)

When such oppositionexisted within the headquarters staff, it is little surprise that the ‘Birth of a Nation’ article met with violent opposition among the rank and file. The Proclaimers book continues:

“’We sat down and studied it [the Watchtower article, ed] all night until I could understand it very well,’ wrote Earl E. Newell, who later served as a traveling representative of the Watch Tower Society. ‘We went to an assembly in Portland, Oregon, and there we found the friends all upset and some of them were ready to discard The Watch Tower because of this article.’” (p. 78-9)

Some did actually discard the movement because of this article. This was, to use a typical Watchtower expression, a time of ‘sifting.’ And it was only the beginning. Macmillan claims that already while in prison, Rutherford had sworn to crush “all this business of creature worship” in the movement (Macmillan 1957, 106). This in particular included the open veneration of the late Pastor Russell, who was still held to be ‘that servant’ in Matthew chapter 24.

In the January 1 issue of The Watch Tower Rutherford started attacking ‘creature worship’ as a Devil’s snare. The next month, he rejected the teaching that Russell was ‘the faithful and wise servant’, and from now on attributed this Biblical ‘type’ to the entire Bible Student community, the Church.[50] However, as unrivalled leader of the movement, Rutherford took Russell’s position for himself, de facto if not de jure. All this outraged many old-time Bible Students. According to available statistic for Memorial attendance, the Bible Student community was in 1928 reduced by four fifths – 80 % – and Rutherford was left with a following of less than 20,000 members, not more than what he had started with in 1917 (Penton 1961, 61). However, those who remained after the ‘sifting’ were all Rutherford loyalists, and they were actively doing what Rutherford openly stated was the sole reason for the movement’s existence: the preaching work.

The movement continued to attract new converts to replace those who had been alienated by the changes, mostly thanks to the relentless preaching campaign spearheaded by Rutherford himself. Like his predecessor, Rutherford believed in hard work. He traveled near and far to give public sermons, always attracting far greater audiences than the size of his following should dictate. His direct, authoritative style did strike a chord in the American working class, especially his aggressive attacks on the clergy, Big Business and politicians. His books and other publications reached an amazing circulation, and the Watchtower movement also pioneered the use of radio in preaching their gospel.[51]

All this time, Rutherford continued to strengthen his control of the local congregations. The elected elders gradually lost their power to a centrally appointed ‘service director’ responsible for the preaching work. Local initiative was discouraged and question-and-answer sessions of The Watchtower encouraged. More and more of the meeting activity were devoted to training for the preaching work. In time, the movement’s congregation program looked more like sales meetings than traditional religious worship. Rutherford even banned the use of music and religious hymns for the rest of his presidency (Penton 1985, 63).[52]

Rutherford also continued to distance his movement both from the other, existing Bible Student associations and the legacy of Pastor Russell. Up to and including 1929, Rutherford continued to push the old ‘Biblical chronology’ based on years like 1799, 1874 and 1878. Naturally, the year 1914 and its derivates 1918 and 1919 received increasing attention.

‘Religion Is a Snare And a Racket’

In 1930 Rutherford published the book Light I, and here the old chronology appears to be rejected, even though there were some odd references to 1874 in later publications. Light I also saw a total reinterpretation of the Book of Revelation, one that is mostly retained to this day. Instead of considering the book a description of past events including the papacy and various reformation characters, and Russell himself, Rutherford now had the focus moved to the events from 1914, and especially the dramatic years where he and his friends seized the power of the Watchtower organization. The wartime persecution of the Bible Students and especially his own imprisonment was now interpreted as fulfillment of various symbolisms in Revelation.

Another major change, continuing this trend, came in the year 1931. Until then, the movement had called itself the International Bible Students, and outsiders called them Russellites or sometimes more derogatory names. On a major convention July 26 at Columbus, Ohio, Rutherford had the audience adopt a resolution stating that the movement took a new name: Jehovah’s Witnesses.[53]

This not only gave the group a name to gather around; by selecting a distinct name Rutherford set the Watchtower movement apart from other offshoots of the Russellite movement, and continued the trend towards a total break with the past.

In summary, we can say that Rutherford directed his movement towards two distinct goals. First, he strengthened central control of the congregations and the movement as a whole. Second, he further separated the movement from its Russellite past, and, even more importantly, from other Christian denominations and sects in the Adventist family. In both these respects, we will find that Rutherford around 1930 entered a final phase.

In 1932, Rutherford finally did away with the local, elected elders. For a time, many elders had been opposed to the growing emphasis on the preaching and book-selling work that took up more and more of the movement’s focus. Even though Rutherford had weakened their positions by centrally appointing special ‘service directors’ responsible for magazine sale, in theory a congregation was still independent and chose its own pastors, or elders. The main articles in The Watch Tower for August 15 and September 1, 1932 should put an end to that. The elders were for a time replaced by a special service committee still elected locally, but in 1938 this arrangement was also replaced by one in which the leadership were centrally appointed. While the JWs reestablished a form of elder arrangement again in the early 1970s, these were – and are – centrally appointed.[54]

The same year, in 1938, Rutherford finally did away with all pretense of distributed control. To Russell and his followers the very word ‘organization’ had been anathema. It carried associations to the hated Roman Catholic hierarchy of clergy, which was everything the whole Adventist movement detested. Now, Rutherford brought the word ‘organization’ to the forefront. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses this word has remained a core focus.An article in the Watchtower, March 1, 1985 looks back:

““Organization” was the title of the study articles in The Watchtower of June 1 and 15, 1938. These discussed at length Isaiah 60:17, where Jehovah addresses his heavenly organization, saying: “Instead of the copper I shall bring in gold, and instead of the iron I shall bring in silver, and instead of the wood, copper, and instead of the stones, iron; and I will appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners.” In reflecting this better condition, Jehovah’s organization on earth was revitalized. Just as gold is more valuable than copper (and it is similar with the other materials here mentioned), so the theocratic arrangement that the Watch Tower Society explained to the congregations of God’s people back in 1938 – and which they wholeheartedly accepted – is much to be preferred over former democratic procedures.” (p. 18)

Rutherford chose the word theocracy to describe the system of government chosen for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Proclaimers book explains:

““Theocracy” means “God-rule.” Was that the kind of rule that governed the congregations? Did they not only worship Jehovah but also look to him to direct their congregational affairs? Did they conform fully to what he said about these matters in his inspired Word? The two-part article “Organization” that appeared in The Watchtower of June 1 and 15, 1938, pointedly stated: “Jehovah’s organization is in no wise democratic. Jehovah is supreme, and his government or organization is strictly theocratic.”” (pp. 217-18)

Rutherford’s control of the headquarters and publishing arm had been undisputed since the early 1920s at latest. Now he also had a direct control into the lives of every Jehovah’s Witness. Rutherford decided what they should learn at the meetings – less devotional and more commercial than ever – and what they should sell and say.

Rutherford also told JWs that ‘character building’; emphasis on personal Christian qualities, virtue and morality was quite unimportant and indeed a form of ‘creature worship.’ It is very illustrative to look up the word ‘adultery’ in the Watch Tower Publications Index 1930-1985.[55] Here you will not find a single reference to sexual adultery anywhere in the WTS literature before 1947. Later, in the 1950s, and until this day, articles denouncing all sorts of sexual sins flourished. In Rutherford’s vernacular, the word ‘adultery’ was reserved for his opponents’ religious sins.

Rutherford also moved the community further away from ‘the world.’ Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are perhaps best know among the public for not celebrating some holidays that are almost universal among other Christian denominations and sects. This process was started by Rutherford after 1925. Birthdays and practically all religious celebrations were condemned as of ‘pagan origin.’ The Bible Students celebrated Christmas for the last time in 1926 (Proclaimers 200; Yearbook 1975, 147-9). The cross, until then an almost universal symbol for Christianity, was rejected as a pagan symbol. The Watchtower Society has since then insisted that Jesus was executed on an upright ‘torture stake’ without a crossbeam.

This trend towards a growing alienation from and even hostility towards the world culminated in Rutherford’s reinterpretation of Romans chapter 13, published in The Watchtower, June 1 and June 15, 1929. Here Rutherford insisted that the “higher authorities” to which Christians should subject could not be the earthly authorities. These “higher authorities,” he argued, had to be God and Christ. This only increased the Bible Student’s hostility towards the secular state, which was now openly denounced as demonic (Penton 1985, 65).

Perhaps the most striking turnaround in JW doctrine in this period was Rutherford’s view of salvation compared to Russell’s. Russell was very close to teaching universal salvation and was not at all eager to condemn people to destruction (the existence of hell, we remember, he dismissed). Rutherford, perhaps partly due to the persecution he had experienced in the war years, should take a much stricter view of salvation. Gradually he came to argue that only Jehovah’s Witnesses had any real chance of surviving Armageddon, Jehovah’s war against Satan and – in effect – mankind. A part of this was Rutherford’s new doctrine about “The Vindication of Jehovah’s Name,” still a central tenet of JW beliefs. Unlike Russell, who held that the redemption was the central doctrine, Rutherford preached that God’s vindication, by wiping out his enemies Old Testament-style in a large battle, was more important than individual salvation. Penton argues that this caused an important social change:

“Significantly, the doctrine of the vindication of Jehovah’s name was in many ways like John Calvin’s doctrine of the majesty of God. Equally significantly, it was no doubt a major factor in developing a burning, almost fanatical zeal in the Witnesses of the twentieth century just as Calvin’s teaching had among his followers in the sixteenth. That meant that, like the Calvinists of that era, the Witnesses became ever more intolerant of everything and everyone not in harmony with God’s new nation, the Theocracy, as they saw it.” (Penton 1985, 70)

This alienation from the world sometimes went to extremes that, at least judged in hindsight, were almost comical in character, and certainly justifies Penton’s reference to fanaticism.

Rutherford’s followers should scoff at anything even remotely ‘worldly.’ A common custom was almost by definition ‘pagan’ and therefore inappropriate for JWs. The Judge even frowned at marriage and marriage ceremonies, accepting common law marriages and in a sense preferring them to legal weddings (Penton 1985, 263).[56] There was a limit, however. Woodworth, the eccentric editor of The Golden Age, found that limit when he, in 1935, tried to persuade Rutherford and the JW community to abandon pagan month and day names. Rutherford harshly censured and ridiculed Woodworth in front of the whole ‘Bethel family,’ a spectacle that shocked many who may nevertheless have agreed with the sanity of Rutherford’s decision to not force such a radical change (Penton 1985, 66-7).

Woodworth was, this episode excepted, no doubt second only to Rutherford as an important influence on the JWs in this period. One oddity about him was his burning hatred for medical professionals. He considered the compulsory vaccination programs a Satanic and commercial conspiracy to weaken Christians by introducing animalistic tissue into their veins, and he even rejected the germ theory of disease, preferring strange ‘electronic’ and ‘radio’ based apparatus instead. Actually, the Watchtower Society at one time marketed and sold alternative ‘medicine’ through The Golden Age. The only part of these ideas that remain in the JW organization and culture is the blood prohibition – which still gives the movement tragic headlines in the press worldwide – and perhaps a tendency among JWs today to be preoccupied with homeopathy and other ‘alternative’ quasi-medical procedures.[57]

Rutherfordalso, in 1935, initiated an important doctrinal change that would set the Jehovah’s Witnesses apart from most other Christian denomintaions and churches. Like other apocalyptic sects, the Bible Student community had great interest in the powerful symbolics in the Book of Revelation. In chapters 7 and 14, we find a vision of 144,000 Jewish virgin men, set apart for a special salvation. Originally, Russell interpreted these to be the whole Church, most specifically, it would be comprised of all loyal early (first century) Christians, and the Bible Students themselves. Since another symbol in chapter 7 of Revelation, the ‘Great Multitude’[58] or ‘Crowd,’ seems distinct from the 144,000, Russell argued that this was a secondary group of ‘nominal’ Christians, who would be saved but not glorified like the 144,000. Both, importantly, would go to heaven.

Now, in 1935, Rutherford changed this doctrine and started to teach that the members of the ‘Great Multitude class were all followers of the Watchtower movement, but they would be saved to live eternally on paradise Earth. It was the duty of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, then, to preach to all people and ‘harvest’ this ‘Great Multitude class.’ The possibility that there was any possible salvation outside the Watchtower movement was thus finally denied. Somewhat later, the term ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ should come to include this secondary class as well.

It can be interesting to look at what may have prompted Rutherford to make this change. Reports are conflicting, but it is reasonable to assume there was close to 60,000 active Jehovah’s Witnesses at this time. Even a very conservative estimate for loyal members in the first few centuries of Christianity should come close to a comparable figure. Rutherford’s movement was facing a tremendous growth, so it was not unreasonable that in a few years’ time it would have more than 144,000 members. A doctrinal change would be necessary. No documents exist that tells us whether Rutherford made himself such thoughts, or even if the change at all was inspired by these statistical facts, but it is not an unreasonable theory.

Rutherford made a number of other changes. Russell had been a promoter of Zionism and favored among New York’s Jewish population. Initially, Rutherford followed in Russell’s footsteps. The Golden Age reports:

“At New York, Tuesday, October 23rd, at Manhattan Opera House, Judge Rutherford was scheduled for a lecture on the «Restoration of Israel.» The house was filled, about 2,600 being present. A number of Jews were present, knowing that Mr. Rutherford is friendly to the orthodox Jew and his endeavors to exercise faith in his God in the face of many difficulties.” (The Golden Age, November 7, 1923, p. 83)

Nathan Straus, an important leader of the New York Jewish community, had written to Rutherford and said:

“I hail you as one of the prophets who will help the Jews towards the realization of their hopes of two thousand years.” (The Golden Age, November 7, 1923, p. 83)

Rutherford suddenly decided to abandon all this in the early 1930s. The doctrine that ‘fleshly Israel’ had any special favor with God was rejected. All prophecies earlier applied to a literal restoration of Israel in Palestine were reinterpreted to apply to the Jehovah’s Witness community itself. Rutherford wrote, in Vindication II:

“The Jews were evicted from Palestine and ‘their house left unto them desolate’ because they rejected Christ Jesus, the beloved and Anointed King of Jehovah. To this day the Jews have not repented of this wrongful act committed by their forefathers. Many of them have been returned to the land of Palestine, but they have been induced to go there because of selfishness and for sentimental reasons . . . The Jews have received more attention at their hands than they have really deserved. Therefore this prophecy must have its chief fulfillment upon the true people of God’s kingdom which are now on the earth.” (Vindication II, pp. 257-256) [59]

Just a few years later, in a 1934 booklet, we see that Rutherford openly practiced his newfound anti-Semitic position:

«The people now on earth called Jews are a commercial people. Among them are some of the richest and most avaricious men the world has ever known. Some of the chief men of Big Business are called Jews. Many of these people are very arrogant, self-important, and extremely selfish. They have little or no faith in God’s Word and do not believe at all in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of man.» (Favored People, p. 5)

This has not gone unnoticed among Jewish authors. David Horowitz, an active Zionist and after learning how to become a book editor, editor of the World-Union Press and the United Israel Bulletin, recently wrote (Horowitz 1990, 36-37):

“Rutherford gradually changed his views about the Jewish people. In 1929, in his book Life, he still maintained that Zionism was «the hope of the world.» But in his book, Vindication, which appeared in 1932, he asserted that the «Zionist» prophecies of Ezekiel (39 and 38) and Zechariah (8:23) were not related to Israel’s «natural» salvation, i.e., to the Jewish people of today.

In 1934 he went even further and declared that the new covenant which, according to Jeremiah, God will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah in the days to come (Jeremiah 31:31-34) was not meant for the Jewish people; it was the covenant which was concluded in 1918 with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therewith Rutherford discarded his earlier views, and the literature of the Witnesses assumed an anti-Zionist tone….”

It is worth noting that at this time, after the Wall Street crash in 1929, a wave of anti-Semitism rolled over the United States, whose Jewish communities had hitherto been spared (Illman and Harviainen 1993, 171). This development was not an isolated trend, as we know all too well. And the Zionist past of the Watchtower movement – coupled with its anti-world and anti-military stand – should be harshly punished in Europe following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.

It would be a serious mistake to believe that Rutherford was attracted to right-wing politics in general. Like his predecessor, he had a soft spot for the workingman’s struggles and contempt for what he called ‘Big Business.’ In Rutherford’s world, and in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ world ever since, Satan’s system of things consists of three parts: False religion, politics (including the military) and Big Business. Rutherford was, like Russell before him, an anti-capitalist. Those on the receiving end of Rutherford’s harsh tirades could sometimes be mistaken for believing he had left-wing sympathies. In fact, Rutherford attacked everyone, but nobody with such ferocious demagogy as the rhetoric he heaped on Christendom and the clergy.[60]

In the 1930s, the JWs arranged what they called ‘information matches’. Large groups of members were gathered from near and far to participate in a sort of public demonstration, often on Sundays after church services. Carrying sandwich signs and posters with Judge Rutherford’s slogans, typically “Religion is a Snare and a Racket” and “Serve God & Christ The King,” the column marched through towns and cities. Also, they used sound cars with huge loudspeakers to preach the gospel to a less than receptive audience. At least one such vehicle was an armor-plated car used to deliver Rutherford’s vicious attacks on the papacy to hostile Catholics (Penton 1985, 71).[61]

These methods naturally met with much opposition from an outraged religious audience. However, Rutherford’s message of anti-capitalism and especially anti-Catholicism also reached an audience impressed that someone dared to say what many thought. Protestants naturally were delighted by the anti-papacy rhetoric, and labor leaders praised the anti-Big Business message. There is little doubt that for its size, the Witnesses reached a massive audience, especially in the English-speaking world. In 1935 there were probably no more than 56,153 active Witnesses in the world, almost half of them in the United States, but public awareness of the group greatly exceeded what the size should indicate (Proclaimers 443).


No organization on this scale could exist without financial resources. The early Russellite movement had escaped the problems of raising funds because Charles Taze Russell was personally rich.[62] This afforded the movement the luxury to forego traditional money-rising activities that other churches had to do, like taking up collection on church services.

In fact, Russell used this opportunity to heap scorn on the ‘money-loving’ clergy of the traditional churches. It has been a source of much pride among Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses to this day that there is no collections and free entry to all meetings and other public activities. The Watchtower, December 12, 1993, proudly quoted an old article from the same magazine, written by C. T. Russell and published in the July 15, 1915 edition:

““On one occasion I was called upon by a minister of the Reformed church. He wanted to know how I managed my church. I said to him: . . . ‘We pay no salaries; there is nothing to make people quarrel. We never take up a collection.’ ‘How do you get the money?’ he asked. I replied, ‘Now, Dr.——, if I tell you what is the simplest truth you will hardly be able to believe it. When people get interested in this way, they find no basket placed under their nose. But they see there are expenses. They say to themselves, “This hall costs something… How can I get a little money into this cause?”’ He looked at me as if he thought, ‘What do you take me for—a greenhorn?’ I said, ‘Now, Dr.——, I am telling you the plain truth … When one gets a blessing and has any means, he wants to use it for the Lord. If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?’”
—Charles T. Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Society, “The Watch Tower,” July 15, 1915.” (p. 28)

Joseph Rutherford inherited this tradition, but not Russell’s wealth. Fortunately, he also inherited a vehicle for financing the organization: followers and congregations willing to distribute and sell the vast amounts of literature produced by the printing facilities in New York and later, elsewhere.

Russell’s productivity of publications was no match for Rutherford’s. The first major bestseller, The Finished Mystery, was marketed as Russell’s posthumous book. Already in 1920 Rutherford managed to create his own first major international bestseller, the booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die. Already the next year came The Harp of God, a book that would eventually reach a circulation of 5,819,037 copies in 22 languages.[63] Rutherford indeed produced one book almost every year of his presidency, and they all sold in enormous quantities. Rutherford placed witnessing or preaching at the top of the priority list for all Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this meant selling books for Rutherford. The finances of the Watch Tower Society remained – and remain – a total secret to outsiders. Rutherford’s life, however, left little doubt that a sizable portion of this wealth fell on Rutherford himself.

A number of luxurious residents were kept for his use, one in New York, one on Staten Island, one smaller residence in the woods and also quite respectable places in London and, until 1933, Magdeburg in Germany. This was not much, however, compared to the mansion he had built in San Diego, named Beth Sarim – the house of the princes.[64]

Rutherford actually managed to find a doctrinal justification for this building. A novel interpretation of Psalm 45:16 convinced him – or at least his followers – that ‘ancient worthies’, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David, would be resurrected prior to ‘Armageddon’ to rule on Earth. These ancient worthies, argued Rutherford, needed a decent place to live. Rutherford thus got built what can only be described as a palace of tremendous luxury in 1929, and had made out the deed for himself ‘in trust’ while waiting for David and the other ancients to be resurrected and claim it. In this house, Rutherford lived at least most of the winters, served by a retinue of retainers (Penton 1985, 73ff).

About Rutherford’s personal life, not much is known. He was married to Mary Rutherford already before becoming a Russellite, but sometime after Rutherford became president they were quietly separated. Penton speculates that perhaps his choleric temper or his serious alcoholism may have influenced this split (1985, 72). Mary Rutherford, however, remained a loyal Jehovah’s Witness until she died, as late as December 17, 1962, at the age of 93.[65] They had one son, Malcolm, who reportedly never joined his father’s religious movement and also declined to be interviewed about his father.

Dissent Within

We have already examined in some detail the conflict between Rutherford and his opponents when he seized control of the organization in 1917. While Paul Jonsson and the ousted Watchtower directors clearly had ambitions not unlike those of Rutherford, there were also other opponents to the president’s style.

One of these was W. F. Salter, who had been branch overseer in Canada. In 1937, Salter wrote and sent an open letter to Rutherford, also widely published in the religious press and distributed to all Witness contacts Salter had in Canada and the United States. The content of Salter’s letter was certainly a match for Rutherford’s style in not pulling any punches. Among other things, Salter wrote he had been involved in smuggling Whiskey to Rutherford during the prohibition:

“As the scales by the Lord’s grace, have fallen from my eyes I have been astounded to see how blinded I have been to your actions, through a superstition that the WATCHTOWER was the Lord’s channel of meat in due season for the household of faith and that you as President of the Society were God’s chief servant amongst His people, and that you being responsible we should be submissive to whatsoever you required done, foolishly thinking that I had no responsibility in the matter and that anything you did that was wrong, or that I did as ordered by you, the Lord would overrule. It was with this thought in mind that I, at your orders would purchase cases of whiskey at $60.00 a case, and cases of brandy and other liquors, to say nothing of untold cases of beer. A bottle or two of liquor would not do; it was for THE PRESIDENT and nothing was too good for THE PRESIDENT. He was heaven’s favorite, why should not he have everything that would gratify his desires for comfort.”

Salter also attacked Rutherford’s emphasis on the preaching work, and especially his hypocrisy in not participating in it himself. In the following, the irony is dripping:

“And oh, Lord, he is so courageous and his faith in Thee so great that he gets behind four walls, or surrounds himself literally with an armed bodyguard, and bellows away his dreams (Jeremiah 23:31,82) [sic] and sends us out from door to door to face the enemy while he goes from ‘drink to drink,’ and tells us if we don’t we are going to be destroyed.”

This letter certainly had an impact on the Witness community, but at this time Rutherford loyalists totally dominated the movement. Rutherford also published in The Watchtower (April 15, 1937, pp. 119ff) an attempt to answer Salter, naturally without any mention of alcohol or his luxurious life. Salter was directly compared to the Biblical figure Achan, who had stolen from Israel’s bounty from Jericho, leading to Joshua’s defeat at Ai.[66] Salter, the antitype of Achan, had tried to steal something not belonging to him, namely the Presidency, and this had caused decline and stagnation in Canada. Even to this day, in the Proclaimers book (p. 628), we find the WTS propagating this version, not mentioning any of Salter’s real grievances.

The June 1, 1937 edition of the Watchtower contained the text of a resolution unanimously adopted by faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses at a series of assemblies. Among other things, the members agreed:

«That we will destroy without reading any such literature received through the mail or otherwise. …

«Further, that we pledge our faith in and loyalty to the Society, and its servants, Brother Rutherford at Brooklyn, and also the branch servant, Brother Chapman at Toronto” (p. 175)[67]

It is further quite informative to see how the Salter controversy was dealt with in the local congregation (‘company’) in Toronto. True, we only see the Rutherford loyalist side of the story, but it appears to be quite candid, as will be immediately apparent. The report in The Watchtower states:

“A. G. Cameron, former company servant and friend of Salter, raised his voice in favor of the latter, stating amongst his remarks, “I know the article in question; I have read it, and read it carefully. It is true that Brother Salter has challenged Brother Rutherford to answer it point by point, and l now challenge you, Brother Chapman, to answer it point by point and deal with it faithfully…” To this the answer was given from the chair: “l am glad you have shown yourself at last Brother Cameron. It has taken you twelve months to show yourself in your true colors.” The whole company evidenced their agreement by an unusual outburst of clapping.

Pointed remarks where then made by Brother Guest regarding Salter, showing that for at least three years he had not been in harmony with the organization. A sister in the rear of the hall (afterwards confirmed to be Salter’s former stenographer) asked if she might speak. It was ruled by the chairman, however that the brothers were capable of dealing with the matter.” (The Watchtower, May 15, 1937, page 159)

If it had been Rutherford’s objective to transform the Russellite movement to one that had unfailing loyalty to himself and his Organization, he had certainly succeeded beyond all expectations by the late 1930s.

Rutherford did not live to see the intimidation tactics slightly backfire. When Olin R. Moyle, a general legal counsel for the Watchtower Society, found himself in disagreement with Rutherford,[68] he received the same treatment as Salter. In the pages of The Watchtower, Moyle was branded a ‘Judas’ and ‘a servant of the Evil one.’ In 1943, however, Moyle brought a libel suit against Rutherford’s successors, and was awarded $30,000 in damages (Harrison 1978, 146ff). Subsequently, WTS publications have ceased to mention living opponents and defectors by name, and been much more careful in direct attacks. Yet, individual Witnesses certainly know who the general attacks on ‘apostates’ in the pages of The Watchtower are directed against.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany

In the early 1930s, the Jehovah’s Witnesses existed on any notable scale only in the United States and in Germany. Just at the time of Hitler’s rise to power, there were almost 20,000 Witnesses in Germany, and perhaps equally many sympathizers. The social unrest no doubt was a major reason for the rapid growth of the Bible Student community. At the same time, however, another movement – National Socialism – grew even faster.

The JWs met some opposition as soon as this growth started, mostly from the Roman Catholic clergy in southern Germany, but during the Weimar republic there was at least an official policy of freedom of religion. The first attack on the Watchtower organization from official Germany came on November 14, 1931, when the city of Munich banned and confiscated its books. Four days later, the movement was banned in all of Bavaria. Persecution against witnesses, with arrests and public unrest, continued the following years.

The National Socialist government at first did not institute any new policy towards the Witnesses, and it is obvious that the German Watchtower officials and Rutherford himself hoped that the new ‘law and order’ government of Adolf Hitler would bring hostilities to an end. However, based on Hitler’s new emergency laws giving local authorities permissions to ban publications and stop public assembly, a number of new local restrictions came into effect. On April 24, the police confiscated the Watchtower office and printing facilities in Magdeburg, no doubt looking for evidence that the movement was dangerous.[69] However, since the facilities were owned by an American corporation that protested through its government and the police found little to implicate the movement in any illegal activities, the property was returned on the 29th.

The local bans were still in effect, however, and Rutherford arranged for a convention to be held in Berlin on June 25. Rutherford wrote a special “Declaration of Facts” that were to be translated into German and adopted by the participants and sent to all German officials, including the Führer himself, who also received a special letter from the Watchtower leadership. The contents of this letter and declaration have been grossly misrepresented in official Watchtower history versions. First, the Watchtower Society called it a “strong protest” against Hitler (Purpose, 130). Later, when copies had circulated causing some unrest among witnesses, the WTS implied it had been ‘weakened’ by the German JW who translated it (Yearbook 1974, 111).[70] Recently, the WTS has had to admit it was neither.

One accusation leveled against the Witnesses was that they were Jewish-friendly and indeed financed by Jews (and Communists, which the Nazis generally held to be part of a Jewish conspiracy). Considering the very Jewish- and Zionist friendly attitude of Russell and Rutherford up 1930, this can hardly be surprising. The Declaration went a bit far in distancing the Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Jews:

“The greatest and most oppressive empire on earth is the Anglo-American empire. By this is meant the British Empire, of which the United States of America forms a part. It has been the commercial Jews of the British-American Empire that have built up and carried on Big Business as a means of exploiting and oppressing the peoples of many nations. This fact particularly applies to the cities of London and New York, the stronghold of Big Business. This fact is so manifest in America that there is a proverb concerning the city of New York which says: “the Jews own it, the Irish Catholics rule it, and the Americans pay the bills.””[71]

In the letter to Hitler, Rutherford also made a number of false and questionable claims. The movement, the letter said, had always been “very friendly” to Germany. Even more, the letter claimed that President Rutherford and the other Watchtower directors were imprisoned during World War I “because the president refused to use two magazines published by him in the United States for war propaganda against Germany.” This, naturally, was a bold-faced lie.

Whatever the Nazi government may have believed about the contents of the Declaration and the letter, Rutherford grossly miscalculated if he thought it would appease Hitler. Immediately, the sect is banned all over Germany. On June 28, the Magdeburg headquarters were again seized and much literature confiscated and publicly burned.[72] Still, over the next year, the house-to-house work continued under restrictions. In this time, the climate caused many Witnesses to either leave the movement completely, or at least chill public activities. Rutherford, however, relentlessly insisted that German JWs held a high profile and engaged in public preaching campaigns, leading to many arrests. Rutherford printed Watchtower articles practically encouraging martyrdom. In the November 1 issue, printed a month later in German, Rutherford wrote:

“Some will say: “If in the face of so much persecution and opposition we continue to go out amongst the people and publicly tell these truths, then I fear we may be killed.” That is true; and probably many of the faithful will be killed because they continue to faithfully proclaim the truth which they have learned in the secret place of the Most High.” (p. 328)

Rutherford also planned an international protest against Hitler’s government that was carried out on October 7, 1934. German JWs sent equal-worded letters to German officials, and at the same time JWs worldwide sent protest telegrams to Hitler. The letter said, in part:

“If your government or officers do violence to us because we are obeying God, then our blood will be upon you and you will answer to Almighty God.” (Purpose, 142)[73]

The appeasing tone of the 1933 letter was definitely gone here, but the telegram Hitler received this day was even harsher:

“Hitler Government, Berlin Germany. Your ill treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses shocks all good people of earth and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses; otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.” (Ibid.)

Reportedly, Hitler personally responded with rage to this campaign. He “…jumped to his feet and with clenched fists hysterically screamed: ‘This brood will be exterminated in Germany.’”[74]

Hostilities quickly followed. On April 1, 1935, the Reichstag banned the movement nationwide. Gestapo planned a lightning strike against the leadership on the night of the ‘Lord’s Supper’ (Eucharist, the only festival recognized by the JWs) April 17, but it was only a modest success. On June 24, 1936, state police and the Gestapo formed a special unit to fight the Watchtower movement. Through a number of arrests and infiltration, it succeeded in bringing the movement to a standstill in September 1937. Thereafter, reports of Witness activity is mostly limited to prisons and concentration camps, and some young JW men who refused military service and were executed. Around 2000 members suffered in the camps, 635 died and 203 were executed.[75]

The martyrdom of the JWs during WWII should have a profound effect on the movement after the war. First, it gave the Jehovah’s Witnesses a moral boost both in their own and in the public eye. Second, it helped build the community closer as nothing does as well as outside persecution.

The Last Years

In allied countries the JWs also suffered some persecution, although not on a comparable scale to the experiences in Nazi territory. JWs who refused military service received sentences in Britain and the United States. Rutherford had made this refusal mandatory in 1935.[76]

Also in 1935, the son of one individual Jehovah’s Witness declined to salute the American flag at school. After a brief pause, Rutherford declared that this was the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole. It is not hard to imagine what double pressure this brought on the young children of the Witnesses, and school authorities and others considered this an act of disrespect and indeed disloyalty to the nation. The cases ended up in court. Most courts decisions were positive to the Jehovah’s Witnesses case – it was after all a matter of freedom of expression and religion.One key case, Gobitis v. Minersville School District (June 18, 1938), came to the Supreme Court in 1940. At this time, the United States were still not involved in World War II, but it was obvious where its sympathies lay and patriotic fever subsided. Perhaps that was the cause for the court to decide against the Witnesses.[77] This caused a dramatic increase in acts of mob action as well as arrests and children being expelled from schools (Purpose, 143ff, 180ff; Harrison 1978, 188ff).

The war provided Judge Rutherford with most of the ammunition for sermons during the last years of his life. He predicted early that Fascism would overwhelm the whole world, including Britain. When the World War broke out, Rutherford predicted that it would end in Armageddon, the total war where God would kill humanity save the few faithful. The Watchtower, September 15, 1941, p. 288 talked about the “remaining months before Armageddon,” clearly indicating the urgency Rutherford himself felt.

At this time, Rutherford was seriously ill. He suffered from cancer, and believing the end of the world was at hand, he started to disassemble part of his own organizational structure. Living at ‘Beth Sarim’ in San Diego, he no doubt lost much contact with the headquarters’ staff even though he had his closest allies and a staff of servants at hand. His followers were well aware that life would continue after the Judge.

On January 8, 1942, Joseph Franklin Rutherford died.

The Legacy of Rutherford

The Watchtower Society’s own history versions have sometimes noted the difference between the succession crisis after Russell’s death and the quick replacement of Rutherford with Nathan Knorr, his right hand man. We find a detailed account of this process in The Watchtower, November 1, 1955:

“The transition to a new administration headed by the Society’s third president was quick, smooth and without friction. This was entirely different from the experience of 1916 at the death of C. T. Russell, the Society’s first president, when there was an interval of nearly ten weeks before J. F. Rutherford was elected as the second president. The February 15, 1942, Watchtower, under the heading “United Servants,” reports the corporational changes as to officers.

“On the afternoon of January 13, 1942, the full membership of the two boards convened in the parlor at the Brooklyn Bethel home. … After due and careful consideration the following brethren were respectively nominated and unanimously elected, namely, Nathan H. Knorr, as president, and Hayden C. Covington, as vice-president, of the two corporations. Later that same day, at a gathering of the Bethel family at Brooklyn, the results of the election were announced by the secretary of the board of directors, and met with an enthusiastic response.”” (pp. 649-50)

It would be naïve to think there was no power struggle behind the scenes, but the succession process was remarkably painless.

Even more, while the WTS put up some struggle to fulfill Rutherford’s last will to be buried at Beth Sarim, the organization appears in hindsight to be almost relieved he was gone. The organization Rutherford had left behind was strong, and the roughly 100,000 members worldwide held an unquestioned loyalty to the organization regardless of whom it elected president. While Rutherford had certainly been a public figure of tremendous authority, Knorr was the exact opposite. He was no speaker and no great author. From Knorr’s time, Watchtower publications and articles were no longer signed by any individual authors’ name, but were published as the product of the corporation as a whole.[78] While a number of teachings have changed since Rutherford’s death, the core institution of Watchtower doctrine remains intact to this day.

Written Works

Christians may be the people of the written word; Jehovah’s Witnesses are so par excellence. It is a source of much pride that the Watch Tower Society is one of the world’s biggest publishers of religious literature. The latest statistics from the printing presses worldwide is reveled in almost like sacred numbers.

In Protestant tradition, this is only one extreme point among groups and individuals who put great emphasis on the written word, starting with the Holy Scriptures themselves but certainly not ending there.

One thing Russell and Rutherford had in common was their prolific authorship. Both were editors in chief of The Watch Tower, and both also wrote a significant number of books and booklets. They also reached a massive, impressive circulation. In addition, they both traveled near and far to deliver sermons and talks to a large audience, both in North America and elsewhere.

The writings of Charles Taze Russell were not very unlike those of other Christian Protestant authors of 19th century America. The progress of science and technology over the past hundred years or so had left a mystical approach to reality in disrepute. Following Sir Isaac Newton, God was the Great Mechanic. Revelation was one way to understand God; science and the intellect another. However, traditional faith received severe blows from natural sciences, especially the discoveries of Lyell and Darwin, so Christian conservative preachers found themselves with a problem: they could not successfully dismiss science, given its great authority among people in the industrialized world, yet they could not fully endorse it either, since it undermined faith.

Russell chose this commonly traveled middle ground. He denounced the theory of evolution and Higher Criticism as infidelity and satanic propaganda, yet he often expressed marvel with technical and scientific progress. As often happens, he embraced pseudo-science at least as often as real science, be it quasi-medicine or be it pyramidology.

In an article quite typical for his late writing, Russell explains what faith is to him:

“FAITH MAY BE said to have in it the two elements of intellectual assurance and heart-reliance. Both the head and the heart – the intellect and the affections – are necessary to the faith without which it is impossible to please God. With some, faith is all emotion; with others, it is all intellectuality. But neither of these elements alone can withstand the fiery tests to which faith is subjected. Both must be present and remain, if our faith be that which will endure to the end and be found unto praise, honor and glory at the appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Zion’s Watch Tower, October 15, 1912, p. 5514 reprints)

Russell’s prose, which won many converts near and far, did strike a balance between head and heart. While clearly emphasizing the intellectual side of faith in his writings, in early Watchtowers especially we find him writing with passion about the emotional side of his religion. Quite often, Russell printed poems and hymns in his magazine. Rutherford did not. The Judge even banned public singing at JW meetings, a practice that was not reversed before 1944 (Purpose, 215).

We find that Russell used words that expressed emotion and affection quite often, for example do we find that the word ‘love’ is used extensively. In Rutherford’s writings, this word is only used rhetorically – in phrases like ‘people who love the truth’ – and practically never to express emotion. This usage has continued until this day. WTS literature insists that the Greek word for ‘love’ most frequently used in the NT, ´agaph, primarily describes “principled love,”[79] love for those one does not naturally have affection for. Rutherford did not have much fondness for sentimentality, and his sect has emphasized order and productivity, not emotion. As such, it is the stark opposite of charismatic Protestantism.

Rutherford’s prose comes across as powerful, with frequent appeals to ‘common sense.’ One can easily see why readers were impressed with Russell’s carefully argued case, using a combination of appeals to sense with references to Bible verses, appeals to authority and scientific-sounding jargon. For example, when arguing against the hellfire doctrine, Russell often stated that a loving God would certainly not torture people forever. While also insisting the doctrine was unbiblical, it is perhaps understandable that the argument from God’s morality carried more weight with his readers. Rutherford used some of the same techniques. Readers of Rutherford’s books and articles were also impressed with the sheer force in which the judge presented his case.

The same was the case – even more so – with his many public speeches. It has been said that Rutherford looked more like a senator than any live senator. In fact, he had been working briefly in politics, participating in the failed populist campaign to have William Jennings Bryan elected President of the U.S.A. As a public speaker, Rutherford delivered his sermons with strength and authority, using a loud, clear voice and high-sounding rhetoric. His message was clear and unambiguous, free of the delicate and often vague vocabulary of theology.

For example, a recorded speech, taken door to door by Witnesses and played on portable phonographs, starts with these words:

“The Church Organizations, both Catholics and Protestant, are ruled by priests and pastors, otherwise known as clergymen. And these violently oppose the message of the Bible, which Jehovah’s Witnesses are carrying to the people. The clergymen claim to represent God and Christ, and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they serve God and Christ. Then why should the clergy oppose the message of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Correct answer is given in the Bible.” (Record P-28, Why the Clergy Oppose the Truth)

An important difference between the communication of Charles Taze Russell and that of Joseph Rutherford was that the latter concentrated largely on attacking his enemies. While opposition was certainly not in short supply for Russell, Rutherford concentrated almost his whole message on attacking opponents. These were many, but none were singled out like the Roman Catholic ‘Hierarchy.’ And the feelings were mutual. Much of the opposition to the Witnesses in the years from 1935 to 1945 can be attributed to often-violent Roman Catholic groups (Purpose, 175-185).

Rutherford’s dislike of Catholicism grew on bizarre proportions. He considered, for example, Hitler and Mussolini to be mere puppets of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.[80] His attacks on Catholic practices were often mixed with ideas of a global Vatican-fascist-nazi conspiracy. On page 178 of his 1937 book Enemies, in the chapter titled “Racketeers,” Rutherford writes:

“Contrast this with the «purgatory» racket. A Catholic priest publishes a letter telling Catholics that by contributing so much money they can aid their suffering dead in «purgatory.» This letter advises the people that for each name submitted a certain sum should be contributed. The money is sent in regularly, paid over as a result of a false and fraudulent representation that it will result beneficially to the people. The United States government has a Roman Catholic as postmaster general and in control of the post-office department, and who is in fact an agent and representative of the Vatican. Has anyone ever heard of his issuing an order forbidding the use of the United States mails to carry on a racket of collecting money from the people upon the representation that it is for the benefit of the dead?”

This book is totally dedicated to ‘exposing’ particularly the clergy as enemies of God. Elaborating on his slogan ‘religion is a snare and a racket,’ he wrote:

“The greatest racket ever invented and practiced is that of religion. The most cruel and seductive public enemy is that which employs religion to carry on the racket, and by which means the people are deceived and the name of Almighty God is reproached. There are numerous systems of religion, but the most subtle, fraudulent and injurious to humankind is that which is generally labeled the “Christian religion,” because it has the appearance of a worshipful devotion to the Supreme Being, and thereby easily misleads many honest and sincere persons. Strange as it may seem, the two words “Christian” and “religion” are diametrically opposed one to the other.” (pp. 144,145)

This state of war between Rutherford and his religious opponents persisted throughout his presidency. After the war, however, the WTS slowly changed its perspective to more introspection. While the view of the ‘clergy’ remained largely unchanged, gradually sexual sins and the sin of ‘apostasy’ started to dominate as enemies in Witness consciousness.

Identity from Conflict

We can reasonably argue that the Jehovah’s Witnesses under Rutherford formed their group identity around conflict with outsiders. When conflict failed to come to them, they actively sought conflict. Harsh attacks on the clergy and the military, refusal to salute the national flag and a very confrontational attitude to the preaching work[81] could not help accumulate enemies and invite persecution.

No doubt, this hostility from ‘the world’ like nothing else helped Rutherford to unite the Bible Students behind his organization (Penton 1985, 68). A doctoral dissertation about the movement written as early as in 1933, argues along these lines:

“Their philosophy of despair enables them to capitalize the present social unrest and economic distress. … Not only have they developed well-defined opposition to certain institutions and individuals but they have acquired the idea that they are being persecuted. … it was left to Judge Rutherford to develop the persecution complex. … whether the persecution be imaginary or real it gives solidarity to the organization.”(pp 39, 40) [82]

Barbara Harrison agrees, and also argues quite convincingly that there is little else they could do to convince themselves they solely were God’s chosen people. She says,

“They were young, comparatively weak, foolish and insignificant in the eyes of the world; they had no glorious music, no poetry, no formal ritual, no liturgy, and no martyrs. … To sustain their image of themselves, perhaps they needed to have something immense and extraordinary occur, something that would raise them above themselves, justify and exalt them. Rutherford had one weapon, the law. He used it. He made things happen.” (Harrison 1978, 189)

And indeed things happened. As we have seen discussed earlier, the refusal of JW school children to salute the flag especially caused a wave of persecution and a number of court cases. It ended, eventually, with victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, but many school children and other witnesses suffered for a number of years.

At the same time, young JWs who refused military service sat imprisoned all over the war-torn world. Young men who sat imprisoned in America could hear about their spiritual brothers in Germany who were beheaded for the same ‘crime.’ Whether or not Harrison is right in arguing that Rutherford caused the controversy intentionally to create an espirit de corps, it is a fact that many of those who joined the movement after WWII were impressed by its wartime record, and the stories about persecution inspired the movement to even harder work.

After Rutherford’s reign, the Jehovah’s Witness community certainly had their martyrs.

The Distant Leader

From the beginning, the Bible Students were followers of one man: Charles Taze Russell. It has been a key topic of this thesis to investigate how Rutherford succeeded in converting loyalty to Russell into loyalty to himself. We have seen that this was only a partial success, but by controlling the Watchtower Society and a critical mass of congregations willing to serve as a distribution system, Rutherford converted the Russellite movement into an active, proselytizing apparatus for his own ideas.

When Rutherford died, on the other hand, there was need for change but not much of a succession crisis. One key to understanding this may be found in the short statements we find in the Proclaimers book outlining how the headquarters staff in particular responded to the death of the leader. On page 63, we find a description of the reactions to Russell’s death:

“What was the effect on the Bethel family when news of Brother Russell’s death was announced? A. H. Macmillan, who served as Russell’s assistant in the office while Russell was away, later recalled the morning he read the telegram to the Bethel family: “A moan went up all over that dining room. Some wept audibly. None ate breakfast that morning. All were greatly upset. At the end of the meal period they met in little groups to talk and whisper, ‘What is going to happen now?’ Little work was done that day. We did not know what to do. It was so unexpected, and yet Russell had tried to prepare us for it. What would we do? The first shock of our loss of C. T. Russell was the worst. For those first few days our future was a blank wall. Throughout his life Russell had been ‘the Society.’ The work centered around his dynamic determination to see God’s will done.”

It is hard to avoid seeing the contrast when we on page 89 find out how the headquarters staff reacted to Joseph Rutherford’s death:

“How was news of Brother Rutherford’s death received at Bethel? “I will never forget the day we learned of Brother Rutherford’s passing,” recalled William A. Elrod, who had been a member of the Bethel family for nine years. “It was at noontime when the family was assembled for lunch. The announcement was brief. There were no speeches. No one took the day off to mourn. Rather, we went back to the factory and worked harder than ever.””[83]

Rutherford was, as we can see, respected but not particularly well loved. Alan Rogerson stated, long before the official acknowledgement we can read above:

“One cannot help but feel that many of those near Rutherford were somewhat relieved when he passed on. They had endured his ‘tongue-lashings,’ and while they respected – if not feared – him, they did not love him in the way Pastor Russell was loved. This was perhaps one reason why his death caused so little consternation within the organisation.” (Rogerson 1969, 66)

Especially at the later stages of his presidency, people outside his immediate circle knew better than to come in his way. If the individual Witnesses loved anything, it was the whole organization. Thus, Rutherford had succeeded in transforming loyalty to the leader himself into unfailing loyalty to an organization, thereby securing painless succession in the future. It is a main conclusion of this thesis that to succeed and become a religion outliving individual leaders, a sect must go through this transformation.

Changes and Causes of Changes

The line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast
The slow one will later be fast
And the present now will soon be the past
The order is rapidly fading
The first one now will later be last
For the times, they are a changing
— Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A Changing


The origin of a religion is often clouded in mythology about a mysterious, distant past. Add to this the concern that a ‘naturalistic’ explanation of the origins of religion may be at odds with the religious community’s own ‘sacred history’ about a supernatural origin. Religions can grow older than any other social structures, so sources are often sparse. The only available information may well be the group’s own ‘sacred history,’ leaving the scholar with a real challenge in investigating its origin.[84]

The Watchtower sect originated in the United States in the latter half of the 19th century, and its activities are well documented by its own literature, its opponents’ writings, newspapers and legal and official documents. Scholars and journalists have been able to interview the original participants. If there is a religious genesis we should be able to analyze to some detail, this is it.

The origin of a sect within a specific community is not hard to understand. A number of opinioned individuals preach a number of specific religious messages to whoever will lend them an ear. How they succeed depends on a number of factors, which this text will represent with three: Personal credibility, message (doctrine or theology) and the available resources (economy[85]).

How many people the preacher is able to convert to their cause is dependent on these three. We will call the first factor ‘personal credibility.’ It is tempting to substitute the latter for the better-known term ‘charisma,’ but there are some good reasons to avoid this term.

First, the word ‘charisma’ has an aura of mysticism, as if a person’s power to influence others was a gift from heaven that defies explanation. In fact, the word means ‘divine gift’ in Greek. On the contrary: we all influence each other by action and words. Like some person can run faster than average, some persons are better than others in influencing change in viewpoint. It is also worth observing that a person’s credibility is not exclusively an individual phenomenon. It is more an example of a positive feedback effect: once people experience that others (e.g. their friends and family) attach specific importance to the words of a prominent individual, they are more likely to do so themselves. Thus the ability of pop singers and movie actors to convince their audience that they have unique knowledge, even in complicated scientific and social questions.

Second, as Stark pointed out, the term ‘charisma’ has often been used as a circular pseudo-explanation (1996, 24). If we attribute Russell’s power over his followers to his ‘charisma,’ we have explained nothing if charisma is defined as a person’s ability to obtain power over people.

We define personal credibility, for the scope of this text, as the ability to make individuals depart from their original opinions. Another fitting term would be ‘personal capital’ or ‘religious capital.’[86] The term is coined, naturally, based on the notion of ‘political capital.’ A very popular political leader may get away with controversial decisions that would have seriously undermined him or her in a more vulnerable state. It has been observed that in prosperous times, voters are less likely to punish political leaders for mistakes that would otherwise be fatal. If mistakes accumulate, of course, the ‘political capital’ is consumed, and once it reaches a critical low level, the audience is likely to be very unforgiving.

This is true, as well, for religious leaders. Russell naturally had a great ‘religious capital’ of allegiance from his followers. When he made a series of unpopular changes, and also had his authority undermined by some personal and economical scandals, his ‘capital’ gradually eroded with some of the followers. After the ‘new covenant’ changes discussed earlier, for example, many followers reached the stage where they would accept no more.

By contrast, when Rutherford experienced harsh persecution and spent nine months suffering unjustly in jail, this greatly increased his ‘religious capital’ with the Bible Students who also experienced harsh persecution at the time. The external opponents of the movement thus obtained for Rutherford what he might have problems doing for himself. When Rutherford initiated a number of dramatic changes later, he could cash in, so to say, the capital he had. It is not certain that Rutherford would have been able to convince his followers without the harsh experiences they shared in the past.

Obviously, then, the personal credibility – of which individual ‘charisma’ or personal qualities is only one, if crucial, part – plays an important part in the early success of a religious movement. We see above that to a degree, message and personal credibility can substitute for another. This is not unlike basic microeconomic theory, where substitute is a central term. To a consumer, fish may substitute for meat as food. If the price of fish rises, one could expect many consumers to eat less fish and substitute for it with meat. Also, manpower may be substituted by machinery in production. One mechanical excavator (with an operator) may be able to do the work requiring ten men with shovels. However, if the price of using the excavator greatly exceeds the salaries of the men, it would still pay to do it the old-fashioned way.

In religion, message and personal credibility are partial substitutes. They are, of course, not entirely independent. It is still helpful to think that a religious leader is able to get across a ‘less popular’ idea (that is, initially) to people if they already trust him or her.

The more different the message is from the audience’s existing conviction, the more ‘personal credibility’ or ‘religious capital’ it takes to make them a follower.

It may not have taken much, in a 19th century Adventist environment, to propose yet a new interpretation of e.g. the 1335 days in Daniel chapter 12. To a general Protestant audience, however, it would take a fair amount of persuasion to make them reject the Trinity or Hellfire doctrines, as Russell tried to do. To the same audience, it would have taken more than a fair share of religious capital to e.g. make them follow Muhammad instead of Christ.

Message is perhaps the easiest factor to understand. It corresponds somewhat to the Protestant notion of ‘doctrine,’ but includes the whole general understanding of the world that the leader tries to communicate. The message is partly an explicit one, like we find Russell’s views described on the pages of The Watch Tower and his books. It also encompasses the general mood that radiates to the movement from what the leadership does and says. From Russell’s marital woes and the negative expressions about women’s leadership printed as a result, the Bible Student community formed a climate of hostility to female leadership figures, one that remains to this day. Likewise, from Woodworth (editor of what later became Awake! magazine) they learned hostility towards the medical profession, which again resulted in the controversial prohibition of blood transfusions that actually started after Woodworth’s (and Rutherford’s) direct influence had ended.

Finally, we will consider the importance of economic resources. While it is certainly the case that a person can obtain a serious following without being personally rich like Russell was, it is a fact that sooner or later, economic resources are necessary for the propagation of religious ideas. Especially in the 19th and 20th century religious marketplace, books and other publications play a crucial role in the development of religious groups. It is surely the dramatic lowering of costs involved in publication and distribution that has lead to this result, yet it remains a fact that books and magazines cost money. It must be remembered, though, that more than money is involved. Printing facilities and manpower, both volunteers in the production work and those going door-to-door, are also important economic resources.

Especially considering the importance economic resources has had in the Watchtower movement; it is especially fitting to describe it in terms of business. We will look at organization life-cycle theory and a number of similarities between the JWs and a modern business in the next chapter. However, an organization does not need to be especially concerned with economy to benefit from such an analysis. What makes a religious community into an organization (following the definitions we use) is above all its goal-oriented implementation. The JW movement makes no secret of the fact that it considers the number of conversions as a direct metric of success or failure.

One objection to the emphasis on economy is the fact that religious conversion typically does not depend on any more expensive channel than the already established social channels – family, work mates, friends. No matter how visible the door-to-door proselytizing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is, even this group reaches only a minority of its new converts through this work. The typical convert is a family member or friend of the person who preaches to them. WT publications even have an official word for it: ‘informal witnessing.’[87] It is certainly not left to chance; browsing through the issues of the internal bulletin Our Kingdom Ministry will reveal a significant number of articles giving suggestions about how JWs should approach family members, workmates and other people they meet in daily life.[88] Like other religious groups, JWs also gain many converts through secondary conversions. Even though the WTS strongly discourages marrying a non-member, it is very common for especially JW women to marry a ‘worldly’ man and converting him in the process (Penton 1985, 261).

Stark argues convincingly that early Christianity (Stark 1996, 17ff) spread through already existing social networks, and that this is true about modern religions like the ‘Moonies’ and the Mormons as well. Mormons make door-calls like the JWs, and they report that only one of a thousand cold calls result in a conversion. Looking at the JW official statistic for, say, 1994, we see there were 314,818 persons baptized into the faith that year (including adolescents brought up in the movement and all sort of conversions) and JWs used an astonishing 1,096,065,354 hours preaching. That gives us 3,481 hours per conversion, which indicates a far worse result than what the Mormons claim.[89] It takes fifteen years for an average JW ‘publisher’ to make a single convert. Add to this the fact that denominations that do not engage in active door-to-door cold conversion attempts to any degree have the same or even a higher conversion rate (like the Seventh Day Adventists), and we see that the cold calls have little or no conversion power.

It is thus entirely possible for a religious community to spread entirely through such interpersonal networks. Yet, it is not free to build a lasting religious community from this. A form of central communication is necessary. The religious leadership must give their followers a satisfying product. All groups follow a certain pattern of formal and informal rules. An organization also works towards a common goal. This requires communication. When a group increases in size, the price of communication increases. Moreover, new and especially potential converts must have their decisions strengthened and reinforced. In a typical modern religious community, this requires meetings, assemblies large and small, and not the least publications. Quite often, radio and TV broadcasts and Internet pages are part of this product as well.

The United States is the best platform for an organization to reach an international audience, given that its population is made up of immigrants from all parts of the world, many of whom still have contact with family in ‘the old world.’ Russell was aware of this important avenue for missionary activity. The 1996 Yearbook reports:

“Brother Russell made it a practice, after such programs [[a public discourse, ed]], to approach those in the audience whom he had seen attend several times before. He would ask: “Where are you from? What is your nationality? Would you like to return to your relatives and share the truth with them?”” (p. 69)

The experiences we find in many Yearbooks confirm that in the old world, practically all countries received their first ‘witness’ when immigrants returned to their original homelands with a new faith.

Even if this is true, it is important to note that even if cold conversions are more rare than social network conversions, they are not non-existent. They are, actually, very valuable for a religion’s continued growth. It allows a group to ‘jump over’ to new social groups, new regions. This has certainly happened in the Witness community. While most converts in Russell and Rutherford’s days were middle-class, it has been true for the period after Rutherford that the typical JW convert in the industrialized world is below average income and education (Beckford 1968, 136ff; Stark 1996, 42).[90] If it is true that social networks generally encompass people of the same social strata, this indicates that the ‘jumps’ have been significant. For reasons we will not go into here, the JW message has become less attractive to average and upper middle class and more attractive to the lower middle class since the early days.

In these three factors – personal credibility, message and economy – we have only considered the originator of the religion, its founder, and not the marketplace itself. Naturally, individuals must be receptive to the message. There must exist a share of dissatisfaction with the existing religion, otherwise nobody would convert to a new one (Stark 1996). However, in this discussion we take the marketplace for given. We have a pluralistic community with a number of religions and also secular worldviews trying to convert people to their point of view. In this environment, competitiveness between would-be religious founders is guided by the factors discussed here.

Apparently, among a number of will-be sect leaders, only a few have the resources, the message and the personality required to succeed. They make followers, they create a small study group that grows, and the growth furnishes the need to formalize more and more of its teachings and practices. As the followers look to the sect leader for guidance, they will want this leader to give them answers to a significant number of religious and personal questions. He or she will have to help the community solve internal disputes and conflicts, and settle turf wars between the different subordinate leaders. Occasionally, some new, charismatic individual will challenge the sect leader and may succeed in forming a breakaway group. Otherwise loyal, but ambitious followers may also look like a threat to the leader, depending on the sect’s level of authoritarianism, and be expelled.

Supposing this sect thrives, the day will come when the original sect leader dies. There may be an appointed follower that is respected by the majority of the members, thus securing a more or less painless transition. However, there are a number of reasons this is not the way it typically happens. First, an ambitious leader may have purged the sect for charismatic persons who had the necessary qualities to challenge him or her. Second, the organization structure is at this stage more sophisticated, and de facto run by a number of lieutenants, who may have other plans. The appointed successor was probably chosen because he or she was a good follower, not a good leader. The staff, on the other hand, perfectly understands the politics of the group, and has a power base from which to work.[91]

We have seen that both these factors were important in the Watch Tower movement’s succession crisis.

The successor actually has a similar challenge as the original founder-leader. He or she must, within the framework of the founder’s ideas and teachings, be able to persuade the followers to accept the changes. The first change to be accepted is the new leadership itself. If the succession was marked by a crisis and a power struggle – as we have seen it was in the WT movement – the followers may accept the new leader only reluctantly and tentatively. In comparisons with the glorified founder, the successor will always fall short.

We see change as an active move by the sect’s leadership, not something just happening to it. In larger movements, social change is a very complex process, and the leadership is not instrumental in all initiatives. In a sect, like the one we are discussing, the average member is a follower. Personal initiative from those not involved in the sect’s leadership is discouraged, and those who take such initiatives will often be disciplined or expelled. In fact, the climate is so hostile to personal initiative that even those who intend to stay loyal despite certain misgivings will often be ‘found out’ and considered traitors long before they can initiate any reform, and much less form a splinter movement. In the WTS organization, this happened to the ‘ousted directors’ and many others. More recently, it happened to Raymond Franz, who was expelled first from the Governing Body and then from the whole organization (Franz, 1983).

Milestones and Categories of Changes

Different histories about the Watch Tower movement may operate with different emphasis on different events, but there is a general agreement between scholars about what are the important events. Official Watch Tower histories generally give ample – if not accurate – coverage of these crucial turning points. However, these also add a number of rather obscure events that are emphasized because their sacred history requires it.[92]

We will give a short overview of events that this author considers the most important milestones in the Rutherford Presidency.

In the list below, we will foreshadow a set of categories for changes initiated by the leadership, and which are associated with the milestones above. This thesis operates with four different categories:

1) Changes necessary to initially secure power; that is, defend the authority of the leadership itself.
2) Changes originated in a reaction to real or perceived internal threats to the successor.
3) Changes caused by reactions to outside pressure and a changing environment.
4) Changes originating with the successor’s actual long- or mid-term strategy for reform or change.

These categories are reasonably exhaustive, even though for some changes and milestones, several different categories are influential. This is hardly fatal for a classification system of any sort.

Year Events Category

Joseph Rutherford succeeds C. T. Russell and secures power. Opposition is eliminated from the movement in bitter struggle.First, Second


Rutherford and seven other WTS leaders charged with sedition, convicted and imprisoned for 9 months. Harsh persecution of Bible Students throughout North America. All charges were later dropped.Third


Massive organizational changes. ‘Birth of a Nation’ Watchtower article. Coincides with failed date prophecy.Fourth


More organizational and some doctrinal changes; Russell’s position drastically reduced. Perhaps as many as 80% of all members leave the movement.Fourth


Dramatic doctrinal changes. Russell’s chronology and many other teachings rejected. Light I.Fourth


Name ‘Jehovah’s witnesses’ adopted.Fourth


New interpretation of ‘Great Company’ or ‘Crowd’ in Revelation chapter 7 means movement starts preaching eternal life on Earth, and initiates a two-class salvation system: The 144,000 ‘anointed’ who will go to heaven, and the other Jehovah’s Witnesses, who will live eternally on ‘paradise earth’.(Second)


Growing and eventually massive persecution of JWs in Nazi and -occupied territories. Persecution also in the U.S. (over flag salute and military service) and elsewhere.Third


“Organization” article in The Watchtower. ‘Theocracy’ strongly affirmed. Control totally centralized. Editorial Committee abolished, centralizing publishing control with Rutherford personally. Elder arrangement had been dropped in 1932, but centralization of congregation control completed this year.Fourth,


Rutherford dies.–

The first category is necessarily a special case. There is only one beginning. The successor might be reluctant, willing or actively scheming to obtain power. One can at least imagine leaders who originally did not want to take power after the demise of a founder, but were persuaded by others. Such successors are not common in the history of religious organizations, if they at all exist.

We have seen that Macmillan portrayed Rutherford as merely a willing successor; one whose path was laid out by others, but who did not actively seek the presidency for himself even though he required no persuasion. We have also seen a number of reasons to disbelieve this claim. Naturally, there may be examples in history of such successors. Yet, a common category is the active schemer: a person actively seeking to take over the leadership, typically having to overcome obstacles and eliminate opposition to do so. This thesis has described to some detail how exactly Rutherford did this. The organization, its policies and practices are always tailored to the will of the founder. The successor must adapt, but also influence change in the organization itself.

The second category of change is changes initiated by the leader in response to an inside threat, real or perceived. In an organization, a number of individuals are likely to have other objectives than the leadership. This is especially true about a Protestant sect, which have traditionally emphasized the individual Christian’s direct relationship with God over the group. When the successor finds his opinions, methods and even position challenged by other sect members, he or she may initiate changes to meet the opposition.

When Rutherford worked to succeed Russell, he met opposition from a number of individuals, some of whom wanted this position for themselves. We have categorized this specific phase as a category one change, including the struggle with P. S. L. Johnson and the Watchtower directors. Later, Rutherford worked hard to centralize control of the whole organization. In this, he met with opposition from local elders who also resisted his efforts to make book sales the main focus of the congregations. Rutherford responded to this challenge by first undermining the congregation elders, and eventually removing them completely, having them replaced by a centrally appointed ‘company servant.’ However, as we will see below, this change also seems to have been a part of Rutherford’s long-term strategy for the organization.

At one time, Rutherford found his leadership directly challenged by former subordinates who took exception to certain actions and policies. Among them we find officials like Salter and Moyle. Rutherford could at this stage simply respond with a harsh personal attack, trusting that the level of loyalty in the community was such that opposing ideas would not even be considered. As we have seen, the rank and file even swore an oath of personal loyalty and promised to destroy any ‘apostate’ literature unread. The changes that gave Rutherford such blind loyalty can be interpreted as a preemptive strike against all future internal opposition. This strategy has worked. While the JW movement has had its share of defectors, few members would even consider reading a book or article by a former member, and remain ignorant even about what issues caused dissent.

Changes in the environment and outside challenges are what provoke an organization’s leadership to make changes of the third category. Most definitions of ‘sect’ include references to its hostility to the world. A new religion typically defines itself in opposition to existing groups and the world at large. Particularly in the modern age, new religions and sects are often an expression of the rejection of cultural and religious pluralism (Berger 1980).

Most changes to which the Witnesses changed were instances of religious and secular persecution. We have discussed to some detail the events when Rutherford and seven other directors were imprisoned in the United States on a sedition charge, and the harsh persecution that befell the movement worldwide, but especially in Nazi-occupied areas, up to and during World War II. While initially seeking compromise in both situations, Rutherford eventually chose to respond to charges of extremism by moving even further away from the mainstream. It is little doubt that this persecution made both the leadership and the membership more hostile towards the world. A number of changes to separate the movement’s members from the world started in the 1920s, culminating in the flag saluting controversy in the U.S.A. in the 30s and 40s. Especially children of JWs could not help, even in the pluralistic North America, to stand out in the crowd.

A movement’s leadership may have a long-term plan for it. Changes in the fourth category are those initiated mainly to bring the movement in accordance with such a strategic plan. We know that Rutherford planned, for example, to get rid of ‘creature worship,’ that is, the late Pastor Russell’s influence over the movement. There is little doubt he also planned to centralize control, even though actual changes may well also have been prompted by for example the resistance his changes faced among the elected congregation elders. Whatever the case, Rutherford took over a movement of congregations more or less voluntarily associated with Russell and the Watchtower Society, and left one where the WTS owned and controlled every congregation directly, and exercised harsh discipline if anyone strayed from the path.


«What is sociologically interesting about Jehovah’s witnesses is that they derive psychological satisfaction from perceiving a coherent pattern in their beliefs regardless of possible inner inconsistencies, and that, even if they do notice inconsistencies, they can then abrogate personal responsibility for their own beliefs in the safe conviction that someone, somewhere in the Watch Tower Society must be able to solve the problem.» (Beckford 1975, 120)

When Charles Taze Russell died, his followers were a loosely knit movement of Christian sectarians grouped around Russell’s writings and charismatic leadership. When Joseph Rutherford died, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a strictly organized, hierarchical religious group with clearly defined objectives. Russell rejected even the term ‘organization;’ Rutherford and his successors emphasized it. Bible Student congregations were in 1916 voluntarily associated with the Watch Tower Society, and they elected their own elders. In 1942, the WTS effectively owned the local congregations, and appointed all its officers.

When reading about the history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is as much a history of a corporate organization as a religious movement. In the days of the movements’ founder, Charles Taze Russell, this one person naturally dominated the scene. When Rutherford’s life ended in 1942, the Organization itself stood as the dominating figure in Witness life. It is no exaggeration when The Watchtower of March 15, 1985 proclaims:

““GOD’S ORGANIZATION.” That expression was used by a member of the Watch Tower Society’s editorial staff during the daily Bible discussion at the Bethel dining tables over 60 years ago. How it thrilled the headquarters family in Brooklyn, New York! That unique phrase, “God’s organization,” served to guide the future thinking, speech, and writing of those Bible Students.” (p. 10)

The corporate organization is not only considered a necessary instrument to attain the movement’s goals, but the actual avenue to salvation. A rare, but accurate, statement describes the relationship of Jehovah’s Witnesses to their governing organization:

“It is through his organization that God provides this light that the proverb says is the teaching or law of the mother. If we are to walk in the light of truth we must recognize not only Jehovah God as our Father but his organization as our mother.” (The Watchtower, May 1, 1957, p. 274)

It is not unique to attribute divine powers to the guiding powers of a religious community – quite the opposite – but the Jehovah’s Witnesses are in every way a modern religion, and it borrows many of its symbols from the modern world. Its organization is not so much modeled on a religious church as a modern commercial organization: a business corporation.

Organizational Life Cycle Theory

Rutherford reorganized the Bible Student movement to make it resemble a business corporation, or even a military unit, more than a traditional Christian church. While students of religion have mostly emphasized the social and doctrinal nature of sects, studies of business have employed the apparatus of group psychology to understand corporations.

Indeed, the science or study of organization theory in our century has largely been in the context of business management science, and its students are often found in Business Schools. The organization under study is generally a business company. Some of the theory may well be applicable to the study of religious organizations. Other aspects may not.

The term ‘organization’ can be defined as follows:

“Organizations are social entities that are goal-oriented, deliberately structured activity systems with an identifiable boundary.” (Daft 1992, 7)

Organizations are, following this definition, an identifiable group of people, each with defined roles, interacting with each other following specific patterns of activity, and working together towards a set of common goals. That the boundary is identifiable means there are people clearly inside and clearly outside the organization.

Some organization theorists, like Charles Perrow, are arguing that organizations are the key phenomenon in existence today. While many will argue that the social forces of economics, politics and religion shape organizations, Perrow says the opposite is true today. An individual’s personal ethics, social status and economy are shaped by the organization he or she is a member of, rather than the other way around (Daft 1992, 8, 34).[94]

While many traditional and old religions would be hard pressed to fit into this definition of organization, the Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly fit, as do many other modern religious sects. The world’s almost one billion Roman Catholics, to use one example, can hardly be described as a group working together towards a common goal. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, will fit the definition perfectly. Even before Rutherford changed the movement’s perceptions around the very term ‘organization,’ it was one. From Rutherford, the sect has been a rigorous, goal-oriented movement that in many ways holds more similarities to a multinational business corporation than a traditional religion. It has a strictly hierarchical leadership structure. The Watchtower organization has clearly defined goals, and frequently issues status reports to all members about progress all over the world. Success stories from converts and zealous missionaries are important parts of both literature articles and the convention programs. It holds frequent sales courses for all active members. While its primary objective is recruiting new members, not sales or revenue, obviously both sale of religious literature and economy play an important role.

The focus of this thesis is on organizational change. One common and useful way to describe organizational change among theorists is the concept of life cycle. This utilizes a concept of an organization as an organism, which is born, grows older and eventually dies. In different stages of growth and development we will see a “fairly predictable pattern” of organizational structure, administration and leadership style. Most modern theorists list four stages in organizational development, as outlined by Richard Daft (1992, 163):

1. Entrepreneurial stage.
2. Collectivity stage.
3. Formalization stage.
4. Elaboration stage.

In the entrepreneurial stage, we find the organization as it is ‘born.’ Its leader is its founder or founders. It is informal, with little bureaucracy, and the personal supervision by the founder and leader is its primary control mechanism. In a business organization, the leaders are focused on production and sales, not people management. Naturally, there are differences between a business organization and a religious or political organization. In the former, the employees or members of the former are employed and work for money, and may not be attracted to the organization primarily because they share the leader’s vision. In the latter, it is precisely the attraction to the leader’s vision and objectives that attract new members. Recruits share the leader’s stated vision and goal, and therefore they join the organization. In most cases, it is to be expected that the leader as a person also personally attract them to the organization. In business, the end of this life cycle is brought about by a leader crisis. The original entrepreneurs who started the organization have little interest or qualification in management of a growing organization. As we have seen, the crisis that ends this stage in a religious organization is often the death of the founder.

A successful solution of the leadership crisis ending the first stage brings the organization to the collectivity stage. Its characteristics are strong leadership, the development of clear goals and direction, and a formalization of functions and roles within the organization. Yet, organization control and communication is still relatively informal, and the top leadership is involved in all stages of the decision process. This stage is concluded when the growing organization causes the lower management to become dissatisfied with the strong top-down leadership. Managers at a lower stage feel confident to take on more important decisions. The top leadership may still want to keep control of all activities, but the sheer size of the organization makes this difficult.

To successfully deal with the crisis outlined above, the organization brings itself into the formalization stage by instituting more rigid and formal rules, procedures and control systems. Communication is formalized. A number of specialist roles are added to the organization. The leadership now leaves more and more of the day-to-day control to lower-level management, and concerns itself primarily with planning and strategy. The organization is becoming more bureaucratic, which causes the third major crisis. Managers and staff feel strangled by excessive rule making, innovation is restricted and the members of the organization may start to lose sight of its primary objective.

To deal with these issues, the organization is brought into the elaboration stage. A number of strategies are used to reduce the bureaucracy, to build new and simpler systems of control and management. Cross-divisional teams are formed, and sometimes the whole organization is divided into smaller, semi-independent divisions to keep it manageable. To keep an organization vital and alive in this last stage, frequent reorganizations may be necessary, often with a change in leadership. Its longtime survival depends on the organization’s ability to deal with the recurring crises that are brought about, after all, by its own success.

Some differences between a social-religious organization and a business should be obvious from the brief outline of life cycle theory above, and from the historical overview of the Watchtower movement. A business has a stated objective to sell products and services to make money. A religious organization has its objective stated in terms that may not immediately translate into actual work. For example, there may be general agreement among Christian sects that the primary objective should be ‘to serve God,’ but less agreement about how this is to be accomplished. Practical goal making is thus indirect. In the Watchtower movement, the actual number of new converts is often used as a metric on Divine blessing. Yet, in times when the movement experience membership loss, other objectives are used to explain this. For example, the leader may claim that unworthy individuals were ‘sifted’ from the movement to ensure its purity relative to God.

Typically for Protestant Christian movements, as famously described by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism, there is a clear ambiguity related to the accumulation of wealth also in the Watchtower movement. The accumulation of wealth and the related vices greed and materialism are strongly warned against both in the Bible itself and in Christian tradition. However, economical resources are obviously necessary to create an organization and to proselyte worldwide. The movement has from the start been strongly dependent on the printed word, and hardly any religious organization can match its massive production of books, tracts and magazines in numerous languages. All this has a price. In the Watchtower movement, the enormous distribution of its publications has been a source of great pride, as has its impressive range of printing facilities all over the world.[95]

Every year, the Watchtower Society publishes a yearbook that presents the organizational development in the previous year. An important section here, and also in every January 1 issue of the Watchtower, gives detailed account of how many active members (‘publishers’) there are in every country and region of the world, how many hours each country has reported using in ‘field service’ (proselytizing, typically door-to-door), and how many pieces of literature that is ‘placed.’ Of utmost interest is the percentage increase in number of publishers (or, sometimes, decrease) both in each country and in the world. It is not uncommon for Witnesses to use this as a direct metric for Divine blessing.

The success of the movement is measured in pure membership numbers, and growth is interpreted as a fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” (Isaiah 60:22; The Watchtower Society’s New World Translation)

The Jehovah’s Witness Yearbook for 1985 directly applies this text to the impressive and promising statistic presented for the preceding year:

“God’s promise at Isaiah 60:22 is already being fulfilled. We have seen the ‘little one become a thousand’ in many lands. From the tiny group that began this work about 65 years ago, the ‘small one has become a mighty nation.’ As the thrilling reports come in from Jehovah’s worshipers all over the world, they prove that Jehovah is ‘speeding up the work in his own time.’ From Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australasia and the other islands of the sea come reports of amazing increases. We are overjoyed to be able to present to all of God’s people the heartwarming and encouraging good news of the marvelous things that Jehovah is bringing to pass. The amazing publisher peak of 2,842,531 for the 1984 service year is breathtaking. Worldwide there was a grand increase in average publishers of 7.1 percent. Almost every country reported a publisher increase.” (p. 5)

It will hardly be stretching the comparative approach to see the similarities between the above text – and many other statements like it in Watchtower literature – to statements presented by the board of directors of a major corporation to its shareholders and employees after a successful year. Indeed, to compare the business objective of a corporation to the proselytizing objective of a sect like the Jehovah’s Witnesses is most fitting.

Indeed, former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ supreme Governing Body, Raymond Franz, reports a conversation with another long-time sect member, Rene Vazquez, who at one time said that “it seems to me as if we [JWs] almost worship figures.” (Franz 1983, 280)

Naturally, an enormous apparatus of data collection is behind all these numbers and statistics. Every active Jehovah’s Witness, every preacher or ‘publisher’ as the official term goes, gives a report card back to his congregation elders every single month. On this card, every hour dedicated to door-to-door or other forms of preaching work is listed, along with the number of ‘placed’ literature items: books, brochures and magazines. The cards also have a column for home Bible studies conducted with ‘interested ones,’ and even a summary of the number of return visits to individuals who may have expressed some interest in the literature or in discussing religious issues.

All these report cards from the congregation members are added to an aggregated summary that is sent to the branch office for that country or region. This branch office, again, makes another aggregate summary for every month and sends it to the worldwide headquarters in New York. One of the results of all this work is the worldwide summary we discussed above. Another result is that the leaders, at least in theory, have a more solid basis for decision-making.[96]

Countries, congregations and also individual JWs are evaluated based on their performance report cards. There is an expressed rule-of-thumb that an aspiring ministerial servant (‘deacon’) or elder must report hours in the two digits consistently. Someone who fails to report for a month is categorized as irregular for the next six months; one who reports no hours for six months is inactive – in effect, a non-witness. Yet, witnesses are not publicly censured over bad performance. It remains, for the most part, a private matter for the rank and file.

Very active ‘publishers,’ on the other hand, are publicly honored. There are special programs for so-called ‘pioneers’ and ‘auxiliary pioneers,’ who promises to use at least 840 hours a year and 50 hours a month, respectively.[97] While there are no direct benefits from these programs, a certain status accompanies pioneers in the congregation. Also, importantly, these are the only avenues to anything resembling a religious career that are open to Witness women.

The above should also lend itself to a reasonably meaningful comparison to employees in a business organization, carefully metered for performance and encouraged by bonuses and various prizes to increase their sales.

Heather and Gary Botting argues that Rutherford’s increasing emphasis on “corporate expansion” marked a critical shift in the movement’s development leading to this situation, and that

“from this point on the movement seemed to focus on increased membership as much for the sake of the statistics themselves as for the sake of the persons on which they were based.” (Botting 1984, 41)

There is, however, a difference between the views of leadership. In a business, ownership naturally means right to govern, and to appoint subordinate leaders. That may also apply in the early stage of a religious organization. Yet, to the degree an organization claims some sort of guidance from God – a Supernatural Agent – claims to leadership must be justified vis-à-vis God. Herein lies a source of a much more important leadership succession crisis in religious organizations. The right to govern follows from Divine selection and blessing. And any person can, at least in theory, claim to be appointed by God to a position of responsibility.

We have examined in some detail this crisis as it developed in the Watchtower movement in 1916 and 1917. A detailed examination of such succession crises in other religions is well beyond the scope of this thesis. It should suffice to give a brief sample of similar crises in other sects and movements, both early and contemporary. The New Testament gives testimony to a number of important power struggles in early Christianity, particularly between the Judaist-oriented followers of Jesus’ brother James and the Hellenistic followers of the apostle Paul (Meeks 1983, 112-3). It is well known that Islam split into two major parts, Shia and Sunni, because of conflict around leadership. Also in the Church of the Latter Day Saints, a movement often compared to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rule of Brigham Young was opposed by some, and an important minority of Mormons set up a ‘Reorganized Church’ in Illinois. It was formed around the founder Joseph Smith’s first wife Emma and their son Joseph Smith III.

Yet, even though the leadership succession crisis in religious organizations is typically more serious and has a different reason, the life cycle theories of management science are applicable to religious organizations. The initial entrepreneurial stage in a religion is the era of the founder. In the case of the Watchtower movement, it is the time from Russell started the Watch Tower magazine until his death in 1916. Organization was mostly informal, because it was the person Russell who kept it together.

The leadership succession crisis after Russell’s death, that was resolved when Rutherford gained absolute control, initiated the second stage: the collectivity stage. Rutherford could not and would not tie the group together around his own person, even though he retained full control, therefor he had to build a team spirit. In this, he was helped both by his own tireless work and the often-intolerant persecution from religious opponents and the secular state through much of his presidency.

Rutherford, while denouncing secular nationalism, called his movement a Nation of its own, and largely the word ‘Organization’ came to the forefront. Ironically, at the same time, Rutherford denied that the movement was a religion. Congregations, earlier called by the Greek word ‘ekklesia,’ were now called ‘companies.’[98] A company servant replaced elected elders, a manager appointed by the Watchtower Society itself. So-called theocracy, the direct rule of Rutherford himself and his appointed subordinates, replaced democracy. Yet, rulemaking was not excessive, at least not compared to later stages in the movement’s development. The decisive factor was loyalty and obedience to the leadership.

At the end of Rutherford’s rule, his own control of the movement’s activities was less than what he may personally have wanted to believe. Though being a source of questionable value, Schnell argues convincingly that as the Judge’s health deteriorated, a new group of corporate-like leaders, “the men in the Adams Street crowd” gradually seized control, and planned for massive reorganization after his death (Schnell 1956, 161-6).[99] The organization under presidents Nathan Knorr and Frederic Franz entered the formalization stage during the fabulous growth era after WWII, which eventually lead to excessive bureaucracy and rulemaking as predicted in the model. The organization has since the early 90s taken some remedial measures against the former, if not the latter, leading the Watchtower organization into what theorists call the elaboration stage.


This treatise has used different tools and different perspectives in an attempt to illuminate some issues in the early development of one Protestant sect.

First, one major tool has been the historiographic method. We have described events and developments from the early days of the sect’s founder, Charles Taze Russell, and until and beyond the death of his successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Then, we used tools of sociology and in particular the life cycle analysis from organization theory, which originated in the management science one might study at a business school.

We also used two different perspectives in this study. First, we looked at development from the point of view of the sect leaders, Rutherford in particular. Second, we looked at change from the perspective of the movement itself.

These tools and perspectives were employed to hopefully throw some light upon the main subject or question: how does a religious sect survive its founder and grow into a religion? As we have seen, a religion of this type starts off as a group loyal to one particular individual. His answers to existential questions attract these followers. As Stark convincingly argues, conversion is almost exclusively about personal attachments first, and doctrine and practice only second (1996, 18ff). The followers are most likely to be family and friends of the founder. In the case of Russell, he actually joined a ‘Bible study’ group that already existed and was associated with Nelson Barbour, and due to a combination of his personal qualities, knowledge and financial resources, he soon became its leader. Then, through an already existing network, the movement started to attract followers.

However Russell also attracted followers directly through his authorship. As we have seen, Rutherford himself and his wife joined solely because one of his Studies in the Scriptures books had impressed them. Also, a number of congregations grew up all over the eastern United States that were not founded by Russell, but its members were strongly influenced by his writings and had chosen him as their ‘honorary Pastor.’ (Rogerson 1969, 12).[100]

Whatever way Russell had attracted his followers, the result was a movement of individuals strongly attracted to him personally. Like the WTS itself says, ‘he was the Society.’ When Russell died, his followers were in a confused state and no obvious successor was present. In fact, his testamentary wishes for the movement to continue directed by a committee simply betray a lack of understanding of the dynamics of the movement. Sects require a leader. Rutherford fought his way to the top and became the movement’s supreme leader.[101]

It is quite possible to imagine a situation where a leader very similar to the founder takes over a movement and continues his traditions. Then, the succession crisis that normally follows the founder’s death will follow the successor’s death, and so on. It is the main conclusion of this thesis that to avoid this situation in the future, a movement must become independent of the ‘charisma’ of individual leaders. A religion needs adherents that are loyal to an idea, a theology, an organization, to flourish over time and survive through centuries. What Rutherford did, through his presidency, was to convert the Watchtower movement from a sect loyal to a person into a movement loyal to a concept.

How exactly did Rutherford do this? After all, there is ample evidence that he did have the personal qualities necessary to make people follow him.

First, Rutherford explicitly put the organization as a concept (and an expression) in the forefront. It can be argued that considering the enormous direct control Rutherford had, it was a mere show when he insisted the whole ‘society’ was ‘That Servant’ instead of himself. Yet, it was important for succession. Whoever controlled the Society – the Watch Tower Society – would then be able to claim the loyalty of the followers.

Second, I would suggest it is important that Rutherford also lacked some personal qualities. While he earned respect and even fear, he was rarely loved. As we have seen, he was barely missed after he died. His brush and rude behavior alienated many that nevertheless remained loyal to the movement itself.

Would these factors need to be present in a successor? In a sense, no. As we just noted, it is quite possible for a successor to be a copy of the founder.[102] Yet, this would just postpone the real succession problem. What we are looking for is the qualities present in a leader taking an organization from the initial entrepreneurial stage into what was called the collectivity stage. For a religious organization, unlike a business, this most likely happens after the death of the founder. Rutherford became the bridge between these stages.


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Berger, Peter. 1980. The Heretical Imperative – Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation. New York: Anchor Books

Botting, Heather and Gary. 1984. The Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Toronto, Buffalo og London: University of Toronto Press.

Cole, Marley. 1955. Jehovah’s Witnesses: The New World Society. New York: Vantage Press.

Daft, Richard L. 1992. Organization Theory and Design. St Paul, MN: West Publishing Company.

Franz, Raymond. 1983. Crisis of Conscience. 3rd edition, 1999. Atlanta: Commentary Press.

Garbe, Detlef. 1997. Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium : Die Zeugen Jehovas im “Dritten Reich.” Studien zur Zeitgeschichte. R. Oldenbourg Verlag.

Gruss, Edmond Charles. 1970. Apostles of Denial. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.

Harrison, Barbara Grizutti. 1978. Visions of Glory : A History and a Memory of a Jehovah’s Witness. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Horowitz, David. 1990. Pastor Charles Taze Russell. New York: Shengold Publishers, Inc. Second printing.

Illman, Karl Johan and Harviainen, Tapani. 1993. Judisk Historia [Jewish History]. Religionsvetenskaplige Skrifter. Åbo, Sweden: Åbo Akademi.

Jonsson, Carl Olof. 1983. The Gentile Times Reconsidered. Lethbridge and San Diego: Hart Publishers and Good Faith Defenders.

Macmillan, A. H. 1957. Faith on the March. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Meeks, Wayne A. 1983. The First Urban Christians. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Penton, M. James. 1985. Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.

Rogerson, Alan. 1969. Millions Now Living Will Never Die : A Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses. London: Constable & Co. Ltd.

Schnell, William J. 1956. Thirty Years a Watch Tower Slave. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Smylie, James Hutchinson. 1988. “Adventism” in The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Vol. I, page 122.

Stark, Rodney. 1996. The Rise of Christianity. A Sociologist Reconsiders History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wilson, Bryan R. 1990. The Social Dimension of Sectarianism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rutherford and Russell Publications

The following books were published in Rutherford’s name by the Watchtower Society:

This text has also referred to the following Rutherford booklets. Note that this list is far from complete.

Year Title

Comfort for the Jews.














Light I and II.


Vindication I.


Vindication II and III.















Year Title

Millions Now Living Will Never Die


Favored People

The following books and booklets by Russell have been referenced. Again, the list is not exhaustive.

Year Title

Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World (By Nelson Barbour and C. T. Russell)


Studies in the Scriptures I: The Divine Plan of the Ages[103]


Studies in the Scriptures II: The Time is at Hand


Studies in the Scriptures III: Thy Kingdom Come


Studies in the Scriptures IV: The Day of Vengeance later renamed The Battle of Armageddon


Studies in the Scriptures V: The At-one-ment Between God and Man


Studies in the Scriptures VI: The New Creation


Studies in the Scriptures VII: The Finished Mystery

Other Watchtower Publications

Short name used in this text year Title

1993Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom


1959Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose


-Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (annually)

Watchtower (other forms)

1879-Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (1879-1909), The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (1909-1931), The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (1931-1939), The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Kingdom (1939), The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom (1939-present). Bimonthly publication, with exceptions.

Awake! (other forms)

1919-Golden Age (1919-1937), Consolation (1937-1946), Awake! (1946-present). Bimonthly publication, with exceptions.

An exhaustive and partially annotated bibliography to literature by and about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society can be found in Penton 1985.

Document version: 798. Date: August 14, 2006.


[1] I use ‘arbitrary’ to mean two things: 1) The decision was not originally motivated by the leadership’s strategy for gaining converts, and 2) if the leadership had made the opposite decision in this case, the followers would be very likely to go along with that as well.

[2] See bibliography for explanation of Watchtower publication short names.

[3] Prof. Penton is also, like this author, a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[4] No mention is ever made in modern Watchtower literature of living former members, but dead critics like Paul Johnson, Olin Moyle and Salters are sometimes subject to personal attacks. So Penton receives no credit, even though a number of changes, like the redating of Russell’s Object and Manner booklet, obviously stems from reading his book.

[5] Published every second year from 1994. Unfortunately, it is only made available to believing Jehovah’s Witnesses. Scholars must rely on being able to obtain it through unorthodox channels.

[6] A second book by Franz, In Search of Christian Freedom, also contains much interesting material, mostly concerned with doctrinal and personal matters.

[7] For example, on page 165 Schnell tells us that one of his own articles – an important account of the major religious rights struggles in the U.S. in the late 30s – appeared in the magazine Consolation (now Awake!). Yet, he makes no reference to the date or issue of this magazine.

[8] E.g. Jehovah of the Watchtower and The Kingdom of the Cults. The latter is arguably the best-known source of information about the sect among evangelical Christians in English-speaking countries.

[9] And in non-Christian countries where we find a number of JWs, like in Korea and Japan, they are almost always converts from other Christian groups.

[10] In Norway, there are around 9,000 active JWs.

[11] Used in the synoptic apocalypse. Indeed, this is the word that named the whole movement. When translated into Latin, parousia becomes adventus.

[12] This is at least the version of events we find in Barbour and Russell’s writings. It may very well be correct that these Second Adventists came to this doctrine independently, but fact is that the “two-stage coming” doctrine had been preached as early as 1828 in Britain by Henry Drummond, and the idea had been spread widely through the Irvingites and the Plymouth Brethren. (Penton 1985, 18)

[13] C. T. Russell: Zion’s Watch Tower, July 15, 1906, page 230-31, page 3822 in reprints.

[14] ibid, page 3821. Italics and capitalization in original.

[15] In the aforementioned 1906 autobiographical Watch Tower article, Russell clearly left the impression that his booklet Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return was written before he met Barbour. Later, the Watchtower Society has explicitly made the claim it was published in 1873 (see Watchtower Publications Index 1930-1985, Yearbook 1975, p. 36 and Purpose 1959). A cursory reading of the booklet itself reveals that he refers directly to Nelson Barbour and that it teaches the presence had already started. So, in Proclaimers 1993 the Watchtower Society indeed admits it was written in 1877, after Russell had been converted to Barbour’s cause, but even in this history version the order of events is reversed, giving the casual reader the impression that Russell himself originated the “invisible presence” doctrine. Also, we find that Russell himself contradicts this view, when he explains how Barbour had convinced him about Christ’s invisible coming in 1874. Whatever the case, the evidence suggests that most, if not all, of Russell’s early doctrines were taken directly from Nelson Barbour.

[16] Barbour, Three Worlds, p. 84

[17] Russell and later Rutherford taught that the heavenly resurrection of dead saints occurred in this year. Also, God’s favor started returning to the Jews and the Kingdom of God “started to exercise power.” See WT October 1879 (reprints p. 39), SiS2 p. 101, SiS6 p. 663, Millions (1920) p. 27-8. 1928 editions of The Harp of God had removed this date from the text (see pp. 236, 244 in earlier editions).

[18] Zion’s Watch Tower, July 15, 1906, p. 3823 reprints. It is quite clear that when Russell in this late article justified his schism with Barbour, he misquoted and misrepresented Barbour’s ideas about the atonement (Penton 1985, 312, note 45). Naturally, Russell’s biased version of the schism has been propagated by the Watchtower Society ever since (e.g. Proclaimers 620).

[19] Hereafter: the Watch Tower, which is the name Russell gave it in 1909. The name changed again, to The Watchtower, in 1939. See bibliography.

[20] Until 1904, the series was known under the name Millennial Dawn. In this year, the series’ name was changed to Studies in the Scriptures. See Proclaimers 53, footnote. The following books was published in this series: Studies in the Scriptures I: The Divine Plan of the Ages, 1886. Studies in the Scriptures II: The Time is at Hand, 1889. Studies in the Scriptures III: Thy Kingdom Come, 1891. Studies in the Scriptures IV: The Day of Vengeance, 1897 (Later called The Battle of Armageddon). Studies in the Scriptures V: The At-one-ment Between God and Man, 1899. Studies in the Scriptures VI: The New Creation, 1904. An alleged posthumous volume VII, The Finished Mystery, was published under Rutherford’s supervision in 1917. It was really written by the Bible Students Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher.

[21] Proclaimers 406

[22] For the first time the Trinity was explicitly denied in the Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1882, reprints 369-70.

[23] It is interesting to note that while the denial of the Trinity has been a constant in the movement’s history, the positively expressed doctrine of the relationship between the Father and the Son, and their natures, have been more than a little unclear at times. God’s transcendence, for example, seems to have been explicitly denied until the 1950s.

[24] One could say that on this, at least, Russell was well ahead of his times.

[25] Up to 1932, Watch Tower publications often emphasized the good relationship between Russell and the Jews, and his open support of Zionism. The October 15, 1910 issue of The Watch Tower, pp. 329-330 (pp. 4700-1 Reprints) quoted some examples from outside sources: “In speaking of the coming meeting and Pastor Russell’s address, J. Pfeffer, of No. 139 Delancey street, said last night: “Many of Pastor Russell’s sermons have been printed in Jewish papers, and in these sermons he has preached sympathetically upon Jewish questions. This is primarily the reason why the Jews are anxious to hear him speak of the future of the Jew… Pastor Russell has been and is agitating Zionism.» … (From New York American, October 9.”

[26] Both the 144,000 and ‘The Great Company’, or Crowd, is described in Revelation chapter 7.

[27] Explained in the very first issue of Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1879, p. 7 reprints. For the four groups, see, for example, chart on inside cover of Studies in the Scriptures I, also printed in Penton 1985, 28.

[28] How important her contributions were is open to debate. She claimed, for example, to have written significant portions of the early Studies in the Scriptures volumes. Russell admitted that many articles and other writings appearing under his name until 1896 were indeed written by his wife, and later articles appeared under her own name. However, he chose to express the collaboration differently: “I was continually harassed with suggestions of alterations of my writings.” (Zion’s Watch Tower, July 15, 1906, reprints p. 3812)

[29] It is also a fact, as both parties confirmed in court, that the marriage was never consummated. First, Russell seems to have had a low sex drive. Second, he was of the opinion – so common in Victorian times – that sex was filthy, animalistic and detracted from true spirituality. This was a source for much frustration to Maria Frances. Also in this respect, the contrast to Rutherford could hardly be more clear.

[30] Actually, Russell had taught this already in 1880, but few had discovered this back then.

[31] Page 5998ff Reprints.

[32] Interestingly, Hirsh was the first substitute named in Russell’s will, and therefor a natural first substitution, but Rutherford was only mentioned fourth, yet took the second vacant position.

[33] This author has a hard time believing that. So does Alan Rogerson (1969, 33, 34), who also gives some evidence against the claim.

[34] Rutherford: Harvest Siftings. This was an open letter to all Bible Student congregations, Aug 1, 1917.

[35] The WTS’ Board of Directors consisted of the five appointed editorial board members, including the four and Rutherford, and also Macmillan and Van Amburgh.

[36] People’s Pulpit Association was later renamed to The Watchtower Bible And Tract Society of New York, Inc.

[37] Woodworth: The Parable of The Penny, 1917. This parable can be found in Matthew chapter 20.

[38] A. N. Pierson, A. I. Ritchie, J. D. Wright, I. F. Hoskins, R. H. Hirsch: Light After Darkˇness: A Message to the Watchers, Being a Refutation of Harvest Siftings (Brooklyn, NY: printed privately, 1917), 13.

[39] United States v. Rutherford, Transcript of Record 981-2 at 2943-2945. Rutherford under questioning:
“Question: Was the difficulty over “The Finished Mystery”?
Answer: It was not. It did not include “The Finished Mystery” in the slightest.
Question: “The Finished Mystery,” at the time, had not become the subject of any discussion among any of the members?
Answer: No, sir, had not discussed it with a single person in the society at the time this trouble started.”
Van Amburgh, Fisher and Woodworth also emphasized the same fact in their court testimonies. Thanks to M. James Penton for sharing a transcript from these records.

[40] I.e. Eucharist.

[41] In addition, we may have to take into account the new recruits in this period, increasing the number of defectors. It is worth noting that Alan Rogerson (1969, 44, 45), again without references, states that Rutherford’s following by 1919 had fallen to about 4,000, but nevertheless he repeats that the official figure saying that the Memorial attendance in 1919 was close to 18,000. A number of sources thus seem to overstate the decline of the movement in this period, no doubt influenced by the legendary status this period should attain in Witness lore.

[42] Rutherford did not, at this time, do anything to prohibit Bible Students from armed service, however.

[43] In this discussion, Macmillan actually admits that this was the first real election in the WTS, without the direct influence of Rutherford’s men. (Rogerson 1969, 43, 44; Penton 1985, 56)

[44] Name changed to Consolation in 1937 and finally to Awake! in 1946. The publication of a new magazine was, in fact, a direct violation of Russell’s will, but as we have seen it was not the first.

[45] The Finished Mystery, 1917, pp. 128, 258, 485.

[46] It is interesting to note that quite exactly seventy years after 1925, the WTS conceded that this teaching had caused some disappointment. “Many who had hoped to be among the ‘millions’ who would never die have indeed died.” (The Watchtower, February 15, 1995, p. 9)

[47] It has been a typical position in the Adventist movement to consider the ‘papacy,’ the Roman Catholic Church, to be the apocalyptic ‘whore of Babylon.’ Storrs were of the opinion that it also included Protestant churches that had an organizational form with even rudimentary similarity to the RCC. The Jehovah’s Witnesses should come to include all religions but themselves in this derogatory symbol.

[48] E.g. Zion’s Watch Tower Sept 1, 1893, p. 1573 reprints; Dec 1, 1894, p. 1743 reprints; Sept 15, 1895, p. 1866 reprints.

[49] The Watch Tower, 1938, p. 185.

[50] Later, in 1931, when Rutherford reinterpreted Revelation chapter 7, the ‘servant’ was attributed to the ‘remnant’ of the 144,000 only. Eventually, this would include only a tiny fraction of the movement, and the ‘servant’ designation was attributed to the core leadership only. The teaching thus went full circle.

[51] This practice, however, was discontinued after Rutherford’s time. Unlike many evangelical churches, the WTS has not used radio, television or third-party printed publications in the post-WWII era. Their proselytizing efforts have been almost exclusively focused on door-to-door preaching.

[52] Religious songs were later reintroduced. The trend towards a more and more centralized control of Jehovah’s Witness meetings has continued into our days.

[53] Really, ‘Jehovah’s witnesses.’ Until 1976 the word ‘witnesses’ always appeared in lower case in Watchtower publications. In the April 1 issue for that year, for what seems to be the first time, it appeared with a capital ‘W,’ for reasons that have never been explained. In the August 15, 1976 issue of The Watchtower, the use of capital ‘W’ became universal, with very few exceptions. The background for the old practice was no doubts to blur the distinction between the generic term ‘Jehovah’s witnesses’ – that are often applied to Biblical figures in Watchtower publications – and the proper name of the Watchtower movement. The newer practice with an uppercase ‘W’ may well be for legal reasons.

[54] A few years later, in 1975, the direct rule of the president of the Watch Tower Society was superceded by a full ‘Governing Body’ of between 10 and 20 male members, in theory a board of equals. The Governing Body appoints its own members, and its members are the supreme leaders of the movement, making decisions by popular vote. A change in policy or doctrine requires 2/3rd majority (Franz 1983, 83). Be aware, however, that with the possible exception of the years immediately after the Governing Body reform, the JW organization has always been governed by one individual. Traditionally, that was the president. After the Governing Body became a committee of equals, any ‘strong man’ in this group may take this position, like we have seen in some autocratic political parties. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ted Jaracz has been the de facto leader ever since the death of Frederic Franz, even though he was never president.

[55] An official Watch Tower Society publication, 1986.

[56] After Rutherford’s time, however, this was reversed. Like other conservative churches, JWs do not at all accept any sexual relations outside proper, legal marriage.

[57] It would be a mistake, however, to believe this reflects the statements in WTS publications. On the contrary, the magazine Awake! often glorifies medical science. Yet, the confrontations between medical professionals and JWs over blood no doubt reinforces what skepticism against medicine that may remain in the JW community.

[58] Also called ‘Great Company,’ depending on translations used.

[59] Vindication II was published in 1932. The opposite view, that Jews were indeed favored by God and should not be subject to Christian proselytizing, had been promoted as late as in 1929, in the book Life, and especially in Comfort for the Jews from 1925. Confusingly, the WTS continued to publish and advertise Life for several years after this doctrinal turn-about.

[60] In the post-war U.S.A., Christian churches, even – or perhaps especially – sects that are hostile to the government, have typically been right wing. They have attacked the ‘decline’ in sexual morality, supported legislation against homosexuals and been anti-abortion and pro-capital punishment. While stopping short of encouraging political work, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have followed this trend towards the political right. For example, it is noteworthy that after Pinochet’s coup d’état in Chile, the WTS openly supported the harsh action taken against the Marxists. A yearbook article even noted the divine providence in this, since vacant jobs left by the ‘communist infiltrators’ who disappeared now were available to JWs (Yearbook 1986, 86).

[61] See photographs of sound cars on page 567 and of a public march on page 568 in the Proclaimers book.

[62] In 1909, the property he owned was valued as $317,000. (Harrison 1978, 68).

[63] Yearbook 1975, 128.

[64] Much less known than this mansion is the fact that Rutherford ten years later had built another building on the same property, called Beth Shan, ‘house of shelter.’ If Beth Sarim was a palace, Beth Shan was a fortress. It apparently secret to all but a few close associates of Rutherford. Being mostly invisible, inaccessible, guarded and actually quite a bit larger than Beth Sarim, it even had a secret bomb shelter. Beth Shan was only mentioned once in WT literature, in the May 27, 1942 edition of Consolation magazine (now Awake!), but no mention was made of its functionality. Rutherford elsewhere wrote that he expected the coming war to escalate into total annihilation, with poison gas and other weapons of terror (The Golden Age, April 21, 1926, p. 455; June 2, 1926, p. 551) See Ken Raines’ web site at . Reference is made to Edmond C. Gruss with Leonard Chretien: Jehovah’s Witnesses: Their Monuments To False Prophecy, 1997, pp. 67-69, 250, 251.

[65] Proclaimers, 89. The official Watch Tower explanation for their separation is Mary’s “poor health.”

[66] Joshua chapter 7.

[67] Chapman had been brought from London to take over the Canadian Branch Office. A letter from him to Rutherford was published in The Watchtower May 15, 1937, p. 159, where Chapman expressed his total loyalty and devotion to Rutherford with these words: “I feel compelled to write a word to you that you may know of my love for you. It has been my privilege to work in the Society’s Office, for the last fourteen years, and during that time I have grown to truly love you because you magnify Jehovah’s name… Your love for the brethren has been demonstrated over and over again by considering their needs. This is true, not only concerning the pioneers, but also toward the Bethel family in London, with whom I was privileged to associate and serve for many years.”

[68] On a much smaller scale and with no fighting words, however. Moyle objected especially to Rutherford’s vicious tongue lashings against even his more loyal subjects, like the one Woodworth received when he proposed to introduce a calendar without ‘pagan’ names.

[69] Quite likely accusations of Communist connections were being investigated.

[70] An obviously false claim, considering that the English original – as close to a word-for-word translation you can get without doing violence to both languages – appeared in the WTS’ own 1934 Yearbook.

[71] Yearbook 1934, p. 134.

[72] The property, however, was returned on October 7.

[73] See also Yearbook 1935, pp. 118, 119.

[74] Karl R.A. Wittig, Statutory Declaration, doc. no. 778/13 November 1947 by notary Otto Ludwig, Frankfurt am Main. According to Der Wachtturm, October 1, 1955, 590ff.

[75] Yearbook, 1974, p. 212; The Watchtower, July 1, 1979, p. 8. There has, unfortunately, been a desire to inflate these figures in some Watchtower sources, sometimes well beyond reason, and even some historians have been mislead to repeat such distortions. These historians, again, have then been quoted back in Watch Tower literature to give the inflated figures credibility. See especially The Watchtower, October 1, 1984, p. 8, which quotes Dr. Christine King as saying “Some 10,000 were imprisoned, and together they received sentences totalling 20,000 years. One out of every two German Witnesses was imprisoned, one in four lost their lives.” This would mean 5000 dead German JWs. Hopefully, Dr King only got her math wrong, not her source analysis. See also Proclaimers p. 194.

[76] In North America religious opponents succeeded in causing harsh persecution only in Quebec, and this took much of the attention of the Watchtower legal department during the war.

[77] With ten to one, against the lone dissent of Justice Harlan F. Stone, who would later become Chief Justice.

[78] Evidence is, the prime author of Watchtower literature was now Frederic Franz, who would become the 4th president. There are also a number of claims that he shadow-authored some late Rutherford books. Be that as it may, it is safe to conclude that Knorr was the organizer, and the movement’s theologian was Frederic Franz.

[79] E.g. The Watchtower, October 15, 1993, pp. 17-18. This was understood quite literally by some individual Witnesses, who discontinued signing their letters and email with ‘agape,’ otherwise quite common among English-speaking Christians.

[80] While in reality, Hitler merely tolerated the Church for practical purposes, and there is evidence he planned to exterminate it after the war. Reading Hitler’s private opinions about the Church, as recorded for example in Goebbels’ diary, we find it to be quite similar to Rutherford’s!

[81] In local communities where door-to-door ‘peddling’ required a special permit, Rutherford refused JWs to obtain one. He argued they needed no permission from men to do God’s work. See also Rogerson 1969, 56.

[82] Milton Czatt. 1933. The International Bible Students Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mennonite Press, Scottdale, PA. PhD dissertation at Yale.

[83] It is worth noting that it is a common method of WTS history versions to use quoted statements from individual JWs to make important points that may nevertheless be controversial. We can find well-known instances in Yearbook 1975, 146 and Yearbook 1974, 110, 111. See also p. 36 in this text for another Proclaimers example.

[84] This thesis primarily discusses change in the context of the Watchtower movement and Rutherford. This remains the focus, but this chapter will tentatively discuss some general issues. The author is well aware that going from the specific to the general is difficult in any scholarly discipline. This is certainly true about History of Religions, where general theories have hardly been in short supply. Some of these theories hardly met the stringent demands put on research; so many scholars are skeptical towards the whole enterprise of creating general theories of religion. For example, anissue of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion (8:1, 1996) was dedicated to debate William Paden’s proposals for a new comparative approach to the studies religion. Among the respondents, it is worth noting Marsha Hewitt’s claim that a comparative approach is a peripheral concern at best, since general studies is always done at the cost of the special and ‘the other.’ See Hewitt, M. A. 1996: “How New is the ’New Comparativism’? Difference, Dialectics and World-Making.” and Paden, W. E. 1996. “Elements of a New Comparativism,” both in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 8:1.

[85] Including manpower, machinery and real estate.

[86] After coining this term, I was made aware of similar expressions, ‘symbolic capital’ or ‘social capital,’ used in a number of sociology texts. These terms seem to originate with Pierre Bourdieu, who uses the terms to describe for example the right to define ‘how the reality looks like’ that control of the printed world and mass media gives. See Distinction, 1984, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, p. 114.

[87] In fact, the old official term for this activity was ‘casual witnessing.’ Later, it has been strongly emphasized that this expression left the wrong impression. It is not supposed to be casual even though it is informal.

[88] Including, but certainly not limited to km 9/87 p. 4; 7/89 p. 3; 6/89 p. 3-4; 10/95 p. 1; 5/96 p. 1.

[89] And this figure of course includes secondary conversions through interpersonal channels, meaning the real cold call conversion rate is much lower. Mormons use a very similar technique for cold calls as the JWs do. This author thus finds it extremely unlikely that as much as one in a thousand cold calls result in a conversion. The actual figure may well be off by a factor of ten or more.

[90] See Rogerson 1969, 175 and a discussion of these issues in Penton 1985, 256. It seems that JWs were very average, perhaps except in college education, until after WWII. Then, JWs as a group experienced downward social mobility. In 1993 Barry A. Kosmin and Seymour P. Lachman conducted the National Survey of Religious Identification. Note that this study concerns JWs in the United States, while Beckford writes about the United Kingdom. This survey had a sample size of 113,000 people. Of the thirty religious groups included in the survey, Jehovah’s Witnesses had the lowest percentage of their members graduate from college (4.7%). Further, the annual income of Jehovah’s Witnesses ranks 24th out of the 30 religious groups surveyed. Jehovah’s Witnesses also ranked last in aggregate social status, based on four sets of data: home ownership, annual household income, college graduation, and percent working full-time.

[91] It is hard at this point to avoid thinking about the succession crisis in the Soviet Union, when Stalin succeeded Lenin despite the express wishes of the latter.

[92] Since 1930, the WTS has taught that the seven trumpets in the Book of Revelation were fulfilled on some Bible Student conventions between 1922 and 1928, where a number of ‘Declarations’ against the clergy were adopted. Obviously, such apocalyptic events are ‘hallmarks’ in WTS histories. However, the importance of these events appear less than monumental to an historian.

[93] The categories outlined above refer to changes initiated by the leadership, not milestones as such. Many changes were themselves milestones. For those that were not, the category listed for each milestone event refers to the changes initiated in response to the event.

[94] Charles Perrow, “A society or Organization,” a paper presented at the Macro Organizational Behavior Society, Northwestern University, October 1987.

[95] For example, in Awake! Oct 8, 1990, p. 28, we find the following item: “The Guinness Book of World Records includes under its heading «Highest Printings» the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, published in 1968 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. By May 1987 the Truth book had reached the total number of 106,486,735 copies printed in 116 languages, according to the Guinness book. More recently, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been distributing the brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever! This brochure, published in 1982 by the same society, is now available in 192 languages, and more than 60,000,000 copies have been printed.” Also, in introductory material dedicated to presenting the organization to potential new members, a number of pages are typically used to show photographs of printing complexes, like those in Brooklyn and Patterson in New York or the European headquarters in Selters-Taunus in Germany. See for example the 1989 brochure Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 20th Century, p. 10, or the 1986 brochure Jehovah’s Witnesses – Unitedly Doing God’s Will Worldwide, pp. 24-27. The Proclaimers book also dedicates a significant number of colorful pages to illustrations showing the administration and printing facilities in various countries. See pp. 352-401.

[96] Little, however, indicates that these figures influence such decisions as they could, even though they are scrutinized with much interest at every level. For example, actual placement of literature seems to be quite irrelevant to the number of magazines and books printed. Much of the big circulation ends up in closets and drawers in JW homes around the world, as the same statistic testifies about. Declining numbers may prompt some campaigns to reverse bad trends, but there are few indications of goal-oriented use of these figures as we might expect in, say, a business corporation.

[97] Very recently reduced from 1000 and 60, respectively. There are also a group of directly appointed ‘special pioneers’ and missionaries, who like workers at the headquarters and travelling representatives receive a small allowance from the Watchtower Society.

[98] Inspired by military terms, not business-oriented (Penton 1985, 64).

[99] Schnell himself tells that he in the late 1930s was Rutherford’s man, opposed to the “Adams Street clique,” but that while he had the Judge’s and the legal dept.’s initial support he eventually had to lose as the successors came to power. There was really no open or public power struggle after Rutherford’s death, and the leadership has been remarkably low profile ever since.

[100] Stark says that the early Unification Church had tried to attract followers in this way, but failed. He observed that conversion to this sect occurred exclusively through existing social networks. As we have seen, this was not the case for the Russellites. This may be explained through the ‘religious capital’ model we looked at earlier. Russell’s theology (message) didn’t depart much from what was acceptable in the climate of the time, and a good author’s argumentative powers were sufficient to convince some of his readers. The ‘Moonies,’ on the other hand, preaches a message so far departed from the accepted norm that it can only attract through existing networks. A person’s friends and family, in that sense, has more ‘religious capital’ than a stranger.

[101] As we have seen, a number of defectors formed other movements. What Rutherford retained was control of the legal corporation and its publishing vehicle. Arguably, the splinter movements that have retained most of Russell’s doctrines and practices may be just as much heirs to the original Russellite movement as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[102] Yet, again, as we noted earlier, such a person would not be a good follower, and would probably have been alienated or thrown out of the movement at an earlier stage.

[103] The Studies in the Scriptures series was also called Millennial Dawn until 1904. See Proclaimers 53 ftnt.

[104] This volume was claimed to be the posthumous work of Russell, but was really written by Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher under supervision of Rutherford.