How Judge Rutherford Made Martyrdom His Publicity Policy:MILITARY SERVICE.
By Terry Walstrom.
When Rutherford published (in defiance of Russell's will) a phoney posthumous final volume of Russell's Studies in the Scriptures (The Finished Mystery) problems began which eventually resulted in criminal prosecution for Watchtower Society administrators.
Certain passages in this book were so anti-government as to represent the Society's views as dangerous to national security.
Chastened, Rutherford backed down on his rhetoric by excluding from future reprintings the offending passages.
Plus--Rutherford published a feckless appeal to the bible students associates to buy WAR BONDS!
The Stand Fast Bible Students Association
The Stand Fasters get their name from their determination to “stand fast on war principles that our dear Pastor Russell announced.” Charles E. Heard of Vancouver and many others felt that Rutherford’s recommendation in 1918 to buy war bonds was cowardice and a sacrilegious perversion of the harvest work. Feeling that Christians should not support the military in any way, including the buying of Liberty Bonds or involvement in non-combatant service, the Stand Fast Bible Students Association was organized on December 1, 1918, in Portland, Oregon. It published Old Corn Gems and organized conventions throughout the United States. The Stand Fasters accepted the seventh volume and were quite successful, especially among those who did not accept what they saw as compromises over the war issue.
This was infuriating to Rutherford and embarrassing. Being whipsawed by Russell loyalists on one side and threatened with imprisonment by the government on the other side, all the Judge could do was tuck his tail and bide his time.
When Rutherford and Administrators had their sentences reversed (after serving 9 months in prison) he was smarting for some pay-back.
Being an attorney, judge and possessing a legal mind--he set about crafting a policy that would create a high publicity campaign using Jehovah's Witnesses as martyrs in refusing to serve in the Military under ANY circumstances.
The false imprisonment Rutherford had suffered and the seemingly miraculous release had garnered for the Judge considerable POLITICAL CAPITAL with the brethren. He now had gravitas! He used this political capital to inflate the status of his newly crafted religion. (Little by little Rutherford was converting Russellism and Bible Students into his own brand name religious movement: Jehovah's witnesses.)
As Nazi Germany began cracking down on suspicious religious organizations, Rutherford tried to protect his business interests in Germany by lying and misrepresenting any way he could. Here was the situation.
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. 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.
To present the Jehovah's Witnesses in the best possible light vis a vis the Nazi anti-Jew policies Rutherford wrote:
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.””
In his letter to Hitler Rutherford misrepresented this way:
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.
Hitler wasn't taken in and continued excluding religious organizations of any kind from operating in Nazi Germany.
Rutherford then flipped and began opposing Hitler. Most of this opposition is the ONLY part of Rutherford's commentary about and to Hitler that is ever published by the Society.
Rutherford fairly fed the brothers to the Nazi war machine using them as propaganda points as martyrs.
Rutherford had been persona non grata with those who had served Pastor Russell. Yet, after being released from prison as a martyr--Rutherford gained enormous political capital with the brothers who had previously opposed him.
Rutherford decided he could cash in his political capital by creating martyrs in the name of Jehovah's Witnesses. He'd cause others to pay and the gain would redound to himself as the de facto ruler of the Watchtower Society.
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.
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)
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
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.
Rutherford's ploy worked. Afterward, the "neutrality" issue would be played when needed to strengthen public perception that JW's were morally superior Christians.
In the U.S. during WWII the brothers paid dearly for Rutherford's policies. Previously brothers had been allowed to perform "alternate service" of a non-combatant nature.
Under the previous Society policy, sewing uniforms, arms manufacturing, kitchen duty, and serving in field hospitals was allowed. It was figured that since these duties did not cause these Jehovah’s Witness members to kill someone, they were okay.
Time magazine Monday, Apr. 19, 1943 throws light on this period in Watchtower history:
A month ago, an Army court-martial at Monterey, Calif, sentenced slight, bespectacled Herbert Weatherbee, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, to prison for life. His crime: refusal to obey a superior officer who ordered him to salute the flag. Last week the American Civil Liberties Union publicized Weatherbee's story, adding it to the growing list of persecutions suffered by the anticlerical, religious group which refuses to bow before any "image" or to fight in any war save Jehovah's.
The Witnesses take their name from the twelfth chapter of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. Their leader, the late "Judge" Joseph Rutherford, taught that they "must be witnesses to Jehovah by declaring His name and His kingdom under Jesus Christ." They claim half a million followers in the U.S., several million abroad. In peacetime their nonconformity got them deep in trouble with local and state authorities. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1940 that their children must salute the flag in public schools, in 1942 that they could not distribute literature without peddlers' licenses. Jehovah's Witnesses regard themselves as ministers, but draft boards often refuse to exempt them from Army service. This week more than 450 of the group's men of military age are in prison for refusing to heed induction notices.
(also see: Jan S. Haugland September 26, 2000
Hovedoppgave / Master Thesis
Religionsvitenskap / History of Religions
Universitetet i Bergen / University of Bergen, Norway)