What do the following people have in common?
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower Edward Snowden and Judge J.F. Rutherford?
Here is a hint. The Rosenbergs were communists executed for treason. The military analyst Ellsberg released the so-called “Pentagon papers” and Judge Rutherford was president of the Watchtower bible and tract society who released a book titled The Finished Mystery; indicted for sedition and imprisoned.
First, let’s remind ourselves of a particular law passed in the wake of World War I.
The Espionage Act is a United States law passed on June 15, 1917. It was originally found in Title 50 of the U.S. Code (War) but is now found under Title 18, Crime.
This law prohibited any attempt to interfere with military operations, to support U.S. enemies during war time, to promote insubordination in the military, or to interfere with military recruitment.
In 1919, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Schenck v. United States that the act did not violate the freedom of speech of those convicted under its provisions.
The most controversial sections of the Act, including the original section 3, were repealed in 1921.
By now you have grasped the significance of being charged with Espionage, especially during a time of war!
Today, the Watchtower Society looks back on the imprisonment of Rutherford and his directors as a triumphant fulfillment of bible prophecy!
The odd thing is the statements made about WHY they were arrested, tried and convicted of sedition!
** Revelation Climax chap. 25 pp. 167-168 Reviving the Two Witnesses ***
From 1914 to 1918 the nations were occupied with the first world war. Nationalistic feelings ran high, and in the spring of 1918, the religious enemies of the two witnesses took advantage of the situation. They maneuvered the State’s legal apparatus so that responsible ministers of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society were imprisoned on false charges of sedition.”
“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.”
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.
Yet, in the book, these words were urged on all who read or would listen:
“People who display patriotism are delusional murderers acting in the very spirit of the devil. Patriotism is narrow-minded hatred of other people.”
“This war (WWI) is the natural product of our unchristian civilization. Its soldiers are grown from greed, imperialistic ambition and dynastic pride. Our participation in in this war in unethical.”
What had Rutherford's predecessor, Russell taught about Christians engaging in warfare when the Spanish American war had broken out in 1898?
"Notice that there is no command in the Scriptures against military service. Obedience to a draft would remind us of our Lord's words, 'If any man compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.'
The government may compel marching or drilling, but cannot compel you to kill the foe. You need not be a good marksman."
("The Watchtower," Aug.1, 1898, reprint, p.2345)
Contrast those words to the written words of Rutherford:
Rutherford: "Probably the Lord wants some of His saints in prison for a while to tell the element they meet there that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and soon all their sufferings will cease ... If you are shot because of the stand you take for the Lord, that will be a quick method of entering His glorious presence".
The transition from Russell to Rutherford did not change the understanding that Russell had taught about military service. Rutherford did not officially post the New Light viewpoint until 1929 when a peculiar aberrant interpretation of Romans 13:1 prevailed until 1962.
So, why was the Wathctower leadership counseling brothers in uniform to disobey their commanders or allow themselves to be court martialed?
Why had the book The Finished Mystery gone hardcore anti-government to the extent the Federal Authority demanded the removal of offending pages?
Why did Watchtower Society claim they were victims of clergy incitements to persecution instead of owning up to their own anti-government sedition during a time of war?
The answer is a simple one.
From the day Rutherford sought to control the Watchtower Society he was opposed. His brusque manner and harsh attitude rebuffed a great many people more accustomed to the passively sweet Pastor Russell.
Further, in Russell's Will he had selected exactly whom he wanted running the corporation by naming them. Moreover, he named 5 names of person's who could fill in or substitute for the first list if it became necessary. Oddly enough, 6 names were found listed with J.F.Rutherford among them!
2 of the original men named begged off for personal reasons. Rutherford jumped in and began grabbing control and taking charge.
What Rutherford needed was a diversion and a way to gain gravitas in the eyes of readers of the Watchtower.
Russell had built the readership of the magazine almost entirely out of a particular group of people: 2nd Adventists.
What Adventists all had in common was a deep-seated hatred for organized religion!
Why? Because the 2nd Adventists had been mocked and scorned by churches they had formerly belonged to when William Miller's (and other subsequent)
predictions for the 2nd Coming had failed. These Watchtower readers and subscribers liked the way Russell had identified them with the light of understanding much to the chagrin of mainstream Christendom.
Brilliantly, Rutherford saw his chance by turning up the heat on all mainstream aspects of conservative religious society which included blisteering
denunciations of Catholicism, Christendom, Government, Big Business and the Military. If Russell was a standout as a preacher of mild rebuff, then, Rutherford would be ten times as bold!
He overshot his mark by a city mile!
When Federal Authorities swarmed all over the inflammatory vitriol he had published--it was impossible that he back down.
In the end, he won the respect of those who stuck with him and demonstrated that his Presidency would risk martyrdom rather than back down.
Moreover, he found a way to occupy the loyal readers of the Watchtower in a total Pyrrhic plunge into 1st Amendment issues by resisting local laws and ordinances against peddling, solicitation and public preaching.
It all had to be under the mask of religious persecutions or the pretention of seeking out controversy would quickly wear thin as a ploy of publicity seeking self-aggrandizement.
Even though the Watchtower was a "society" and not a formal religion a mock-up of a formal statement of belief was rushed into print.
Board member William Van Amburgh set to work to speedily draft some sort of creed and membership form for draftees to sign, but by then it was too late --too many were already sent to training camps.
Amburgh had written the following affidavit form letter to local draft boards which contained an "Affidavit of Person Whose Discharge is Sought" which explained that the ISBA was a pacifist organization containing a "creed" against participation in war:
"I, Mr. ______, do solemnly swear I am __ years old and reside at _____ and that Serial No._______ was given me by Local Board _____ on the day ____of 1917, on the ground that I was a person who was a member of a well -recognized religious sect or organization, organized and existing May 18 1917, whose then existing creed or principles forbade its members to participate in war in any form and whose religious convictions are against war or participation therein, in accordance with the creed or principles of said well-organized religious organization.
"I do further solemly swear that I am a member in good faith and good standing of the International Bible Students Association which, on the 18th day of May, 1917 was organized and existing as a well- recognized religious sect or organization, whose existing creed or principles forbade its members to participate in war in any form...."
Ironically, Amburgh was called to testify at his own trial and he completely denied under oath that he belonged to any religion or that members had any formal belief system that was required or enforced.