REVEALED: Remarkable Activities of Unusual Religious Sect

by darkspilver 9 Replies latest jw friends

  • darkspilver

    Interesting article. 3,800 words long. So it's a 'long read'.

    Hat tip:
    See also here and here.

    The Sun Newspaper (New York NY).
    Sunday 4 February 1917, Section 5, Page 8

    Remarkable Activities of Unusual Religious Sect

    Millions Have Been Contributed to Society Pastor Russell Founded and Money Is Still Pouring In

    PASTOR RUSSELL is dead, but his work of spreading his interpretation of the Bible, which told him that the millennium was coming in 1914, goes on. And the golden stream that has poured in year-after-year from donors who thoroughly believe all that he taught and like his comfortable theology, which leaves out hell, continues. The presses hum and the tracts flutter forth by the million, carrying thoughts which inspire others and lead them also to become converts and contributors to this unique system of disseminating theological information.

    There is another man at the head the organization now and the city has been trying hard to prove that it is not a religious organization, but a business concern, and there has been some speculation as to what will become of the queer society which has it's headquarters on Columbia Heights in Brooklyn now that the man who created it has gone. For although his followers deny it, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the People's Pulpit Association were distinctly Russell organizations. His books, his tracts, his sermons, his paper, his picture were the things which gave life to the movement. He has been characterized as a genius in organisation, the mainspring of one of the oddest communities that ever existed in this country.

    There have been many things said about Pastor Russell and his societies, his various business organisations, which suggested that they were engaged in any purpose but the single one of making known the literal teachings of the Bible and preaching the end of the present governments of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God. These criticisms have made Pastor Russell and his followers whopping mad at times, so much so that he was well acquainted with the law courts through various suits brought by him and against him. On the other hand there is very little really known about the conduct of the society. Save for the general knowledge that the society professes to receive contributions that it may more widely spread the Gospel and that it claims to expend all its money in this way, its affairs have been a confusing and complex mystery. The three officers who control the voting stock and spend the money say they are accountable to no one except God. The financial connection between the various societies seems to be somewhat loose and arbitrary, and when various officers have been questioned about it they have shown lack of knowledge of anything outside of their own departments.

    That air of secrecy and mystery which formerly surrounded the Bethel Home, as the headquarters of the society at 122 and 124 Columbia Heights is called, seems likely to be somewhat dissipated in the future, or at least the new head of the society. J F Rutherford, protests that he has nothing to conceal and that anyone who wants to know anything about the workings of the society has only to ask. But Mr. Rutherford couldn't tell offhand approximately what amount the society received last year nor how much it expended, nor how much it costs to run the Bethel Home, which houses twenty families and others who work for the cause for $11 a month and found [food?]. He referred his questioner to the very slightly itemized statement in the Watch Tower, the society's publication.

    The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was founded on shirts. At least that is the way in which Pastor Russell made the money with which he launched his first venture in wholesale evangelism by way of lectures and the printed word. He was the son of a man who had what Pastor Russell called a 'gents furnishing Store' in Allegheny, Pa., and when he grew up he quickly showed that so far as business ability was concerned he was the superior of his father. He went into business for himself, and the stores multiplied and became five, and when he retired from business, soon after founding the Watch Tower Society in 1884, he was worth $250,000.

    While making a fortune from selling shirts Pastor Russell - he was just Charles Taze Russell then - sat up nights reading the Bible and occasionally preaching to a chosen few to whom he expounded his beliefs. He maintained that the Bible was the subject of too much higher criticism and that it was not really taught in the way it should be. He proved to his satisfaction and that of others that the Greek word for hell had not been translated in its right sense, that it meant grave or ending for those who did evil, and that the Day of Resurrection was to be taken literally as a time when the men of old would come back to life and the prophets, the wise men, would rule the world. He set October, 1914, as the time when the governments of the earth would be overturned and the Kingdom of God would come.

    Hark! The rumbling in the nations,
    Iron crumbling with the clay
    Hark! What soundeth? 'Tis creation,
    Groaning for a better day.

    That was his conception of what would happen in 1914, but it was to be the birth of the millennium. His followers now say that his prediction set the date a little too soon, but that the war of Europe justifies him, and that after the war will come revolution among the nations of the earth and then the Kingdom of God.

    However that may be, it is certain that Pastor Russell's ideas attracted a large following, for after the Watch Tower society was founded and he began to evolve his idea of the millennium, people flocked to his standard in such a way that he began to branch out into various lines of endeavour. He founded a paper, the Watch Tower; published his book, 'Studies in the Scriptures,' in six volumes, and founded his Good Hope Fund, which brings in most of the contributions from his followers. Then his ideas came faster and faster in 'miracle wheat,' a cemetery company for the poor, "angelaphones" to carry sacred music into homes, a moving picture of 'Creation,' a salve designed to heal almost anything, a cancer cure, and other things. But it is claimed by the society no profit comes in from most of these things, and what profit there is is devoted to the further spreading of the Word.

    Millions of dollars have been contributed to the society, left to it in wills in the form of cash or property and gained from the sale of some of these articles since it was organized. The Good Hope Fund alone brings in from $200,000 to $450,000 a year, the last and highest figure being that for 1914, the society's banner year.

    The receipts have never gone above $500,000, according to Mr Rutherford., and have fallen as low as $150,000, and often the society has been left with a deficit at the end of the year. The money has gone for the support of the Bethel Home, has paid for the tremendous amount of printing done by the society - 50,000,000 pamphlets and circulars were sent out last year - has been used to make and exhibit the picture of 'Creation,' and to support the offices of the organization in all parts of the world, few of which are said to be self-supporting, and to publish Pastor Russell's sermons in newspapers.

    When the picture of 'Creation' was on the road 400 men were engaged in showing it free of charge. Some of them were members of the society and merely got their expenses, others had to be paid. There are always about 600 colporteurs on the road selling Pastor Russell's books, which Mr. Rutherford says are supplied to them at cost price and which they sell at a price sufficient to pay their expenses and give them a living. Likewise they sell 'Brown's Wonder Salve.' Then there are travelling lecturers who lecture for the love of it and get their expenses paid, and the expenses don't run very high.

    This gives some slight idea of the extent of the organization which was built up by Pastor Russell in Pittsburg and which he moved to Brooklyn in 1909. His success was due largely to the personality of the man and his manner of appealing to people so that they believed that through his interpretation of the Bible they had gained greatly and that they could only repay him by contributing money and helping him to carry the message to others.

    Pastor Russell was unlike most of the evangelists who have come out of the West. Unlike Dowie, who arrived here breathing fire and scorn for the modern Babylon, Pastor Russell was an exponent of the kindly smile and the gentle word that turneth away wrath. He had long flowing gray hair that later turned white, and a patriarchal beard that made him look like a prophet. He soothed the fears of people as to hell by telling them there wasn't any, and that when the time of destruction came those who had seen the light would be assured of a place in the Kingdom, which was to be on this earth.

    By the time he came to Brooklyn his enterprises had narrowed down to two, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the United States Investment Company, the latter a holding company for dealing in real estate. It was organized in 1896 to take over properties that it was not thought advisable to have owned by a religious organization, and from time to time properties willed or given to the society were turned over to the United States Investment Company to be sold and their proceeds turned back to the Watch Tower Society.

    When Pastor Russell moved to Brooklyn Mr Rutherford advised him that the Watch Tower Society, a Pennsylvania concern, would not be able to hold real estate in this State, and so the People's Pulpit Association was formed. W E Van Amburgh, treasurer of the society, was sent on here and bought the old home of Henry Ward Beecher, at 124 Columbia Heights, in his name, and later it was turned over to the People's Pulpit Association.

    Then the old Tabernacle at 17 Hicks Street, which used to hold the overflow from Plymouth Church when Beecher was at the height of his renown, was purchased and renovated for the coming of Pastor Russell. The upper floor is used as a church and the lower part as a shipping department for a small part of the books and pamphlets.

    He opened his tabernacle and preached for two hours one Sunday back in 1909. Dinner tickets were given away at the door, and all were invited after they eaten to come back and hear the rest of the sermon. A little later he hired the Academy of Music and lectured there without charging admission or taking up a collection. Converts flocked to him and many of them went to live at the Bethel Home to help to carry on the business of the society.

    The building next door, at 122 Columbia Heights, was also added to the home, and later a seven story building was erected on Furman Street, directly back of and connected with the home. This home is not the least of the things which show the genius Pastor Russell had, for he kept twenty families there without quarrelling.

    The married people live on one floor, the single men on another and the single women on another. They rise early and work as they please for $11 a month and their food. They eat together in a large dining hall and generally exist as one family. At 10:30 they get the signal to go to bed, and after that no one is allowed in the corridors except the watchman.

    On the top of this building is a wireless plant which has excited the curiosity of the people in the neighborhood. At a recent hearing at which the city attempted to show its right to tax the home as the property of a non-religious organization one of the officers of the society told Assistant Corporation Counsel Druhan that the wireless plant was erected by one of the workmen members of the society for the children to play with.

    The organization of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is rather peculiar. It is provided that for every $10 contributed to it the contributor shall get one voting share - if he or she asks for it. When Pastor Russell was in Pittsburg he turned over all his property, estimated at about $300,000, to the society and received in return voting shares. It was also provided that when any one asked for the Watch Tower Journal and was unable to pay for it he should be designated as the Lord's poor, the paper sent to him free, and in return for the subscription a share was turned over to Pastor Russell. Very few outside of the officers of the concern asked for shares, with the result that in 1913 only about 48,000 were outstanding. Of these Pastor Russell owned about 46,000, 1,000 were held by contributors and the remainder by the officers.

    In this way the control of the society was absolutely in the hands of Pastor Russell. No invitations were sent out by mall to shareholders and he announced that he did not think it necessary to do this because since he controlled so absolutely the affairs of the society it would be a waste of money for other shareholders to come on and take part in the elections. If, however, voting shares had been issued to all who contributed up to 1913 Pastor Russell's control would have vanished, for more than $2,000,000 had been contributed, representing 200,000 shares. But they didn't ask for them, or hadn't up to that time.

    The Watch Tower society is still the parent company of the Russell organizations, and it was at a meeting of the shareholders that J F Rutherford was elected president to succeed Pastor Russell. It was said just before that meeting that the number of shareholders had so increased in recent years that Pastor Russell's control had vanished but that there had been no danger of his losing control while he lived.

    Next to the organization of the Watch Tower society the most interesting feature is the Good Hopes Fund. To those who wish to contribute to this fund is sent two copies of a pledge to contribute, one to be sent to the society and one to be kept to refresh the contributors recollection. Mr Rutherford, who is a lawyer, said recently that these pledges were not contracts and could not be enforced in any court of law. One of them for 1912 has a foreword which reads:

    "YOUR 'GOOD HOPES' FOR 1912:"

    "The plan here proposed we designate 'Good Hopes' because nothing is actually promised - only your generous hopes expressed, based upon your future prospects as they now appear to you. The plan proved not only so beneficial to the cause of truth, but also so blessed to the hopers for some years past, that we again commend it to all as Scriptural and good. Those who desire to make use of this plan can fill out both these memoranda. One should be kept for the refreshment of your memory; the other mail to us."

    After reciting that the giver wishes to help along the work of spreading the tracts and studies in fogeign lands, he says he hopes to set aside a fund on the first day of each week to be sent to the society, but that the amount of it depends on the Lord's bounty, and that he will endeavor to contribute more than is specified in the pledge. It then says:

    "My only object in specifying in advance what I hope to be able to do in this cause is to enable those in charge of the work of publishing and circulating the tracts, &c., to form estimates, lay plans, make contracts, &c., with some idea of what I will try to do in the exercise of this my highly appreciated privilege."vilege."

    It also says:

    "To comply with the United States postal laws, all or any portion of my donation may be applied as subscription price of Watch Tower or People's Pulpit sent to the Lord's poor or to others, as the society's officers may deem advisable."

    The receipts from the Good Hopes and other funds in 1909 were $139,058, in 1910 about $169,234, in 1911 $200,767, in 1914 $460,000 and last year $279,000.

    One of the things which brought Pastor Russell's organization more notoriety and less money than any of the contributions of his followers was an article about miracle wheat which appeared in the Watch Tower in 1911. This advised his readers that a man had discovered a wheat which outdid all other wheats in productiveness, had denoted a small quantity of it to the Watch Tower, which could be had at $1 a pound. The Brooklyn Eagle ridiculed the claims made for miracle wheat and was sued for libel by Pastor Russell, but after hearing the testimony of many growers of the wheat and going more deeply into the beliefs and activities of the members of the society than any one had ever gone before a verdict was returned for the Eagle. A Government expert testified that many wheats exceeded miracle wheat in productiveness.

    The great efficacy of miracle wheat was based on a prophecy of famine which was to threaten the world in 1914, at the time when the Governments of the world were to be over-thrown, and it was said that miracle wheat would not be destroyed in the cataclysm and might tide the owners of it over the time of trial. Only $1,800 worth was sold, and then Pastor Russell offered to refund the purchase price to any one who might ask for it.

    It was in this trial that the theory of Pastor Russell as to the origin of much of the evil of this world was aired. He taught that the fallen angels were confined in the atmosphere of the earth and that at times they took on the substance of mortal men and made trouble for some people on earth. Pastor Russell laid many of his own tribulations to these angels. He had been sued for divorce by his wife - the alimony was paid by his friends in the society - and at one time there appeared in the Watch Tower a reference to the materialization of one of these angels which had appeared in the form of Pastor Russell to the wife of a man in Australia.

    "At such a distance it is easy enough to prove an alibi - to prove that the editor was not there," says the article. "But suppose the materialization in all of its particulars had transpired in Brooklyn, or in the Bethel Home, or in any of the cities which the editor visits in the preaching of the Gospel, or in a Pullman sleeping car, in which he travels - it is easily seen that an alibi might be very difficult to prove in such case."

    The most recent of the enterprises of Pastor Russell to come under investigation is the sale of Angelaphones, which was chosen by Assistant Corporation Counsel Druhan in his attempt to show that the Watch Tower Society was a business organization and subject to taxation. This company was organized by A E Ritchie, formerly vice-president of the Watch Tower Society, and J F Cooke, under the direction they said of the board of directors of the Watch Tower Society, which is a Pennsylvania Corporation and doesn't run the Bethel Home.

    It has a place at 184 Fulton Street, where parts of phonographs made are assembled for shipment. The object of the sellers is to spread sacred music in homes and so they advertised that they would sell the machines at cost until they were well known. They admitted, however, that they were sold at a slight profit, which was eaten up by running expenses. Many letters came in to the Angelaphone Company with regard to religious matters, and in one of its booklets they wrote:

    "Our business is the manufacture of Angelaphones and Angelaphone records, yet we are loth to cast into the wastebasket such earnest inquiries which are important to the writers and to any one. Arrangement has therefore been effected with a Bible society whereby all such inquiries wi11 have prompt and careful attention. Any and all Bible questions may now be addressed to us and same will be turned over immediately to a committee for personal reply."

    Ritchie said that he answered the letters.

    Another of their benefits to humanity is in the shape of a 'cancer cure' which was not sold, but which was sent out free to those who asked for it. On the letter containing the proscription was the pledge:

    "The undersigned solemnly and sincerely promises that he will neither give away free nor sell for any price or consideration, direct or indirect, the information herein communicated. He pledges the same secrecy on the part of any and all who may have anything to do with the preparation of this formula. He is at liberty, however, to inform all sufferers respecting the terms upon which they may enter into an agreement similar to this one and obtain the formula free."

    At the bottom of this letter, after giving the formula, was a line informing the sufferer how money might be remitted to the society.

    Then there was 'Brown's Wonder Salve,' the advantages of which for sore feet was discovered by one of the book agents of the society. So the society buys it wholesale at 17 cents and sells it to the book agents for 25 cents

    Then they sell it. Mr Rutherford explained that no profit is made on this, as the packing and postage cost about 8 cents. The label on the salve box gives the information that it is good for corns, chilblains, frost bites, inflammation of the lungs, injuries to all parts of the body, bed sores, nose bleed, sore throat, sunburn and the stings of insects.

    Mr Rutherford is worthy of some notice. He is a tall Missourian of powerful frame. His head is covered with scant, straggling hair, and he wears an old fashioned collar, which shows his neck and about which is a black string tie. When he sits down he stretches out his long legs and pokes his hands in his trousers pockets - the old kind of pockets which are in front - in an attitude that suggests pictures of our frontier statesmen of long ago. He is as bland and courteous as was his predecessor in office.

    "We have nothing to conceal from any one," said Mr Rutherford. "This is a spending concern, for the purpose of spreading a true knowledge of the Bible, and for no other purpose whatsoever."

    -- end --

  • sir82

    The three officers who control the voting stock and spend the money say they are accountable to no one except God.

    Nice to know some early traditions are still being preserved by the WTS.

  • dropoffyourkeylee

    Lol,it saysRutherford was 'bland and courteous'. Guess they didnt know him well.

  • TheWonderofYou

    These activities have certainly a reason: Money.

  • Bangalore

    Thanks for this interesting historic,article Darkspilver.

  • Londo111

    That cancer cure thing really makes my head spin.

  • LoisLane looking for Superman
    LoisLane looking for Superman

    Calculating lying narcissists do not care what spews from their lips as long as their words get them what they want and where they want to go. They have no scruples. They fear no man not even God. They do exactly what they want. And there you have the heads of God's Only True Religion...

  • vienne

    I cannot address Watch Tower finances during the Rutherford era. During Russell's administration they were shaky and by 1916 the Society was nearly broke. This was partly due to Russell's obsessive need to see his books circulated. He let colporteur accounts fall ten thousand dollars in arrears, only to be bailed out by a wealthy adherent. A court examination of Society accounts in 1911 showed that his books were a money losing proposition.

    Russell may have been a fanatic, but he didn't make money from his writing. His goal was to spread Watch Tower doctrine at any cost.

  • vienne

    A number of statements in this article cannot be taken at face value. Among them is the claim that Russell was worth two hundred fifty thousand dollars in 1884. In fact, he was fairly wealthy in terms of 1884 dollars, but his actual net worth was about fifty thousand dollars. He spent about 38,000 dollars on the printing and circulation of Food for Thinking Christians between 1881 and 1884. This was a money losing proposition since the small book resulted in some but not many converts.

  • darkspilver

    I thought the article used an interesting phrase - which gives an idea why people where attracted to Russell's teachings:

    and like his comfortable theology, which leaves out hell,

    It was picked up eight years previous when the WT first moved to Brooklyn

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