When J. F. Rutherford was President of the WTS, he spoke at Bible Conventions and on recordings with great authority. Rutherford frequently denounced Governments and Churches as an “Abomination of Desolation”.
J.F. Rutherford would have his followers believe that he had a direct link with God and it was he who authorized him to speak with such authority on his behalf. One might look a little closer to home as to where Joe learned to speak with such a voice of authority.
Rutherford was raised on a farm in a rural area in Morgan County Missouri, USA.
Growing up, he attending the Freedom Baptist Church. This Southern Baptist church was located less than one mile from the Rutherford farm. In those days before the invention of automobiles, the church would have been the main center of activities outside the home.
A review of the church records from 1870 through 1890 show that the Rutherford family were active members of the Church during this time period. 1
The two male siblings who were active in church, were Joe Rutherford and his older brother whose name was Will. Will was 5 years older than Joe and both boys are listed as “Male Scholars” of the “Freedom Baptist Church Sunday School” dated 1882. 2
According to Church records, in March, 1883 Will Rutherford was received into the fellowship of the church. He would have been around 18 years of age at this time and Joe would have been around 13 years old.
On January 1, 1885 Will Rutherford was disfellowshiped (“excluded”) from the Church. His sin?
The church meeting minutes from this month and year state:
“ … and that the hand of fellowship be withdrawn of Bro Will Rutherford on the charges of dancing.” 1 (January 1885)
This poor guy probably went out for a new years eve celebration, danced, then got the hammer the very next day.
The reverend of the church when Will was “excluded” or disfellowshiped was Jehu Robinson.
A Biography of Rev. Robinson states:
“He was a Baptist preacher of considerable force and influence. He was perhaps the best known Baptist preacher in the country. He served nearly every Baptist church in Morgan county and did much good in his day that will last till the judgement day. Brother Robinson’s grand old body lies buried in the Freedom cemetery, four miles north of Versailles.” 3 [bold mine]
Church records show that disfellowshiping offenses included dancing, drinking, and attending churches of another faith. Often three brethren were chosen to investigate when “rules of decorum” were violated. (sound familiar?) In one case a brethren was charged with ”making a purchase under false pretense” (whatever that means), but moved away to Texas shortly after. After two years of not being able to track him down they decided to “exclude” disfellowship him from the church. 1
There is no doubt that J.F. Rutherford grew up with a first hand view of a heavy-handed authority of the church he attended. At a young impressionable age for Joe, this was likely a learned trait.
It should be noted that the official policy of disfellowshiping by the WTS did not start until after the judge joined the great prophets of old at that big mansion in the sky. However the groundwork was certainly laid by Rutherford many years earlier by removing any who did not agree with him and denouncing those as “evil slaves” destine for “destruction.” (WT 1930, p. 275-281)
The question could be asked, was J.F. Rutherford a Baptist Preaching waiting to come out? If you have ever listened to one of Rutherford’s recordings, denouncing with considerable force and influence the Catholic Church and Governments as an “Abomination of Destruction” and "offspring of Satan", the similarities are striking.
1. R418 Freedom Baptist Church Records, 1844-1962 – Western Historical Manuscript Collection – University of Missouri, Columbia
2. Some Morgan County, Missouri Cemetery Inscriptions – Office of Secretary of State Missouri State Archives P66-A
3. Morgan County History – Published by the Morgan County Historical Society, Versailles, Missouri