(1869-1942), American religious leader, 2nd
president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, now known as
advertise, advertise the King and his
Kingdom!" This was the rallying cry of Joseph Franklin
("Judge") Rutherford, second president of the Watch Tower Bible
and Tract Society. Rutherford was the force that transformed Charles Taze Russell's passive and obscure Bible Students into
zealous, doorbell-ringing Jehovah's Witnesses. His pugnacity toward other
religions, in particular Catholicism, so infected the Witnesses that
Stanley High, writing for The Saturday Evening Post in 1940,
accused them of making hatred a religion.
Born November 8,
1869 in Morgan County, Missouri, Rutherford lived a harsh life on his
father's farm. He sought to escape by studying law, but his father demanded
he hire a man to take his place on the farm as well as pay his own tuition.
It is a testimony to Rutherford's determination (or perhaps desperation)
that he managed to meet his father's conditions.
Upon admission to
the state bar at 22, Rutherford worked for four years as public prosecutor,
acquiring the nickname "Judge" through occasional stints as a
substitute judge. The young lawyer was visited in his offices one day in
1894 by Watch Tower Society representatives. They sold him a set of
Russell's Studies in the Scriptures. He was baptized as a
Bible Student in 1906 and soon became the Watch Tower Society's legal
Russell's death in
1916 created a power vacuum. He had picked no successor, evidently
believing none would be needed before Armageddon, and several people wanted
the job. Rutherford edged out the competition by gaining a majority on the
board of trustees through quasi-legal maneuvering. The release in 1917 of The
Finished Mystery, purportedly Russell's final work, caused a deeper
rift within the Society. Many Bible Students left to form groups faithful
to Russell's vision, some surviving to this day.
As America prepared
to enter World War I, the anti-war, anti-government message of The
Finished Mystery brought the wrath of the United States judicial
system down upon the Bible Students' heads. In 1918 Rutherford and seven
other Watch Tower officials were convicted on charges of sedition. Though
sentenced to a total of six hundred years in the Atlanta penitentiary, the
Judge and his fellow inmates were released in 1919 and later acquitted of
all charges. The experience made him bitter, and he emerged breathing fire
against all the clergy of Christendom, whom he held responsible for his
the Bible Students were in danger of further disintegration. Many members
were dismayed by Russell's death prior to Armageddon. Rutherford replaced
Russell's books with a steady stream of his own, insisting that doctrinal
changes were "new light" cast on Scripture by Jehovah. He
consolidated power by replacing elected congregation elders with Society-
appointed men. He castigated as idolaters those who revered the memory of
Russell, making life intolerable within the organization for loyalists. The
pages of his books and of The Watchtower soon were filled
with attacks against other religions, the most vicious being reserved for
the Catholic Church.
the Society by condemning holidays and Christian symbols as pagan (but look
at this issue's cover photograph, which shows Rutherford engaged in
Christmas festivities a few years before instituting his reform).
Birthdays, hymn-singing (restored after Rutherford's death), flag salutes,
and the cross were given up by the Bible Students at his command. In 1931
he gave them their new name -- Jehovah's Witnesses -- claiming Isaiah 43:10
as a proof-text. Rutherford pushed them to go door-to-door, carrying bulky
phonographs upon which they played his fiery denunciations of the world and
of organized religion.
changes, Rutherford retained Russell's greatest weakness, setting dates for
Armageddon. He asserted in his booklet Millions Now Living Will Never
Die that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and other Old Testament notables
would be resurrected in 1925, just prior to the final battle. He built a
yet-standing mansion called Beth Sarim (Hebrew
for "House of the Princes") in San Diego and deeded it to these
men of old while living in it himself.
It was at Beth Sarim that he died on January 8, 1942. He had wished to
be buried on the property, but his neighbors became alarmed when Watch Tower
officials began to construct a tomb. The local planning commission vetoed
the Society's efforts. The Watch Tower Society charged it with religious
persecution, but the decision probably had more to do with the neighbors'
concerns about their property values.
though muted, lives on. Today's Witnesses are considerably better trained
in presenting their faith than were those trained under Charles Russell,
and long ago Witnesses discarded his recorded speeches and in-your-face
methods, but they are still aggressive. His vitriolic hatred of Catholicism
still burns in the message they carry and on the pages of The
by Cathleen A.
Published in THIS
ROCK, December 1993