As of this writing, to our surprise, this site is still as popular in 2015 as it was in 2014 when we launched it. Right from the start, we got a lot of support from sites about Jehovah’s Witnesses and that’s still appreciated. Now, both Google and Bing have found us, too, and they direct a lot of people here, whether or not it’s where those people wanted to go.
And it’s for this reason that we figured it’s about time we “explained” the page called “An Open Email to the Governing Body.” There is a lot in that letter that might not make sense to people who aren’t very familiar with parody, or for whom some language issues make it difficult to distinguish parody from reality within the letter.
So here goes:
Jehovah’s Witnesses trace their beginnings through “Pastor” Charles Taze Russell, the man who started the “Watchtower” which he called “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.” It was first published in July 1879. He died October 31, 1916 and “Judge” Joseph Franklin Rutherford somehow managed to take control of the Watch Tower after him. There’s an amazing story buried in that last sentence, but we won’t deal with it here. What we’re going to do is answer some of the questions that this parody “email” might trigger.
One caveat first: By presenting Charles Taze Russell as if he is in heaven is not done to portray Russell as saintlier than, say, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. He may well have been a bit saintlier, but that doesn’t excuse Russell for dishonesty that he promoted himself, and dishonesty that he promoted indirectly through others. An unbiased comparison of persons who start religions often results in negative comparisons (who was worse?) rather than positive comparisons. For better or for worse, we don’t really have enough information to accurately compare Russell and Rutherford with Martin Luther, John Calvin, L. Ron Hubbard, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, Sun Myung Moon, Herbert W Armstrong and others.
We can, however, draw some comparisons between Russell and Rutherford. Russell got into a lot of trouble during his life for dishonest business dealings, dishonesty in court (perjury), dishonesty in his relationship with his wife, extreme egotism, and unbelievably silly doctrinal speculation (and then more dishonesty to cover over some of the bigger mistakes he made about chronology). But he didn’t get into nearly as much trouble as others seem to have gotten into for much less. He was very fortunate that way and its mostly because he had and still has a lot of staunch defenders. At any rate, in spite of Russell’s troubles, his reputation has fared far better than Rutherford’s. (It is only for this reason that a near-saintly situation in heaven is provided for Russell in the “veil-mail” parody, where, even there, his past still haunts him.)
What does “beyond the veil” mean?
In this case, it means “heaven.” It’s common in religious speech to refer to the heavenly spiritual realm as “beyond the veil” from the earthly realm of flesh and blood.
Did Russell really die on Halloween?
Yes. October 31, 1916.
Do we really think that Russell’s death on Halloween is significant?
No. This is a parody. Much of what is found in this parody letter is just silly, in our opinion. We don’t think Russell really appeared in heaven in a toga either.
So what’s this about Russell wearing a toga?
When Russell was on a train traveling to various cities in the Western United States on a speaking tour, he realized he was dying, and 7 hours before his death he asked to be dressed in a “Roman toga.” (Some Witnesses and Bible Students truly believe he was poisoned.) This seems like an odd request and Russell’s defenders have given it various “rational” explanations. Perhaps it was his best idea of a makeshift hospital gown. It was clear during the funeral oration that the speakers, Sturgeon and Rutherford, didn’t have a direct answer from Russell and were grasping for appropriate symbolism. (See December 1, 1916 Watch Tower, page 372-373.) A more likely explanation may be the one given in the book “The Midnight Cry” by Francis D. Nichol. The book never mentions Russell, however, a thorough reading of the chapters 25 through 27 (pages 370-426) should put the reader on the right track. The names of the chapters will be sufficient for now, although we should mention that they do not support the idea that Millerites (original Second Adventists) wore these robes, only that they became “required dress” only due to years of repeated false stories about them. Chapter 25: Did the Millerites Wear Ascension Robes? Chapter 26: Tracing the Robe Story through the Years. Chapter 27: The Ascension Robe Story in Twentieth Century Dress. Therefore, if Russell felt some kind of relationship or affinity to the teachings of Miller, then the most likely solution is that he was creating an ascension robe.*
Did Russell actually call William Miller, “Father Miller”?
It was common for Second Adventists to refer to William Miller as “Father Miller.” Russell published several references to “Father Miller” in the Watch Tower. Due to the embarrassment over the “Great Disappointment” of 1843 and 1844, it was common for Adventists in Russell’s time to distance themselves from William Miller, but this name, “Father Miller,” indicated that not all the articles published in the Watch Tower kept that much distance. In fact, it was by keeping the basic foundation that led Miller to predict 1844 that Russell was able to derive Jesus presence in 1874 and Armageddon in 1914.
Did the book the Finished Mystery really teach that “Pastor Russell” continued to manage every feature of the harvest work on earth while in heaven?
Isn’t this “spiritism”?
Communicating with spirits of those who had died is spiritism. But they thought Russell was immediately resurrected to the spirit realm, so that he was still alive. For some reason Bible students thought this made Russell an exception. Several years later they decided that he hadn’t actually been resurrected until 1918, which means that he really was dead in 1916 and 1917.
What about these rules for Veil-Mail?
Admittedly dumb. Sorry.
So Judge Rutherford wasn’t a judge?
It was never his profession. In 1895, the judge back in Boonville, Missouri had him appointed as a special judge so that he could sit as a substitute when the regular judge was unavailable. He may have actually substituted only once or twice.
What’s this problem about Russell’s will?
Russell’s will specified the five persons who should make up the five-man editorial committee for the Watch Tower after his death. Rutherford was not included. In the event of any vacancies among those five Russell included a list of 5 alternate names from which replacements could fill a vacancy. Rutherford’s name appeared 4th in the non-alphabetical list of 5 alternates. Within a few years of taking control as president, Rutherford dissolved the five-person editorial committee. Gaining control over the Watch Tower Society however, was not a matter of being on the 5-person editorial committee, but was a matter of gaining the support of the votes represented by the board of directors. Whether or not Rutherford gained control of the Watch Tower Society legally is a question for further research. Even if his ultimate control over the board of directors was not completely legal, he was seen as the best choice by some, and a “conniving back-stabber” by others. To keep majority control of the 7 directors, he had to dismiss a majority of them. (4 of 7).
Isn’t “The Finished Mystery” a book that the Society is proud of? Isn’t it the primary publication that helped Jesus identify that the leaders of this organization were worthy of appointment as “the faithful and discreet slave”?
No passages of the “Finished Mystery” have ever been quoted at length, because you can’t go more than a couple pages, anywhere in the book, without being embarrassed at the ridiculous claims and false doctrine. And yes, it was the biggest component of the work these persons were involved in that supposedly proved to Jesus and Jehovah that they were “faithful and discreet.”
Why did they say it was the work of Charles Taze Russell, if it was the work of Clayton Woodworth and George Fisher?
The goal was to find everything that Russell had published that commented on Ezekiel and Revelation. Much of it, even most of it, was actually related closely to things Russell published and much of it repeated past ideas on Ezekiel and Revelation that had come from Russell’s own pen. So it’s unfair to blame all the ridiculousness on Woodworth and Fisher, because Russell had come up with many of these ridiculous ideas himself that are now considered false.
Why do we say that Russell was demoted from the “Faithful and Discreet Slave”?
Because the Governing Body’s new explanation of the “faithful slave” is that it is themselves, but that it didn’t start until 1919. Russell died in 1916.
Why do we say that Clayton Woodworth was “certifiably wacko”?
Easy. The Finished Mystery, The Golden Age, promotion of “Seola,” health advice, and the last couple of assembly talks he gave before Russell died (as recorded in the Watch Tower Convention Reports). One of those convention talks, the one in 1913, where he claimed to be demonized, does give evidence of mental issues, although there is no evidence that his mental troubles were ever “certified” by anyone other than himself through his own admissions.
Did Russell really believe that the resurrection had already occurred in 1878?
Yes. And Rutherford taught it in the Watchtower for several years after that. Later it was changed to 1918, although even that date is slipping away in the last few years.
Did they really think Christ was present in 1874?
Yes. That’s why, in 1879, they named their magazine “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.” (Now just called “The Watchtower”) They kept this 1874 date until long after 1914, when they decided that the unmistakable sign (that they had long mistaken) actually occurred in 1914.
Did the Watch Tower really promote a book that was supposed to be dictated by a fallen angel?
Yes. The book “Seola” was intriguing to the Bible Students, because it was so close to what they believed about the pre-flood conditions when angels came down from heaven to have sex with women and produced a hybrid offspring called Nephilim. They had to believe that it was actually dictated by a fallen angel and promoted the book on those grounds. Many readers didn’t like this. But the “Golden Age” magazine (now Awake! magazine) defended that a fallen angel could indeed provide new light, especially because this fallen angel must have wanted to get back into God’s good graces. It was actually something that the editor of the Golden Age had said before, when he claimed that under demon influence he learned that the blue ribbon mentioned in Exodus pictured the “vow” that Russell asked his readers to make. In his convention speech as recorded in the Watchtower’s Convention Report, he claimed that this idea about the ribbon is one he still considered true because, after all, Satan doesn’t always tell lies.
Is it really possible that Clayton Woodworth believed that Russell supervised the revision of “Seola” after his death in 1916, when they reprinted it as “Angels and Women”?
There is no proof of this. But, yes, it does indeed fit the ideas of Woodworth who claimed such abilities about Russell, and indicating that he was supervising all the work since his death.
So those quotes about the editor of the Watch Tower’s Golden Age magazine, and the co-author of the Finished Mystery are real? He really did claim to be “under demoniacal control”?
Yes. They are real. (You can read more about them here at this link.) And while you are at it, you might want to look up a Google search on “Golden Age medical advice Watchtower.” People must have literally died because of some it.
Does the Watch Tower Society’s more recent book “Revelation – It’s Grand Climax At Hand” really still teach that the resurrected spirits may be involved in the communicating of divine truths today”?
Yes. That’s an exact quote. Put it into Google today and wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2007006 comes up. Spiritism is evidently only wrong when other people and religions associate themselves with it.
Does the Watchtower really teach that the 24 elders are the same as the 144,000? Doesn’t this indicate that at least one of these two numbers is symbolic?
Russell actually specifically mentioned the year 2014 in the Watch Tower magazine?
Yes. Russell published one letter that was written to him where the writer speculated about what might happen if “the things we have been expecting in 1914 would not come to pass on time,” published in the January 15, 1914 Watch Tower:
“…we passed a resolution assuring you of our steadfast faith in you and your leadings. We got the thought from reading the Nov. 15th WATCH TOWER, the article on “What Course Should We Take?” that you had almost decided that the things we have been expecting in 1914 would not come to pass on time–since you said it is possible, but not probable. Now, dear Brother, if these things do not come to pass until 2014, instead of 1914, our faith in you will be as great as it ever has been….”
That’s a lot of faith in Russell, that it’s OK to put faith in him even if he was wrong by 100 years. But then again, it’s the kind of faith in men and in their failed chronologies that an organization of seven to eight million is still putting in men today.
Russell published another of those letters to him in 1914 and that letter was sent just after Russell had finally started to express doubts about 1914. The letter said:
How shall we do respecting the STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES after October, 1914? Will the Society continue to publish them? Will the Colporteurs and others continue to circulate them? Is it right to circulate them now, since you have some doubt respecting the full accomplishment of all expected by or before October, 1914? With Christian love,
Your brother, M. F. C.
Russell didn’t deny that he had expressed these doubts, which are easy to locate in the late 1913 and early 1914 Watch Tower magazines. Therefore, Russell’s answer immediately followed, published in the July 1, 1914 Watch Tower:
MY DEAR BROTHER IN CHRIST:–
Yours of May 20th has reached me. Thanks! …
It is our thought that these books will be on sale and read for years in the future, provided the Gospel age and its work continue….We have not attempted to say that these views are infallible, …That will be an interesting matter a hundred years from now; and if he can figure or reason better, he will still be interested in what we have presented.
APPENDIX: Ascension Robes
*William Miller and Joshua Himes and other leaders of the original Second Adventism did not promote the idea of ascension robes. In fact, they defended against the idea as merely an invented slander of the Adventist movement. However, the rumors started as early as the time of the 1843 expectations and had become almost “fact” in the minds of many non-Millerites by the time of the October 22, 1844 expectations. Over the years since then, followers of Miller were embarrassed by their “great disappointment” and, even if it had been true in some exceptional cases, there is apparently no evidence that a Millerite ever admitted to wearing an “ascension robe” specifically made for any of the expected dates for their last day on earth. Many did, of course, wear white dresses and attend church until well after midnight on those dates of highest anticipaton. The only credible-sounding reports about “ascension robes” came from non-Millerites who were often intent on making fun of the movement. The book by Nichols, mentioned above, makes this clear. Those three chapters of his book are referred to above, not because they support the idea of Millerites wearing ascension robes, but because they show how this rumor, probably mostly false, did indeed affect the memories of Millerites and their families years into the future. The idea became more “true” as time went on.
This is why those who took Russell’s writings very seriously might have thought it appropriate to wear those white robes, even if they were aware that rumors of Millerites wearing them had been mostly false. Russell himself doesn’t discount the possibility that several of his associates may have been out on a bridge in Pittsburgh awaiting the same fate on their “corrected” date in 1878. Note the account from Faith on the March:
While talking with Russell about the events of 1878, I told him that Pittsburgh papers had reported he was on the Sixth Street bridge dressed in a white robe on the night of the Memorial of Christ’s death, expecting to be taken to heaven together with many others. I asked him, “Is that correct?” Russell laughed heartily and said: “I was in bed that night between 10:30 and 11:00 P.M. However, some of the more radical ones might have been there, but I was not. Neither did I expect to be taken to heaven at that time, for I felt there was much work to be done preaching the Kingdom message to the peoples of the earth before the church would be taken away.
This account by Macmillan, was probably included in his book to defend against those who used the same types of ascension robe stories as a way to scandalize the early Russellite movement. To date, we don’t believe anyone has found these particular Pittsburgh newspapers that are mentioned. (They would be dated shortly after Passover, 1878.) Russell implies that he knew about such reports, but this is only known through Macmillan, 50-some years after Russell died. It’s possible that Macmillan made up the story about mentioning it to Russell.
The closest story found, so far, with any documentation behind it is about a fanatical Millerite follower, Dr. Gorgas, from October 21/22, 1844. It’s mentioned in the book by Francis Nichol and can be found on page 123 and 124 here:
… Gorgas is described as a man of magnetic personality, the kind of person who very easily and powerfully influences others. . . . . . .When a man willingly confesses that he has been duped and deceived-in other words, has made a fool of himself-there is hardly anything more embarrassing he could confess.
It was also mentioned similarly in a biography of William Miller by Sylvester Bliss, (The Memoirs of William Miller):
All reports respecting the preparation of ascension robes, etc., and which are still by many believed, were demonstrated over and over again to be false and scandalous. . . . The most culpable incident, which had any foundation in fact, was in Philadelphia. In opposition to the earnest expostulations of Mr. Litch and other judicious persons, a company of about one hundred and fifty, responding to the pretended vision of one C.R. Georgas, on the 21st of October went out on the Darby-street bridge, and encamped in a field under two large tents, provided with all needed comforts. The next morning, their faith in Georgas’ vision having failed, all but about a dozen returned to the city. A few days later the others returned.
If it turns out that these Pittsburgh papers did not exist, and the reference had been confused with the Philadelphia “scandal” instead, then this might reflect on Macmillan’s honesty, or lack thereof, more than Russell’s.