One of our commenters brought an interesting court case to our attention. It involves a libel case brought against brother Rutherford and the Watch Tower Society in 1940 by one Olin Moyle, former Bethelite and legal counsel to the Society. Without taking sides, the core facts are these:
1) Brother Moyle wrote an open letter to the Bethel community in which he announced his resignation from Bethel, giving as his reasons various criticisms of the conduct of brother Rutherford in particular and the Bethel members in general. (He did not attack nor denounce any of our beliefs and his letter makes it evident he still considered Jehovah’s Witnesses to be God’s chosen people.)
2) Brother Rutherford and the board of directors chose not to accept this resignation, but rather to oust brother Moyle on the spot, denouncing him by resolution adopted by the entire Bethel membership. He was labelled as an evil slave and a Judas.
3) Brother Moyle returned to private practice and continued to associate with the Christian congregation.
4) Brother Rutherford then used the Watch Tower magazine on repeated occasions in both articles and news or announcement pieces over the following months to denounce brother Moyle before the worldwide community of subscribers and readers. (Circulation: 220,000)
5) Brother Rutherford’s actions gave Moyle the basis to launch his libel suit.
6) Brother Rutherford died before the suit finally came to court and was concluded in 1943. There were two appeals. In all three verdicts, the Watch Tower Society was found guilty and ordered to pay damages, which it eventually did.
Before continuing, a brief caveat
Using the court transcript, it would be very easy to attack personalities, but that is not the purpose of this forum, and it would be very unfair to question the motives of individuals long dead who cannot defend themselves. There are individuals in this world who try to persuade us to leave Jehovah’s organization because of what they claim are bad actions and motives of prominent members of the leadership. These individuals forget their history. Jehovah created his first people under Moses. Eventually, they demanded and got human kings to rule over them. The first one (Saul) started off good, but went bad. The second one, David, was good, but committed some whoppers and was responsible for the death of 70,000 of his people. So, overall, good, but with some really bad moments. The third was a great king, but ended up in apostasy. There followed a line of good kings and bad kings and really bad kings, but through it all, the Israelites remained Jehovah’s people and there was no provision for going off to other nations in search of something better, because there wasn’t anything better.
Then came the Christ. The Apostles held things together after Jesus ascended to heaven, but by the second century, oppressive wolves had moved in and began treating the flock abusively. This abuse and deviation from truth continued for hundreds of years, but through all that time, the Christian congregation continued to be Jehovah’s people, just as Israel had been, even when she was apostate.
So now we come to the Twentieth Century; but we now expect something different. Why? Because we were told that Jesus came to his spiritual temple in 1918 and judged the flock and cast out the evil slave and appointed the good and faithful and discreet slave over all his domestics. Ah, but we don’t believe that anymore, do we? Just recently, we have realized that the appointment over all his belongings comes when he returns at Armageddon. This has interesting and unexpected ramifications. The appointment over all his belongings is the result of his judgment of the slaves. But that judgment happens to all the salves at the same time. One is judged faithful and appointed over all his belongings and the other is judged as evil and cast out.
So the evil slave was not cast out in 1918 because the judgment did not occur then. The evil slave will only become known when the master returns. Therefore, the evil slave must still be among us.
Who is the evil slave? How will he become manifest? Who knows. In the meantime, what of us individually? Will we allow abrasive personalities and perhaps even legitimate injustices to cause us to leave Jehovah’s people? And go where?? To other religions? Religions who openly practice war? Who, rather than die for their beliefs, will kill for them? I don’t think so! No, we’ll wait patiently for the master to return and judge the righteous and the wicked? While we’re doing that, let’s use the time to work on getting and keeping the Master’s favor.
To that end, a better understanding of our history and what got us to where we now are can’t hurt. After all, accurate knowledge leads to everlasting life.
An unexpected benefit
One thing that is evident from even a cursory reading of the court transcript is that if Rutherford had simply accepted Moyle’s resignation and left it at that, there would have been no grounds for a libel suit. Whether Moyle would have kept to his stated objective and continued to be a Jehovah’s Witness, even offering his legal services to the brotherhood as he stipulated in his letter, or whether he would have eventually turned apostate is something we may never know.
By giving Moyle just cause to bring a lawsuit, Rutherford exposed himself and the Society to public scrutiny. As a result, historical facts have come to light that might otherwise have remained hidden; facts about the makeup of our early congregation; facts which affect us to this day.
As things turned out, Rutherford died before the suit ever came to trial, so we can only guess at what he might have had to say. However, we do have the sworn testimony of other prominent brothers who later served on the Governing Body.
What can we learn from them?
Our view of obedience
Under cross-examination by the Plaintiff’s attorney, Mr. Bruchhausen, Nathan Knorr, Rutherford’s successor, made the following revelation when being questioned about the fallibility of those who reveal Bible truth through our publications: . (From page 1473 of the court transcript)
Q. So that these leaders or agents of God are not infallible, are they? A. That is right.
Q. And they do make mistakes in these doctrines? A. That is right.
Q. But when you put out these writings in the Watch Tower, you don’t make any mention, to those who get the papers, that “We, speaking for God, may make a mistake,” do you? A. When we present the publications for the Society, we present with it the Scriptures, the Scriptures set forth in the Bible. The citations are given in the writing; and our advice is to the People to look up these Scriptures and study them in their own Bibles in their own homes.
Q. But you don’t make any mention in the fore part of your Watch Tower that “We are not infallible and subject to correction and may make mistakes”? A. We have never claimed infallibility.
Q. But you don’t make any such statement, that you are subject to correction, in your Watch Tower papers, do you? A. Not that I recall.
Q. In fact, it is set forth directly as God’s Word, isn’t in? A. Yes, as His word.
Q. Without any qualification whatsoever? A. That is right.
This was, for me, a bit of a revelation. I have always worked under the assumption that anything in our publications was below the word of God, never on a par with it. That is why the recent statements in our 2012 district convention and circuit assembly programs bothered me so much. It seemed that they were grasping at an equality with God’s Word which they had no right to and which they had never before attempted to do. This, was for me, something new and disturbing. Now I see that this isn’t new at all.
Brother Knorr makes it clear that under Rutherford as well as under his presidency, the rule was that anything published by the faithful slave[i] was God’s Word. True, he admits that they are not infallible and that, therefore, changes are possible, but only they are allowed to make the changes. Until such time, we must not doubt what is written.
To express it simply, it appears that the official position on any Bible understanding is: “Consider this the Word of God, until further notice.”
Rutherford as the Faithful Slave
Our official position is that the faithful and discreet slave was appointed in 1919 and that this slave is made up of all the members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses at any point in time from that year onward. It would therefore be natural to assume that brother Rutherford was not the faithful slave, but rather only one of the members of the body of men that made up that slave during his tenure as legal president of the Watch Tower, Bible and Tract Society.
Fortunately, we have the sworn testimony of another brother who eventually served as one of the presidents of the Society, brother Fred Franz. (From page 865 of the court transcript)
Q. I understand that you say that in 1931, the Watch Tower discontinued naming the editorial committee, and then Jehovah God became the editor, is that correct? A. Jehovah’s editorialship was indicated thereby citing Isaiah 53:13.
The Court: He asked you if in 1931 Jehovah God became editor, according to your theory.
The Witness: No, I wouldn’t say so.
Q. Didn’t you say that Jehovah God became the editor of this paper at some time? A. He was always the one guiding the course of the paper.
Q. Didn’t you state that on October 15, 1931, the Watch Tower discontinued the naming of an editorial committee and then Jehovah God became the editor? A. I didn’t say Jehovah God became the editor. It was appreciated that Jehovah God really is the one who is editing the paper, and therefore the naming of an editorial committee was out of place.
Q. At any rate, Jehovah God is now the editor of the paper, is that right? A. He is today the editor of the paper.
Q. How long has he been editor of the paper? A. Since its inception he has been guiding it.
Q. Even before 1931? A. Yes, sir.
Q. Why did you have an editorial committee up to 1931? A. Pastor Russell in his will specified that there should be such an editorial committee, and it was continued down till then.
Q. Did you find that the editorial committee was in conflict with having the journal edited by Jehovah God, is that it? A. No.
Q. Was the policy in opposition to what your conception of an editing by Jehovah God was? A. It was found on occasions that some of these on the editorial committee were preventing the publication of timely and vital, up-to-date truths and thereby hindering the going of those truths to the people of the Lord in his due time.
By the Court:
Q. After that, 1931, who on earth, if anybody, had charge of what went in or did not go in the magazine? A. Judge Rutherford.
Q. So he in effect was the earthly editor-in-chief, as he might be called? A. He would be the visible one to take care of that.
By Mr. Bruchhausen:
Q. He was working as God’s representative or agent in running this magazine, is that correct? A. He was serving in that capacity.
From this we can see that up until 1931 there was an editorial committee of faithful individuals who were able to exercise some control over what was published in the magazines. Still, the origin of all our doctrine was from a single man, brother Rutherford. The editorial committee didn’t originate doctrine, but they did exercise some control over what was released. However, in 1931, brother Rutherford disbanded that committee because it was not allowing what he felt were timely and vital truths originating from him to be disseminated to the Lord’s people. From that point forward, there was nothing even remotely resembling a governing body as we know it today. From that point forward everything published in the Watchtower came directly from the pen of brother Rutherford with no one having any say whatsoever into what was being taught.
What does this mean for us? Our understanding of prophetic fulfillments that are believed to have occurred in 1914, 1918, and 1919 all come from one man’s mind and understanding. Almost, if not all, of the prophetic interpretations regarding the last days that we have abandoned over the past 70 years have come from this period of time as well. There remains a good number of beliefs that we hold as true, indeed, as the word of God, which originate from a time when one man enjoyed a virtually uncontested rule over Jehovah’s people. Good things came from that time period. So did bad things; things we had to abandon to get back on track. This isn’t a matter of opinion, but of historical record. Brother Rutherford acted as “God’s agent or representative” and was viewed and treated as such, even after he had died, as can be seen from the evidence brothers Fred Franz and Nathan Knorr presented in court.
Given our latest understanding of the fulfillment of Jesus’ words concerning the faithful and discreet slave, we believe that he appointed that slave in 1919. That slave is the Governing Body. However, there was no governing body in 1919. There was only one body that governed; that of Judge Rutherford. Any new understanding of Scripture, any new doctrine, came from him alone. True, there was an editorial committee to edit what he taught. But all things came from him. In addition, from 1931 onward to the time of his death, there was not even an editorial committee to check and filter the veracity, logic, and Scriptural harmony of what he wrote.
If we are to wholeheartedly accept our latest understanding of the “faithful slave”, then we must also accept that one man, Judge Rutherford, was appointed by Jesus Christ as the faithful and discreet slave to feed his flock. Apparently, Jesus changed from that format after Rutherford’s death and began to use a group of men as his slave.
Accepting this new teaching as the word of God is made more difficult when we consider that during the 35 years following his death and resurrection, Jesus used, not one, but a number of individuals working under inspiration to feed his flock. However, he didn’t stop there, but also used many other prophets, both men and women, in the various congregations who also spoke under inspiration—though their words did not make it into the Bible. It is hard to understand why he would depart from that means of feeding the flock and use a single human who, by sworn testimony, was not even writing under inspiration.
We are not a cult. We must not allow ourselves to follow men, especially men who claim to be speaking for God and want us to treat their words as if from God himself. We follow the Christ and humbly work shoulder to shoulder with like-minded men. Why? Because we have God’s word in written form so that we can individually “make sure of all things and hold fast to what is fine”—to what is true!
The admonition expressed by the apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 11 seems fitting for us in this instance; especially his words in vs. 4 and 19. Reason, not intimidation, must always guide us in the understanding of Scripture. We do well to prayerfully consider Paul’s words.
[i] For purposes of simplicity, all references to the faithful and discreet slave in this post refer to our official understanding; i.e., that the slave is the Governing Body from 1919 onward. The reader should not infer from this that we accept this understanding as Scriptural. For a fuller understanding of what the Bible has to say about this slave, click the forum category “Faithful Slave”.