The following comes from an American newspaper, The Saturday Evening Post, September 14, 1940, and gives an excellent historical viewpoint of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Make Hate a Religion
For conscientious cussedness on the grand scale, no other aggregation of Americans is a match for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Defiance of what others cherish and revere is their daily meat. They hate all religions and say so from the housetops. They hate all governments with an enthusiasm that is equally unconcealed. On phonograph records, sound trucks, the radio and in a Noah’s flood of literature, they admit, without conscious blasphemy, that they hold a prior lien on the Almighty. On the rest of us the Great Unwashed they look down their spiritual noses. We, they say, have got” it” coming to us, and “if as they can triumphantly prove by the Scriptures is due almost any time now.
For being generally offensive, they have been getting their heads cracked, their meetings broken up, their meeting houses pillaged and themselves thrown into jail. Six thousand of them are in German concentration camps. In Canada, to be one of them is a prison offence. In Australia, a demand for their suppression is growing. Their lawyers’ briefs for their run-ins with mobs or the law in the United States during the single month from June fourteenth to July fourteenth cover thirty-nine cases in twenty states. Those are only samples. The grand total would be several times that.
Before this rising wave of ill will they never retreat. On the contrary fortified again by the Scriptures they welcome it. Their chief regret seems to be that their martyrdoms, to date, have been only minor ones. The times, they confidently predict, will yet require some major martyring.
Jehovah’s Witnesses look like average Americans as, in fact, they are. Twenty-five thousand of them came to Detroit in mid-July after Columbus, Ohio, had banned them. At the same time there were similar, though somewhat smaller, meetings in nineteen other cities. East, South and West.
Those in Detroit came on foot, by bus and train, in first-rate automobiles and in jalopies, the like and number of which the motor city had never seen before. Their assorted vehicles, from most of the states in the Union, jammed Detroit’s parking lots. The city’s third, fourth and fifth rate hotels and rooming houses did a business better than any that had come their way in ten years.
The heat in Detroit’s best shade was near a hundred. Convention Hall has a flat roof and is not in the shade. The Witnesses rigged up a hospital in a nearby hotel, manned it with their own doctors, and with orthodox ministrations took care of the scores who were felled by the sun. Inside the hall they set up their own kitchen and cafeteria and, through the steam, served boiled beef, boiled potatoes, heat-shrivelled peas and wilted lettuce to the shirt-sleeved, cotton-gowned multitude. For four days, the 25,000 milled and sweated, prayed, sang and witnessed and, to the sighing accompaniment of thousands of palm-leaf fans, listened over the public-address system to speakers most of them could not see.
The police said they had never seen so large a crowd so orderly. More than 1000 Witness ushers, armed with canes, kept the throngs on the move, with much “brothering” and “sistering.” Gently manoeuvred canes barred the way to the offices where the men behind the gathering did business. When the canes came down, the reception was all that any reporter could ask for. Even the photographers were welcomed. Judging from all outward appearances, this might have been a midsummer gathering of Kansas Methodists.
But it wasn’t. The Witnesses had come to town not merely, to meet but to witness. Every morning, near the entrance to the hall, one of the brethren with a good voice and a technique like that of an evangelist turned auctioneer drummed up Witnesses by the dozens of carloads to carry the message to Detroit. They carried it not only block by block to Detroit but to Flint and Pontiac and scores of towns within a fifty-mile radius. They distributed more than 1,000,000 pieces of literature, played their phonographs on thousands of front porches, set up their loud-speaker trucks on hundreds of street corners.
The Biggest Source of Conscientious Objectors
When, on Sunday evening, the last fervent word was spoken in Convention Hall and the first of the dusty motor caravans turned homeward, some hundreds of the Witnesses could boast that they had had minor brushes with the law. Some fifty of them were left behind in its clutches. And the thousands who were still foot-loose undoubtedly went their separate ways confident that treatment of the same sort, or worse, was in store for them. In that, they are probably right.
The Witnesses keep no rolls of membership, the scriptural ground on which such records are eschewed is one of the few of their innumerable Biblical quotations which I failed to note. Some idea of the size of the movement can be gathered from the fact that last year it employed, full and part time, 44,000 workers. That is 10,000 more than there were in the previous year. There are no churches in the usual sense. Groups of followers are called Company Organizations, their meeting places, Kingdom Halls. In 1939, according to the official yearbook, there were 2425 Company Organizations. That is an increase of 639 over 1938. This growth has gone on at so fast a pace that recently, for greater ease of administration, the United States has been divided into six major regions and 153 zones. These sectors, large and small, are looked after by regional and zone servants. A rough idea of the size of the spiritual empire over which these servants preside is indicated by the fact that last year they travelled more than 2,150,000 miles.
Thus, even in the absence of exact figures, it seems likely that the United States harbours no other out-of-step and out-of-sympathy minority of anything like their size and militancy. In the event of war, they are sure to furnish the largest quota of conscientious objectors, and, perhaps, the most troublesome. In this near-war period, no other group so boldly condemns not only the current patriotic trend but patriotism, specifically and in general. No other, for good measure, condemns so many other things by which Americans lay store. In our democratic flesh they are, in short, a thorn of painful proportions all the more troublesome a thorn because its watering is scriptural and its soil the conscience.
A good deal of mystery surrounds the history and spectacular growth of this amazing movement. A similar cloak covers some of the story of its current operations. The history part is dismissed in the 1940 yearbook with a sketchy paragraph. This recounts that in 1872 ” a few Christian persons met together in a little town in Pennsylvania to consider the Scriptures relative to the coming of Christ Jesus and His kingdom.” There is very little else save that by 1884 this group had waxed sufficiently to organize a corporation under the name of Zion’s Watch Tower Society, later changed to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. That was in Pennsylvania. When, in New York State, the harvest began to ripen, another corporation was set up to garner it, The People’s Pulpit Association. That later metamorphosed into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society under which corporate banner it continues to operate. In 1914, in the British vineyard, the International Bible Students’ Association, Inc., was set up.
The purpose of these corporate bodies is simple “to wit: the dissemination of Bible truths by means of publication, in printed form and other lawful means.”
This official outline history is the only one extant. It is important chiefly for what it omits. The most important of its omissions is Charles Taze (Pastor) Russell. For him there is not so much as a parenthesis or an obituary. And yet the “few Christian persons” who forgathered in 1872 were chiefly Charles Taze Russell. Whatever revelation descended on that modest assembly was relayed through him. From then until his death which had not been counted on in 1916, he continued to do the relaying. The various corporations mentioned above were the material means for the dissemination of his revelations. The body of his beliefs came to be known as Russellism; those who espoused them, as Russellites. That his name is now erased from the tablets of the law does not alter the “fact that, but for him, Jehovah’s Witnesses would be back, religiously, where they came from.
“Pastor” Russell, in his early career, ran a haberdashery in Pittsburgh. It prospered and he came to own a small chain of such establishments. His religion such as it was, was Congregationalist.
One day, young Russell, so the story goes, dropped in at a Pittsburgh poolroom. An atheistic hanger-on was in the midst of a denial of heaven and hell. Russell wasn’t so sure. But he decided to find out. He bought a Bible and settled down to it. He found out plenty about heaven and hell, and a lot that he had not figured on. The force of what he found out drove him out of the haberdashery business and into the company of the prophets.
He began to preach in 1878. His title of “Pastor “was won, not by the laying on of hands but by leg work. His zeal, so his followers boasted, took him farther than the journeying of St. Paul and Bishop Asbury combined. His writings were “more extensive than the combined works of St. Paul, St. John, Arius, Waldo, Wycliffe and Martin Luther the six messengers to the Church who preceded him.” Up to the time of his death, his six major books had had a total distribution of nearly 15,000,000 copies.
A Candidate for the Place Next to St. Paul
THE doctrine he preached was millennial. But there was very little millennial about his own earthly interlude. He was frequently involved in lawsuits and controversy. He once declared, with what must have been autobiographical insight, that “many of the Lord’s most faithful children live in a matrimonial furnace of affliction.” After many years of life in such a furnace, he escaped via a divorce the court holding, contrariwise, that his attitude of “insistent egotism,” “extravagant self praise” and “continual domination” were such as to “render the life of any sensitive Christian woman a burden and make her life intolerable.”
There were hints of a much shadier sort. But these never shook the faith from his followers. “When the history of the Church of Christ is fully written,” said the official panegyric that followed his death, “it will be found that’ the place next to St. Paul in the gallery of fame as expounder of the Gospel of the Great Master will be occupied by Charles Taze Russell.”
Those words were penned in the first flush of grief. They reckoned without the all-too-human certainty that others, who once had been satisfied to touch the hem of Pastor Russell’s garment, would aspire to wear it. The one on whose shoulders it finally came to rest was Joseph Franklin Rutherford” Judge” Rutherford to his following; plain “J. F.” by his own signature.
The story of Judge Rutherford’s rise to prophetic stature is not part of the literature of the movement. By birth he is a Missourian. He studied law. As a young man, in several small Missouri towns, he practiced it. His judicial handle, like Pastor Russell’s ordination, appears to be synthetic. On an occasion or two so one of his associates told me he was called to sit in something which approximated a judicial capacity. That was a long time ago, and, (Continued on Page 50) so I was told, he never uses the title when speaking of himself. Among his multitude, however, he is always Judge Rutherford, or just “the Judge.”
Just how or when Judge Rutherford felt the first stirrings toward religious leadership is not very precisely revealed. The accepted story seems to be that a Russellite, armed with literature and scriptural quotations, called one day at his Missouri home. The quotations were delivered, the literature left, and Rutherford looked into them.
He, reputedly, was as astonished by what he found as the inquiring Charles T. Russell had been. He became, as Russell had, a Bible student and, eventually, a Russellite.
Converts in Rutherford’s profession were rare. Moreover, the law courts being what they were, a Russellite with legal talent was needed. As a result, he was singled out for more than ordinary attention. Pastor Russell looked on him with favour. Eventually he turned up in Brooklyn as attorney for the movement.
That was in 1909. Pastor Russell, when he died in 1916, left no word as to his successor. But because of his frequent legal appearances in defence of Russell, and his directive hand in the business management of the vast Russell establishment, Rutherford was all set to move in.
He moved in at about the time that the United States entered the first World War. He did not approve of war. With a forthrightness which seems to characterize many religious leaders only in times of peace, he boldly said so. When troubled young men of his flock sought his advice, he called their attention to the section of the Draft Act which provided exemption on grounds of conscience. When the military authorities besought him to be, if not more co-operative, a little more quiet, he loudly refused. The story of his subsequent hounding particularly at the hands of blood-thirsty clergymen makes unpleasant reading. He and seven of his followers were eventually sentenced to the Federal prison in Atlanta.
Rutherford spent nine months in Atlanta. He put the time to good use. By the end of nine months, more than 100 fellow prisoners were enrolled in his Bible class. His eventual release came through the reversal by the United States Court of Appeals of the original decision. Rutherford, however, gives no credit to the court. His followers had been heard from. In his behalf, thousands of letters of protest poured into the Department of Justice. One petition for his release with 700,000 names, on it was presented at Washington.
The general assumption seemed to be that, after Atlanta, Rutherford and his cause would languish. Quite the opposite happened. He had skirted the fringe of martyrdom and, snatched back, he was acclaimed. Today, at seventy, his only rival to the title of the nation’s most potent religious leader is Father Coughlin. But Coughlin is a voice. Rutherford is both a voice and a movement.
Officially, he is president of the three bodies which constitute the earthly structure of the organization: the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Inc., and the International Bible Students’ Association. Actually, he is much more than that. He fell heir to Russell’s enterprise and his disciples. He has modernized the first and increased the second. But he never made Russell’s mistake of entering any supernatural claims for himself.
But it is not likely that the appearance of more than human characteristics would surprise his followers. His words are not accepted as the law and the prophets. They are accepted as more than that. The Witnesses rely on what the Bible says. But they count on Judge Rutherford to tell them what it means by what it says. The latter role is obviously more important.
A Complete Senatorial Bearing
For such a super prophetic status, the Judge is humanly well equipped. He is more than six feet tall, and portly. He walks with the same measured and solemn dignity that one sees at its best on the floor of the United States Senate. In fact, he looks more like a senator than most senators. He wears stand-up collars of the Champ dark era, black string bow ties, and a long black ribbon for his glasses. Senator like, the glasses are handy props. He uses them for minor gesticulations which go with profound deliverances. His voice is a match for his frame heavy, rounded and, on occasion, booming.
But Judge Rutherford is shielded from the world as no senator ever was. In Detroit he lived incommunicado at an unnamed hotel. During the four days, his 25,000 had two opportunities to see him at the opening and at the closing sessions. He was scheduled to make one appearance in between. But when the heat passed ninety-nine, it was cancelled.
His associates are as loath to talk about him as they are to open the way to his presence. The movement, they say, is not of man but of God, and the less said about personalities the better.
One or two personal items were unearthed. Apparently there is a Mrs.Rutherford. There is also a son. Whether they are Witnesses, no one seemed prepared to say.
A Big-Time Business
In any event, the amount of time which Judge Rutherford could give to domestic occupations would be limited. His other responsibilities are enormous. He has written seventeen books and seventy-seven pamphlets. He edits The Watchtower – the semi-monthly magazine “Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.” Most of the sixteen pages of Biblical interpretations which it contains are written by him. He has a hand in all the other periodicals of the movement. He speaks regularly over WBBR, the Brooklyn station owned by the Witnesses. For ten years he had a weekly radio program on more than 200 stations. His recordings have been in use on 294 stations. For phonographic purposes, his voice has been recorded on 109 different disks. Until the war, he travelled widely. He has addressed gatherings of Witnesses in most of the thirty-six countries in which they are organized.
In addition to these heavy labours on the creative side, he runs the business. The business of Jehovah’s Witnesses is big-time stuff. Its brick-and-mortar headquarters are two modern buildings, seven and eight stories respectively, in Brooklyn. One of them, facing pleasantly on East River, is the office quarters. Here, also, the Judge is housed. Housed with him are the several hundred employees. They, like all full-time Witness workers, are not hirelings. They get their board and keep and ten dollars a month for incidentals. The board part is provided chiefly from two Witness-owned farms. The second building houses the printing plant and factory. The corporation owns property in other parts of the United States. One of these is a commodious edifice, built in a style that might be called Southern California Moslem, located in San Diego It is called Beth-Sarim-the House of the Princes. Currently it provides the West Coast quarters for Judge Rutherford and his associates. Its long-time purpose and it is built to last is to serve as a habitation for the prophets David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, to name only a few, when they return to earth. To spare them trouble with the courts, the deed is drawn in their names.
There are properties in a number of foreign countries. These include printing establishments of some size in Great Britain, Switzerland and, until the Nazis took over, in Germany.
The collective output is astronomical. Since 1920, according to the official figures, the movement has produced and distributed a grand total of 309,500,000 books and pamphlets. That yearly average of 15,000,000 is being stepped up. The total for 1939 was 27,000,000. In addition to English, this literature has been printed in eighty-eight languages and dialects.
During 1939, 4,500,000 copies of The Watchtower were printed, 5,000,000 copies of Consolation, another semi-monthly publication, and 2,000,000 copies of Kingdom News.
How fast and in what quantity Judge Rutherford’s words are spread abroad can be gathered from the sale of his two latest productions. His most recent book is Salvation. It was published in 1939. Within three months it had sold more than 1,000,000 copies. At present it is rounding the 3,000,000 mark. His latest pamphlet is Judge Rutherford Uncovers the Fifth Column. The “column,” when the shades are pulled back, appears to be the Roman Catholic hierarchy. This thirty-two-page nickel pamphlet was printed in late June. By the end of July it had been sown in good or stony ground to the amount of 4,000,000 copies.
The Brooklyn factory produces more than literature. It also produces phonographs. Last year, just short of 10,000 Witness-made phonographs were sold at ten dollars each. With each instrument, like sample blades with a razor, went three Rutherford recordings. In all, more than 30,000 such machines are in current use. In addition, there are probably 1000 Witness sound trucks in the United States. During 1939, the Brooklyn offices shipped out 310,000 records.
This equipment is being constantly improved on, and new gadgets sold. One of the high spots at Detroit was the demonstration of a new phonograph, Witness-built and streamlined. It was compact and light. Inside, there was space for several records. An additional “surprise” compartment contained room for a dozen Watchtowers and Consolations, three Rutherford books and an airtight corner big enough for two sandwiches. Only Judge Rutherford received louder applause than the demonstrator of this machine when, a perspiring Jack Horner, he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a sandwich.
On the financial side of this extensive picture, very little is revealed. “For the past few years,” says the yearbook, “the detailed statement of the money received and paid out has not been published, for the obvious reason that the enemy would use these facts to further hinder, if possible, the work of the Society.” Supporters, if driven by sufficient curiosity, can make their own examination of the books. “But they are not open to the enemy, who work against the Lord and his Kingdom.”
A Profitable Outfit
The business, however, is obviously profitable. The Judge’s books sell for twenty-five cents each; the pamphlets for a nickel. Many of them are given away but not by the publisher. The publisher collects from the individual Witnesses. The Witnesses, when they leave a packet at a house, take whatever they are offered. The bag, thus, is held by those in the field, not by those in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn, apparently, keeps well ahead of the sheriff. A writer for the New York Evening Post recently took samples of the Rutherford books and pamphlets to a New York publisher. The publisher reported he could sell the twenty-five-cent books for eleven cents, the pamphlets for two cents, and make a normal profit on both.
There appears to be no shadow on Judge Rutherford’s use of this money-secretive though he is about it. Some of it undoubtedly goes to the aid of indigent Witnesses abroad. Some of it goes for promotion. Occasionally, there is a large-scale layout in the interests of high-class drama. In 1938, when the Judge was in England, the Witnesses hired Albert Hall and packed it for his speech. In addition, they hired halls in twenty-three cities in the United States, ten in Canada, ten in Australia and four in New Zealand. All these centres were tied in by wire and wireless through the hired and highly expensive facilities of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and on this improvised world hook-up more than 100,000 Witnesses heard the Judge at his expense. The nineteen cities where meetings were held simultaneously with the convention in Detroit were similarly tied in.
Although Judge Rutherford, by virtue of his spiritual status, is the master in this vast material domain, its government, technically, is in the hands of a board of seven directors. A board election is held every three years. Since there is no scroll of membership in the organization, there are likewise no dues. At kingdom meetings no plate is passed. Each Witness, however, gives what he is able to the local work and nationally. In elections to the board of trustees, all Witnesses are eligible to vote whose names are recorded in Brooklyn as having contributed ten dollars or more for the preceding year.
The basic doctrine which Judge Rutherford expounds, on which his growing kingdom rests and in support of which tens of thousands of his followers cheerfully offer their heads to be cracked and their bodies beaten, is that of the Second Coming of Christ.
That idea is not particularly new among the theologians. In forms adapted to the age, it has been preached, off and on, in almost every Christian century since the third or fourth. During the nineteenth century it was one of the moving ideas behind the trek of the Mormons in search of a fit place for their Zion. It was the central dogma of the Adventists. Many so-called fundamentalists in various ‘evangelical churches have preached it. But never has it been more elaborately embroidered than by Messrs. Russell and Rutherford.
To go into the maze of scriptural and expository detail with which, to the satisfaction of their followers, they buttressed this belief would require a high order of imagination and no little mathematical skill. Mathematically, Russell worked by addition, Ruther-ford by multiplication. The former, by adding together all the available ages of the patriarchs, the reigns of the kings and judges, and two dates from the New Testament, arrived at the conclusion that the advent had actually occurred in 1874. It was an “invisible” advent. Rutherford, by an even more devious system, which he “explained” in a book now out of print, multiplied and got the year 1914.
Rutherford, however, was the smarter of the two. Russell set definite dates for the “coming.” When, on each successive occasion, the event failed to materialize, he was driven back to his pencil and paper to show to his somewhat shaken following that he had miscalculated. Rutherford does riot go in for times and seasons. The nearest he comes to the calendar is in such phrases as “soon,” “at hand,” not long delayed.” In regard to the year 1914, however, he is specific. Up to that year the world was Satan’s and he ruled it. Everything made by man, from that date back to Noah, was not God’s but Satan’s handiwork. But 1914 ushered in a new era. Christ in that year returned invisibly to earth. Satan, for the first time since the flood, was challenged. To date, to be sure, he has not been dislodged. But his ousting is “at hand.” There are two reasons why he has not been routed before this. For one thing, this “transition period” gives an opportunity for those who have apprehended the truth to publish it, so that, at the final cataclysm, no one will have the excuse that he has not been warned. The second reason, earnestly advanced by one of Rutherford’s spokesmen, is that “Jehovah is setting the stage to make sure that in the final conflict His superior powers will be shown to the greatest advantage against the hosts of Satan.” Once these two purposes are accomplished, then at Armageddon (Revelation xvi) the final battle will be fought. Armageddon, it should be pointed out, is Jehovah’s battle, not man’s. Even those who have heard and witnessed will be on the side lines. But in its wake will come the great dividing (Matthew xxv, 31-34). Those who have not previously repented will be destroyed. The saved will be gathered from the ends of the earth (Matthew xxiv, 31). Jehovah’s eternal kingdom will be built upon the ruins (Daniel ii, 44).
The Judge’s Theocracy
Around this doctrine of Armageddon, pre and post, Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized. Even the small children among them are Armageddon-conscious. “We don’t know when it will come,” they told me brightly, “but it ought to be mighty soon now.”
The reasons the doctrine takes hold are not all scriptural. Some of them are psychological. To many of the Witnesses, the real world is an unrelieved burden; a place of inequalities and frustrations. Armageddon and the Second Coming are the promise that Jehovah will turn the tables for their benefit; that, for them, all things will be made new. The exalted of the earth will be brought low and they, who have been humbled, will, at long last, be exalted.
Deliberately or otherwise, the literature of the movement never misses a chance to emphasize this pot of spiritual gold at the end of the millennial rainbow. That, plus a great deal of Scripture, was behind the slogan: “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” It accounts for the arrogance with which Judge Rutherford assumes that, in the day of the sheep and the goats, he and his followers will be first, or thereabouts, among the chosen. It explains, also, the Judge’s more recent doctrine of Theocracy.
Theocracy is a product of the regrettable necessity that the Witnesses, pending Armageddon, have to get along somehow with real people in a hard world. Most of the people and all of the world are of the devil-thanks to the fact that he has reigned since Noah. That goes for all governments and all their works. From the corner schoolhouse to the Capitol dome, they and their transactions are hell-spawned. It goes, also, for all business. It covers organized religion and the churches. With special venom, it covers the Roman Catholic Church.
Such wholesale elimination leaves the Witnesses with very little territory to play around in and none to call their own. Theocracy provides some in the theocratic government. The theocratic government is Jehovah’s state, within but apart from the world the nucleus of the Kingdom whose ultimate supremacy will be established by the Second Coming. The laws for this government come straight from the Scriptures, as interpreted by Judge Rutherford. To it, the Witnesses own not only their first but their sole allegiance. And queer, misled, fanatical though they may be, when they own an allegiance they own it. .Their yeas are yea and their nays nay, unmixed with ifs or buts.
Because the only citizenship which they acknowledge is ‘in a heavenly country, they do not vote or hold public office. They do not salute the flag. The Scripture for that is Exodus xx, 4, 5: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
Man’s earthly creations being tee-totally polluted, some of them refuse to send their children to public schools. They transact only such business as is necessary for bodily survival. They will have no part or parcel in the work of the churches.
Soldiers Only of the Lord
Most discommoding of their eschewals things being in the shape they are they refuse to fight. That is, they refuse to fight for the powers of this world. In their own spiritual precincts, as Judge Rutherford has recently pointed out, they are no more pacifistic than the Old Testament’s Jehovah was. For-Jehovah and his people they would fight, as Jehovah did. That is all they would fight for. Someone recently put to Judge Rutherford the hoary hypothesis as to whether, if his mother were attacked, he would defend her. The Judge had a (Continued on Page 58) (Continued from Page 54) scriptural comeback on his tongue’s end: “‘ Who is my mother?'” he asked. “‘Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ The fact,” said the Judge, “that one has a brother and sister and mother after the flesh, but who are against the Theocracy, does not mean at all that the Christian is under any obligation whatsoever to care for or protect any such opponent of the kingdom.”
It is in behalf of these manifold beliefs that the Witnesses do their witnessing. All of them put in time at it. Those who, because of unshakable worldly obligations, can give only their spare time are called Publishers. Full-time workers are Called Pioneers. A Pioneer is expected to put in a minimum of 150 witnessing hours every month. Special Pioneers have a 200-hour minimum.
The usual technique is to map out a city or a rural community and cover it singly or in pairs, porch by porch.
Most active workers carry a phonograph, which is set up, needle poised, before the doorbell is rung. The house-holder, before he has had a chance to turn tail, is met with Judge Rutherford’s resonant voice and uncanonical phrases. That, plus the element of surprise, is generally better than a foot inside the door. If, hearing the Judge’s declamation, the heart of the resident is hardened, then the Witness politely leaves and moves next door. If, however, anything remotely resembling an opening appears, literature is passed out and a few warning words are spoken. If the reception is better than that, the householder is promised another visit and his name goes down in the notebook for a “back call.”
The zeal, devotion and downright courage of the Witnesses in this pursuit are very great. It is doubtful if any other Americans, save postmen, pound more pavements. Last year, back calls alone totalled 1,866,382.
No one looking for trouble could find fault with the Witnesses’ demeanour. They go about their business quietly and with a good deal of politeness. It is only when their Scripture-guided consciences are run afoul of that they turn to stone.
That, of late, has been happening with increasing frequency. Their invitation to trouble is generally due, not to any personal offensiveness, but to what they preach and what they refuse to do. In particular, their attacks on the Catholic Church have been something less than peace-provoking.
With Supreme Court Backing
This, in fact, came to an issue last year in New Haven, Connecticut, and was carried to the United States Supreme Court. Three Witnesses, a father and two sons, were engaged in their witnessing on Cassius Street in that city a street populated 90 per cent by Roman Catholics. The records played by the three itinerants included one vicious attack on the Catholic Church. Two men, both Catholics, who heard it, advised the Witnesses that, if they wanted to keep their skins intact, they had better move on. The Witnesses took the matter to court. The case was lost in both the Common Pleas Court in New Haven and the State Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court, however, reversed these decisions and upheld the Witnesses. Mr. Justice Roberts, who delivered the unanimous opinion, declared that “in the realm of religious faith and in that of political belief sharp differences arise. In both fields the tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor. To persuade others to his point of view, the pleader, as we know, may at times resort to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been or are prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But the people of this nation have ordained in the light of history that, in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are, in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy.”
The Flag Riots
Another thing which involves the Witnesses in frequent run-ins, legal and otherwise, is their unwillingness to salute the flag. For this shortcoming they have been assaulted by rampant patriots in scores of communities all the way from Del Rio, Texas, to Kennebunk, Maine. This issue they also carried to the Supreme Court. The court, in this case, held that school authorities had the right to enforce the flag salute. Fortified by that decision, gangs of self-styled patriots and self-anointed up rooters of spies, saboteurs and Fifth Columnists have redoubled their hounding of the Witnesses.
The attacks at Del Rio took place two days after the flag decision. Del Rio happens to be located on the Mexican border and, doubtless, is jumpier than many inland communities. At any rate, when Witnesses appeared with pamphlets and phonographs, and set about their visitations, “an angry crowd of 400 persons,” according to the United Press version, “escorted three Nazi agents to the city limits… and warned them not to return… The three agents had been distributing Nazi literature in this Mexican border town for three days. Police said that yesterday they began forcing housewives to listen to pro-Nazi phonograph recordings and leaving copies of a pamphlet entitled ‘The Watchtower’ and bearing a swastika on the cover.”
Into what a jittery state the country’s nerves had fallen can be judged from the fact that this story was printed by the meticulous New York Times. When the truth, belatedly, was run to earth, both the Times and the U.P. published a correction. The truth was that the “Fascist” literature on which Del Rio pounced was a Witness pamphlet entitled Fascism or Freedom a document which was only a little less violently anti-Fascist than anti-Catholic. The “swastika” was a small drawing of a ball and chain which was aimed to depict fascist slavery.
Despite these attacks, the Witnesses go steadfastly forward, still witnessing, still not saluting. Asked specifically about the flag question, they quote Exodus and inquire, with some reason, which is greater disrespect to the flag: their failure to salute it or the illegal violence of their enemies?
They do not expect that such a reason, however good, will be listened to. They do not appear particularly to care. The times are out of hand. It is scriptural that they should be. The going is tough. That, too, is scriptural. Armageddon was due to come that way. After that, the glory. Lest there be any uncertainty about that, they take out their pocket Testaments and turn to the well-marked thirty-second verse of the twelfth chapter of St. Luke: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”