QUESTION: I have done a lot of research about Judge Rutherford online. I’m well aware that you can’t always believe everything you come across. With that in mind, it seems he had a lot of issues. Over drinking, he didn’t live with his wife for over 20 years while president of WBTS. There is quite a list of things online. I could write a book on the things he’s done wrong, in fact I think someone has. I’m sure you have heard about these things. My question is, how could Jesus have been happy with his service and allow this to happen? He even man-handled the brothers in charge so he could take control and had them called the evil slave.
To put things in perspective, everyone who is an outspoken advocate of the truth or who goes against the prevailing orthodoxy will inevitably create lots of enemies. Keep in mind that Jesus was slandered as being a glutton and given to drinking wine and a friend of the despised tax collectors. Paul was also slandered by the superfine apostles in Corinth. They defamed him as having a weak personal presence and being a contemptible public speaker.
Even to this day Jesus and Paul continue to be slandered. For example, Jesus is accused of having been a homosexual. And Paul is denounced by some as the antichrist.
It should come as no surprise that C.T. Russell and J.F. Rutherford have come in for the same slander treatment, the purpose being to discredit the message.
Judge Rutherford was cast to the fore as the president of the Watchtower Society during a very turbulent time. Europe had already been plunged into war and then C.T. Russell unexpectedly died. A power struggle immediately erupted among certain leading men at Bethel. But during that upheaval Rutherford and seven others were railroaded off to prison on trumped up charges of sedition. That experience seems to have galvanized Rutherford as a fighter.
And after his release from the Atlanta penitentiary he went on an offensive against the clergy – particularly the Catholic Church. I liken his vitriol against the clergy to Samson when he lit fires to the tails of dozens of foxes, sending them through the standing grain fields of the Philistines. It was intended to provoke a reaction.
But the Judge also had to deal with the cult-like following that Russell retained in the organization even after his death. Rutherford jettisoned a lot of the baggage left over from the Russell era, like the celebration of Christmas and Easter, he ditched the Masonic cross and crown. He repudiated Russell’s pyramidology. He was a completely different personality than his kindly-mannered predecessor.
Did Rutherford have issues? No doubt. Was he brusque and overbearing? Probably so. Did he like the booze, even during Prohibition? Apparently. Was he responsible for demonizing any who opposed him? He was a lawyer, wasn’t he? Did he have martial problems? Everyone who has a mate does, so why should Rutherford be any different?
But despite his personal flaws he brought Jehovah’s Witnesses into the spotlight on the world stage. His books, like Enemies, were very powerful exposes of false religion. Rutherford’s boldness and outspokenness seems to be what the Bible Students/Jehovah’s Witnesses needed at the time to brace themselves for the persecution that came upon them in Nazi Germany and in America and throughout the English speaking world. His combative nature emboldened Jehovah’s Witnesses to defy Hitler and stand up to wave after wave of persecution in the United States. Taking the broader view, it appears that Joseph Franklin Rutherford was well suited for the times in which he lived.
When it comes to our judging individuals, even in post-mortem retrospect, we do well to consider the question Paul posed to the brothers in his letter to the Romans: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.”
Paul also wrote to the Corinthians on the matter of judging, saying: “A man should regard us as attendants of Christ and stewards of God’s sacred secrets. In this regard, what is expected of stewards is that they be found faithful. Now to me it is of very little importance to be examined by you or by a human tribunal. In fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself. But by this I am not proved righteous; the one who examines me is Jehovah. Therefore, do not judge anything before the due time, until the Lord comes. He will bring the secret things of darkness to light and make known the intentions of the hearts, and then each one will receive his praise from God.”