The majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses consider their religion to be entirely beyond reproach when it comes to issues surrounding racism and racial equality.
When attending a meeting, convention, or assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, visitors are usually instantly impressed at the intermingling and harmony between people of all ethnic backgrounds. Watchtower literature describes people of all races being equal before a God who is “not partial.”
Generally speaking, this philosophy filters down as a positive influence on the way Witnesses of different races interact with one another. The organization even has a black man, Samuel Herd, on its Governing Body!
However, things haven’t always been this way. In fact, the road to racial harmony has been just as “bumpy” for the Witnesses as it has for many other religions. If you were to read some early Watchtower publications, you would doubtless be shocked and appalled by some of the offensive rhetoric employed by the writers of the organization’s literature back then. Indeed, if such literature was reprinted or otherwise circulated today as representing Watchtower’s current attitudes towards race, the organization would likely end up facing yet more serious legal entanglements, not to mention an outcry from their many non-white members.
Sadly, there are numerous examples of racial bigotry in Watchtower’s early literature, and few non-white races escape unscathed. I will attempt to catalogue some of the more offensive quotes in this article. For brevity, I will present a “timeline” of racist expressions as published by the Society, followed by a more thorough analysis of each quoted text in date order.
Quite understandably, some of the sentiments contained in the above timeline may horrify you, but they are all found to be in Watchtower’s early publications (or correspondence, as in the case of Rutherford’s letter to Hitler). If you are a Witness, it is natural and commendable for you to be appalled at what you will now read, since Watchtower’s own publications have trained you to be tolerant of everyone regardless of their ethnicity.
None of the following information is to be found on JW.org – Watchtower’s official website. And there is a reason Watchtower chooses to ignore their murky past when it comes to racial bigotry. It has to do with the prophetic significance they attach to the early “Bible Students,” as they were then known.
Put simply, the Watch Tower Society claims that Jesus Christ selected the Bible Students, led by Russell and Rutherford respectively, as representatives of his earthly organization between 1914 and 1919. As you will see from the above timeline, this supposed “selection” by Christ came roughly right in the middle of a period when they were printing some of their most racially offensive articles. It seems inconceivable that Jesus Christ would recruit such a narrow-minded organization to represent him based on what they were writing at the time on matters of race. That is why the modern-day Watchtower organization withholds this information, and instead points the finger at other religions for their racially bigoted histories.
Racism Under Russell
Charles Taze Russell was the founder of the Watch Tower Society, and the chief editor and publisher of Zion’s Watch Tower, as the Watchtower was known in those days.1 The distribution of the Watchtower magazine, as well as Russell’s other books, was almost entirely dependent on the work of “volunteers,” later known as colporteurs (the forerunners of today’s “pioneers”), whose job it was to offer subscriptions to readers.
It seems that Russell was quite picky when it came to who could serve in this privileged capacity on behalf of the Society. In the March 1st issue of the Watchtower, his criteria deliberately restricted those who might serve as volunteers to members of “white Protestant churches.” Understandably, the black brothers at that time were none too pleased by the obvious discrimination, and wrote to the Society’s headquarters to complain. This was the printed response:
The above excerpt is taken from Zion’s Watch Tower, April 15th 1900, page 122
[Click on any of the graphics to see a full-screen version for easier reading.]
Russell’s magazine freely acknowledged that its discriminatory advertisement for volunteers was founded on a stereotype of blacks as having “less education than whites.” Then it expressed the outrageous opinion that “reading matter distributed to a colored congregation would more than half of it be utterly wasted.”
It seems difficult to fathom how Russell, who blushed at suggestions that he was God’s “Faithful and Wise Servant,” could harbor and promulgate such a deplorable and misconceived attitude towards black men and women. This bizarre outlook revealed itself in Russell’s other writings, most notably when he touched on his strange obsession with “the Ethiopian’s skin.”
The above excerpt is taken from Zion’s Watch Tower, October 1st 1900, pages 296-297
Russell believed that the skin of a black brother would turn white during the Millennial Kingdom
In the above article entitled “Can Restitution Change The Ethiopian’s Skin?” Russell leaps upon an incident of a black preacher claiming to have developed white skin after having prayed for it.
Reverend Draper, who apparently told others that “if he could only be white like his employer, he would be happy,” started praying thirty years prior to the article and experienced a transformation over the period leading up to its publication. Once his skin was completely white, he returned to his former church, and had a hard time convincing the members of his identity. We now know that this “miraculous” transformation was the result of Vitiligo, a medical condition resulting in depigmentation of areas of skin. It isn’t that rare, and I’ve met people who have this condition myself. Perhaps you have too.
However, Russell was so fixated with the idea of black people becoming white that he would apparently leap on any related report as evidence that this might happen on a grander scale in the future. The February 15, 1904 Watchtower reported a similar incident involving a nine-year-old boy named Julius Jackson under the heading “Can The Ethiopian Change His Skin?” which I reproduce below:
The above excerpt is taken from Zion’s Watch Tower, February 15th 1904, pages 52-53
Again, it is difficult to fathom why Russell was so preoccupied with the concept of blacks becoming whites. What was so wrong, in his view, about their original color? Why would the color of a person’s skin make any difference to a God who is “not partial?” I suppose only Russell knew.
A telling insight into Russell’s attitudes towards race came in another Watchtower article in 1902. That article, entitled “The Negro Not A Beast,” attempted to banish the extremely offensive idea being promulgated in a book of the period that black men and women were somehow on a par with animals. Despite its tacit opposition to this outrageous concept, the Watchtower’s riposte was tainted by more than a hint of racist bigotry.
The above excerpt is taken from Zion’s Watch Tower, July 15th 1902, pages 215-216
To paint Africa’s “various tribes or nations of negroes” as being “degraded” is a highly offensive racial slur by any reasonable standard. By comparison, the article claims that the white race “exhibits some qualities of superiority over any other,” and enjoys “preeminence in the world.”
Further down, the same article states that the Caucasian has “greater intelligence and aptitude” as a result of a “commingling of blood” under “divine control.” In setting out to counter racist arguments, the article ends up making more than a few of its own. We are left with views that would not look out of place in a Nazi propaganda leaflet. And black people aren’t the only ones humiliated by this article; it also suggests that Indians and Chinese have some catching up to do genetically before they are to “equally brighten their intellects.”
At this point, it is worth reminding ourselves that Charles Taze Russell didn’t necessarily pen these articles himself. Zion’s Watch Tower had at least five regular contributors. However, Russell was the chief editor and would have checked each article personally before approving it for print. Even if he hadn’t written a certain article himself, he would have signed off on it before publication in a magazine for which he was legally accountable. Therefore, readers may consider any racially offensive article published under his editorship as representing his views. I’m sure he would have scrapped any article without the slightest hesitation if it conflicted with his own opinions.
It wasn’t long before Russell’s dim view of the “colored brethren” generated yet more offense and outrage among his black readership. In January 1914, during a screening of the Photodrama of Creation at The Temple, West 63rd Street, a number of negro audience members were segregated from their white counterparts and made to sit separately on the balcony of the auditorium. This caused understandable outrage, and several wrote angry letters – furious that they had suffered such discrimination at the hands of their “brothers.” The Watchtower printed a response under the heading “The Color Line Found Necessary” in the April 1 magazine, reproduced below:2
The above excerpt is taken from Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1st 1914, pages 105-106
I can barely imagine the humiliation of turning up at a screening of the Photodrama as a “fan” of Russell at the time, only to be separated and herded like an animal into a different part of the theater on account of my skin color. It would only add insult to my injury for me to be told that this was necessary so as to not upset white visitors, because, “explain it how you will, a majority of whites prefer not to intermingle with other races.”
I can’t imagine wishing to continue my association with the Bible Students after suffering such an indignity. After all, how could this be Christ’s church if “the success… of the enterprise of the Drama as respects the whites” was more important to Watchtower than observing racial equality? How could these truly be God’s people if they were so ready to pander to racist bigotry? Might it be because the leaders were racists themselves? These would have been my honest thoughts.
Any blacks who turned up to see the Photodrama screening in January 1914 at The Temple, West 63rd Street, were segregated
In any case, apparently not all so-called “colored brethren” were repelled by this incident. Evidently, the Society’s audience-numbers-over-equality line of reasoning was “entirely satisfactory to all of the fully consecrated” with only a few “tenacious and quarrelsome” individuals objecting.
It seems that, as respects this incident, everything boiled down to humility. After all, according to the article, “nature favors the colored brethren and sisters in the exercise of humility.” Although I believe the writer intended the remarks about humility as a pacifying compliment, they are also a clear nod towards the scourge of negro slavery that tarnished America before the Civil War. The writer attempts to commend the black readership for its perceived humble roots, irrespective of the despicable circumstances under which these were forged.
The article then goes on to revert back to Russell’s obsession with the skin of an Ethiopian, or more pointedly, his belief that black Christians could expect their skin to change when the “Millennial kingdom will be inaugurated.” The writer tells us that, when that time comes, all mankind will experience “restitution to the perfection of mind and body, feature and color, to the grand original standard, which God declared ‘very good.’ ” Again, quite why a Christian would need to have the color of his skin changed to the “original standard” is a mystery, and Russell’s strange preoccupation with this rather offensive concept found yet another outlet in this article.
Racism Under Rutherford
Charles Taze Russell died on October 31st 1916. Thereafter, under somewhat controversial circumstances, Rutherford succeeded in seizing control of the Watch Tower Society. Russell’s high office as president wasn’t the only thing Rutherford inherited. It seems he also continued his predecessor’s penchant for racial bigotry.
As mentioned earlier, according to the current beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ selected the Bible Students as his earthly congregation between 1914 and 1919 in what has since been hailed as a period of “cleansing.” Consider the following article, published in 1993, which affirms this teaching (bold is mine):
“the slave class, despite unpopularity, persecution, and even some confusion, had been seeking to give timely food to the domestics. This is what the Master found when his inspection began. The Lord Jesus was pleased, and in 1919 he pronounced that faithful approved slave class happy. What was the slave’s delightful reward for doing what his Master had appointed him to do? A promotion! Yes, larger responsibilities were given in advancing his Master’s interests.” (The Watchtower, May 1st 1993, page 17)
So, Jesus apparently undertook an “inspection” of the organization circa 1919 based on the “timely food” (or literature) being distributed to the domestics (true Christians) by the Slave Class. If this truly happened, it is difficult to imagine Jesus looking favorably on the following article, published in the newly released 1919 Golden Age magazine (a forerunner to the Awake!) under Rutherford’s presidency.
The above excerpt is taken from The Golden Age, October 15th 1919, pages 105-106
To provide some background, the article above was written (rather controversially by today’s standards) as a political argument against the recently introduced prohibition laws. As you are no doubt aware, Prohibition became law in America in 1920, making the sale of alcoholic beverages illegal.
Rutherford, who enjoyed his liquor, spoke of “sobering the southern negro” in an article against prohibition
Rutherford was known to be partial to his liquor, and I would not be surprised if he was the actual writer of the above article. After all, as a lover of alcohol, he had a vested interest in stalling the prohibition movement, and I can think of no other reason for Watchtower trying to dabble in the politics of that time over this issue.
If Rutherford actually wrote this article, it certainly provides a unique insight into his racial views. The insinuation that all “southern negroes” are drunkards is a vicious racial slur, and the above sentiments would cause outrage if repeated in the Society’s literature today.
It seems that whereas Russell had been more of a “spiritual racist” who tried to justify his views using biblically oriented arguments, Rutherford offered little or no justification for his racist views whatsoever, apart from spewing forth scathing and hopelessly erroneous generalizations based on his own preconceptions.
This book, which helped to abolish slavery in america, was branded “the work of Satan” by the Golden Age
An excellent example of such pompous bigotry is bountifully provided in another Golden Age article, published in the October 30, 1927 edition of the magazine (pages 140-143). This three-and-a-half page rant, penned under the name of J. L. Bolling, was a tirade of insults and accusations hurled at the author Harriet Beecher Stowe to discredit her famous and highly influential novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a fictional story depicting the brutal treatment of black slaves.
I’m sure many reading this article will have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or at least be familiar with it. Many historians credit the book with playing a key role in bringing about the abolishment of slavery in America. It raised public awareness of the awful practice – surely an extremely noble and laudable cause in the minds of any genuine Christian. However, whoever Bolling was, he certainly didn’t believe that getting rid of slavery was a good idea, as you can see for yourself.
The article itself is so large that I’ve created a separate PDF download for those who would like to read it in its entirety: The Golden Age v Uncle Toms Cabin 1927. I’ll warn anyone who wishes read it in advance that it is arguably one of the most vulgar and outlandish articles printed by Watchtower that they are ever likely to encounter. The piece, entitled “The Story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is also reproduced below in images from the Golden Age article in question, unless otherwise indicated. For the purposes of brevity, I will focus on some of the more intriguing quotes.
1927 Golden Age, Nov. 30th, pages 140-143
Bolling starts his article as he means to go on, with an outrageous insinuation that Stowe was under the influence of spirit mediums when writing the book. He expands on this as follows…
1927 Golden Age, Nov. 30th, pages 140-143
After providing an exhaustive overview of the spirit encounters alleged to have been experienced by Harriet Stowe’s husband, Calvin Stowe, Bolling asserts that these played a guiding role in inspiring her to write the book. Bolling goes so far as to suggest that Satan engineered Stowe’s marriage to her husband for this very reason. “Through her husband”, writes Bolling, “Mrs Stowe undoubtedly was strongly influenced by these wicked spirits; and this was doubtless Satan’s object in effecting their union in marriage.”
Bolling goes on to paint Stowe as an “impulsive” and “rash” author, prone to “coloring her narrative” and “caring little for facts” before sinking ever deeper into his astonishing tirade against what was, after all, a fictional novel. He leaves no stone unturned in finding grievances against Stowe, even suggesting that she was ill qualified to write a book of any great significance on account of her gender…
1927 Golden Age, Nov. 30th, pages 140-143
Bolling next turns on the perceived religious claims of Stowe’s book. Irrespective of what Stowe may or may not have said about Uncle Tom’s Cabin being an inspired work following its publication, the book itself does not aspire to be anything more than a fictional tale depicting the terrible suffering of those living under the scourge of slavery before its abolishment in the United States. How anyone can reasonably compare it with the prophetic book of Revelation, which directly purports inspiration from God in its first few pages, is a complete mystery to me, but this is precisely what Bolling tries to do…
1927 Golden Age, Nov. 30th, pages 140-143
Bolling uses Mrs. Stowe’s personal views against her, namely that she was divinely inspired while writing her book, or (as she allegedly said), “God wrote it.” Despite using Stowe’s words to prop up his arguments in this way, Bolling is very selective as to which of Stowe’s reputed quotes he believes or refutes. He twists Stowe’s words about her book being the product of “an unknown power” into an outrageous claim that, far from being inspired by God, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (a book that helped abolish slavery) is “the work of Satan!”
I don’t think it is remotely unfair to suggest that Bolling, whoever he was, was a brazen racist. Nobody who forms the opinion that a book instrumental in ending slavery is the product of the devil could conceivably view black men and women as his or her equals. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, Bolling’s racist views were not limited only to black people. In the last paragraph reproduced above, he describes Spaniards as a “backwards race.”
To quote more from Bolling’s article is futile. In resurrecting his venomous tirade from the dusty and long-forgotten archives of the Golden Age where it belongs, I have already provided a 21st Century platform to this long-dead racist to which he is far from worthy.
Suffice to say, Bolling continues to slam Stowe right to the end, and even makes some bizarre claims about God’s plan for America. He claims that America is “the workshop and experimental laboratory of the time of the end,” and explains that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one of many attempts by Satan to destroy America’s institutions. Bolling even hails Abraham Lincoln as being “God’s chosen instrument in saving the Union” – proof (if it were needed) of how little credence should be attached to his crazy opinions.
I can already hear the objections of many who have read this far in my article. You’re perhaps yelling: “But hang on, this guy Bolling is not representative of Rutherford’s views, or of God’s organization for that matter. After all, the Golden Age ceased to be printed many decades ago!”
Firstly, as with Russell’s editorship of the Watchtower magazine, “Judge” Rutherford was Watchtower’s president at the time when this article rolled off Watchtower’s presses. Assuming he didn’t write it, he would nevertheless have needed to consent to its publication. We can therefore consider the article representative of Rutherford’s views as well as Bolling’s. And anything that rolled off the Society’s printing press at that time would have been considered as spiritual “food at the proper time” (Matt:24:45).
Furthermore, according to Watchtower’s own (and more recent) publications, the Golden Age isn’t just considered a lowly forerunner to the Awake! – it WAS the Awake! under another name. Consider the following quote, published under the heading “Awake! – A Magazine With Broad Public Appeal” in the Society’s official history book:
“This magazine originally bore the title The Golden Age. The first issue was dated October 1, 1919. This was a magazine that reported on many fields of human endeavor. It alerted people to what was going on in the world and showed them that the real solution to mankind’s problems is Christ’s Millennial Reign, which will truly usher in a ‘golden age’ for humankind.” (Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, page 724)
When you consider the above quote, and the fact that the Awake! magazines on your bookshelf are really just the same publication as those outlandish Golden Age magazines quoted from in the foregoing, it’s really quite remarkable to think that Watchtower once not only perpetuated racist ideology – it ferociously criticized those who spoke out against slavery!
I wish I could say the story ends there for racism under Rutherford’s watch, but it didn’t. More offensive articles would follow in the Golden Age under his presidency, including an absurd snippet reproduced below:
The above excerpt is taken from The Golden Age, July 25th 1928, page 684
Not content with stereotyping black people as an object of amusement for school children, Rutherford went on to expound Russell’s strange ideology about the origins of the black race when questioned on the subject.
The above excerpt is taken from The Golden Age, July 24th 1929, page 702
Whoever actually penned this article obviously couldn’t resist the temptation to go further than merely insinuating that the black race is the product of a curse. The writer was deluded enough to label black people “a race of servants,” and dwelled on the “joys” of slavery, even though one assumes he had never “enjoyed” captive servitude himself.
The writer goes so far as to say: “There is no servant in the world as good as a good Colored servant, and the joy that he gets from rendering faithful service is one of the purest joys there is in the world.” Again, I’m pretty sure the writer doesn’t speak from experience in sharing how joyful life is as a “good Colored servant.” What I AM sure of is that his views were extremely offensive and reflect a bigoted and demeaning view of black people in general. That such outrageous and deplorable opinions could find their way into a magazine purporting to represent spiritual food from God’s faithful “Slave Class” is beyond incomprehensible.
As the 30s dawned, the world was beset by a troubling new age of Fascism. One would like to think of Watchtower, as a Christian organization, being at the forefront of condemning fascist governments such as the one inflicted on the German people by the diabolical tyrant, Adolf Hitler. Sadly, when one investigates, one finds the reverse was true.
I do not wish to go into Rutherford’s flirtations with the Nazi Government at great length in this article, not least because excellent and comprehensive research on this is available on JWFacts.com. Instead, I will focus on the racial element of Rutherford’s overtures, particularly as found in his letter to Hitler, and his “Declaration of Facts” as published in the 1934 Yearbook.
Rutherford accused “Jewish business men” of “oppressing the people’s of many nations”
To give a brief background to the documents mentioned above, I would first need to give you an extremely concise (perhaps over-simplified) version of events leading up to their publication. If anyone can give me documentary evidence that refutes my version of these events, I would be happy to receive this information and amend my account accordingly.
From the outset of Rutherford’s presidency, he wasted no time in stamping his mark on what he perceived as false Christendom – especially Catholicism. Publications such as The Finished Mystery unleashed scathing rebukes of the Catholic Church.
These critiques weren’t quite as “death-dealing” or “apocalyptic” as the Revelation Climax book leads us to believe, but they did succeed in well and truly getting on the nerves of the Catholic hierarchy, who at the time were highly influential in the world of politics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, once sufficiently riled by Rutherford’s constant provocations, they took their anger out on the Bible Students by getting governments to ban their work wherever possible. One country that was only too ready to do this was Nazi Germany.
Rutherford was then faced with German Bible Students being rounded up and sent to concentration camps for no other reason than because the Catholic church (which he had spent years provoking) had succeeded in getting their way with Hitler and his cronies. What did Rutherford do to reverse the situation? He told Hitler that the issue was just a huge misunderstanding, and actually the Bible Students were the friends of the Nazi government and not their enemies.
The aforementioned webpage on jwfacts has the original three-page letter sent by Rutherford to Hitler in 1933, together with a translation into English (obviously the letter was prepared in German). Among other things, the letter proclaims the Watch Tower Society to be “pro-German” and blames “Jewish businessmen and Catholics” for spreading propaganda against the Society and its directors, leading to their unfair arrest. Curiously Rutherford goes so far as to insist that “the Bible Students of Germany are fighting for the very same high ethical goals and ideals which also the national government of the German Reich proclaimed.”
In addition to his letter, Rutherford journeyed to Berlin to appear before the brothers there, and presented a “Declaration of Facts” to the delegates in attendance. The Declaration, which was essentially a watered-down version of his letter to Hitler, appeared in the 1934 Yearbook. Take note of an interesting quote from the Declaration:
The above excerpt is taken from the 1934 Yearbook, page 134
I can’t help but grimace when I think of what it would have been like for the delegates in Berlin as they received these words from their leader, Rutherford. They were already in the grips of a lengthy period of persecution, thanks largely to the provocative and sensationalist writings of the man who stood before them.
Unbeknownst to them, this persecution would only get worse, and claim the lives of many of them. Now they could see for themselves that the ideology of the “Judge” and that of their Führer was not so very different. Did they agree with him? Were they embarrassed? I suppose we will never know.
I do know that if I had sat in that audience, any tenuous belief that Rutherford spoke as a representative of God’s organization on Earth would have been shattered the moment he began his brief but stinging tirade against Jewish businessmen. I can only be thankful that his disgraceful words and hateful rhetoric has long since been buried by an embarrassed Watch Tower Society, who after the war and Rutherford’s death must have looked back with total humiliation at how they could have so completely misjudged a clear conflict between good and evil, and ended up (at least initially) supporting the wrong side.
Today we hear so much in the Society’s literature of all those poor Bible Students who died at the hands of the Nazi Regime. The publications trumpet that they died by making a stand for neutrality, and ignore the inconvenient truth that the persecution arose, at least in part, through the urgings of a clergy that had been harassed to breaking point by Rutherford’s writings.
The bravery of these men and women in refusing to yield to their persecutors through albeit misguided loyalties to Rutherford’s ideology is both profoundly admirable and heart wrenching. However, having researched this chain of events from an untainted perspective, it’s clear to me now that their deaths were entirely preventable. Arguably, nobody paid a heavier price for Rutherford’s stubborn and bigoted worldview than those poor German brothers. I can only hope that a similar situation involving persecution at the hands of political powers doesn’t present itself any time soon.
The Post-Rutherford Era
After Rutherford’s death, it seems the winds of change, including the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, influenced the Society to abandon previous long-held racist views. Increasingly, blacks were accepted into higher offices within the Society. The Watchtower published no further racially offensive statements in any of its publications – except for the following, published just before the civil rights movement gained momentum in a 1952 Questions From Readers (bold is mine):
“Many colored persons practice color-prejudice against their own people. Lighter-colored Negroes will shun the darker ones. Some from the Western Hemisphere look down upon the very dark ones from Africa. In South Africa, whites discriminate against the mixed coloreds, the mixed coloreds against the native blacks, the native blacks against the Indian coolies, and in their native India the Indians discriminate against the no caste or outcasts. Who is innocent to throw the first stone? Can we not see that all classes of the human race are evil, that if we start reforming we shall be lost in an impossible task, with endless discriminations and many varieties or injustices to beat down, which crusading social and political organizations of this world have hopelessly fought for years? For us to become like them would be to fail with them, consume our time in such reforms, lose out as Jehovah’s witnesses, and please only the Devil. So let us please God by preaching the gospel despite the undesirable conditions the Devil’s world may make for us. Let us not be sidetracked by Satan and caught in a subtle snare camouflaged in lofty motives and ideals. Can we not wait upon Jehovah to avenge the wrongs we suffer now? Really, our colored brothers have great cause for rejoicing. Their race is meek and teachable, and from it comes a high percentage of the theocratic increase. What if the worldly wise and powerful and noble look down on them as foolish and weak and ignoble, not on an equality with self-exalted whites? It is to God’s ultimate honor, for he confounds the wise of this world by choosing those the world considers foolish and weak and ignoble. Let us boast in Jehovah and in our equality in his sight, rather than wanting to boast in equality in the world’s sight. “(The Watchtower, February 1st 1952, page 95)
Arguably, this article is nowhere near as offensive as the vile bigotry published under Russell and Rutherford. However, a demeaning portrait of the blacks as a race that is “meek and teachable” is still painted. A racial stereotype, no matter how complimentary, is a racial stereotype nonetheless – and no race would revel in the false insinuation that they are prone to being gullible or easily manipulated.
Like many of the excerpts reproduced above, if this quote appeared in a modern Watchtower magazine there would be understandable outcry. Obviously, Watchtower is cleverer than that! However, I’m still curious about how they suddenly found the courage to include the above quote on the Watchtower Library CD-ROM. Doubtless, they think it unlikely that regular publishers will stumble on it.
Racism – Gone But Not Forgotten
The Society makes no mention in modern publications of the dreadful racial slurs that frequented the Watchtower publications in their murky past. Random admissions to having once celebrated birthdays or used the cross are one thing, but it takes a far deeper candor to admit to being a racist organization in their early beginnings – especially when approval by Christ was at stake in those days.
To some extent I can understand their reluctance to come clean over their racist past. What I cannot fathom is the eagerness with which they have pursued other religions over their records of racial equality. Consider the following quote from a 1982 edition of Awake!, in an article entitled “The Races – What Is Their Origin?”:
“Have the churches of Christendom always treated ‘everyone on the same basis’? Consider how the Catholic and Lutheran Churches supported Hitler’s scheme to produce a ‘master race.’ And for centuries the Catholic Church taught that Negroes were a cursed race. John F. Maxwell states in his book Slavery and the Catholic Church that this view ‘apparently survived until 1873 when Pope Pius IX attached an indulgence to a prayer for the ‘wretched Ethiopians in Central Africa that almighty God may at length remove the curse of Cham [Ham] from their hearts.’ (Italics ours) And even to this day some church organizations openly practice racial discrimination.” (Awake! February 8th 1982, pp. 14-15)
One would think that the Society, with one eye on its own unsavory record, would edge away from criticizing other religions over their racial history – but not one bit. They can still summon the gall to cry foul over the Catholic church’s former view of black people as a cursed race, even though this doctrinal standpoint ceased to form part of recognized Catholic dogma long before it left the pages of the Society’s literature.
Indeed, the 1929 Golden Age printed this article on Noah’s curse a full 56 years after this Pope’s remarks on the subject were made known. And in a supreme irony, the Awake! magazine that criticized Pope Pius IX in 1982 is admitted by Watchtower as being the same journal that printed similarly offensive remarks in 1929 under the banner The Golden Age! Surely there are few more stunning examples of hypocrisy in the Society’s literature than an Awake! article that criticizes a dead Pope for making racist comments similar to those expressed in its own pages far more recently. – Luke 6:42
Pope Pius IX issued the last racially offensive expression on behalf of the Catholic church 56 years before the Society printed very similar rhetoric, but was still criticized in an Awake article on race
My purpose in compiling and writing this article is not to demonize the Watch Tower Society. After all, as I mentioned at the outset, modern Watchtower publications devote many pages to encouraging unity and equality between people of all races – as is evident when one attends Witness gatherings. I merely draw attention to the racial history of the organization because it has been deliberately suppressed to reinforce Watchtower’s claims to divine direction.
If the leadership claimed no special standing before God, and could humbly admit to (and take responsibility for) ALL of its former indiscretions, that would be one thing. Instead, when we look at the Watch Tower Society objectively, we see an organization obsessed with stamping its authority on people’s lives as God’s sole channel of communication, and insisting on perfect submission to its teachings by its followers despite being in complete denial of its own murky past.
Indeed, the Governing Body‘s tenuous claim to divine appointment is that Christ chose Rutherford and his associates to be his faithful slave in 1919 on the basis of the “spiritual food” being produced at that time. To insist on the unquestioned loyalty of worshippers towards the organization on this erroneous basis, under threat of being disfellowshipped and potentially separated from loved ones if they find out the truth, is both deplorable and immoral.
I hope that by writing this article, in furtherance of similar articles written in the recent past, I will have taken another step towards setting the record straight and educating thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses as to the true origins of their deeply held beliefs.