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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pastor Russell was NOT IMMORAL!


It will be recalled that in the 1870’s C. T. Russell disassociated himself from N. H. Barbour, publisher of The Herald of the Morning. This he did because Barbour denied the Scriptural doctrine of the ransom, which Russell staunchly upheld. Then in the early 1890’s certain prominent persons in the organization unscrupulously tried to seize control of the Watch Tower Society. The conspirators planned to explode veritable “bombs” designed to end Russell’s popularity and bring about his finish as the Society’s president. After brewing for nearly two years, the conspiracy erupted in 1894. Mainly, the grievances and false charges centered around alleged dishonesty in business on the part of C. T. Russell. Indeed, some of the charges were very petty and betrayed the accusers’ basic intention—the defamation of C. T. Russell. Impartial fellow believers investigated matters and found Russell to be in the right. Hence, the conspirators’ plan to “blow Mr. Russell and his work sky-high” was a complete failure. Like the apostle Paul, Brother Russell had experienced trouble owing to “false brothers,” but this trial was recognized as a design of Satan, and the conspirators henceforth were viewed as unfit to enjoy Christian fellowship.—2 Cor. 11:26.

This, of course, was not the end of C. T. Russell’s trials and difficulties. He was yet to be touched in a very personal way, by circumstances arising in his own household. During the trouble in 1894, Mrs. C. T. Russell (the former Maria Frances Ackley, whom Russell had married in 1879) undertook a tour from New York to Chicago, meeting with Bible Students along the way and speaking in her husband’s behalf. Being an educated, intelligent woman, she was well received when visiting the congregations at that time.

Mrs. Russell was a director of the Watch Tower Society and served as its secretary and treasurer for some years. She also was a regular contributor to the columns of Zion’s Watch Tower and for a time was an associate editor of the journal. Eventually, she sought a stronger voice in what should be published in the Watch Tower. Such ambition was comparable to that of Moses’ sister Miriam, who rose up against her brother as leader of Israel under God and tried to make herself prominent—a course that met with divine disapproval.—Num. 12:1-15.

What had contributed to this attitude on Mrs. Russell’s part? “I was not aware of it at the time,” wrote C. T. Russell in 1906, “but learned subsequently that the conspirators endeavored to sow seeds of discord in my wife’s heart by flattery, ‘woman’s rights’ arguments, etc. However, when the shock came [in 1894], in the Lord’s providence I was spared the humiliation of seeing my wife amongst those conspirators. . . . As matters began to settle down, the ‘woman’s rights’ ideas and personal ambition began again to come to the top, and I perceived that Mrs. Russell’s active campaign in my defense, and the very cordial reception given her by the dear friends at that time throughout a journey . . . had done her injury by increasing her self-appreciation. . . . Gradually she seemed to reach the conclusion that nothing was just proper for the WATCH TOWER columns except what she had written, and I was continually harassed with suggestions of alterations of my writings. I was pained to note this growing disposition so foreign to the humble mind which characterized her for the first thirteen happy years.”

Mrs. Russell became very uncooperative, and strained relations continued. But early in 1897 she became ill and her husband gave her much attention. This he gave cheerfully and he felt that his kind care would touch her heart and restore it to its former loving and tender condition. When she recovered, however, Mrs. Russell called a committee and met with her husband “specially with the object of having the brethren instruct me that she had an equal right with myself in the WATCH TOWER columns, and that I was doing her wrong in not according her the liberties she desired,” wrote C. T. Russell. As matters turned out, though, she was told by the committee that neither they nor other persons had the right to interfere with her husband’s management of the Watch Tower. Mrs. Russell said, in substance, that though unable to agree with the committee, she would try to look at matters from their standpoint. Russell further reported: “I then asked her in their presence if she would shake hands. She hesitated, but finally gave me her hand. I then said, ‘Now, will you kiss me, dear, as a token of the degree of change of mind which you have indicated?’ Again she hesitated, but finally did kiss me and otherwise manifested a renewal of affection in the presence of her Committee.”

So the Russell’s ‘kissed and made up.’ Later, at Mrs. Russell’s request, her husband arranged for a weekly meeting of “The Sisters of the Allegheny Church,” with her as its leader. This led to further trouble—the circulating of slanderous remarks about C. T. Russell. However, this difficulty also was settled.

Eventually, though, growing resentment led Mrs. Russell to sever her relationship with the Watch Tower Society and with her husband. Without notice, she separated from him in 1897, after nearly eighteen years of marriage. For almost seven years she lived separately, C. T. Russell providing a separate home for her and also making financial provision for her support. In June 1903 Mrs. Russell filed in the Court of Common Pleas at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a suit for legal separation. During April 1906 the case came up for trial before Justice Collier and a jury. Nearly two years later, on March 4, 1908, a decree was issued that was styled “In Divorce.” The language of the decree is: “It is now ordered, adjudged and decreed that Maria F. Russell, the Libellant; and Charles T. Russell, the Respondent, be separated from bed and board.” “Separated from bed and board” is the language of both the decree and the docket entries made by the clerk of the court. This was a legalized separation and there never was an absolute divorce, as some erroneously have held. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (Banks-Baldwin Law Publishing Company, 1940) defines the action as “A partial or qualified divorce, by which the parties are separated and forbidden to live or cohabit together, without affecting the marriage itself. 1 Bl. Com. 440.” (Page 314) On page 312 it says that it “may more properly be termed a legal separation.”

C. T. Russell himself fully understood that the court did not grant an absolute divorce, but that this was a legalized separation. At Dublin, during a 1911 tour of Ireland, he was asked: “Is it true that you are divorced from your wife?” Of his answer, Russell wrote: “‘I am not divorced from my wife. The decree of the court was not divorce, but separation, granted by a sympathetic jury, which declared that we would both be happier separated. My wife’s charge was cruelty, but the only cruelty put in evidence was my refusal on one occasion to give her a kiss when she had requested it.’ I assured my audience that I disputed the charge of cruelty and believed that no woman was ever better treated by a husband. The applause showed that the audience believed my statements.”

What took place at C. T. Russell’s funeral at Pittsburgh in 1916 also is significant along these lines. Anna K. Gardner, whose recollections are similar to those of others present, tells us this: “An incident occurred just before the services at Carnegie Hall that refuted lies told in the paper about Brother Russell. The hall was filled long before the time for the services to begin and it was very quiet, and then a veiled figure was seen to walk up the aisle to the casket and to lay something on it. Up front one could see what it was—a bunch of lilies of the valley, Brother Russell’s favorite flower. There was a ribbon attached, saying, ‘To My Beloved Husband.’ It was Mrs. Russell. They had never been divorced and this was a public acknowledgment.”

One can but imagine the heartache and emotional strain C. T. Russell’s domestic trials brought upon him. In an undated handwritten letter to Mrs. Russell at one point in their marital difficulties, he wrote: “By the time this reaches you it will be just one week since you deserted the one whom before God and man you promised to love and obey and serve, ‘for better or for worse, until death do you part.’ Surely it is true that ‘experience is a wonderful teacher.’ Only it could have persuaded me thus of you, of whom I can truly say that at one time there could not have been a more loving and devoted helpmate. Had you been other than that I am confident that the Lord would not have given you to me. He doeth all things well. I still thank him for his providence toward me in that respect, and look back with sensations of pleasure to the time when you kissed me at least thirty times a day, and repeatedly told me that you did not see how you could live without me; and that you feared that I would die first . . . And I reflect that some of these evidences of love were given me only a year and a half ago, though for a year previous your love had been less fervent—because of jealousy and surmisings, notwithstanding my assurances of the ardor of my love for you, repeated a hundred times, and still asseverated.”

Russell did feel that the great Adversary then had a “very firm hold” on his wife. He said, “I have prayed earnestly to the Lord on your behalf,” and he also sought to aid her. Among other things, he wrote: “I will not burden you with accounts of my sorrow, nor attempt to work upon your sympathies by delineating my emotions, as I from time to time run across your dresses and other articles which bring vividly before my mind your former self—so full of love and sympathy and helpfulness—the spirit of Christ. My heart cries out, ‘Oh that I had buried her, or that she had buried me, in that happy time.’ But evidently the trials and testings were not sufficiently advanced. . . . Oh, do consider prayerfully what I am about to say. And be assured that the keen edge of my sorrow, its poignancy, is not my own loneliness for the remainder of life’s journey, but your fall, my dear, your everlasting loss, so far as I can see.”


As though the strain of Russell’s marital difficulties was not enough, his foes stooped to making scurrilous charges against him to the effect that he was immoral. These deliberate falsehoods centered around a so-called “jellyfish” story. During the trial in April 1906, Mrs. Russell testified that a certain Miss Ball told her that C. T. Russell had once said: “I am like a jellyfish. I float around here and there. I touch this one and that one, and if she responds I take her to me, and if not I float on to others.” On the witness stand C. T. Russell emphatically denied the “jellyfish” story, and all this matter was stricken from the court record, the judge saying in his charge to the jury: “This little incident about this girl that was in the family, that is beyond the ground of the libel and has nothing to do with the case.”

The girl in question came to the Russells in 1888 as an orphan about ten years old. They treated her as their own child and she kissed both Mr. and Mrs. Russell good night each evening when retiring. (Court Record, pages 90 and 91) Mrs. Russell testified that the alleged incident occurred in 1894, when this girl could not have been more than fifteen years old. (Court Record, page 15) After that Mrs. Russell lived with her husband for three years and was separated from him for about seven years more before filing suit for separation. In her bill for separation no reference was made to this matter. Though Miss Ball was then living and Mrs. Russell knew where, she made no attempt to procure her as a witness and presented no statement from her. C. T. Russell himself could not have had Miss Ball present to testify because he had no notice or intimation that his wife would bring such a matter into the case. Furthermore, three years after the alleged incident, when Mrs. Russell had called together a committee before whom she and her husband discussed certain differences, the “jellyfish” story was never even intimated. In the suit for separate maintenance, Mrs. Russell’s attorney had said: “We make no charge of adultery.” And that Mrs. Russell actually never believed her husband was guilty of immoral conduct was shown by the record (page 10). Her own counsel asked Mrs. Russell: “You don’t mean that your husband was guilty of adultery?” She answered: “No.”

Throughout the trialsome period of Charles Taze Russell’s domestic difficulties and the related hardships, Jehovah sustained him by means of the holy spirit. God continued to use Russell during those years, not only to write material for Zion’s Watch Tower, but to discharge other weighty duties and to pen three volumes of Millennial Dawn (or Studies in the Scriptures). How encouraging this is to Christians today as they go on doing the divine will though beset by various trials! Especially heartening to Jesus’ faithful anointed followers are these words of James: “Happy is the man that keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.”—Jas. 1:12

- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS

Russell having spent the years 1877 and 1878 largely in preaching afield, zealously going from city to city, and also by this time having closed out most of his previously successful business interests, which had netted him more than a quarter of a million dollars, it became necessary, in 1879, for him permanently to locate in Pittsburgh. Furthermore, in that year he was married to Maria Frances Ackley, who had become a colaborer and a contributor of articles to the Watch Tower magazine. They came to have no children. Nearly eighteen years later, in 1897, due to Watch Tower Society members’ objecting to a woman’s teaching and being a member of the board of directors contrary to 1 Timothy 2:12, Russell and his wife disagreed about the management of the journal, Zion’s Watch Tower. Thereupon she voluntarily separated herself from him after they had arranged a financial settlement to enable her to live apart from the Society’s headquarters. This agreed separation, however, had absolutely nothing to do with a much later divorce proceeding (1906), charging “adultery,” as clerical enemies of Russell slanderously tried and still try to maintain. The court records plainly fix the lie to all those who falsely accused and even now accuse Russell as having been an immoral man, divorced for adultery.

See: A Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens, by J. F. Rutherford, pp. 16-18.

“That Mrs. Russell herself did not believe and never has believed that her husband was guilty of immoral conduct is shown by the [court] record in this case where her own counsel (on page 10) asked Mrs. Russell this question: ‘You don’t mean that your husband was guilty of adultery?’ Ans. ‘No.’” Ibid., p. 19. Also W July 15, 1906, pp. 211-227. - 1955 Watchtower, WTB&TS


Russell was married in 1879. For the first thirteen years of their married life he and Mrs. Russell lived happily together. They were both engaged in religious work, and had been even before their marriage. A semi-monthly religious journal, THE WATCH TOWER, was published, of which Pastor Russell was and still is the editor. She became dissatisfied with his manner of conducting this journal and attempted to dictate the policy thereof. Being the head of the house, Pastor Russell would not submit to his wife’s dictating the manner of conducting his business affairs. Without notice, she voluntarily separated herself from him in 1897, nearly eighteen years after their marriage. For nearly seven years she lived separate and apart from him, he furnishing her a separate home.

In June, 1903, she filed in the Court of Common Pleas at Pittsburgh a suit for legal separation. They had been actually separated for nearly seven years. In April, 1906, the cause came on for trial before Justice Collier and a jury.

It has been remarked by a number of lawyers who have read the record in this case that "no court has ever before granted a separation upon so slight testimony as appears in this case." The record discloses nothing except a misunderstanding between husband and wife, and which at one time was adjusted, by mutual consent. The issue being submitted to the jury they evidently concluded that, being already actually separated for a period of seven years, a legal separation might as well take place.

There never has been an absolute divorce of either of the parties.


Upon the trial of this cause Mrs. Russell testified that one Miss Ball had stated to her that her husband said, "I am like a jelly-fish, I float around here and there. I touch this one and that one, and if she responds I take her to me, and if not I float on to others."

All this matter the Court struck from the record and would not permit it to go to the jury. In his charge to the jury the Judge said: "This little incident about this girl that was in the family, that is beyond the ground of the libel and has nothing to do with the case because not being put in it, and it was condoned or allowed to pass."

It is manifest that this "jelly-fish" story was entirely the product of Mrs. Russell’s imagination, and other facts which appear in the record conclusively show that it could not have been true. Pastor Russell emphatically denied that any such thing ever occurred. It would seem unreasonable that any man would make such a statement about himself.

But the most conclusive facts disclosed by the record showing her statement to be untrue are these: Miss Ball came to them in 1889, a child of ten, and was taken into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Russell. She was treated as a member of the family. She was an orphan. She kissed both Mr. and Mrs. Russell good night each evening when she retired. They treated her as their own child. (Court Record, pages 90, 91.) Mrs. Russell testified that the "jelly-fish" incident transpired in 1894, when the girl could not have been more than fifteen years of age. (Page 1.5, Record.)

Mrs. Russell lived with her husband for three years thereafter and was separated from him seven years longer before suit was filed, or ten years after the alleged incident before she filed her suit for separation. In her complaint, or bill for separation, no reference whatever is made to the Ball or jelly-fish incident. Her husband had no notice that she intended to make such a charge, and when upon the trial it was intimated by her counsel that he expected to prove such, counsel for Pastor Russell asked for a continuance of the case, which the Court denied. Miss Ball was then living and Mrs. Russell knew where she was and could have procured her as a witness, or have had her deposition, in court. No attempt was made to procure her attendance or her deposition.

Pastor Russell could not have had her there to testify because he had no notice or intimation that his wife would attempt to bring such into the case. It is but reasonable to conclude that this jelly-fish story was manufactured for the occasion. Truly it is a great fish-story!


Another point that conclusively shows that the "jelly-fish story," or Miss Ball incident, was manufactured and untrue is this fact: Three years after the alleged incident Mrs. Russell herself selected and called together a committee of three before whom she and her husband met to discuss their differences and tried to arrange them.

Two members of that committee testified at the trial that all the differences of Mr. and Mrs. Russell were discussed and that their trouble grew out of the management of the paper, or journal. The committee decided against Mrs. Russell’s contention, and, in their language, the two "kissed and made up."

The Miss Ball or jelly-fish incident was not even intimated to this committee. (Court Record, pages 79, 113-116.)


At the trial of this case Mrs. Russell’s counsel made mention that Mr. Russell was in a room with Emily Matthews, a member of the household, and the door was locked. To this Pastor Russell at the time made answer under oath (page 97, Record of Testimony), as follows:

"I said (to Mrs. Russell), ‘Dear, you understood all about that. You know that was the room in which the slops were emptied and the water was carried, and that was the morning that Emily Matthews was sick, and you told me of it and asked me to go up and see her, and when they were running out and in with water pails I turned the key for half a minute until I would have a chance to hear quietly what she had to say, and there wasn’t the slightest impropriety in anything that was done. I would just as soon that everybody in this room would be present.’"

Mrs. Russell did not deny this statement in her testimony, and therefore, being undisputed, it must be taken as the true and correct explanation. It shows not the slightest impropriety on his part.

That Mrs. Russell herself did not believe and never has believed that her husband was guilty of immoral conduct is shown by the record in this case where her own counsel (on page 10) asked Mrs. Russell this question: "You don’t mean that your husband was guilty of adultery?" Ans. "No."

It is seen that the court properly took away from the jury the consideration of the "jelly-fish" incident to which she testified. These are the facts which Pastor Russell’s enemies distort, and upon which they charge him with immoral conduct.

There was no testimony produced upon the trial of this case that had any tendency to show that Pastor Russell had been morally derelict in the slightest. No witness testified against his moral character, and no witness in any court has ever yet uttered a word of testimony tending to show anything against his morality.

- A Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens, by J. F. Rutherford


Resorting to Ridicule and Slander

In their desperate efforts to kill the influence of C. T. Russell and his associates, the clergy belittled the claim that he was a Christian minister. For similar reasons, the Jewish religious leaders in the first century treated the apostles Peter and John as “men unlettered and ordinary.”—Acts 4:13.

Brother Russell had not graduated from one of Christendom’s theological schools. But he boldly said: “We challenge [the clergy] to prove that they ever had a Divine ordination or that they ever think of it. They merely think of a sectarian ordination, or authorization, each from his own sect or party. . . . God’s ordination, or authorization, of any man to preach is by the impartation of the Holy Spirit to him. Whoever has received the Holy Spirit has received the power and authority to teach and to preach in the name of God. Whoever has not received the Holy Spirit has no Divine authority or sanction to his preaching.”—Isa. 61:1, 2.

In order to impugn his reputation, some of the clergy preached and published gross falsehoods about him. One that they frequently employed—and still do—involves the marital situation of Brother Russell. The impression that they have sought to convey is that Russell was immoral.

What are the facts?

In 1879, Charles Taze Russell married Maria Frances Ackley. They had a good relationship for 13 years. Then flattery of Maria and appeals to pride on her part by others began to undermine that relationship; but when their objective became clear, she seemed to regain her balance. After a former associate had spread falsehoods about Brother Russell, she even asked her husband’s permission to visit a number of congregations to answer the charges, since it had been alleged that he mistreated her. However, the fine reception she was given on that trip in 1894 evidently contributed to a gradual change in her opinion of herself. She sought to secure for herself a stronger voice in directing what would appear in the Watch Tower. When she realized that nothing that she wrote would be published unless her husband, the editor of the magazine, agreed with its contents (on the basis of its consistency with the Scriptures), she became greatly disturbed. He put forth earnest effort to help her, but in November 1897 she left him. Nevertheless, he provided her with a place to live and means of maintenance. Years later, after court proceedings that had been initiated by her in 1903, she was awarded, in 1908, a judgment, not of absolute divorce, but of divorce from bed and board, with alimony.

Having failed to force her husband to acquiesce to her demands, she put forth great effort after she left him to bring his name into disrepute. In 1903 she published a tract filled, not with Scriptural truths, but with gross misrepresentations of Brother Russell. She sought to enlist ministers of various denominations to distribute them where the Bible Students were holding special meetings. To their credit not many at that time were willing to be used in that way. However, other clergymen since then have shown a different spirit.

Earlier, Maria Russell had condemned, verbally and in writing, those who charged Brother Russell with the sort of misconduct that she herself now alleged. Using certain unsubstantiated statements made during court proceedings in 1906 (and which statements were struck from the record by order of the court), some religious opposers of Brother Russell have published charges designed to make it appear that he was an immoral man and hence unfit to be a minister of God. However, the court record is clear that such charges are false. Her own lawyer asked Mrs. Russell whether she believed her husband was guilty of adultery. She answered: “No.” It is also noteworthy that when a committee of Christian elders listened to Mrs. Russell’s charges against her husband in 1897, she made no mention of the things that she later stated in court in order to persuade the jury that a divorce should be granted, though these alleged incidents occurred prior to that meeting.

Nine years after Mrs. Russell first brought the case to court, Judge James Macfarlane wrote a letter of reply to a man who was seeking a copy of the court record so that one of his associates could expose Russell. The judge frankly told him that what he wanted would be a waste of time and money. His letter stated: “The ground for her application and of the decree entered upon the verdict of the jury was ‘indignities’ and not adultery and the testimony, as I understand, does not show that Russell was living ‘an adulterous life with a co-respondent.’ In fact there was no co-respondent.”

Maria Russell’s own belated acknowledgment came at the time of Brother Russell’s funeral at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh in 1916. Wearing a veil, she walked down the aisle to the casket and laid there a bunch of lilies of the valley. Attached to them was a ribbon bearing the words, “To My Beloved Husband.”

It is evident that the clergy have used the same sort of tactics that were employed by their first-century counterparts. Back then, they endeavored to kill Jesus’ reputation by charging that he ate with sinners and that he himself was a sinner and a blasphemer. (Matt. 9:11; John 9:16-24; 10:33-37) Such charges did not change the truth about Jesus, but they did expose those who resorted to such slander—and they expose those who resort to like tactics today—as having as their spiritual father the Devil, which name means “Slanderer.”—John 8:44.

- Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, 1993, WTB&TS

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