Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 16—Publishing Under a New Name, Theocratically
UPON Judge Rutherford’s return from Britain to New York city on October 2, 1938, he delivered a timely stinging lecture before an audience of 7,000 on the subject “Fascism or Freedom.” This soon appeared in booklet form and was circulated by the millions to alert the people as to Fascism’s imminent blood bath of war. The following summer, June 23-25, 1939, another multicity convention was successfully held, New York city’s Madison Square Garden being the key center. Twenty-eight conventions all together—several in Australia, ten in Britain including London, one in Honolulu and several in the United States—formed the international audience of 75,000 persons to hear the convention’s climactic public talk “Government and Peace” delivered by the Watch Tower Society’s president. About halfway through this forceful lecture a riot, plotted by Vatican-inspired “Father” Coughlin’s “Christian Front” WMCA (radio station) picket marchers, broke out at the New York key assembly. It required the Garden ushers (all of them Jehovah’s witnesses) about fifteen minutes to quell the mob by overpowering and removing from the Garden the 500 Fascist disturbers.
The disturbance began by booing, hissing and yelling “Heil Hitler” and “Viva Franco,” etc. At the same instant, by wire and wireless communication, thousands in many other places of earth heard the actual riot taking place. Applause after applause by the Garden audience gave the speaker, Rutherford, lusty support as he masterfully continued to speak over the microphone to outride the storm.* Nothing came of the charges that the Society legally pressed against the ringleaders of this Catholic mob. However, in the fall of 1939 the three-judge Special Sessions Court of the City of New York (composed of two Roman Catholics and a Jew) not only exonerated three of the ushers (Jehovah’s witnesses) but commended them for reasonably exercising necessary firmness against the mobsters when the city police wholly failed to do their duty to preserve order when the vast public assembly in the Garden was suddenly threatened with disruption. Those three ushers had been falsely arrested, accused and prosecuted on complaint of several of the Catholic mobsters whom the ushers forcibly removed from the Garden.*
Another incident of note: At London, England, on Saturday, June 24, 1939, the I. R. A. (Irish Republican Army, a Catholic terrorist movement that had been carrying out a campaign of bombing throughout Britain for the previous several months) telephoned an “official” threat to the Society’s London office, warning that they would take violent action if the London-Belfast circuit of Rutherford’s overseas lecture for June 25 (from New York’s Madison Square Garden) were not canceled. Scotland Yard police were immediately informed, and they surrounded the Society’s assembly halls for protection. One bomb was exploded near Kingsway Hall, the Saturday convention center in London, but not one of the witnesses was harmed although several pedestrians were killed.* On both sides of the Atlantic Catholic elements resorted to violence to frighten the witnesses away from their freedom of worship.
During this strenuous period of prodigious activity from 1929 to 1939 were there any significant organizational developments? Yes, there were. At the Columbus (Ohio) convention in 1931 (July 24-30) some 15,000 attended, to adopt the resolution embracing the new name, JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES*—truly a meaningful name based on the words of Jehovah himself recorded by Isaiah (43:10-12, AS). With what joyous acceptance this new name was received world-wide! In weeks that followed, at fifty extension conventions in all parts of the earth Jehovah’s people met to embrace joyfully this remarkable new name. How distinctive it is! With it comes great responsibility. Surely the name has come to be recognized earth-wide since 1931. All this testifies that it aptly fits the ones who are blessed in bearing it. They are zealously advocating the name JEHOVAH, restoring it to the topmost position it deserves in universal affairs, for is not Jehovah the glorious Sovereign of his entire universe?—Ps. 83:18; Acts 3:19-23; 4:24-30; 1 Cor. 15:28; Rev. 11:15; Dan. 7:13, 14; Isa. 9:6, 7.
The above “new name” resolution and the text of Rutherford’s convention address were published in the booklet The Kingdom the Hope of the World, soon thereafter printed in many languages. During the following October a campaign was conducted for delivering personally to all the rulers a copy of this booklet. In the United States and Canada alone 132,066 were served with the booklet, of which 88,009 were clergymen, 19,103 politicians, 22,869 financiers and 2,085 military leaders.* In ensuing months this booklet reached the homes of five million others in all parts of the earth.* The new name had come to stay.
In an earlier part of this history we saw how finally, in 1938, after a twenty-year gradual process, congregational government came to be wholly conformed to the theocratic pattern preserved in the Scriptures, whereby the Society made direct appointments of all servants. This made possible the next step toward theocratic integration or gathering together into a more solid, unified society. It had been learned from the experiences of divisional campaigns (operated from 1933 to 1935), where congregations in a given area banded together in open field witnessing to withstand persecution and opposition, that unusual unity and strength thus were manifested and deepened. So in October, 1938, the next step in theocratic organization of the inhabitants of “Beulah” land occurred with commencement of the zone service. About twenty congregations in a particular area were formed together as a “zone.” The Society appointed a “zone servant” to spend one week with each congregation, to organize it better and aid it in its field witnessing activity. Frequently a “zone assembly” would be held, the twenty or more participating congregations getting together for mutual contact and upbuilding. Special servants were sent from the Society’s headquarters to serve at these assemblies. A new set of organization instructions was issued, becoming effective among all of Jehovah’s people October 1, 1938.*
This new arrangement proved to be a great forward movement drawing the national and international organization into a complete whole. Almost immediately a further increase in publishers as well as general field activity was manifest. In 1942, under a rearrangement, the visiting representative sent by the Society came to be called the “servant to the brethren.”* After October 15, 1946, what formerly had been called a zone became known as a “circuit,” assembling twice a year in local convention.* Later, in 1948, several circuits were formed into a larger unit known as a “district,” which also met in major assembly about once a year.* The one in charge of a district became known as the “district servant” and the new name for the “servant to the brethren” came to be “circuit servant.”
Among other developments to note was that resulting from the visit of the Society’s president to the Hawaiian Islands in 1935. Then a branch office was established in Honolulu and arrangements were made for construction of an assembly hall in connection with the new branch building there being erected.* At the dedication this hall was appropriately designated “Kingdom Hall,” thus commencing the practice of Jehovah’s witnesses the world over of calling their congregational meeting centers Kingdom Halls. In the fall of 1937 what had formerly been known as the “London Tabernacle” was now redecorated and renamed “Kingdom Hall.”*
Consolation appeared in its first issue on October 6, 1937, this being the new name for The Golden Age, the Society’s magazine (now Awake!), which since October, 1919, had been regularly circulated every other week.*
Australia became favored in the spring of 1938 with its first visit of a president of the Society. Jehovah’s witnesses there received Judge Rutherford with great enthusiasm. There in Sydney’s Sports Ground 25,000 eagerly listened to Rutherford’s famous lecture “Warning.” This climaxed the Sydney convention, to which witnesses had come from every part of the South Pacific—Malaya, Java, French Indochina, Shanghai, New Zealand and all states of the Commonwealth of Australia.*
Magazine distribution on street corners, offering The Watchtower and Consolation, was inaugurated by the Society in February, 1940.* Specially designed magazine bags, each hanging from the shoulder of one of Jehovah’s witnesses—young or old—quickly became a weekly sight among passers-by in village, town and city as the early days of this effective publicity work sped by. Since 1940 hundreds of millions, in nearly every land of earth, have viewed these witnesses standing weekly on the street corners, heralding their arresting announcement of the theocratic government. This work, too, has become a potent force in God’s judging of the minds of men, and in having men as well as women and many children become trained for a large share in even more effective magazine work of today and tomorrow.—Matt. 25:31-46; Prov. 1:20-23, AS; RS.
To round out the picture as to the gigantic distribution performed in this period, the accompanying table will aid every thoughtful reader to understand through comparison: In four successive periods (shown in the table) the preparatory and final work of “announcing Jehovah’s kingdom” became progressively world-wide during the 65-year epoch embraced in the table.
“ANNOUNCING JEHOVAH’S KINGDOM”
Four periods of Books and booklets Highest number of
sixty-five-year distributed (not active world-wide
epoch including magazines associates
or millions of free
Truly Jehovah’s witnesses as irresistible “locusts” were ‘diligent in the business’ of their Father and His unconquerable King during the decade ending in 1939. (Prov. 22:29; Luke 2:49) Much happened to them organizationally; and at the same time their unending resistance of apostate opposers prominently brought them forth onto the world stage as champions of freedom of speech and of worship. From a nontheocratic source its concluding commendatory words are here included:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have literally covered the earth with their witnessing . . . No modern Christians make a more constant use of scripture, or memorize it in greater quantities than the Witnesses. To argue successfully with them on scriptural grounds, one must know his scriptures better than most members of even the fundamentalist churches do today. . . . Against any sort of opposition they press ahead. They fight by every legal means for their civil rights, the right of public assembly—sometimes denied them—the right to distribute their literature, the right of conscience to put God above every other loyalty. They have performed a signal service to democracy by their fight to preserve their civil rights, for in their struggle they have done much to secure those rights for every minority group in America. When the civil rights of any one group are invaded, the rights of no other group are safe. They have therefore made a definite contribution to the preservation of some of the most precious things in our democracy.”*
(To be continued)
1940 Yearbook, pp. 42-44; Kingdom News, July, 1939.
Consolation, Nov. 29, 1939, pp. 20-24.
1940 Yearbook, p. 81.
1932 Yearbook, pp. 20-24.
Bulletin, Jan. 1, 1932.
1932 Yearbook, p. 36.
Informant, September, 1938.
1942 Organization Instructions, p. 23.
Informant, October, 1946; February, 1948.
Informant, April, 1948; August, 1948.
1936 Yearbook, pp. 144-146.
Consolation, April 6, 1938, p. 26.
Consolation, Oct. 6, 1937, p. 3.
1939 Yearbook, pp. 103-105.
Informant, January, 1940.
These Also Believe, by C. S. Braden (1950), pp. 370, 380, 382.
Harvest Siftings, pp. 97, 114; Watch Tower, 1892, p. 10, W 1893, p. 380.
W 1892, p. 114.
1936 Yearbook, p. 66; W 1893, p. 380.
W 1917, p. 157.
1932 Yearbook, p. 36.
1950 Yearbook, p. 24 (average number of publishers for 1928).
1940 Yearbook, p. 38.
Average number of publishers, to compare with Informant, February, 1940.