(Investigator 90, 2003 May)
Charles T Russell, the founder of the Watchtower Society (WTS) and of the sect called Millennial Dawn which became Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), engaged in public debates and had some success.
discouraged further public
debate on the grounds that:
1. Talent makes more impression than truth;
2. Debate arouses anger, bitterness and malice;
3. Russell's debates had been intended as "entering-wedges for the newspaper work."
(Watch Tower Reprints 1915, May 1, p. 5685)
…the "battle of the great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14.), which will end in A.D. 1915, with the complete overthrow of earth's present rulership, is already commenced. (p. 101)
But not until the great day of trouble is about closing – not until the Gentile kingdoms are ground to powder and utterly removed, no place being found for them (A.D. 1915, as shown in the preceding chapter) – not until great Babylon is utterly overthown and her influence over the world broken – will the great mass of mankind come to realize the true state of the case. (p. 140)
The harvest work will occupy forty years for its full accomplishment, ending with A.D. 1914. (p. 150)
that the present
governments must all be overturned about the close of A.D. 1915… (p.
Russell, however, probably did not want extra prestige for Rutherford because Rutherford was not Russell's choice as a potential successor.
in his Will
and Testament C
T Russell named a five-man Editorial Committee to determine the content
of The Watch Tower after his death. The Will and Testament
Rutherford from the Committee. After Russell died, however, two
members were replaced with two others one of whom was Rutherford.
Tower Reprints1916, December 1, pp. 5997, 5999)
EDITORIAL COMMITTEE 1916
|Early 1916||December 1916|
|W E Page||J F Rutherford|
|W E Van Amburgh||W E Van Amburgh|
|H C Rockwell||H C Rockwell|
|E W Brenneison||R H Hirsh|
|F H Robison||F H Robison|
The second reason, therefore, for Russell's policy of discontinuing public debate was probably to keep Rutherford in check – an aim that failed when Rutherford became the next WTS president!
Rutherford, however, would have seen public debate differently. To him – if he could represent Russell – it would be an effective way to gain extra prestige and popularity within the cult. This indeed happened in 1915, April 21-24, in Los Angeles, California.
In the 1920s
phased out public
debates. A debate with Dr B H Shadduck, an anti-Rutherford writer and
of The Sunday School Times, failed to take place because
people insisted on "impossible conditions":
One talking-point of the "witnesses" is the boast that the clergy are afraid to debate with Mr. Rutherford. The answer is two-fold.
1. Not one
500 has read the
books of Mr. Russell and not one in 5000 has contrasted the early and
2. If one who is informed accepts the challenge, they impose impossible conditions. I have repeatedly offered to debate. My last experience was with a gentleman in the mid-West. He demanded that I come to his town, bear my own expense, debate with him twice a day for twenty days, discuss the questions he proposed and no other, and be silenced by the chairman if I introduced other matters. Not one question, under this rule, would permit me to discuss doctrines peculiar to this cult. I offered to submit the matter to arbitration and this was refused.
(The Seven Thunders of Millennial Dawn, B H Shadduck, 1928, pp. 3 &31)
In the 1930s Rutherford issued challenges for debate to the Pope, which were ignored.
The next presidents of the WTS, N H Knorr and F W Franz, also banned JWs from public debating. They claimed debates settle nothing, are influenced by the speaking ability of the debater, and often get off the topic by criticising the opponent personally.
A WTS letter
to a Mike
Debate with an honest intent to find out who's right would have sorted out many false prophecies of the WTS before they were preached and so saved the time of millions of people! When the above letter speaks of "Bible-based beliefs" and "learn about God's will", it implies the unsubstantiated claim that any potential opponent in debate is wrong and nothing can be learned from him.
debate is that
informed opponents will likely bring up failed prophecies of the WTS
that would be bad publicity. People would find out what Reverend Troy
about Jehovah's Witnesses: