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The Contender
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J.D. Rutherford was a con-man.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/4/2015 Category: Religion
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 796 times Debate No: 67819
Debate Rounds (2)
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J.D. Rutherford was the founder of Jehovah's Witnesses ( not C.T. Russell) and a president of the Watchtower Bible Tract Society. I fell that he was a con-man, 1st round is acceptance only.


Accepted, though I presume you mean Joseph Franklin Rutherford.
Debate Round No. 1


First, my opponent is correct, I mean Joseph Franklin Rutherford, second, I want to establish that this is a debate on the LEGALITY and MORALITY of Mr. Rutherford's actions, not his THEOLOGY. It is not my place to say whether his religious beliefs were right or not, I do however feel that some of his actions were illegal and he was in fact a con-man:

1) Definition of a con-man: "Noun 1. con man - a swindler who exploits the confidence of his victim, con man - a swindler who exploits the confidence of his victim."

Although I will admit, Mr. Rutherford was probably more of a swindler, as I will show in a minute. I give two examples of Mr. Rutherford's illegal activities, they are: 1) Forgery, and 2) Violation of a Last Will and Testament. 3) Promoting Anti-Semitic ideologies in an organization that was dedicated to brotherly love.

1) Forgery:

After C.T. Russell's death, J.F. Rutherford presented a book called: "The Finished Mystery" that was allegedly written by C.T. Russell after his death. But according to a New York court this was a forgery: "After his death and after we were in the war they issued a seventh volume of this series, entitled "The Finished Mystery," which, under the guise of being a posthumous work of Pastor Russell...which were not written by Pastor Russell and could not have possibly been written by him...They were proved false.(1)"

As you can see Rutherford wrote a book trying to impersonate a deceased man, it does not matter what your religious beliefs are, impersonating someone is immoral and illegal.

2) Violation of a Last Will and Testament

a) In C.T Russell's last will and testament, he willed: "As the Society has already pledged to me that it will publish no other periodicals."(2) meaning the Watchtower society. But Rutherford soon began publishing another magazine titled: "The Golden Age" in Oct 1919(3) (today's "Awake") Although he published it at first under a different publishing companies name he eventually published The Golden Age under the Watchtower.(3)

b) In addition to not publishing any new periodicals, the Watchtower had to remain separate from any religion(4) in C.T. Russell's own words: We belong to no earthly organization, hence if you should name the entire list of sects, we should answer no to each and all.(4) But under Rutherford. the Watchtower became totally under the Church of Jehovah's Witnesses and exclusively became its publishing arm.(4)

As you can see C.T. Russell had wishes in his will he clearly stipulated and were clearly violated by Rutherford.

3) ) Promoting Anti-Semitic ideologies in an organization that was dedicated to brotherly love.

Before I go any further I will reiterate that this is a debate about LEGALITY and MORALITY, not THEOLOGY there is nothing per se illegal about Mr. Rutherford's anti-Semitic actions but they were clearly immoral. also I am not here to debate about Zionism but about Mr. Rutherford.

a) While he initially was sympathetic towards Zionists as this publication states: "JUDGE RUTHERFORD, known throughout the world as a friend of the Hebrew people, is vigorously supporting the claim of the Jews to the Holy Land." (5) but later he seemed to change his mind by saying: "I'm speaking of the Palestine Jew, not the hooked-nosed, stooped shouldered little individual who stands on the street corner trying to gyp you out of every nickel you've got."(5). Hypocritical, a little bit, but I am not a person to judge anyone on hypocrisy, this however re-enforces my point that he was a swindler for he portrayed himself as pro-Zionist when it was convenient but became anti-Semitic when it was also convenient, in other words he painted a false picture to his followers regarding his views on Zionism so he could remain popular among them.

b) Also, Rutherford was a fan of the Nazis:"Instead of being against the principles advocated by the government of Germany, we stand squarely for such principles, and point out that Jehovah God through Christ Jesus will bring about the full realization of these principles." (5) Before I go any further I think I need to define what's moral, morality according to or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior, based on what you think is right and good, considered right and good by most people agreeing with a standard of right behavior. I'm all for moral relativism but, it is immoral to me that a man who claims to be the head of a religion that promotes brotherly love and the sanctity of human life, to do an about-face and not only condone but praise a regime that violates both is a clear violation of any and every moral standard.


J.F. Rutherford was a swindler that violated many moral standard (including his own) for he 1) forged C.T. Russell's authorship, 2) violated a legal last will and testament by illegal publishing periodicals using C.T. Russell's society and making said society sectarian despite Mr. Russell's will expressed wishes not to. 3) hypocritical on anti-Semitism and condoning the third Reich's actions, violating most moral standards, so concludes my argument and no for CON:




(3) The Watchtower, Apr, 1 1990

(4) The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses, Heather and Gary Botting, University of Toronto Press, 1984

(5) Jehovah's Witnesses, Anti-semitism and the Third Reich: The Watch Tower Society's Attempted Compromise with Nazism By professor M. James Penton University of Lethbridge, pdf file.


Con concedes that this shall be a debate regarding the morality and legality of J.F. Rutherford's actions. It is noted that this provision should have been stated prior to initiating the debate.

1) Forgery: Con concedes that The Finished Mystery, published by Rutherford after Russel's death, was written by G.H. Fisher and C.J. Woodworth [1] but based in part on Russel's writings [2]. A fine example of pseudepigrapha but not clear-cut forgery.

2) Violation of Last Will and Testament: Con concedes that Rutherford acted contrary to Russel's last will and testament in both instances.

3) Anti-Semitism: Godwin! Rutherford's behavior may speak to fascism and hypocrisy but those aren't the issue at hand. Rutherford made no attempt to keep his opinions a secret so it's hard to see this as evidence of fraudulent behaviour. The cited remark is bereft of context or even date making it difficult to evaluate.

Con concedes that Pro has demonstrated that some of Rutherford's actions were immoral and possibly illegal. This is not the same as demonstrating that Rutherford was a "con man" or "swindler". Pro's definition is ambiguous and somewhat circular.

A more thorough definition, to which I hope Pro will not object, is found in the OED definition of confidence trick: An act of cheating or tricking someone by gaining their trust and persuading them to believe something that is not true [3]. This, and any meaningful definition of "con man" or "swindler", requires the explicit use of deceit.

Pro may have demonstrated Rutherford's immorality and illegality but has not demonstrated deceit.

A quick read of the history of the Jehova's Witnesses reveals a religion in upheaval, as is common of young religions. There has been infighting, struggles for power and formation of a wide variety of schisms from it's origins as Russel's Bible Study movement to the present day [4]. Rutherford's behavior as described by Pro is entirely in line with a religious leader faced with such difficulties.

Rutherford's character is described as " blunt and moody with an explosive temper, with a streak of self-righteousness which caused him to regard anyone who opposed him as of the Devil" [5] and "a dogmatic and insensitive person, obsessed with his own self-importance." [6] The board members that Rutherford dismissed in 1917 described him as "autocratic" [7].

Conclusion: J.F. Rutherford was head of a young religion during a time of internal unrest. His action may have been immoral and illegal but they lack the deceit necessary to deem him a swindler. His advocates and detractors, both contemporary and modern, describe a personality far too blunt, abbrasive and tempermental to have made for even a marginally effective swindler. Rutherford may have ben a horrible person but con man was not one of his many transgressions.


[1] Crompton, R (1996) Counting the Days to Armageddon: Jehovah's Witnesses and the Second Presence of Christ (pp 84-85). ISBN-13: 978-0227679395

[2] Wills, T (2006) A People for His Name: A History of Jehovah's Witnesses and an Evaluation (p 97). ISBN: 978-1430301004


[4] Beckford, JA. (1975) The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses (pp 98-100). ISBN 0631163107

[5] Penton, JM (1997) Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses (pp 47-48). ISBN 0802079733

[6] Rogerson, A (1969) Millions Now Living Will Never Die (p 35). ISBN 0-09-455940-6

[7] Pierson AN, et al. (1917) Light After Darkness (p 4)

Debate Round No. 2
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Vote Placed by Codedlogic 1 year ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Fantastic debate you guys! I learned a lot. But, while Pro showed Rutherford acted immorally and unethically, Pro failed to demonstrate Rutherford was a con man.