Friday, December 16, 2016

The Color Line Found Necessary

We are reproducing below an article from the Watch Tower, April 1, 1914, that is often misrepresented as proof that Brother Russell was a racist.
WE might have anticipated that many colored people would be deeply interested in THE PHOTO-DRAMA OF CREATION. But it did not impress itself upon us until gradually their number increased to about twenty-five per cent. of the whole audience. Of course, we were glad to see them, glad that they were interested in the DRAMA. We had the same feeling respecting them as others; but it was quickly discerned that it was not a case of feeling, but that, whereas the colored people of New York City are about five per cent. of the population, in our audiences they are about twenty-five per cent. and the number increasing. What shall we do? As the attendance of the colored people would increase, proportionately the number of the whites would decrease; for explain it how we will, a majority of whites prefer not to intermingle closely with other races.
Recognizing that it meant either the success or the failure of the enterprise of the DRAMA as respects the whites, we have been compelled to assign the colored friends to the gallery, which, however, is just as good for seeing and hearing as any other part of The Temple. Some were offended at this arrangement.
We have received numerous letters from the colored friends, some claiming that it is not right to make a difference, others indignantly and bitterly denouncing us as enemies of the colored people. Some, confident that Brother Russell had never sanctioned such a discrimination, told that they believe it would be duty to stand up for equal rights and always to help the oppressed, etc. We were obliged to explain the facts, assuring all of our loving interest in the colored people, and of our desire to do them good, and not injury. We again suggested that if a suitable place could be found in which the DRAMA could be presented for the benefit of the colored people alone, we would be glad to make such arrangements, or to co-operate with any others in doing so.
Our explanations were apparently entirely satisfactory to all of the fully consecrated. To these we explained that it is a question of putting either the interests of God's Cause first, or else the interests of the race first. We believed it our duty to put God first and the Truth first-- at any cost to others or to ourself! We explained that we thought that all the colored brethren should know our attitude toward them--they should know that we love to serve them in any way possible and to give them the very best we have to give of the Gospel Message; and that it is only a question of whether our giving to them in one way would deprive us of giving the Truth to others.
Some who were still tenacious and quarrelsome we merely reminded of our Lord's declaration that in inviting visitors into the house it is the place of the host to say where they shall sit, and then we showed them the parable of the man who chose the chief seat of honor and was given a lower one.
In answer to the query as to how our course of conduct squared with the Golden Rule, we replied that it squares exactly. We would wish others to put God first. If our personal interests are or ever have been in conflict with the real and apparently best interests of the Lord's Cause, it is a part of our consecration vow to ignore our interests in favor of the interests of the Lord's Cause. This is what we mean by the declaration that we are dead to self and alive to our God as New Creatures.
We reminded one dear sister that the Lord enjoins humility, and assures us that unless we humble ourselves we shall not be exalted. If nature favors the colored brethren and sisters in the exercise of humility it is that much to their advantage, if they are rightly exercised by it. A little while, and our humility will work out for our good. A little while, and those who shall have been faithful to their Covenant of Sacrifice will be granted new bodies, spiritual, beyond the veil, where color and sex distinctions will be no more. A little while, and the Millennial Kingdom will be inaugurated, which will bring Restitution to all mankind -- restitution to the perfection of mind and body, feature and color, to the grand original standard, which God declared "very good," and which was lost for a time through sin, but which is soon to be restored by the powerful Kingdom of Messiah.

It should be obvious from the above that Brother Russell was NOT being racist, but because racial prejudices did exist, especially amongst many of the white churchgoers of that time, it was deemed necessary to seat the black attendees separately from the whites.
As noted, Brother Russell himself was willing that all attend and sit wherever they pleased; thus, it was NOT Brother Russell who was showing racism here, but rather it was the white attendees, most of whom were members of many of the denominational churches, who were showing racism. The odd thing is that most critics of Russell condemn Russell while never mentioning these white church-going attendees who were the actual racists.
Evidently, the problem was so great that unless resolved, the showing of the Photo-Drama would be closed down. Usually, in theaters at that time, if they even allowed blacks in, the blacks were seated separately from the whites. Indeed, in many places it was the law that blacks had to be segregated from the whites. At any rate, rather than to allow the racial prejudices of the whites to shut down the showing of the Photo-Drama altogether, Brother Russell decided to adopt the general custom of seating the blacks separately from the whites.
As can be seen from what had been printed in the Watch Tower many times before this incident, it had always been Russell's policy for his Watch Tower to not get involved in the politics and social issues of the world. Indeed, contrary to what many Christians may think, the mission of the followers of Christ is not to reform the world now deceived by Satan, but rather to preach the Gospel to them, leaving the true social reform to take place in the age to come. Indeed, efforts to reform the world most often lead to joining the world under Satan's control.
The apostle Paul did NOT advocate social reform in his day, but rather admonished those under any of the oppressions of such social structure that existed to live for Christ within that already existing atmosphere. Brother Russell followed that same attitude. Those who condemn Brother Russell for doing this, if they are consistent in such, would also have condemn the apostle Paul (and there are those who do condemn Paul for his statements regarding slaves, as well as for his statements regarding women, etc.). -- Ronald R. Day, Senior


  1. "Russell adopt the general custom of seating the blacks separately from the whites" ...or he just obey law or rules from "higher authority".
    But if he would be stronger in obeying God's law more than man's law ...? Moral issue, and we are just humans and making err. "Do not trust in noble man ..."

    1. Obeying God does not mean to become involved in rebelling against the laws of the land. Paul did not rebel against the laws of the land regarding slaves. To get involved in an endeavor to correct injustices in this world would take time away from obeying the commission Jesus gave to us. We are not to be part of his world; that is God's command. We are not told to rebel in disobedience to the laws of the world, but rather to submit to them, even if they are unjust. The only exception would be in obedience to preach the good news or if we personally are commanded to do something we know God has commanded us not to do; when the good news is fulfilled in the age to come, all injustices of this age will be corrected.

      In the case of the showing of the Photo-Drama, in which is declared the glad tidings of great joy that will be for all the people, Russell was confronted with either not presenting the glad tidings of the good news or separating the blacks from whites in order to show the Photo Drama. He really had no choice if he was have the Photo Drama shown, otherwise, the only other choice would have been to cancel the showing and NOT declare the good news as given in the Photo Drama.