Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Compare Jesus" Part IV- Jesus Outshine C.T. Russell and Conclusion

Charles Taze (C.T.) Russell, founder of the Jehovah Witnesses had an unusual marital agreement with his wife, Maria Frances Ackley (1850-1938). C.T. and Maria entered into a marriage of celibacy for the sake of partnering in their ministry. But Ackley eventually distanced herself from her husband, not only because he failed to equally share the financial goodies from their ministry together, but also because of Russell’s marital infidelity and emotional abuse.

In their divorce proceedings Maria accused C.T. of a sexual relationship with their foster child, Rose Ball, a teenager at the time who worked as Russell’s correspondence secretary.* According to Maria’s testimony under oath, Russell had repeatedly molested Rose in 1894, calling her his “little wife.” Maria told the jury that when she questioned Rose about this, Rose told her that she protested, “I am not your wife,” to which C.T. replied, “I will call you daughter, and a daughter has nearly all the privileges of a wife.”**

It is interesting that C.T. Russell’s own testimony found Maria to be “a woman of high intellectual qualities and perfect moral character.” Perhaps this is why the courts granted Maria alimony. The courts judged Russell’s behavior towards Maria as “insulting”, “domineering” and improper, so much as to make her life intolerable. During their marriage Russell had given Maria the silent treatment for months at a time, refusing to speak to her except in letters. Russell had isolated Maria from society and eventually tried to pronounce her insane and put her away.

Russell did not pay the court ordered alimony, instead he hastened to transfer his wealth to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The court ruled that these transfers of monies violated his agreement with Maria, they were “against his wife.”*** Friends covered his bills while he fled to another state. He fought this alimony case appealing twice over the course of five years, eventually losing. In the end his alimony was increased, which seems to confirm, at least if you take the court's view, that Maria was entitled to part of his wealth.

It’s unpleasant to dig up private scenes from Russell’s home life. But even in the most private moments from Jesus' life we cannot find any behavior toward women that smacks of false accusations, stone-walling, silent treatment or even appropriate management of funds. Even if we assume that Maria was lying under oath, we still have to face Russell’s failed marriage. Though Jesus was not married, think of how Jesus was able to engage with women as different as the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery (John 4 and 8)? Think on the ways Jesus allows women to correct him in Scripture (for a good example see Mark 7:27-29).

If you were given the choice of one of these religious founders, Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, C.T. Russell or Jesus to accompany a woman you cared about, say your mother, your sister, or your wife, which would you choose?

Perhaps the most refreshing difference to me is that Jesus had multiple opportunities to take advantage of women. Women longed to touch him, to anoint him, to spread their perfume on his feet and support him with their money. It would take quite a man to withstand their advances. In ancient times a man’s weakness for females was winked at as one of the particular rights of spiritual, powerful, wealthy men. As the comprehensive historian of ancient history, Edward Gibbon, writes, "Perfumes and women were the two sensual enjoyments which Muhammad's nature required, and his religion did not forbid."****

But throughout his friendships with women, Jesus doesn't overindulge in romantic rendezvous, nor does he swing toward the other extreme. Jesus did not insulate himself from women as if we were wicked distractions. On his long road to the cross Jesus refuses to take a female lover to comfort him, but he still allows women to be near him (Mary and Martha in Bethany for instance). Instead of lewdness or asceticism the Gospels show Jesus guiding women along the road to truth, life, beauty, goodness. To Martha he says, “I am the resurrection and the life . . . do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). To Mary he permits her to stay with him and learn the teachings along with the disciples (Luke 10:38-42). To Mary Magdalene he gives the command to preach the good news, “Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' “(John 20:17). To the woman who anoints his feet he commends, “Your sins are forgiven . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:37).

Jesus trusted women, treating us as if we were made in God’s image. When Jesus reminds the Jewish religious experts, “Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,’” (Matt 19:4), he’s quoting from the Creation account in Genesis, “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).

Of all religious founders Jesus is the only one who puts women on equal standing with men, both in his teachings and in his example. For that reason, among others, I follow his path.

* Rev. J.J. Ross, a contemporary of C.T. Russell and Pastor of the James Street Baptist Church, “Some Facts and More Facts” (1913), 25-31. Also see The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

** Ibid, 29-30.

*** Ibid, 15-16, 23.

**** The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 50, (1776)



Jodi said...

It is so humbling to read this passage and realize how important these deep truths are. I know that Jesus upholds women, but it is wonderful and refreshing to be reminded of how great our heritage is and how valued we are to God. Thank you!

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Thanks, Jodi! I'm glad you found the series helpful and valuable.