So the draft dodger and the runaway met up in Detroit. Because Wladyslava was still married to that old man in Poland, she couldn’t officially marry Konstanty. So they had a common-law marriage. Today we’d call it “shacking up.”
Their first child was Henry Leonard born in 1913. Now my grandparents were only nominal Catholics at the time. Being Polish meant by definition that you were Roman Catholic. And they weren’t even legally married, of course, and certainly not married in the Church’s eyes. So my Uncle Hank was not baptized either.
And when my Uncle Hank was only five, he died in the Flu Epidemic of 1918. I know my grandparents were devastated. Their son, their hope for a good life in the New World, was gone. And I have to imagine that they blamed themselves for the tragedy. My heart still aches when I think about all that — especially how my Grandma must have felt.
They needed hope. They needed to know that they’d see my Uncle Hank again. So they left the Roman Catholic Church officially and became “Bible Students” of Charles Taze Russell because that sect offered hope of the resurrection that the Roman Catholic Church didn’t.
Russell’s ideas eventually developed into what Joseph “Judge” Rutherford, his successor, would call “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Russell is not orthodox. At all. He didn’t believe in Hell, the Trinity, or Christ’s deity. His ideas came out of Adventism and Christadelphianism. He thought World War I was the beginning of Armageddon. He was one of the first “Christian Zionists.” He supposedly predicted global warming.
If you google “Bible Students” and Russell, you find a significant proportion of his followers still in Eastern Europe most likely due to the Layman’s Home Missionary Movement. My dad remembers singing out of a Polish Russellite hymnal, probably “Songs to Jehovah’s Praise.”
Studying Russell’s ideas have been humbling to me. So much of it sounds . . . familiar. Look at his chart concerning the “times” of human history:
::ahem:: Boy — does that look familiar? I’ve grown up on a chart like that. R. Laurence Moore describes JWs’ evangelism as not so much trying to be effective but to be self-gratifying. They go door-to-door not to win souls but to tick off enough people proving to themselves how right they are. They are separatists through and through. They read the Bible poorly but avidly. They refuse to pledge allegiance, celebrate birthdays or Christmas, take blood transfusions, or join the military.
And like dispensationalists, Russellites were trying to control history. In the anxiety of World War I, they felt like history was spinning out of their reach. Knowing the future (via a set of cryptic charts and obscure metaphors) and that they ended up the “winners” was comforting.
When Mom had her valve replacement and triple bypass last Spring and Dad stayed with us during her recovery, he and I talked about all this. How familiar it all sounded. Dad said flat-out, however, despite Russell’s ideas, that his mom, “confessed the Lord Jesus as her Savior.”
I hope I see her in Heaven. If God alone saves, then I believe it’s possible. But it’s striking to me how much bad religion can get in the way of someone seeing Christ. God can still use us, I know. He can still speak and move in spite of us.