Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Marriage of Charles Taze and Maria Russell

Although the info in today's text discussion focuses on the benefits to a relationship when both marriage mates apply Bible principles, I wanted to include an example that shows how it can be done even when only one mate is willing to do so, while the other one is uncooperative or doesn't value spiritual advice.
Probably one of the most noteworthy examples (which received alot of publicity at the time, and rumors & accusations are still in circulation today), is the marriage of Charles Taze Russell (the first president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) and his wife Maria. Brother Russell dealt with alot of negative press and slander by his opposers, regarding his reputation, as well as alot of grief from his own wife, Maria. Yet throughout their relationship, he continued to apply Bible principles to try and make the marriage work despite all the trouble and heartache she gave him. She wasn't just his wife, but in the early years she was also his writing partner and confidant, so he suffered a double blow from her when she turned against him. You can see the evidence of that from a love letter he wrote to her (at the bottom of the post)

(photo of Charles and Maria Russell, the following info & photo is on pgs 645-646 of the JW Proclaimers book)

In 1879, Charles Taze Russell married Maria Frances Ackley. They had a good relationship for 13 years. Then flattery of Maria and appeals to pride on her part by others began to undermine that relationship; but when their objective became clear, she seemed to regain her balance. After a former associate had spread falsehoods about Brother Russell, she even asked her husband’s permission to visit a number of congregations to answer the charges, since it had been alleged that he mistreated her. However, the fine reception she was given on that trip in 1894 evidently contributed to a gradual change in her opinion of herself. She sought to secure for herself a stronger voice in directing what would appear in the Watch Tower. When she realized that nothing that she wrote would be published unless her husband, the editor of the magazine, agreed with its contents (on the basis of its consistency with the Scriptures), she became greatly disturbed. He put forth earnest effort to help her, but in November 1897 she left him.

Nevertheless, he provided her with a place to live and means of maintenance. Years later, after court proceedings that had been initiated by her in 1903, she was awarded, in 1908, a judgment, not of absolute divorce, but of divorce from bed and board, with alimony.
Having failed to force her husband to acquiesce to her demands, she put forth great effort after she left him to bring his name into disrepute. In 1903 she published a tract filled, not with Scriptural truths, but with gross misrepresentations of Brother Russell. She sought to enlist ministers of various denominations to distribute them where the Bible Students were holding special meetings. To their credit not many at that time were willing to be used in that way. However, other clergymen since then have shown a different spirit.

Earlier, Maria Russell had condemned, verbally and in writing, those who charged Brother Russell with the sort of misconduct that she herself now alleged. Using certain unsubstantiated statements made during court proceedings in 1906 (and which statements were struck from the record by order of the court), some religious opposers of Brother Russell have published charges designed to make it appear that he was an immoral man and hence unfit to be a minister of God. However, the court record is clear that such charges are false. Her own lawyer asked Mrs. Russell whether she believed her husband was guilty of adultery. She answered: “No.” It is also noteworthy that when a committee of Christian elders listened to Mrs. Russell’s charges against her husband in 1897, she made no mention of the things that she later stated in court in order to persuade the jury that a divorce should be granted, though these alleged incidents occurred prior to that meeting.

Nine years after Mrs. Russell first brought the case to court, Judge James Macfarlane wrote a letter of reply to a man who was seeking a copy of the court record so that one of his associates could expose Russell. The judge frankly told him that what he wanted would be a waste of time and money. His letter stated: “The ground for her application and of the decree entered upon the verdict of the jury was ‘indignities’ and not adultery and the testimony, as I understand, does not show that Russell was living ‘an adulterous life with a co-respondent.’ In fact there was no co-respondent.”

Maria Russell’s own belated acknowledgment came at the time of Brother Russell’s funeral at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh in 1916. Wearing a veil, she walked down the aisle to the casket and laid there a bunch of lilies of the valley (Br Russell's favorite flower). Attached to them was a ribbon bearing the words,
“To My Beloved Husband.”

(photo on pg 64 of JW Proclaimers)

*Isn't that sad? That it was only after his death that she came to her senses and acknowledged how she truly felt about him? Here's a love letter he wrote to her which really shows how much he cared about her (not just romantically ... but for her spirituality)

(from pgs 68 & 69 of the 1975 Yearbook):
One can but imagine the heartache and emotional strain C. T. Russell’s domestic trials brought upon him. In an undated handwritten letter to Mrs. Russell at one point in their marital difficulties, he wrote:

“By the time this reaches you it will be just one week since you deserted the one whom before God and man you promised to love and obey and serve, ‘for better or for worse, until death do you part.’ Surely it is true that ‘experience is a wonderful teacher.’ Only it could have persuaded me thus of you, of whom I can truly say that at one time there could not have been a more loving and devoted helpmate. Had you been other than that I am confident that the Lord would not have given you to me. He doeth all things well. I still thank him for his providence toward me in that respect, and look back with sensations of pleasure to the time when you kissed me at least thirty times a day, and repeatedly told me that you did not see how you could live without me; and that you feared that I would die first . . . And I reflect that some of these evidences of love were given me only a year and a half ago, though for a year previous your love had been less fervent—because of jealousy and surmisings, notwithstanding my assurances of the ardor of my love for you, repeated a hundred times, and still asseverated.” ...

“I have prayed earnestly to the Lord on your behalf, . . . I will not burden you with accounts of my sorrow, nor attempt to work upon your sympathies by delineating my emotions, as I from time to time run across your dresses and other articles which bring vividly before my mind your former self—so full of love and sympathy and helpfulness—the spirit of Christ. My heart cries out, ‘Oh that I had buried her, or that she had buried me, in that happy time.’ But evidently the trials and testings were not sufficiently advanced . . . Oh, do consider prayerfully what I am about to say. And be assured that the keen edge of my sorrow, its poignancy, is not my own loneliness for the remainder of life’s journey, but your fall, my dear, your everlasting loss, so far as I can see.”

*The following excerpt on pg 67-68 of the 1975 Yearbook (just prior to the love letter) shows how frivilous some of the claims she made against him were. Listen to this:

At Dublin, during a 1911 tour of Ireland, he was asked: “Is it true that you are divorced from your wife?” Of his answer, Russell wrote: “‘I am not divorced from my wife. The decree of the court was not divorce, but separation, granted by a sympathetic jury, which declared that we would both be happier separated. My wife’s charge was cruelty, but the only cruelty put in evidence was my refusal on one occasion to give her a kiss when she had requested it.’ I assured my audience that I disputed the charge of cruelty and believed that no woman was ever better treated by a husband. The applause showed that the audience believed my statements.”