Frank Buchman
Evangelical theologist
Frank Buchman
Franklin Nathaniel Daniel Buchman, best known as Dr. or Rev. Frank Buchman, was a Protestant Christian evangelist who founded the Oxford Group (known as Moral Re-Armament from 1938 until 2001, and as Initiatives of Change since then). It is claimed that he was decorated by the French and German governments for his contributions to Franco-German reconciliation after World War II, yet there are numerous examples of false claims by Buchman and his followers.
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  • 1961
    Age 82
    Died on August 7, 1961.
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  • 1956
    Age 77
    After Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalinism and the apparent thawing of relationships with the West, MRA produced a pamphlet, Ideology and Co-Existence, alerting the West to the strategies and tactics of Communism.
    More Details Hide Details It was translated into 24 languages and became the most widely distributed publication which MRA ever produced, giving rise to a popular perception of Buchman and MRA as being primarily anti-communist, and, therefore, right-wing. However, this was a gross oversimplification. In the 1950s, he told a colleague: "If Britain and America were to defeat Communism today, the world would be in a worse state than it is. Because the other man is wrong doesn't make me right."
    MRA played an important role in the peaceful decolonization of Morocco and Tunisia. In 1956, King Mohammed V of Morocco wrote to Buchman: "I thank you for all you have done for Morocco, the Moroccans and myself in the course of these last testing years.
    More Details Hide Details Moral Re-Armament must become for us Muslims just as much an incentive as it is for you Christians and for all nations." In December of that year, President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia declared: "The world must be told what Moral Re-Armament has done for our country." But attempts to provide similar mediation in Algeria failed.
  • 1955
    Age 76
    In 1955, Buchman suggested to a group of African leaders from several countries meeting in Caux that they put what they had learned of MRA into a play.
    More Details Hide Details The play, Freedom, was written within 48 hours and first performed at the Westminster Theatre a week later, before touring the world and being made into a full-length color film. In Kenya the film was shown to the imprisoned Jomo Kenyatta, who asked that it be dubbed into Swahili. The film was shown to a million Kenyans in the months before the first election. In the spring of 1961, The Reporter of Nairobi wrote: "MRA has done a great deal to stabilize our recent election campaign." Remaking The World, the title of Buchman's collected speeches, was central to Buchman's vision. "The Oxford Group is a Christian revolution for remaking the world. The root problems in the world today are dishonesty, selfishness and fear – in men and, consequently, in nations. These evils multiplied result in divorce, crime, unemployment, recurrent depression and war. How can we hope for peace within a nation, or between nations, when we have conflict in countless homes? Spiritual recovery must precede economic recovery. Political or social solutions that do not deal with these root problems are inadequate."
  • 1950
    Age 71
    In 1950, Radio Berlin and other stations broadcast a speech by Buchman: "Marxists are finding a new thinking in a day of crisis.
    More Details Hide Details The class struggle is being superseded. Management and labour are beginning to live the positive alternative to the class war. Can Marxists pave the way for a greater ideology? Why not? They have always been open to new things. Why should they not be the ones to live for this superior thinking?" From then, Radio Moscow periodically attacked both Buchman and Moral Re-Armament. In 1952, Georgi Arbatov described MRA as "a universal ideology" which "supplants the inevitable class war" with "the permanent struggle between good and evil." Buchman never married. Despite a stroke in 1942 and failing health that eventually led to blindness and immobility, he remained as active as possible until his death in 1961. He was buried in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Buchman was a controversial figure throughout much of his adult life, and critics dubbed his movement "Buchmanism" from the 1920s. In the UK, his critics included the Labour MP Tom Driberg, who wrote an influential critique, The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament, and the Bishop of Durham, Hensley Henson, who wrote of disgust at "the unscrupulous and even unwarrantable use made of well-known names, at the grotesque exaggeration of the advertisements, at the unseemly luxury and extravagance of the travelling teams, at the artificiality of the 'sharing', at the mystery of the finance, at the oracular despotism of 'Frank'. … I refrain from dwelling on the darkest shadow on the movement—I mean the trail of moral and intellectual wrecks which its progress leaves behind."
    Similarly, MRA facilitated some of the first large delegations of Japanese to travel abroad after the war. In 1950, a delegation of 76, including members of Parliament from all the main parties, seven Governors of Prefectures, the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and leaders of industry, finance and labor travelled to the MRA center in Caux, and from there to America, where their senior representative, Chorijuo Kurijama, spoke in the Senate apologizing "for Japan's big mistake." In 1957 Prime Minister Kishi made historic apologies in nine of Japan's South-East Asian neighbors, significantly improving relationships.
    More Details Hide Details Returning to Tokyo, he told the press: "I have been impressed by the effectiveness of Moral Re-Armament in creating unity between peoples who have been divided. I have myself experienced the power of honest apology in healing the hurts of the past."
  • 1948
    Age 69
    Buchman's willingness to work with people of different religions without demand that they convert to Christianity was often a source of confusion and conflict with other Christians. In a speech in 1948, he said: "MRA is the good road of an ideology inspired by God upon which all can unite.
    More Details Hide Details Catholic, Jew and Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Confucianist - all find they can change, where needed, and travel along this good road together." He had several meetings over the years with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whom he greatly respected, saying: "The sphere of his usefulness will be sainthood, and a compelling one at that." He also expressed the hope that Muslim countries should become "a belt of sanity to bind East and West and bring moral rebirth." Yet according to his biographer, Garth Lean, Buchman would always give those at his gatherings, whatever their faith or lack of it, "the deepest Christian truths he knew, often centered round the story of how he himself had been washed clean from his hatreds by his experience of the Cross at Keswick and how Christ had become his nearest friend. This was done with the utmost urgency - that everyone must face the reality of their own sin, and find change and forgiveness. But he never added that those in his audience must break with their traditions, or join this or that church."
  • 1938
    Age 59
    Launching a campaign for "Moral Re-Armament" in East Ham Town Hall in 1938, Buchman said:
    More Details Hide Details "We need a power strong enough to change human nature and build bridges between man and man, faction and faction. This starts when everyone admits his own faults instead of spot-lighting the other fellow's. God alone can change human nature. The secret lies in that great forgotten truth, that when man listens, God speaks; when man obeys, God acts; when men change, nations change." Drawing on his experiences in Penn State and China, Buchman advocated personal work with individuals that would go deep enough to deal with root motives and desires. Asked on a ship to China how he helped individuals, Buchman replied with the "five C's:" Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, Continuance. Nothing could be done unless the other person had confidence in you, and knew that you could keep confidences. Confession meant getting honest about the real state of affairs behind the public persona. This would lead to a Conviction of sin – a desire to change, leading in turn to Conversion – a decision of the will to live God's way. He felt that the most neglected "C" was Continuance, the ongoing support of people who had decided to change. One further aspect of becoming a free person was the need to make restitution – to put right, as far as possible, any wrong done (e.g. returning stolen goods or money or admitting to having told lies).
  • 1935
    Age 56
    Buchman attended the 1935 Nuremberg Rally. In 1936, the Central Security Office of the Gestapo sent out a document warning that the Oxford Group was "a new and dangerous opponent of National Socialism."
    More Details Hide Details This was followed by a 126-page report in 1939 claiming that the Oxford Group was "the pacemaker of Anglo-American diplomacy" and that "the Group as a whole constitutes an attack upon the nationalism of the state. It preaches revolution against the national state and has quite evidently become its Christian opponent." In 1938, as nations were rearming for war, a Swedish socialist and Oxford Group member named Harry Blomberg, wrote of the need to re-arm morally. Buchman liked the term, and launched a campaign for Moral and Spiritual Re-Armament in east London. More than just a new name for the Oxford Group, Moral Re-Armament (or MRA) signalled a new commitment on Buchman's part to try to change the course of nations. In a speech to thousands on the Swedish island of Visby, he said: "I am not interested, nor do I think it adequate, if we are going to begin just to start another revival. Whatever thoughtful statesman you talk to will tell you that every country needs a moral and spiritual awakening." Referring to the Spanish Civil War, he continued: "I find here the same sort of inflammable matter that made Spain possible. Unless we and others see the bigger vision of spiritual revolution, the other may be possible." At this point, some who had been active with the Oxford Group ceased working with Buchman, uncomfortable with what they saw as a new "political" direction.
  • 1934
    Age 55
    Accepting an invitation from Carl Hambro, he led a team to Norway in 1934.
    More Details Hide Details The Oslo daily Tidens Tegn commented in its Christmas edition, "A handful of foreigners who neither knew our language, nor understood our ways and customs came to the country. A few days later the whole country was talking about God, and two months after the thirty foreigners arrived, the mental outlook of the whole country was definitely changed." In 1935 Bishop Berggrav of Tromsø said that "what is now happening in Norway is the biggest spiritual movement since the reformation." Major splits between conservative and liberal factions in the church were healed, paving the way for more effective church opposition to Nazi rule during the war. A campaign in Denmark a year later had a similar impact. Speaking to the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois, in 1954, the Bishop of Copenhagen, Fuglsang-Damgaard, reported: "The visit of Frank Buchman to Denmark in 1935 was an historic experience in the story of the Danish Church. It will be written in letters of gold in the history of the Church and the nation."
  • 1932
    Age 53
    In 1932 and again in 1933 he sought, unsuccessfully, to meet with Adolf Hitler, whom he hoped to convert.
    More Details Hide Details By 1934, the Oxford Group's activities in Germany were being spied on and prominent members interrogated, making effective work under Hitler's regime increasingly difficult. In response, Buchman focused efforts on Scandinavia, believing that demonstrating a Christian revolution there would have a great impact in Germany.
  • 1928
    Age 49
    In the summer of 1928 six of these Oxford men traveled, without Buchman, to South Africa where the press, at a loss how to describe this new religious movement, coined the term the "Oxford Group."
    More Details Hide Details Between 1931 and 1935, around 150 Oxford undergraduates were attending Oxford Group meetings every lunchtime. Paul Hodder-Williams, of the publishing firm Hodder and Stoughton, arranged for a regular column about the group to appear in the firm’s magazine, the British Weekly. In 1932 Hodder also published a book about the group: For Sinners Only by A.J. Russell, managing editor of the Sunday Express, which went through 17 editions in two years and was translated widely. During university vacations, teams from Oxford took part in campaigns in East London and other industrial areas. Meanwhile, the numbers attending "house parties" grew to several thousands. Buchman traveled widely in Europe during the 1930s. With the rise of the Nazis he focused on Germany, holding house parties and meeting church leaders.
  • 1922
    Age 43
    In 1922, after a prolonged spell with students in Cambridge, Buchman resigned his position at Hartford, and thereafter relied on gifts from patrons such as Margaret Tjader.
    More Details Hide Details Buchman designed a strategy of holding “house parties” at various locations, during which he hoped for Christian commitment among those attending. In addition, men trained by Buchman began holding regular lunchtime meetings in the study of J Thornton-Duesbery, then Chaplain of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. By 1928, numbers had grown so large that the meetings moved to the ballroom of the Randolph Hotel, before being invited to use the library of the Oxford University Church, St Mary's. In response to criticism by Tom Driberg in his first scoop in the Daily Express that this "strange new sect" involved members holding hands in a circle and publicly confessing their sins (a fabrication according to those who were there), the Express printed a statement by Canon L.W. Grensted, Chaplain and Fellow of University College and a university lecturer in psychology bearing "testimony not only to their general sanity... but also to their real effectiveness. Men whom I have known... have not only found a stronger faith and a new happiness, but have also made definite progress in the quality of their study, and in their athletics too."
  • 1918
    Age 39
    Bishop Logan Roots, deluged with complaints, asked Buchman to leave China in 1918.
    More Details Hide Details While still based at Hartford, Buchman spent much of his time traveling and forming groups of Christian students at Princeton University and Yale University, as well as Oxford. Sam Shoemaker, a Princeton graduate and one-time Secretary of the Philadelphian Society who had met Buchman in China, became one of his leading American disciples.
  • 1916
    Age 37
    From February to August 1916 Buchman worked with the YMCA mission in China, returning to Pennsylvania due to the increasing illness of his father.
    More Details Hide Details Buchman next took a part-time post at Hartford Theological Seminary. There he began to gather a group of men to assist in the conversion of China to Christianity. He was asked to lead missionary conferences at Kuling and Peitaiho, which he saw as an opportunity to train native Chinese leaders at a time when many missionaries held attitudes of white superiority. Through his friendship with Hsu Ch'ien (Xu Qian, Vice-Minister of Justice and later acting Prime Minister) he got to know Sun Yat-sen. However, his criticism of other missionaries in China, with an implication that sin, including homosexuality, was keeping some of them from being effective, led to conflict.
  • 1915
    Age 36
    In 1915 Buchman's YMCA work took him to India with evangelist Sherwood Eddy.
    More Details Hide Details There he met, briefly, Mahatma Gandhi (the first of many meetings), and became friends with Rabindranath Tagore and Amy Carmichael, founder of the Dohnavur Fellowship. Despite speaking to audiences of up to 60,000, Buchman was critical of the large-scale approach, describing it as "like hunting rabbits with a brass band."
  • 1909
    Age 30
    Another decisive influence appears to have been Yale University theology professor Henry Burt Wright (1877–1923) and his 1909 book The Will of God and a Man's Lifework, which was itself influenced by Meyer and Henry Drummond, among others.
    More Details Hide Details Buchman's devotion to personal evangelism, and his skill at re-framing the Christian message in contemporary terms, were admired by other campus ministry leaders. Maxwell Chaplin, YMCA secretary at Princeton University, wrote, after attending one of the Buchman's annual "YMCA Week" campaigns: "In five years the permanent secretary at Penn State has entirely changed the tone of that one-time tough college." Lloyd Douglas, author of The Robe took part in the same campaign. "It was," he wrote afterwards, "the most remarkable event of its kind I ever witnessed. One after another, prominent fraternity men... stood up before their fellows and confessed that they had been living poor, low-grade lives and from henceforth meant to be good."
    From 1909 to 1915 Buchman was YMCA secretary at Penn State College.
    More Details Hide Details Despite quickly more than doubling the YMCA membership to 75% of the student body he was dissatisfied, questioning how deep the changes went. Alcohol consumption in the college, for example, was unaffected. During this time he began the practice of a daily "quiet time." Buchman finally got to meet F. B. Meyer, who when visiting the college asked Buchman, "Do you let the Holy Spirit guide you in all you are doing?" Buchman replied that he did indeed pray and read the Bible in the morning. "But," persisted Meyer, "do you give God enough uninterrupted time really to tell you what to do?"
  • 1908
    Age 29
    Exhausted and depressed, Buchman took his doctor's advice of a long holiday abroad. Still in turmoil over his hospice resignation, Buchman attended the 1908 Keswick Convention hoping to meet the renowned Quaker-influenced, Baptist evangelist F. B. Meyer (1847–1929) who he believed might be able to help him.
    More Details Hide Details Meyer was not there, but in a small half-empty chapel he listened to Jessie Penn-Lewis preach on the Cross of Christ, which led to a religious experience. "I thought of those six men back in Philadelphia who I felt had wronged me. They probably had, but I'd got so mixed up in the wrong that I was the seventh wrong man. I began to see myself as God saw me, which was a very different picture than the one I had of myself. I don't know how you explain it, I can only tell you I sat there and realized how my sin, my pride, my selfishness and my ill-will, had eclipsed me from God in Christ. I was the center of my own life. That big 'I' had to be crossed out. I saw my resentments against those men standing out like tombstones in my heart. I asked God to change me and He told me to put things right with them. It produced in me a vibrant feeling, as though a strong current of life had suddenly been poured into me and afterwards a dazed sense of a great spiritual shaking-up."
  • 1902
    Age 23
    Buchman studied at Muhlenberg College and Mount Airy Seminary and was ordained a Lutheran minister in June 1902.
    More Details Hide Details Buchman had hoped to be called to an important city church, but accepted a call to Overbrook, a growing Philadelphia suburb, which did not yet have a Lutheran church building. He arranged the rental of an old storefront for worship space, and lived upstairs. After a visit to Europe, he decided to establish a hostel (called a “hospice”) in Overbrook, along the lines of Friedrich von Bodelschwingh’s colony for the mentally ill in Bielefeld and inspired by Toynbee Hall. However, conflict developed with the hostel's board. In Buchman's recollection the dispute was due to the board's unwillingness to fund the hospice adequately. However, the Finance Committee of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, which oversaw the budget, had no funds with which to make up an ongoing deficit and wanted the hospice to be self-supporting. Buchman resigned.
  • 1878
    Born on June 4, 1878.
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