Frank Buchman's Legacy Introduction

Frank Buchman's Legacy Introduction


THE year 2008 is a significant one for Moral Re-Armament, now Initiatives of Change. It marks the 100th anniversary of Frank Buchman’s formative spiritual experience at Keswick in northern England; the 70th anniversary of the public launching of MRA in London and the holding of an important gathering at Visby in Sweden which marked a changing of gears in Buchman’s work prior to the outbreak of World War 2; and the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Asian conference centre at Panchgani in western India.

Each of these events will doubtless be suitably remembered by different groups of people: but 2008 also seems an appropriate moment to attempt a general re-appraisal of Buchman’s life and work as seen from the perspective of the 21st century.

Hopefully this will be of interest to the younger generation who are now assuming positions of responsibility in Initiatives of Change but who never knew Frank Buchman. And hopefully also, it will recall to some of the older generation adventurous chapters in their earlier lives. What follows, however, is written no less for those who may be learning about Frank Buchman for the first time.

Archie Mackenzie & David Young

NOT long ago someone in his twenties asked me: ‘Why is Frank Buchman important?’ It was not a sceptical question. Yet it betrayed a puzzlement that was not wholly surprising given that Frank Buchman died nearly fifty years ago and would be 130 if he were still alive today.

I then recalled that by a curious coincidence I had been asked exactly the same question 50 years ago in London when I was working in the British Foreign Office. I also recalled that I had given a three-part answer and I now suddenly realised that I could—and would—give the same answer today.

I said: first, because he diagnosed the real roots of the world’s current problems years before most other public figures; second, because he faced the consequences in his own life; and third, because he built up a world network of people just as committed as he was to living out an answer as he saw it.

What was he really like?
This can be analysed in detail. But my young interlocutor might have interrupted to say: ‘But what was Frank Buchman really like?’ In this case I would have replied on the following lines.

Frank Buchman’s chief characteristic was his spontaneity and warmth. He loved company and he regularly moved around with a team of people. He was no lone-ranger: nor a monstre sacré, as the French call celebrities who hog the limelight. There was a sparkle about him. It came from the way he lived. There was no bluffing.

He would laugh uproariously when something amused him: but he would also keep silent for long periods as if listening to music of which other people were scarcely aware. He was skilled at reading people, discerning motives. He told one politician: ‘Mr Prime Minister, you need to learn to read people like a page of print.’ Later events proved that Buchman’s advice was well-grounded when the PM was ousted by a military coup.

He had an enormous range of friendships—from royalty to radicals, young and old, people of all colours. And he kept his friendships despite the attempts of ill-wishers to dislodge them.

He showed himself extremely sensitive to the well-being and needs of his co-workers. He loved to include them at the best seats at notable public events. Yet he was never lavish with money. His traditional birthday gift, both to women and men, was one quality handkerchief, and he used to buy them by the score, often in Switzerland.

He could be a stern boss, because of his high standards, but he was also a forgiving one. One of his assistants said: ‘Life around here is like a mixture of Christmas morning and Judgement Day’.

He was a man of faith who deeply believed that God would guide people who listened and were ready to obey. But his faith was not exclusive or combative. He would have endorsed what Mother Teresa said: ‘What we are all trying to do by our work is to come closer to God. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are, and by being better we become closer and closer to Him. What approach would I use? For me naturally it would be a Catholic. For you it might be Hindu, for someone else Buddhist, according to one’s conscience. But I cannot prevent myself from giving what I have’.

If he were still alive today, Buchman would doubtless have moved with the times; but he would not have been shaken from his own roots.

One could dissect Buchman’s character, hunting for flaws. But it would seem more profitable to look at him objectively to find things we might learn for the difficulties we face today.

The fact is that most of us who are associated with Initiatives of Change today would not be where we are but for Frank Buchman.

* * *

THE world of the 1950s, when I was first questioned about Frank Buchman, was, of course, different in countless ways from our 21st century world with its screaming headlines on Darfur, suicide bombings, Guantanamo Bay, etc. Yet a moment’s reflection reveals that at rock-bottom there are many similarities and Frank Buchman specialised in dealing with rock-bottom problems. He used to say, ‘Never forget: you can plan a new world on paper, but you have got to build it out of people’. He realised that in the 20th century perhaps more than ever before experts of all kinds were concocting paper plans for reforming society: global plans like the United Nations; regional plans like the European Union; and national governmental plans to deal with economic and social problems in every independent country. But the one common factor of all these plans was the human factor. They all depended on the response of people and their motives, individually and in groups. And yet all too often the human factor was the forgotten factor.

Frank Buchman did not discover the human factor, but he zeroed in on it. He did not suggest that the human factor was the only issue that had to be dealt with. For example, he was present in San Francisco in 1945 throughout the conference which drafted the United Nations Charter and followed its proceedings with interest. But neither then, nor later when I was working at the UN in New York, do I ever recall him dismissing or deriding the organisation as a mere paper plan. He was always interested in my accounts of the latest developments in the organisation—in the ups and downs in the Security Council, in the endless speechifying in the General Assembly, and in the delays and compromises in the decision-making process. But I could see that he maintained considerable doubts about the organisation’s prospects unless there was a much more conscious recognition of the complications caused throughout the edifice by the human factor and a much more committed effort by member countries, even at the cost of national pride, to deal with that factor. And history has proved him right.

But Buchman’s interest did not stop there. He had committed himself totally at the age of 30, from the time of his decisive spiritual experience, to doing something about the human factor, starting in his own life. The moment of change for him came in 1908, a hundred years ago, and he often recounted the story in detail. He had been working as superintendent of a poor boys’ hospice in one of the toughest areas of Philadelphia. He quarrelled with his board of directors over the running of the place and particularly over what he saw as their stingy budget policy. He had walked out so angry and depressed that his doctor told him to take a trip to Europe to get over the aggravation.

Crisis at Keswick
However, he soon recognised that this European ‘change’ was only external and that his resentments against the board had gone with him. It was when he was attending a religious conference at Keswick in northern England as part of his tour that his inner crisis came to a head. It occurred at a Sunday afternoon meeting conducted by a relatively un-known woman speaker. However, what she said on the significance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross brought home to Buchman with great intensity the cost of his own pride and self-centredness in the way he had submitted his resignation in Philadelphia. He went straight back to his lodging house and wrote six letters of apology to the directors of the hospice. At once, as he often recounted later, he felt such a strong sense of release that he told the other delegates in the hotel of his experience. This in turn so deeply affected one of his listeners, a student at Cambridge University, that he asked if he could talk privately to Buchman. The outcome was that before the day ended this student also made a life-changing decision comparable to Buchman’s.

Keswick Chapel

The chapel where Buchman faced the cost of his pride

This Keswick experience had a permanent effect on Buchman’s whole outlook on life. One could almost say that it was like St Paul’s Damascus Road experience. He saw the cost of his own pride, i.e. the human factor. He faced the consequences by taking remedial action. And he saw the results in another person’s life.

Buchman’s experience was not a discovery of his own. Thousands of philosophers and theologians have written about the problems of the human factor and about redemption. But not so many of them moved on to the second phase of recognising and repenting for their own failings and doing something concrete about them.

Nor did Buchman stop there. In the years after 1908 he moved to a third phase, seeking a deeper understanding of the implications of his discoveries at Keswick. He turned down lucrative offers because he felt he should concentrate on this further phase of building a closely-knit network of people who would follow his example, going through the same experience of change and then committing themselves to living out the implications of their spiritual discoveries in their different walks of life.

This expanding group of people became known publicly first as the Oxford Group (simply because many of the earliest members were students at Oxford University), then as Moral Re-Armament, and today as Initiatives of Change.

Thus Buchman deserves to be remembered not so much as a philosopher or as an ecclesiastic, but rather as someone who tried to embody, as best he knew how, ‘the full dimension of change’. And he himself described this as ‘economic change, social change, national change and international change, all based on personal change’.

There have been innumerable attempts to encapsulate his life and work in a single phrase or sentence. Many have compared him to St Francis of Assisi or other revolutionary figures. Recently, speaking from an entirely different background, a retired General in the US Air Force, who had never met Buchman personally, said that his work ‘underscored the exceptional power of a constructive idea, along with faith, to attract the right volunteers at the right time to move mountains’. Every phrase in this description fits. So would Mahatma Gandhi’s dictum: ‘A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history’.

A turnaround in campus living
There was little in Buchman’s ancestry or upbringing that would have led one to expect him to become a significant figure in world affairs. He came from Swiss-German stock like thousands of others who migrated to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. He was reared in a small town in Pennsylvania and went to a local school and a local college, not to a prestigious university. His first job in Philadelphia, after he graduated as a Lutheran pastor, could hardly be described as a springboard onto the career ladder. But something quite new clearly came into his life as a result of his experience in Keswick. He returned to the United States and took up a post as the YMCA representative in Penn State College and almost immediately surprising things began to happen around him.

The college was at a low ebb. Indiscipline was rife. Drinking was at an all-time high. Both scholastic results and sporting achievements were deplorable. Yet Buchman’s arrival on the scene seems to have started an extraordinary turnaround in campus living. Dealing with students individually rather than en masse, and using his Keswick experience to the full, he brought about a transformation in the college’s fortunes. Key students began to respond to his creative friendship and quite soon the intellectual and moral atmosphere changed. Buchman remained there for seven years and it was at Penn State that he hammered out the basic techniques of life-changing that became central to his subsequent life work.

Eventually, in 1915 he accepted a suggestion from John Mott, world head of the YMCA, to leave Penn State and move to Asia as part of a team preparing for a world evangelical mission being planned by Mott. So Buchman spent nearly two years, 1915-17, travelling through India and China. They were years of widening experience and intellectual stimulation and were a preparation—unknown then to Buchman—for the historic mission he was to undertake in Asia in very different circumstances forty years later. Students at Penn State later recalled that even there Buchman had urged them to ‘think for continents’, but this was his first chance to absorb Asian culture and meet personally with leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Sun Yat Sen. Buchman was a globalist from his youth.

However, the journey was not free from friction, and friction that erupted not with Asians but with Westerners, including some of Buchman’s fellow countrymen. Although he was taking part in preparations for a major evangelical campaign, Buchman found amongst the missionaries, who should have been his allies, disturbing signs of a cushioned Christianity which was deemed to be compatible with private indulgences of which he deeply disapproved.

So Buchman returned to America disturbed both by his findings and by alarming trends in the world. In fact, looking back from the 21st century, we can see that the tectonic plates beneath 19th century Christendom were moving. On the one hand, Christian leaders were speaking of ‘the evangelisation of the world in one generation’ and a highly impressive World Missionary Conference had taken place in Edinburgh in 1910, bubbling with optimism.

‘World-changing through life-changing’
Yet only four years later the leading Western nations became engulfed in a catastrophic world war. It was so devastating that when peace was finally attained in 1918 both victors and vanquished found themselves facing not the prospect of world evangelisation in one generation, but a new era of moral relativism, cynicism and materialism in which the doctrines of Freudianism and Leninism were spreading fast. It became abundantly clear that the 19th century concepts of evangelisation and progress would have to be radically rethought. Faced by this scene of ideological confusion, Buchman came down firmly on the side of ‘world-changing through life-changing’. The priority for him was going to be not new structures or treaties but new people. ‘The most necessary work in the world today,’ he said, ‘is the work from heart to heart. We must be in daily and God-filled touch with people, or we shall not touch the fringe of the problems facing us.’

In this situation Buchman felt he was being called on to undertake new and larger tasks. When he returned to the US he turned down an offer from the Rockefeller family to head up a wide-ranging and generously endowed programme, provisionally called ’The Inter-Church World Movement’, because he considered the conditions would be too confining. In 1921 he resigned his teaching post at Hartford Theological Seminary and he never again took on a paid job. Instead, he returned to England to follow up contacts with students in Cambridge and Oxford Universities, and it was in Cambridge while riding his bicycle through its narrow lanes that the wholly unbidden thought flashed into his mind: ‘You will be used to remake the world’. He said that, not surprisingly, his bicycle wobbled at this point, and of course, the phrase can be subjected to scores of interpretations, but in Buchman’s career it marked another milestone. He was 42 and in the light of his past experiences, at Keswick, Penn State, India and China, he pondered what his exact role should be.

He decided to focus first on students, the potential leaders of tomorrow, and principally at Oxford, Cambridge and Princeton Universities. Many of these students in 1921 were returning soldiers, hardened by years in the trenches during World War 1, and one of his first recruits (who incidentally remained at his side until his death) was a Scotsman, Loudon Hamilton, who was a veteran of the battles of the Somme and of Passchendaele. Buchman’s residence mainly in Britain and the United States in the 1920s also helps to explain why many of his earliest full-time co-workers were of British or American origin.

Towards a colour-blind South Africa
One of the first international initiatives taken by these men was a visit to South Africa in the summer of 1928. Buchman did not accompany them (though he followed them there in the following year) but the effect of the group’s fresh Christian experience was felt in all sections of South African society, white, black and coloured. One of the earliest recruits was a Springbok rugby star, George Daneel, then in training to become a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. The commitment he undertook then to work for a colour-blind South Africa continued until full interracial independence was achieved in 1991. Daneel died aged 100 in 2000. The South African prime minister Johannes Vorster later acknowledged that Daneel had been right all along. (See Appendix item 6)*

Impact on Norway
Another early international initiative was Buchman’s acceptance of an invitation from Carl Hambro, President of the Norwegian Parliament (whom he had met at the League of Nations in Geneva) to visit Norway in 1934. He took with him a party of 80, mainly from Britain, and their impact on all strata of Norwegian life was instantaneous and lasting. Church leaders, politicians, authors and editors all responded. In fact, his initiative not only immediately affected national life but in due course provided resistance leaders in Norway’s struggle against Nazism in the 1940s. The editor, Fredrik Ramm, nationally known because of his vigorous campaign against Denmark over a sovereignty dispute concerning Greenland, made a public apology in Copenhagen as a result of Buchman’s impact on his life. He also became prominent in the resistance movement and died in 1945 on his way back to Norway from a German prison camp.

Another prominent Norwegian who responded was the well-known author Ronald Fangen and an essay which he then wrote about Buchman has recently resurfaced. In it he gave a vivid picture of Buchman’s daily work-schedule and of his relations with his growing team of supporters. Fangen wrote: ‘His work capacity was phenomenal. I have often thought: from where does he get his strength? On major days I have seen him lead a group meeting of 300 people, then prepare and participate in as many as five meetings, and at the same time have talks with individual people, taking care of correspondence and seeing to all manner of things… Far into the night he gets into bed and the next morning at nine o’clock he is again in the midst of a meeting, radiating morning freshness, good humour and fighting spirit… By then he has already had his private quiet-time, said his prayers, received guidance and read his Bible.’

Fangen’s description of the people surrounding Buchman is also interesting: ‘Frank Buchman and his team meet resistance. It takes different shapes, from underground gossip to solemn bulls of excommunication. None of these manages to stop the men and women of the movement. There is an irresistible secret in them; they have fully and totally surrendered their lives to God. There is no need to idealise them: they are people, they have their faults, they can admit their faults, they can ask forgiveness. But they are the most liberated and luminous bunch of people you could possibly meet.’

The developments in Scandinavia attracted wide international attention and Buchman’s work expanded rapidly, especially in Britain and the Netherlands, but it was not until five years later that the full implications of this work were realised. 1938 was a decisive year for Buchman and for Europe.

The call for Moral Re-Armament in 1938
By then the dangers of world war were all too clear. The voices of totalitarianism were becoming ever more strident. The western democracies were awakening all too slowly. The League of Nations had been exposed as impotent. And in this situation Buchman was again ahead of his time. He publicly proclaimed the need for world-wide ‘moral and spiritual re-armament’ as the top priority - necessary if war were to be avoided (as alas proved impossible), and no less necessary for the survival of freedom if war happened. His call for Moral Re-Armament, issued from London in May 1938, produced positive responses around the world and, as we shall see, shaped Buchman’s work for the next decade and beyond.

But he also saw that the changing world situation had implications for his own undertaking. In August 1938 he delivered one of the most confrontational speeches of his career to an international gathering at Visby in Sweden. He had no prepared text and it was obviously a speech he would have preferred not to make. He contrasted ‘religious revival' (or 'armchair Christianity’) with ‘moral and spiritual revolution’, and went on: ‘I know revolution makes people uncomfortable. I am not here to make you comfortable. I am not here to make you like me… I am not going back, no matter who does, no matter what it is going to cost.’ Urging people to bypass the scheduled afternoon meetings, he suggested they ponder the issues privately and continued, ‘The thing you have got to decide is between you and God. You turn over your life to God for full and complete direction as a fellow revolutionary.’

He had deliberately drawn a line. Some people did not respond, but most did.

* * *

BY now Buchman was becoming a focus of hope for millions and was exerting influence on governments in many countries. However, his peace-making efforts were unavailing and the march towards war continued until its fateful outbreak in September 1939.

Buchman was then in the United States, accompanied by a large international force, camp-aigning by every possible means to awaken America to the dangers facing her as well as the rest of the world. Some of his co-workers naturally had to return to their countries after the outbreak of war, but in the summer of 1940—when France had been overrun and the blitz on London was starting—Buchman drew off 200 of his colleagues to a simple campsite at Lake Tahoe, on the borders of Nevada and California. There they remained for over three months, locked in serious discussion. It proved to be a decisive and deepening experience for many. In fact it marked another milestone in the development of Buchman’s own life and thought.

The group lived simply, preparing their own meals, and met daily to think through the implications of the struggle which was by then threatening the very roots of civilisation. And out of this heart-searching grew a much more disciplined and committed force which soon demonstrated its value, both in its wartime efforts to strengthen America’s morale and also in launching MRA’s post-war work in many countries. There was pain and sacrifice involved in the generation of this force of people, and its creation was undoubtedly part of Buchman’s enduring legacy.

On to the stage & screen
The Tahoe experience was also significant in that it marked the launching of the first dramatic and musical expressions of Buchman’s message, productions which were to play such a prominent role in MRA’s efforts during and after World War 2. Buchman had few artistic talents himself, but he sensed the need to find arresting new ways to express old truths, and so initiated a wave of productions, via stage and screen, that went round the world.

Truman and Wadsworth

Harry Truman (Democrat) and James Wadsworth (Republican), both prominent supporters in Congress

Many of the productions became internationally celebrated. The Forgotten Factor skilfully illustrated how industrial disputes and family problems were often interrelated and how an ignored spiritual factor could help to resolve both. President Truman, when chairman of the Senate War Investigating Committee, called it ‘the most important play produced by the war’ and after the war it was used in translation in Germany and many other countries. Jotham Valley was a musical drama based on a true story of two brothers farming in Nevada who found an answer to a bitter dispute over water rights. It turned out to have a no less powerful message for Asian countries facing water shortages. The Good Road was a musical production which had a powerful effect in key areas of post-war Europe. Freedom was a play written by Africans out


The Chief Minister addresses the crowd, in the opening scene of 'Freedom'

of their own experience (as will be explained later) which was turned into a successful film. It had its première at the United Nations in New York and was then used on every continent. For example, President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya showed it in Nairobi at a state banquet in honour of President Nkrumah of Ghana. The Vanishing Island was a musical drama, with strong ideological overtones, which went around the world at the height of the Cold War shedding light on the need for both sides to change. The Crowning Experience, another powerful stage and screen production, concerned itself with the race conflict in the United States, being based on the life of Mary McLeod Bethune, a pioneer of black education in America.

These and numerous other plays and musical productions were made possible because of the many highly talented figures from the theatrical, musical and film worlds who rallied to Buchman’s call. Some of them were first produced at the MRA training centre on Mackinac Island, Michigan, or at the Westminster Theatre in London which was bought in 1945 by British supporters as a memorial to British and Commonwealth service personnel who had given their lives in World War 2. For two decades prior to the arrival of mass television they proved to be successful instruments for reaching millions of people living outside normal religious frameworks.

In the same way MRA’s international conference and training centres - notably at Mackinac Island, Caux in Switzerland, Panchgani in India and Armagh in Australia - provided facilities for the people touched by MRA’s plays and films to reflect on both global and personal problems and on the links between them.

Illness strikes
Meantime in January 1942, when he was 64, there occurred another decisive moment in Buchman’s life-story. While visiting upper New York State he suffered a severe stroke from which it took him many months to recover. Thereafter he walked with a stick or used a wheelchair. His convalescence was a period of considerable difficulty for him and those closest to him, as he and they adjusted to his new limitations. Fortunately his mental powers and creativity were unimpaired, but he had to rely more on others to implement his insights. The value of his trained force of co-workers was being increasingly demonstrated.

Frank Buchman and Peter Howard

Frank Buchman and Peter Howard

Although they were not destined to meet for three more years because of war conditions, Buchman—with his diminished strength—began to turn more and more to the talented Peter Howard as a potential future leader. Howard had had a meteoric rise as a hard-hitting journalist on Lord Beaverbrook’s newspapers and his decision to throw in his lot with Buchman and MRA in 1942—at the expense of his job—had shocked Fleet Street. Buchman immediately recognised his gifts of leadership but did not spare him in any way because of his glamorous if stormy reputation. Howard for his part accepted the disciplinary treatment and remained loyal to Buchman till his death. It was a great loss to Buchman’s work that Howard, a gifted author and playwright, himself died suddenly only four years later.

Buchman remained in America until the end of the war and over this period he and his co-workers laid the foundations for the continent-wide operations that were to develop after the war affecting American and Canadian life at many key points, especially in the fields of industrial and race relations. (See Appendix item 11)

Post-war reconciliation a priority

Mountain House

Mountain House, Caux, Switzerland

Even before World War 2 ended Buchman’s thoughts were turning to the vast tasks of reconstruction and reconciliation that lay ahead, especially in Europe. In April 1946 he sailed from New York to Britain with a team of over a hundred and then moved to Switzerland in July to open the first conference held at the new MRA centre at Caux. During the war some of Buchman’s Swiss friends had spotted, high in the Alps above the Lake of Geneva, a large and picturesque building which had originally been one of Europe’s top hotels but which had fallen on hard times and was being used as a war-refugee detention centre. After consulting Buchman in America, about ninety Swiss families dug into their pockets and purchased it as a base for stimulating the reconciliation process so obviously needed after World War 2. Restored to its former splendour, it still functions as a proven centre for reconciliation in the 21st century. (See Appendix item 1)

The story of the impact that Buchman and MRA made on France and Germany after the war, much of it emanating from Caux, has been told many times and recognised by historians. It filled an ideological gap which was never bridged after the first World War and which is again painfully evident in the Middle East today. Paul Hoffman, administrator of the Marshall Plan, put the point succinctly: ‘You are giving the world the ideological counterpart of the Marshall Plan’.

It is also striking to note how top European leaders like Chancellor Adenauer of Germany and Foreign Minister Robert Schuman of France responded to the relatively unknown figure, lacking any governmental status, and almost immediately gave him their personal friendship and support. It almost seemed as if they sensed that they shared with Buchman a common spiritual quest, or a common spiritual gene. (These quickly established, instinctive bonds of friendship also characterised Buchman’s relations with certain other public figures, people as radically different as Prime Minister U Nu of Burma; Foreign Minister Mohammed Fadhel Jamali of Iraq; Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras in Istanbul; King Michael of Romania; Mrs John Henry Hammond of New York, a member of the Vanderbilt family; Phra Bimolodharm, a senior member of the Buddhist hierarchy in Thailand; and Chief Walking Buffalo of the Stoney Indian tribe in Canada.)

Building bridges over the Rhine

Robert Schuman with Buchman at Caux

Robert Schuman with Frank at the entrance to Caux

The ideological vacuum in the Ruhr, which Marxist forces had immediately spotted, was an obvious threat to Allied planners. However, Buchman had also recognised this and poured in MRA workers equipped with plays like The Good Road and The Forgotten Factor which helped to fill the gap and win the support of men like Herman Kost, head of the German Coal Board, and Hans Boeckler, president of the German Trade Union Federation. An MRA pamphlet entitled Es muss alles anders werden (Everything must be different) filled the ideological vacuum and was distributed by the million throughout Germany.

Irí¨ne Laure

Irí¨ne Laure

Aid also came from France in the form of Irène Laure, resistance leader in the Marseilles region and post-war leader of the French Socialist Women’s Organisation. At Caux she had found dramatic release from her hatred of Germany caused by her wartime suffering. She thereafter played a prominent part, along with her husband, in MRA’s reconciling efforts across Germany. In fact, Robert Schuman said later that she had done more than any other person to ‘build bridges over the Rhine’.

The Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Frank Buchman in Los Angeles, 1960

Chancellor Adenauer with Dr Buchman at Caux

The cumulative efforts of these initiatives in Germany and France in the early post-war years undoubtedly helped to provide a moral infra-structure for the later governmental agreements which were to change the history of Europe. (See Appendix items 2 & 3)

Reaching out to the humiliated
After the war’s end Buchman’s mind had also turned immediately towards Japan where he already had established many friendships from his pre-war visits. He did not go there immediately in person but he sent senior representatives from the teams who had been seasoned by the training at Lake Tahoe in 1940.

Buchman’s gesture roused a widespread response in the humiliated country and delegations of Japanese leaders began to visit Caux from 1948 onwards. These initiatives had the approval of both General MacArthur (Supreme Commander, Allied Forces in the Far East) and the Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida who said they were ‘opening a new page in our history’. When the conference to sign a peace treaty with Japan eventually assembled at San Francisco in 1951 Buchman was again present and Robert Schuman, head of the French delegation, said to him: ‘Of course, the truth is that you made peace with Japan years before we signed it’. (See Appendix items 4 & 5: also Basil Entwistle’s book Japan’s Decisive Decade, Grosvenor Books 1985)

By 1952 Buchman’s mind was turning to another even larger initiative. Despite the physical limitations resulting from his stroke, he personally led a group of 200 people (including the casts of five plays) on a seven-month tour of South East Asia. The timing was remarkable. Some would call it serendipitous. Buchman insisted that it was the result of divine guidance. Coming so soon after the gaining of independence by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with all the turmoil and bloodshed that this had involved, the response to Buchman’s initiative was extraordinary.

Although he had been invited by a distinguished group of Asian leaders, his arrival was greeted by initial opposition from Marxist quarters, orchestrated by a series of hostile radio programmes from Tashkent and Moscow; but this was quickly counterbalanced by a tidal wave of support from Bombay to Calcutta and Kashmir to Kerala.

The ideological significance of Buchman’s move was dramatised early on at a diplomatic reception in Delhi where the Chargé d’Affaires of the West German Embassy—with the French Ambassador standing at his side—presented Buchman with the German Order of Merit in recognition of his contribution to rapprochement between the two countries over the previous five years. The significance of this event was not lost on the Indian and Pakistani governments, nor on the members of the Delhi diplomatic corps who witnessed the ceremony.

Enough for everyone’s need...

Asia Plateau

The entrance to Asia Plateau centre, Panchgani, India

Buchman’s vision for India had been stirred originally by his visit in 1915, plus eight subsequent visits, and was now vindicated by the response his efforts elicited at all levels of society. Especially significant was the enlistment at his side of many young educated Indians, including Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma, who renounced career plans and some of whom remain leaders in Buchman’s ongoing work today.

Such support also led directly to the creation in 1968 of a large conference and training centre at Panchgani in western India which is still in full use for a wide range of activities today.

In 1952 Buchman and his party also spent time in Pakistan and Sri Lanka and it was in a rice paddy field near Colombo that Buchman articulated his basic economic philosophy in terms that found echoes fifty years later in the pronouncements of G8 world leaders at the Gleneagles Summit on poverty in 2005: ‘There’s enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. If everyone cares enough and shares enough, everyone will have enough’. (See Appendix items 9, 15 & 16)

To Africa, and the filming of Freedom
Meantime African countries in the 1950s were following in the footsteps of South-East Asia towards independence. And simultaneously Buchman was inviting large numbers of Africans to conferences in Europe and America. He himself only made one post-war trip to Africa and that was to Morocco in 1954 at the specific request of his friend Robert Schuman. He spent several months there with a small group, working quietly amongst both Moroccan and French leaders, and his efforts brought about several key reconciliations between prominent personalities which helped Morocco—and also Tunisia—to move towards independence without bloodshed.

In sub-Saharan Africa Nigeria is a key country from every point of view and Nnamdi Azikiwe, a father figure in her struggle for independence, had gone to Caux in 1949 while en route to a Communist-inspired gathering in Prague. As a result of the influence Caux had on his thinking, Azikiwe abandoned Prague and returned to Nigeria where he became one of the early voices advocating MRA.

In 1955 a large group of Africans attending a Caux conference were preparing to leave when Buchman intercepted them and explained that during the night he had had the unexpected but insistent thought that the Africans should stay longer at Caux and write a play, based on their own experience, that would illustrate a new path to independence based on change not conflict. The Africans were so arrested by this proposal that they changed their plans and in a remarkably short time produced the outline of a play called Freedom. It was presented in Caux by its authors within a few days and then taken in succeeding weeks to several European capital cities. It was eventually brought back to Nigeria where it was turned into the first full-length colour film to be produced entirely on African soil. Except in some colonial enclaves, it roused widespread support and is still being used as an instrument of peace-building.

The film was also used in harness with the efforts of the Colwell brothers, three talented young American singers, who had renounced promising careers in Hollywood to devote themselves to Buchman’s work. They criss-crossed Africa for years, often in circumstances of great danger, to carry their meaningful songs—in numerous African languages—to different war-torn nations. A Catholic bishop in the Congo said at the time that they were ‘the one voice of sanity’ in his devastated country.

Buchman’s work also spread rapidly through southern Africa, including Rhodesia during its years of civil strife prior to independence. The dramatic change in the life of Alec Smith, son of Ian Smith, the white Rhodesian leader, triggered off changes also in the lives of African leaders, and the unobtrusive work of an MRA-inspired black/white body known as the ‘cabinet of conscience’ in Harare helped to pave the way for the eventual independence of Zimbabwe. (See Appendix item 6)

Outreach into Australia & New Zealand...
Frank Buchman often had Australia and New Zealand in his thoughts. He had a high expectancy of what both countries could achieve, not only for their own citizens but for the outside world. He spent three months in Australia as early as 1924 and described enthusiastically the positive response he had received from people in different walks of life, and he returned there for an extended stay in 1956. The life story of Kim Beazley senior, later Minister for Education, who first visited Caux in 1952 on his way back from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in London, and who subsequently became a model—on a Wilberforce scale—of what a modern politician can achieve when committed to the highest moral standards, has gone around the world. And so has the outreach of Buchman’s work on the Australian waterfront and in carrying forward the efforts for racial harmony inside Australia. (See Appendix item 8)

...and Latin America
Buchman never spent much time personally in Latin America but he sent some of his best-trained people to work there and welcomed large numbers of Latin Americans at conferences in the United States and Caux. The dramatic story of the transformation in conditions in the docks of Rio de Janeiro also went around the world in a film entitled Men of Brazil. (See Appendix item 10)

Depth of spiritual commitment
In the post-war period Buchman was not able to spend time in either the Soviet Union or China because of cold-war conditions. Nor did he travel much in the Arab world, nor in the Israeli-Palestinian complex. Yet his sense of concern stretched to all these areas, as his collected speeches reveal, and the seeds that he planted in these territories began to bear fruit in the years after his death. (See Appendix items 12, 14)

However, while the 16 years from the end of World War 2 till his death in 1961 saw a spectacular expansion of his work around the world, it seems clear that his primary concern throughout was not with the scale of this expansion but with the depth of spiritual commitment in those who brought it about.

Robert Schuman was in fact one of the first observers to spot the historic significance of what Buchman was doing. In his preface to the French edition of Buchman’s collected speeches (written before he knew Buchman really well and before his visit to Caux) Schuman said: ‘To provide teams of trained people, ready for the service of the state, apostles of reconciliation and builders of a new world, that is the beginning of a far-reaching transformation of human society in which, during fifteen war-ravaged years, the first steps have already been taken’. These trained teams were, in fact, the essence of Buchman’s legacy. (See Appendix item 2)


To restore a commonplace truth to its first uncommon lustre, you need only translate it into action. Samuel Taylor Coleridge

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Henry Thoreau

THE world has changed radically since Frank Buchman’s day. Indeed he might not even recognise some of the problems that now dominate our headlines: the dangers of climate change, atmospheric pollution and fuel shortages. Yet it is important to note that scientists increasingly assure us that they can save humanity from such disasters if only there is the right spirit of co-operation from governments and ourselves. So these so-called scientific crises turn out, in fact, to be a race against time for moral enlightenment, for what Buchman would have called moral re-armament. Therefore, instead of consigning Buchman to the historical archives, it becomes clear that we would do well to look again at his life and doctrine and see what we can learn that will help us in our present predicaments.

Buchman was certainly a transcendentalist, not a humanist. He spoke constantly of the importance of finding God’s plan for humanity. His doctrine, when stripped down to essentials, could be summarised in these concepts which recur regularly in his speeches—faith in God; belief in two-way prayer; absolute moral standards; discipline; total commitment; a quality of life; inner freedom; life-changing; and a world view.

The practice of listening was central to Buchman’s faith. He said: ‘When I first began I’d listen ten and talk five.’ And he added: ‘So live that God can talk to you at any hour of the day or night’. He was an intuitive, rather than a logical, thinker. After his disabling stroke, when he had to face long periods of wakefulness at night, he would even call a secretary to write down immediately some important thought that had come to him.

Coupled to his belief in divine guidance was his unshakeable attachment to absolute moral standards, particularly to the four absolute standards he took over from his early mentor Henry Wright of Yale University: absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love. Of course, he recognised that there are many other values that are inseparable from the Christian life: humility, compassion, patience, courage, etc. But he considered that these four absolute standards had a special centrality in relation to right living.

He would have agreed with the philosopher William Hocking at Harvard who said: ‘It is a mark of the shallowness of Western life that it should be thought a conceit to recognise an absolute and a humility to consider all standards relative, when it is precisely the opposite. It is only the absolute which rebukes our pride.’

Yet his belief in absolute standards was linked to an earthy recognition of the difficulty of attaining them. There was no exclusiveness about his concept of Moral Re-Armament. He used to say: ‘MRA is like a lake where an elephant can swim and a lamb can wade.’ It was this sort of catholicity coupled to his personal warmth that drew people to him instead of rebuffing them. He may well have had an autocratic streak in him, like so many other leaders; yet he inspired in his closest associates a level of loyalty and sacrifice that went well beyond the call of duty.

He never shrank from personal confrontations: but his incisiveness, and readiness to strike a deep note even with new acquaintances, was balanced by his injunction to his friends to preserve ‘an intelligent restraint and a nonchalant reserve’, when this was appropriate.

His intuitiveness also helped him to spot hidden potential in the most ordinary people. ‘The ordinary person under God can do extraordinary things’ was one of his maxims, and he once added: ‘Half my time has been taken in pulling the cork from bottled-up people.’ He certainly put the art of individual life-changing at the heart of his message and method. He staked everything on it. To him changed human lives were the raw material for a new world order. ‘Do you expect total commitment to be the result of your work with people?’ he asked. ‘Then you are doing the most necessary work in the world today.’

In 1931 a young Canadian woman in her twenties approached him tentatively with a suggestion that the time might be ripe to launch a campaign in Canada. His response was instant and characteristic: ‘Fine; you do it’. The startled Canadian rose to the challenge and three years later the Prime Minister of Canada said that her initiatives had ‘made the task of government easier’.

Achieving unity between thought and action was his constant quest. The French philosopher Gabriel Marcel was quick to spot the significance of the linkage between what he called ‘the intimate and the global’ which characterised Buchman’s work. His normal approach to even the most complicated situations was to focus on change in a key individual. When he found himself confronted at Penn State College with the problem of heavy drinking throughout the campus—‘binge drinking’ we would call it today—his strategy was to win the one man, the unlikely Bill Pickle, who was supplying the campus with its liquor.

This same technique can be spotted throughout Buchman’s career. During the Norwegian-Danish dispute over Greenland he focussed on Fredrik Ramm. During the French-German animosity after World War 2 he focussed on Irène Laure. In apartheid-dominated South Africa he focussed on George Daneel. In the Alabama race riots he focussed on Daisy Bates* and Mary McLeod Bethune. And with corruption in Ghana he focussed on the Tolon Na.

He never oversimplified things by suggesting that change in an individual was enough. His point was that unless you dealt with the human factor, you are hemmed in from the start. And conversely, when you do bring change to a key person, it is like reconnecting a severed electrical wire. And he was very clear that, as well as creating well-meaning institutions, it is necessary to continue the moral battle inside the institutions if lasting results are to be obtained from them.

It is relatively easy with a wave of optimism to launch a new organisation designed to do some specific good in the world. But when the wave expends itself, you find yourself getting bogged down by vested interests, including the jobs and privileges of the very people who were part of such well-intentioned schemes. Without reactivating the original creative spirit, you will find yourself part of the status quo.

When I worked with the Brandt Commission, which was designed by the World Bank to find ways of bridging the menacing gulfs between the rich and poor worlds, I read scores of papers by eminent experts which all seemed to end with almost the same sentence: ‘Therefore X or Y is the answer to the problem provided the necessary political will exists’. And there apparently the experts closed shop and moved on to their next project. But, of course, they were leaving the most crucial question unanswered: ‘how to create that necessary political will?’ That was the point at which Frank Buchman started. He focussed on the human factor as the key to creating 'the necessary political will'.

Yet probably the most important characteristic of Buchman’s style of leadership was his emphasis on working through teams of trained and committed people. This was the significance of his three-month retreat at Lake Tahoe in 1940 and this technique was to be a regular feature of his work. In fact, he had already sounded a warning note at the gathering at Visby in Sweden in 1938 between those who were content with ‘armchair Christianity’ and those ready for revolutionary change. He shared the belief of the celebrated British historian Arnold Toynbee in the special role of ‘creative minorities’ in bringing about civilisation’s advances.

There is an interesting account still in existence of a private discussion between Buchman and a few friends in Germany in 1949 when he was obviously in reflective and even speculative mood. From the informal record it seems that he was keen to dispel any impression that Moral Re-Armament was a closed intellectual box or a tablet written in stone. Rather, it was a living organism which involves ‘a definiteness of experience directly observable by someone else but not easily describable to someone else’. It is characterised, he suggested, by ‘a peace, a confidence, a recovery of freedom and a spontaneity of thought, will and nerve.’ It is ‘something directly discernible but not joinable. You have to experience it for yourself.’ In other words, the further vistas to which Buchman was alluding would not necessarily become clear to the brightest intellectuals but rather to those who were practicing MRA’s God-centred message to the full. As he said on another occasion, ‘No one can be wholly God-controlled who works alone. It is to a willing group of men and women that God speaks most clearly.’

Thus there is plenty of scope for spin-offs from Buchman’s work. The first such spin-off was Alcoholics Anonymous in the USA in the 1930s, and in recent years there have been many more such initiatives focussing on specific social problems. However, the most vital need will be the continuance, and the reproduction, of a core of fully committed people at the heart of all such manifestations. Buchman said more than once that he wanted ‘all my fine horses to run all-out together, neck and neck’.

One of Buchman’s early recruits in the East End of London was an unlikely character called Tod Sloan, a gnarled street-fighter who had often seen trouble with the police and who described himself as ‘a watchmaker by trade and an agitator by nature’. Tod Sloan described Buchman’s work as ‘a laughing, living, loving, obedient willingness to restore God to leadership’.

That was an early definition. Yet it still has validity. It is a vivid reminder of what Frank Buchman’s work was all about. That work has already become part of history. It could also become a flightpath to the future.

Many of the events recorded in this booklet were dramatised in the film, Cross Road, an hour-long documentary on Frank Buchman made in 1974. DVD copies are obtainable from
24 Greencoat Place, London SWIP IRD, UK, email In North America from MRA Productions, 14831 57B Avenue, Surrey, British Columbia V3S 8W5, Canada, or email


THIS attempt to give a bird's eye view of Frank Buchman's role in the history of the 20th century has been enormously helped by the recollections generously provided by people from many countries who knew him personally or who studied his impact on specific issues. References to some of these contributions have appeared at relevant points in the pamphlet but the full texts of all the contributions are being placed on the internet at
1. How Caux began Pierre Spoerri
2. France and the Expansion of Buchman's Faith Michel Sentis
3. A German Veteran remembers Hansjörg Gareis
4. Hidden Ingredients of Japan's Post-war Miracle Yukika Sohma & Fujiko Hara
5. Human Torpedo turns Creative Consultant Hideo Nakajima
6. Seeds of Change for Africa Amina Dikedi, Peter Hannon & Suzan Burrell
7. French-speaking Africa Frédéric Chavanne
8. Political Dynamite in Australia Mike Brown & John Bond
9. India’s Journey towards New Governance V.C.Viswanathan
10. Ordinary Brazilians doing Extraordinary things Luis Puig
11. Buchman’s Inspired Ideology for America
Jarvis Harriman, Bob Webb & Dick Ruffin

12. Clean Elections: Target for Taiwan Ren-Jou Liu & Brian Lightowler
13. Frank Buchman & the Muslim World Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid
14. Reconciliation comes from Change Pierre Spoerri
15. Action emerges from Silence Grigory Pomerants
16. Industry’s Forgotten Factor Alec Porter with Jens Wilhelmsen, Maarten de Pous & Miles Paine
17. The Economics of Unselfishness Pat Evans
18. The Media reports Hope, not only Disaster Bill Porter
19. Youth looks back—and forward

© ARK Mackenzie 2008

Co-published by Caux Books,
Rue de Panorama 1824 Caux, Switzerland.
And also by Initiatives of Change,
24 Greencoat Place, London SWIP 1RD.

ISBN -10: 2-88037-515-0
ISBN -10: 978-2-88037-515-7

Available from Caux Books, and Initiatives of Change at
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Brazil: Caixa Postal 46505, Cep: 20551-030, Rio de Janeiro, RJ
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France:7 bis rue des Acacias, F-92130, Issy-les-Moulineaux
Germany:Stierstrasse 17, D-12159, Berlin
Ghana:PO Box 0S 977 0su, Accra
India:Asia Plateau, Panchgani, Maharashtra 412 805
Japan:1-54-14, Funabashi, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 1560055
Netherlands: Amaliastraat 10, NL-2514 JC, Den Haag
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Norway: PO Box 3018, Elisenberg, N-0207, Oslo
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Sweden:äftingebacken 40 nb, Spånga 163 67
Taiwan: 50 Alley 17, Lane 148, Yu-Le Street, Tainan City 701
United Kingdom: 24 Greencoat Place, London, SW1P 1RD
United States: 2201 West Broad Street, Suite 200, Richmond,VA 23220 Email

Archie Mackenzie

Archie Mackenzie

Ambassador A.R.K Mackenzie, who knew Frank Buchman for over twenty years, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied moral philosophy at Glasgow University. During further studies at Harvard, he was recruited by the British Embassy and posted in wartime Washington, DC. He helped to shape the peace at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, and the San Francisco Conference in 1945, where diplomats laid the ground work for what became the United Nations.

Archie Mackenzie was a diplomat for 32 years, serving in Burma, Cyprus, France, Thailand, Tunisia, Yugoslavia, and as a representative on the Brandt Commission. Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath said of his autobiography, Faith in Diplomacy: “He succeeds in combining his working principles with his deeply held beliefs. He describes the problems he encountered right up to the highest level in his profession and how he succeeded in overcoming them.”

David Young

David Young

David Young, who piloted this pamphlet and assembled the Appendix, was born in Scotland but then spent ten years in India where his parents were working as educators. In World War 2 he served with the Royal Engineers and was seconded to the Indian Army, winning the Military Cross in the Burma campaign. After graduating from Cambridge in 1949 he started working for MRA/IofC in many parts of the world, spending 22 years in India where he was one of the pioneers in creating the international conference centre at Panchgani.

Apart from the contributions listed overleaf, our primary source in preparing the booklet has been Garth Lean's authoritative biography Frank Buchman: a Life (Constable, 1985).have also benefited from the outstanding study on ‘Religion & the Missing Dimension of Statecraft’, edited by Douglas Johnston: OUP, 1984; and have been grateful to consult an as-yet unpublished manuscript of 234 pages, entitled ‘My Friend Frank Buchman’ by Ray Foote Purdy.

ISBN -10: 2-88037-515-0
ISBN -10: 978-2-88037-515-7

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