The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

Chapter 5:
The "First Century Christian Fellowship" Campus Crusade in the 1920s

From 1919 through the mid-nineteen-twenties, Frank Buchman pursued his campus crusade at upscale American colleges like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Bryn Mawr. There, Buchman established a pattern that he would continue for life, targeting "key people" for conversion, and then, once he got some of those "key people" as members, exploiting their names for publicity purposes and for attracting more "key people." "Key people" were people like football stars, student body presidents, and famous rich men's sons. Another handy feature of those upscale "key people" was that they usually had fat wallets, which also helped. From the beginning of his career, Frank Buchman always believed that society could be transformed from the top down — convert the leaders, and the common folk would follow.

Another habit that Frank Buchman developed early on was living well on donors' money. When he was criticized for always traveling first class and staying in the best hotels, Buchman answered with something like this quote from TIME magazine in 1936, "Why shouldn't we stay in 'posh' hotels? Isn't God a millionaire?"

      In 1920 Frank Buchman was approached to create and lead a movement financed by John D. Rockefeller and others, which would, in its initiators' phrase, "use all the genius of American industry to carry Christ's message to the laymen of the world."58 In an unpublished manuscript, Ray Foote Purdy stated that the movement was to be called "The Interchurch World Movement".59 Garth Lean said that Frank Buchman turned the offer down, feeling that it would cramp his work into an organizational framework.

      Frank Buchman may not have accepted the leadership of Rockefeller's organization, but Buchman always got plenty of money from somewhere.

Frank Buchman also established another pattern for life: He displayed an unhealthy obsession with sex. One Harvard graduate is reported to have said, "He started asking me intimate questions about sex before I'd been alone with him for five minutes. I left in a hurry."96

What was odd about Frank Buchman was his insistence on hearing all of the details of other people's masturbatory habits, especially young men's habits. Buchman maintained that people needed to be "saved" from the "sin" of masturbation, and he insisted on hearing their confessions of their personal practices of it. He was an embarrassment to colleges and organizations because of his prodding to hear the details of this "secret vice" of "solitary abuse", and there were complaints lodged against him.

One of the Oxford Group propaganda books tells this rather ridiculous story of Frank Buchman converting an atheist:

        Among those he [Buchman] met on this visit was one of Oxford's outstanding scholars who was a militant atheist. He used to organize meetings on Sunday afternoons, invite some theologian to give a talk, and then lead the ensuing discussion so ably that when it came to a vote there was always a majority in favour of atheism. Someone told him that a man named Frank Buchman was in Oxford and that this Buchman believed in the Holy Spirit. The atheist thought this was nonsense. So he decided to ask Buchman to his rooms for coffee and argue him out of his beliefs. When Buchman arrived he put forth all his arguments for atheism. Buchman sat there nodding his head, saying, 'Really?' and 'Very interesting'.
        After an hour the atheist saw that he was getting nowhere. He suddenly said to Buchman, 'I wish you would tell me what you think of me.'
        Buchman answered, 'You don't want me to be rude, do you?'
        The atheist persisted. So Buchman said, 'I feel three things about you. First, you are unhappy.'
        The other answered, 'Yes, I am.'
        Buchman said, 'You have an unhappy home.'
        The atheist answered, 'Yes, I have. I hate my father. I always have since I was a boy.'
        Buchman then said, 'You are in the grip of an impure habit which you cannot bring yourself to talk about with anyone.'
        The atheist answered, 'That is a lie.' There was silence.
        Buchman said, 'I must go.'
        The atheist said, 'Please stay.'
        Buchman said, 'I must go.'
        'No, don't go.'
        Buchman then said, 'Well, I'll stay on one condition — that you and I listen to God together.'
        The atheist made a surprising reply. He said, 'I couldn't do that. I told you a lie a few minutes ago. I am in the grip of that habit.'
        Buchman said, 'I know.' They talked honestly together and ended the evening on their knees. The atheist said, 'I want to give my life to God.' And he did so.
Dynamic Out of Silence: Frank Buchman's Relevance Today, Theophil Spoerri, pages 66-67.

Frank Buchman's attitudes and teachings about sex grew even more extreme in the following years. Eventually, Buchmanism would take on a Puritanical rigidity that declared that even sex between married couples was less than Absolute Purity. Two of Buchman's disciples, Peter Howard, who took over leadership of the Oxford Groups and Moral Re-Armament after Frank Buchman's death, and Dr. Paul Campbell, Buchman's personal physician, taught us in their book Remaking Men that:

Indulgence by the married, while having the cloak of legitimacy, may nevertheless be the source of irritable tempers and of inability to answer to the real needs of the children. Parents indulgent inside marriage need not be surprised if their children are indulgent outside marriage. A union which could otherwise be powerful for remaking the nation thus remains a soft and uninspiring association.
Remaking Men, Paul Campbell and Peter Howard, 1954, quoted in
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, page 258.

Peter Howard and Dr. Paul Campbell were stone crazy. (Dr. Paul Campbell abandoned his medical career and devoted his life to proselytizing for Buchman's cult and writing such "religious" nonsense.)

  • "Parents indulgent inside marriage need not be surprised if their children are indulgent outside marriage." (Oh really? Where is the evidence for that?) By that logic, most all of the children in the world should be having sex outside of marriage, because most married couples occasionally indulge in sex.

  • Also notice how Peter Howard and Paul Campbell were using fear mongering and the propaganda trick of Arguing From Adverse Consequences: "If you have sex with your spouse, then your children will turn promiscuous outside of marriage, and you shouldn't be surprised to see it — it will all be your own fault."

  • So where is the evidence for all of those sweeping statements? What study, poll, or survey established that...
    • Married people who have sex will have irritable tempers? (Says who? It seems like those who aren't getting any sexual satisfaction are more irritable.)
    • Will be unable to care for their young?
    • Their children will have sex outside of marriage?
    • The marriage will be a "soft and uninspiring association"?
    What study, survey, or poll discovered any of that?
    There isn't any.
    Obviously, Peter Howard and Dr. Paul Campbell were just fabricating crazy stuff out of thin air. That is, the crazy theology that they didn't copy from Frank Buchman.

  • Thus it was standard practice at Buchman's facilities to insist that married couples sleep apart in sexually-segregated quarters, to prevent sex between married couples.

And their description of promiscuous people was very strange:

The heterosexual, promiscuous person ordinarily has an aggressive spirit, and not infrequently is possessed by a short volatile temper. The man who is unfaithful to his wife is apt to talk too much and maintains an unconvincing false bouyancy. A most reliable sign of sexual defeat is piosity. Men who are unctuous and unreal are licked by impurity.
Remaking Men, Paul Campbell and Peter Howard, 1954, quoted in
The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, page 259.

Again, where is the evidence for any of that? Where did they get that?

And remember how a fellow teacher at Penn State said that "Buchman oozed the oil of unctuous piety from every pore"...? Is that just a coincidence? Were Frank Buchman's disciples blind to the implications of what they were saying? "A most reliable sign of sexual defeat is piosity." Is this an odd kind of unconscious psychological projection, or a Freudian slip? "...licked by impurity"?

Likewise, Frank Buchman also declared that prostate troubles were a sure sign of previous sexual misconduct — until he had to have his own prostate removed, that is.103

The Buchmanite manual that taught Oxford Group recruiters how to get people to confess their sins said:

A second service we may render at this stage is to help a man not only to see himself as God sees him, but also to understand, if he is young and inexperienced, the terrible consequences of the sin that is not checked, perhaps through the medium of a painful surgical operation. It was one who knew sin in its farthest reaches who used the uncompromising language of Matthew 5:28, and the verse following: 'and if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish and that thy whole body should not be cast into hell.'
Soul Surgery: Some Thoughts On Incisive Personal Work, H. A. Walter, M.A., Oxford University Press, 1932, page 67.

So young men who are sinning sexually will need to get their genitals chopped off?
Ouch! That is really some intense fear-mongering.

At Princeton, in 1922,

As at Harvard and Yale, much opposition was aroused. Talk about Buchmanite methods and sexual confessions went around the campus, while discussions of masturbation and homosexuality in connection with the movement grew frequent. Opposition swelled to the point where certain students, under the leadership of Edward Steese and Neilson Abeel, proposed to launch a new campus publication with the aim of driving Buchmanism out of Princeton. The position of these opponents was that Buchmanism surreptitiously practiced unwarranted inquisition into personal lives, was dangerous in its handling of sex, and was stimulating a most unhealthy interest in morbid sexual matters among the student body.
The Oxford Group; Its History and Significance, Walter Houston Clark, pages 67-68.

Buchman's faithful follower Garth Lean wrote,

Buchman was deeply hurt by these insinuations, especially hating being made to look like the leader of a new cult, the more so as his own name was used to describe what he regarded as God's work and not his.
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 125.

The following year — in December 1923 — Princeton University President John Hibben banned Frank Buchman and his campus crusade from Princeton because of Buchman's sexual obsession, his offensive and arrogant behavior, and the obtrusive zeal, invasion of privacy, and inappropriate confessions of sexual matters of some of his converts.

It didn't help any that one of Buchman's converts had taken the innocent daughter of a Princeton Professor out on a date, and then gave her a full confession of every intimate detail of his sex life. And, undoubtedly, it also didn't help any that Buchman had told President Hibben that 85% of the Princeton undergraduates were either "sexually perverted or [self-]abusive."11

Dick B. wrote:

John Hibben, President of Princeton University, became involved in a long-standing series of accusations against Buchman, Buchmanism, and Buchman's alleged abnormal and morbid emphasis on sex and conducting unwarranted inquisition into men's private lives while Buchman was connected with Princeton. This prompted Hibben at one point to announce to the press, "there is no place for Buchmanism in Princeton."
The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dick B., footnote on pages 160-161.

President Hibben would have felt that it was his moral duty to protect his young students at that all-male university from homosexual predators, so when he thought he saw a weirdo, he would have sent him packing. Frank Buchman was such a public figure that Hibben had to explain his reasons to the newspaper reporters, who documented these events. Even worse for Buchman, in an open forum meeting, the students voted heavily against Buchman's return.7

TIME magazine reported:

Noisy, dirty, impolite, Nobody loves a Buchmanite.
— Princeton Song.

Buchmanism, in its essentials, is easily seen as an adaptation of Christianity which contains many features of traditional excellence. Conversion, contemplation, confession — upon these it lays emphasis. One peculiarity, however, has made it famous and has caused its founder, Frank N. D. Buchman, Muhlenburg graduate and Lutheran minister, to be called ugly names. At Buchman "houseparties" (gatherings devoted to mutual confession and "washing out"), sex is the pièce de résistance. Mr. Buchman and his assistants are accused of reducing their diagnoses of spiritual sufferings to bad sex habits. The weak-chinned element in schools and colleges, full of relief at finding so plain a focal point for their self-betterment ambitions or so simple a seeming cause for all their adolescent agonies, succumb readily to the "spiritual surgery" which follows this easy diagnosis.
TIME magazine, May 28, 1928

Likewise, Marcus Bach reported that he discussed the matter with those Buchmanites Ned and Aylmer:

What about Frank's personal life? Would it endanger the admirable faith of these believers if I retold the rumors that persistently drifted in from Princeton and Oxford campuses? When I brought up the matter, Aylmer dismissed it with a wave of his hand, but Ned demanded an explanation.
      "It's an established fact," I supplied, "that Buchman was ordered out of Princeton by President John Grier Hibben in 1924 for saying that sex ruled the campus roosts."
      "Well, maybe he was right!" Aylmer retorted.
      "Maybe. But there were charges that the confessions prerequisite to change turned out to be orgiastic demonstrations. Some say the washing-out is as satisfying to the listeners as the original sin was to the confessors."
They Have Found A Faith, by Marcus Bach, pages 147-148.

An astute reader might notice an apparent contradiction here. Earlier, you read Beverly Nichols describing how the Oxford Group members never confessed anything about sexual matters, but here at Princeton we hear of much talk about sex. And Nichols also wrote: "I have known five marriages that were wrecked by the Oxford Group — by this pernicious practice of 'absolute honesty'. In each case they were wrecked by totally unnecessary confessions of a sexual nature."

Other contemporariries, like Rev. Richardson, described lurid confessions at Oxford Group meetings: "Within my own hearing, further, it was said by one prominent among Canadian Church leaders that at a meeting of the Groups in British Columbia — at Vancouver, if I am not mistaken — that he and his wife were forced to leave the hall in protest against the character of some of the sharings."

The answer to the apparent contradiction is: Nichols was describing the Oxford Group as he saw it at Oxford in the early nineteen-thirties, while here we have the Oxford Group as it was earlier, in the mid-nineteen-twenties on campuses in the USA. Apparently, Frank Buchman started off interpreting "Absolute Honesty" quite literally, so confessors were encouraged to be frank about sex — perhaps even graphic — in their confessions during the campus crusades in the USA in the 'twenties. But Frank Buchman got his fingers badly burned on that one. Sensational and lurid sexual confession sessions caused such a furor, and roused so much anger, and brought so much disrepute on Frank Buchman and his "movement", that he finally barred talk about sex. (As Beverly Nichols pointed out, Buchman had to censor such talk.) But that then created the obvious problem that the public confessions were no longer "absolutely honest" — they were just sanitized show-pieces.

The true-believer Oxford Groupers tried to explain away the Princeton University scandal with minimization and denial. Peter Howard wrote:

At Princeton, when the opposition appeared, the President, Dr. Hibben, allowed himself to be quoted as saying that so long as he was President there was no place for Dr. Buchman's work in the University. It seems that Dr. Hibben had spoken before he got the facts.
Innocent Men, Peter Howard, page 89.

That is deceptive language. "Opposition" did not just magically "appear" at Princeton. Some good and sincere people strongly condemned what they saw as the perverted practices of an evil organization. President Hibben did not passively "allow himself to be quoted". He publicly made an emphatic declaration to newspaper reporters who were asking about the matter: "There is no place for Buchmanism in Princeton."

Likewise, the Oxford Groupers also told the following story:

        Dr Hibben, who had followed Woodrow Wilson as President of the University, a well-meaning but weak man, wanted to avoid any conflict and in December 1923 invited Buchman and his friends to meet and discuss matters with their opponents. Following that, there was a friendly exchange of letters between Buchman and the President.
        For Abeel and his friends, however, the meeting merely provided material for renewed attacks. In February 1924 they put together their attacks on Buchman in a pamphlet called The Cannonball. They they showed Dr Hibben the galley-proofs. Unless he officially declared himself against Buchman, they threatened, they would publish it. Dr Hibben, fearing for the good name of the university, allowed himself to be stampeded into saying: 'There is no place for Buchman in Princeton.
        Buchman's attackers did not rest on their laurels. Moreover they were further irritated by the vigorous ways in which his friends were continuing to gain ground. An editor of The Churchman, Ernest Mandeville by name, took it upon himself to publish a series of articles repeating the wholly unsubstantiated Princeton attacks. The Princeton legend grew and in October 1926 TIME seized on some of the accusations to blow them up sensationally. In this form they were picked up by the New York papers.
Dynamic Out Of Silence: Frank Buchman's Relevance Today, Theophil Spoerri, pages 78-79.

The Buchmanites did not say what accusations were in that Cannonball pamphlet, or why Dr. Hibben should fear its publication, or how he could be blackmailed with accusations that were aimed at the Oxford Group. It would seem that the Oxford Group would have a lot more to fear from the contents of The Cannonball than Dr. Hibben. And Dr. Hibben did not seem to be such a "weak man" when it came to kicking Frank Buchman out of Princeton University... "And of course," the Buchmanites implied, "everybody else who criticized Frank Buchman was merely misinformed."

What TIME magazine actually said was,

"Personal Work"

    Of ways of winning men to God there is no end. The Church Spiritual has been content down through the ages to minister to men's souls; but the Church Militant — and sometimes Rampant — has dealt and deals by preference with corporeal man. The great brass founding city of Waterbury, Conn., is at present counting the spiritual cost or gain to its citizens of an onslaught made upon them by 55 college men and 15 college women: The Student Christian Mission: "An organization to produce producing Christians."
    These young exponents of the Church Rampant were directed in their activities at Waterbury by four undergraduates prominent at Yale, Harvard, Princeton. Before commencing their campaign the 70 student evangelists assembled at Camp Hazen, near Waterbury, for a "wash out" or mutual confession of sin. During this process "a condition bordering on emotional frenzy" was generated, in the opinion of so experienced an observer as Mr. Ernest W. Mandeville, who last week began a series of articles on the Waterbury phenomenon in The Churchman. Finally, having "received guidance," "washed out," the students entered Waterbury for a ten-day campaign.
    A succession of students spoke in relays on nine prominent street corners. Local ministers co-operated, and such powerful speakers as Sherwood Eddy and Dean Charles R. Brown of the Yale Divinity School addressed mass meetings every evening. By day the students spent a portion of their time in private converse with prospective converts. By "washing out" themselves they endeavored to draw a reciprocal confession of sin from the person interviewed. As one student evangelist described his technique: "The people of Waterbury are interested in us as rotters. They are not interested in us as saints."
    Soon the effects of this technique were felt. Converts "washed out" by scores. One student evangelist was removed to a hospital suffering from epileptic fits. The Rev. Herbert D. Gallaudet, minister of the Congregational Church of Waterbury, testified that he had seen the Savior while motoring near Bethany, Conn., had stopped his car, and "walked in the woods with Jesus." Finally, the student evangelists began a series of visits to the clergy of Waterbury, urged them to abandon their present technique and go personally among their flocks, confessing their sins and drawing "wash outs" from penitents. When the campaign ended, some $4,500 having been raised and spent, the press of Waterbury was not unanimous in praising the results attained.
    Buchmanism. Educators recognized at once that the Waterbury Student Mission was a manifestation of a sect that has rooted itself spasmodically in U. S. colleges — Buchmanism. Mr. Frank N. D. Buchman was not at Waterbury, but was represented by Samuel Shoemaker, zealous disciple. Mr. Buchman is smooth, with a long intelligent nose, a hungry eye. He is to be seen from time to time traveling first class on the principal transatlantic liners. When at New Haven, or Princeton, or Cambridge, Mass., or Cambridge, Eng., he is persona grata among a group of serious-minded young men distinguished by their piety and their wealth. Like young Buchmanites, Mr. Buchman is a bachelor, though past 40. In what does his influence over them reside?
    Briefly, the Buchman cult is distinguished from other forms of personal evangelism by its preoccupation with "washing out" from its members, by mutual confession, the strain of auto-erotism.
    The Buchman handbook, Soul Surgery, keynotes the slogan, "Woo, Win, Warn." There, personal workers read:
    "Take nothing for granted. No matter how respectable a man may seem, be he clergyman or vestryman or Y. M. C. A. secretary, he may still stand in need of your moral surgery. . . .
    "First, learn what is wrong with your prospective convert — either from gossip or local suspicion. There is some sin which is obstructing his free communion with God. Accuse him of the sin of which you suspect him. Then by confessing to him (man to man) your own former weaknesses you will elicit a full confession from him. . . . this is often the kind of drastic, spiritual operation which alone can prevent a superficial repentance and unreal conversion. In New York City, last winter, a university student leader came to talk with Mr. Buchman about entering the Christian ministry. . . . Mr. Buchman answered his questions on the ministry to the best of his ability, but still the man seemed unsatisfied. They had finished dinner with little accomplished, and Mr. Buchman then invited him to his room for further conversation. In time the student opened up a little more, and said: 'I'll tell you why I couldn't enter the ministry. I want my own way too much.' 'Isn't there anything else?' Mr. Buchman asked, and the student said: 'No.' Then Mr. Buchman was 'told what he should speak,'* as suspicion became conviction; and leaning forward he said earnestly to the man: 'Isn't your problem . . . ?' The barrier of pride crumbled away, the man burst into tears, and a new beginning was made on a sure foundation, which transformed the young man into a genuine personal worker and decided finally his problems concerning the ministry."
    A further manifestation of Buchmanism is the "Buchman house party," a week-end gathering of young people of both sexes in the home of some wealthy convert at which strenuous efforts are made to "wash out" all present.
    Significance. A very large proportion of Buchmanites pass without great harm through their "washing out" and forget the whole movement when — as in most cases — marriage removes the occasion for auto-eroticism. Buchmanism bursts in upon adolescent imaginations with the revelation that auto-sexualism is a deadly sin. The adolescent has not read Oskar Berger's Vorlesungen: "95% of young men and women occasionally practice auto-eroticism"; or Havelock Ellis's Auto-Erotism: "There appears to be little reliable evidence to show that simple auto-erotism in a well-born and healthy individual, can produce any evil results beyond slight functional disturbances, and these only when practiced in excess."
    Naturally, the adolescent becomes pliant before the Buchmanite evangelist — perhaps the first person with whom the prospective convert has ever discussed his erotic life.
    Of course, Buchmanites bring with them also the less corporeal aspects of the Christian message. In so far as they succeed — as often they do — in starting men on a spiritual life, other Christian workers praise Mr. Buchman and Buchmanites. But they are severely criticized by fellow-Christians in so far as they confuse Christianity with the treatment of one "sin" which, it is remarked, The Founder never mentioned.

*Buchmanese for "received Divine inspiration."

TIME Magazine, October 18, 1926, pages 26-27.

In spite of Dr. Hibben's banning Frank Buchman from Princeton, the Buchmanite activities continued on the Princeton campus for some time. Two years later, the Philadelphian Society of Princeton, an on-campus religious organization, was charged with Buchmanite activities by an open student forum. The resentment and controversy over the Buchmanite's religious conversion techniques was so great that Hibben appointed a nine-member board of inquiry to investigate the matter. A questionnaire that asked for the students' opinions of the matter yielded a 75% unfavorable opinion of Buchman's group.51

The investigation was muddled by the failure of many of the students who complained about the Oxford Group to come forward and give official testimony. The board of inquiry adjourned and issued an inconclusive report, saying that the charges against the Oxford Group had not been proven.

Nevertheless, the final outcome of the controversy was the resignation of several Buchmanite student leaders from the Philadelphian Society. The New York Times reported:


Purdy of Evangelistic Cult at
Princeton Is Out as Secretary


Disciple Defends Practices of the
Order — Students Protested It
Overemphasizes Sex.

Special to The New York Times.

PRINCETON, N. J., Feb. 19. — The issue of Buchmanism at Princeton culminated today in the resignation of Ray Foote Purdy, General Secretary of the religious organization here, and five associated graduate secretaries. With the resignation of the heads of the Philadelphian Society, which is Princeton's undergraduate Y.M.C.A., a row which started last Fall with a stormy open forum in which undergraduates charged the religious organization with using objectionable evangelistic methods which they linked with the name of Frank Buchman.
      The resignation, effective March 1, is addressed to Dr. John McDowell of New York City. President of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphian Society. The letter is signed by Mr. Purdy, Theodore Stevenson, Howard Blake, Frank Bancroft, John Bryant and Scoville Wishard.

Purdy Defends Cult's Aims.

      The resignations are the result of a letter published in The Daily Princetonian two weeks ago from Mr. Purdy in which he said that the aims and methods of the Philadelphian Society were the same as those employed by Mr. Buchman.
      Several years ago, President Hibben said that as long as he was President of Princeton there would be no place for Buchmanism on the campus. In 1924 he refused to permit Mr. Buchman to talk with students on the campus.
      Many undergraduates objected to the practice of Buchmanism on the ground that it overemphasized sex and that they did not approve of its basic principles of "emotional evangelism for the individual rather than for the mass."
      The letter by Mr. Purdy read in part: "For whatever success there has been in Christian evangelism in Princeton, I personally owe more to Frank Buchman than to any other man at present in Christian work, and whatever aims and methods have been used at the Philadelphian Society have been similar, as far as I know them, to those of Mr. Buchman."
      Following the open forum meeting Dr. Hibben appointed a committee to investigate. This committee of three members of the Board of Trustees, three of the Faculty and three from the undergraduate body reported in January, exonerating the society of the charges made by the undergraduates. However, the committee found Mr. Purdy at fault in having invited Mr. Buchman to Princeton a year ago in view of the stand taken by Dr. Hibben.
      The letter in which Mr. Purdy paid tribute to Mr. Buchman appeared after the findings of the committee and while President Hibben was touring the West. Although it is understood that the Secretaries were not asked to resign, it is believed that they were made to feel the the admission of Mr. Purdy definitely alienated the support of the Administration and the undergraduate body. It is not known whether or not the investigating committee was planning to reconsider its former findings when the resignations were announced.
      The graduate secretaries of the Philadelphian Society are appointed by the general secretary, so that the resignations of the five secretaries were perfunctory.
      President Hibben declined to comment on the resignations today. He said, however, that immediate steps would be taken toward the reorganization of the Campus Religious Society. The graduate secretaries were attending a ministerial conference in Yonkers today.

      Dr. John McDowell, President of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphian Society, said last night that the resignations of Mr. Purdy and the associate secretaries of the society would come before a meeting of the board of directors in a few days.
      "The whole matter will be laid before the board," Dr. McDowell said. "and the board will act on the resignations at once. A statement will be forthcoming from the board at that time."

The New York Times, Feb. 20, 1927, page 16.

Ray Foote Purdy in 1942
Ray Foote Purdy remained in Frank Buchman's organization for the rest of his life, and his son Ray Purdy Jr. grew up in the cult. During the 1940s, they both acted in Frank Buchman's jingoistic flag-waving "patriotic" theatrical productions. In the 1950s, Ray Foote Purdy was one of the American leaders of Moral Re-Armament.

Finally, the faithful Buchmanite Professor Theophil Spoerri — Rector of Zurich University — declared that Life magazine had vindicated Frank Buchman in its November 1926 issue. He has Life saying:

'It appears that Mr Buchman gives people new motives and a source of power. The means he uses irritate those who feel challenged by them. That is probably the reason why he has been criticized so sharply in Princeton. ... Rebirth is what the world needs desperately though it is just as unwilling as Princeton to be brought face to face with the necessity of just such a change as F.B. is effecting.'
Dynamic Out Of Silence: Frank Buchman's Relevance Today, Theophil Spoerri, 1971, page 79.

Notice how that Buchmanite apologist did not actually answer any of the charges against Buchman or his followers; he just implied that critics of Buchman felt "challenged" and were unwilling to change. (It's an old trick — ad hominem — The best defense is an attack.) And Theophil Spoerri was actually grossly misquoting and distorting a Life magazine editorial. What Life magazine really printed was:

      ONE reads in the papers of an inquisition at Princeton University into the qualifications of Frank Buckman [sic.] as a religious influence for Princeton students. There seems to be doubt whether he is good for them. Not many people know much about him, but any one who is interested may find him and his proceedings described by Harold Begbie in a book four or five years old called "More Twice-Born Men." Mr. Begbie's famous book, "Twice-Born Men," described the spiritual operations induced by the Salvation Army and how they made men over. This later book describes how "Frank Buckman" [sic.] does it, but it does not give his name. It calls him "F. B."
      What Mr. Buckman [sic.] seems to do is to give men new motives and driving power. The means which he seems to have at his disposal sometimes upset persons exposed to them, and none the less because they are spiritual means. That may be why he is scrutinized at Princeton. Or it may be the Princeton of Dr. West likes its students as they are, and does not want new men made of them. Or possibly it would be the parents who would object. Anyhow these little scraps in the papers are interesting evidences of a state of mind, and one that is very prevalent in this world and always was. Men object to becoming different. Parents whom they represent and express usually feel the same about it. Yet now that the election is over it can be said without prejudice that what this world needs the most of anything is that a lot of people in it should be changed in many of their vital particulars. Our world needs to be born again, needs it badly, and is at least as reluctant to face that process as Princeton seems to be to have "F. B." transmogrify any of her children.
Life, Vol. 88, No. 2298, November 18, 1926, R. E. Sherwood, editor, page 18.

So much for the Buchmanite practice of Absolute Honesty.

In the above-quoted editorial by TIME magazine, they stated that "A very large proportion of Buchmanites pass without great harm through their 'washing out' and forget the whole movement..." Several of the contemporary clergy who had first-hand experience with the Groups were of a very different opinion. Remember how Dr. Herbert Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, wrote that, for some people, "complete nervous and mental collapse followed in the wake of the vehement excitements of Groupism". Likewise,

      "Many in Oxford like myself," writes the Rev. C. M. Chavasse, Master of St. Peter's Hall, and a recognized leader of the Evangelical School of Thought in England, "who count disciples of Dr. Buchman amongst our friends, and admire their zeal and sincerity, are filled with grave misgivings about this cult; and our misgivings are shared by practically all religious leaders and responsible persons in the University. Very many touched by the Groups are touched only. They crash when the influence of the Group is removed (as, for example, during vacation) and they join the ranks of what has been described as the new Oxford problem of the 'castaways.'"   ...
      With even more emphasis the Rev. Dr. Graham Brown, Bishop in Jerusalem, is reported to have asked, "Is it any wonder that the clergy of Oxford have to act as an ambulance corps to look after the wrecks of Buchmanism?" while the Bishop of Durham speaks of "the trail of moral and intellectual wrecks which the progress of the Movement leaves behind."
      The statement of Miss B. E. Gwyer, Principal of St. Hugh's College, is no less significant in this connection. "The activities undertaken with such eager docility by the immature in years and mind are, none the less open to criticism," Miss Gwyer says, "because their own leaders seem blind to the immediate and ultimate results. Those of us who have seen simplicity replaced by glib and complacent assurance; who have watched the undergraduate of reserved or reflective disposition being alienated, perhaps permanently, from all forms of evangelical religion; who have heard indifference to every claim, every grade, of human fellowship, and every appeal of human need, except in one category, not condoned as a lapse but defended as a sacred principle, cannot accept the view that the house young people are being so confidently urged to build possesses foundations laid exclusively upon the rock" (Oxford and the Groups, pp. 69-70).
      [In] Henry P. Van Dusen's discriminating article on the subject of the Groups in the August, 1934, number of The Atlantic Monthly [he wrote] "An Oxford don ... who has observed the work there sympathetically over ten years gives it as his judgement that the first impact of the Groups upon any life is almost always helpful and desirable; but that long association almost always induces highly regrettable qualities of spiritual pride, narrowness, hypersensitiveness, self-concern. His is, I think, an acute observation. ("The Oxford Group Movement — An Appraisal," p. 251).
The Groups Movement, The Most Rev. John A. Richardson, pages 28-31.
Morehouse Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wis., 1935.
Also see:
Oxford and the Groups; The Influence of the Groups considered by Rev. G. F. Allen, John Maud, Miss B. E. Gwyer, C. R. Morris, W. H. Auden, R. H. S. Crossman, Dr. L. P. Jacks, Rev. E. R. Micklem, Rev. J. W. C. Wand, Rev. M. C. D'Arcy, S.J., Professor L. W. Grensted, Edited by R. H. S. Crossman
Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1934.

Also see Beverly Nichols' story of his nervous breakdown following his involvement with the Oxford Groups.

The Miss B. E. Gwyer, Principal of St. Hugh's College at Oxford, who was quoted above, went on to say:

In the earlier period of the Movement it was widely stated that the field of Dr. Buchman's work and aspirations lay in the Universities. At the present date a calm observer cannot but ask whether the enthusiasm of University men and women, adolescent as well as adult, has not in fact been utilized as a lever for the fulfilment of far more sweeping ambitions. I have no quarrel with these, which are not my concern, except in so far as they are pursued at the expense of what is of equally vital importance. Movements are made for men, not men for Movements; and though exploitation is a hard word — hardest of all perhaps on the lips of one of the writer's calling — the activities undertaken with such eager docility by the immature in years and mind are, none the less, open to criticism because their own leaders seem blind both to the immediate and to the ultimate results. Those of us who have seen simplicity replaced by glib and complacent assurance; who have watched the undergraduate of reserved or reflective disposition being alienated, perhaps permanently, from all forms of evangelical religion; who have heard indifference to every claim, every grade, of human fellowship, and every appeal of human need, except in the one category, not condoned as a lapse but defended as a sacred principle, cannot accept the view that the house young people are being so confidently urged to build possesses foundations laid exclusively upon the rock.
      And — surely — all for want of a little poverty! For it is money which makes possible the placing in quasi-official positions, undefined as to functions and scope, but in close touch with undergraduates, of persons totally unqualified by years, training or experience for the responsibilities they assume; to whose influence, as convinced exponents of 'team guidance,' must supposedly be attributed the strange travesties of Christian teaching that from time to time reach our ears. It is money which maintains, or subsidizes, those members of the corps of travelling evangelists and platform speakers not aware of any call to earn a livelihood otherwise: a situation in which, so far as young and undeveloped characters are concerned, progressive advance in depth, objectivity of mind, or independence of judgement would be miraculous indeed. It is money which beats the resounding drum, and pens the insinuating card, or paragraph, of advertisement; to such confounding effect that, to the ear of inexperience, propaganda and the uncontrollable movement of the 'wind' do seem at last to become one and the same thing, and the volume and velocity of the spiritual current measurable in terms very much of this world.
"COMMENTS OF AN EDUCATIONALIST", Miss B. E. Gwyer, pages 69-70, writing in
Oxford and the Groups; The Influence of the Groups considered by Rev. G. F. Allen, John Maud, Miss B. E. Gwyer, C. R. Morris, W. H. Auden, R. H. S. Crossman, Dr. L. P. Jacks, Rev. E. R. Micklem, Rev. J. W. C. Wand, Rev. M. C. D'Arcy, S.J., Professor L. W. Grensted, Edited by R. H. S. Crossman
Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1934.

And Maisie Ward observed:

      And if we admit the good done in many cases we must also note the harm done in others. The Anglican Bishop of Calcutta, Dr. Kiddle, after following the Groups for six years and accompanying Dr. Buchman's own team through America and Canada, wrote of the harm done by reaction among those whose conversions were more swift than solid.
      His comment is quoted in Dossiers de l'Action Populaire (Oct. 25th, 1936). I translate it back into English as I have been unable to lay hands on the original.
      'Two years ago,' he writes, 'an immense group campaign in Louisville, Kentucky, registered hundreds of conversions. The team returned this year in the spring to consolidate its work and we did not find eleven people who had persevered....
      'This raises a grave question. Is not the state of these disappointed converts worse than it was before? It is only honest to set against the victories of the Oxford Group the equally undeniable disappointments and disillusionment.'
The Oxford Groups, Maisie Ward, pages 27-28.

Indeed. Other critics noted that some people reacted to their disillusionment with the Buchmanites by becoming cynical about, and hostile to, all evangelical religions in general.

And A.A. has many of the same problems:

  • "...if we admit the good done in some cases we must also note the harm done in many others." A.A. never admits that it harms or kills alcoholics, even though a member of the Board of Trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. discovered that with his own research.
  • In addition, many alcoholics are so disillusioned by the A.A. cult religion routine that they reject all recovery programs in general, and just give up on "recovery".
  • A.A. also plays fast and loose with the numbers, and claims far more members (converts) than sober members, even while they simultaneously chant: "RARELY HAVE we seen a person fail, who has thoroughly followed our path."
  • And A.A. sponsors have no experience or training to qualify them as doctors or recovery counselors — they are also "persons totally unqualified by years, training or experience for the responsibilities they assume" — yet they arrogate those roles anyway, and dispense totally goofy advice, like telling newcomers to stop taking the medications that their doctor prescribed.
    NOTE: A brochure published by the A.A. headquarters has finally admitted that A.A. sponsors have driven sponsees to suicide by telling them not to take their psychiatric medications. Look here:
    and here:

Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman

Buchman attempted to pursue his "good work" at other campuses, but Buchmanism quickly faded into obscurity at virtually every institution where it had taken root. Following the collapse of his campus crusade in the U.S., Buchman moved his base of operations to England, and conducted evangelical campaigns at Oxford and Cambridge. It was through recruits garnered at Oxford that his group was to get its new name: "The Oxford Group Movement."

What happened was, a group of Buchmanite students from Oxford went to South Africa to do missionary work. A Black porter who was handling their luggage at a railway station wrote, in chalk, "the Oxford group" on their luggage and on the door to their railway carriage compartment. The young student missionaries liked the sound of the name, and started using it to describe themselves. Frank Buchman apparently liked the prestigious sound of the name, too, and pretty soon, all of the Buchmanites, everywhere in the world, were claiming to be part of "The Oxford Group".

A contemporary minister, Rev. H.A. Ironside, who was critical of Buchman's theology, described the naming of Buchman's organization this way:

One young minister whom I met on a recent visit to Philadelphia was for three years a very active participant in the movement until suddenly awakened to realize how far it was drifting from First Century Christianity. That is one of the names given to the movement. It is frequently known as Buchmanism, because of the fact that Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman, a Lutheran minister, was largely the originator of the movement. It is also known as the Oxford Group Movement. That name, however, would seem to be almost a misnomer, for it had been quite well started before ever the leaders of it went to Oxford. It began here in America on the eastern coast in 1908 and it has been carried on chiefly in college circles ever since. It was not until 1920 that Dr. Frank Buchman crossed over to the old country and went to Cambridge and Oxford, and there sought to awaken an interest among the students and some English Church clergymen in his movement. Shortly after that a group of these people left England and went to South Africa to propagate the movement, and it was there that they were first advertised as the Oxford Group Movement. There is something, of course, about the name that rather challenges attention. It has been said by some of the members of the inner circle that three of the greatest movements of the last two centuries began at Oxford, and they linked together the Wesleyan movement which, of course, began in the Holy Club at Oxford, the Puseyite, or High Church, movement of a century ago, and now the Buchman movement, or First Century Christianity. I cannot help but feel it is rather a fleshly pride that leads people to link the name of the university city with the movement, when it did not begin there but had gained considerable momentum before its advocates went there at all. Even at the present time, I am told by reliable persons, comparatively few indeed at Oxford have any further interest in this movement.
The Oxford Group Movement; Is It Scriptural? by H. A. Ironside, Litt. D.; A Sermon Preached in Moody Memorial Church

In truth, Frank Buchman's group never attracted more than a very tiny minority of the students at Oxford. Marjorie Harrison reported in Saints Run Mad that "In the whole University there are only about 200 members." (Page 21.)

Certain unsympathetic Oxford men objected to Buchman's appropriation of their name, claiming that Buchman's organization might just as well be called the Kuling China Group, or the Penn State Group, but Buchman ignored their objections.5

It may have been more than a coincidence that Frank Buchman started using the "Oxford Group" name just a few months after the Centenary Celebrations of the Oxford Movement — the 100th anniversary of the real Oxford Group Movement, which in 1833 sought to clarify the position of the Anglican Church. Buchman's appropriation of the "Oxford Group" name was bound to cause confusion in some people's minds. As Marjorie Harrison commented, "...apart from the social and intellectual cachet of the place name, it has undoubtedly brought the reflected glory and the reflected publicity of the true Oxford Movement."53

Nomenclature is never accidental, and terms like 'Oxford,' 'House Party,' and 'spiritual bath' indicate the kind of social world in which most of its members would prefer to dwell.
"THE GROUP MOVEMENT AND THE MIDDLE CLASSES", W. H. Auden, page 89, writing in
Oxford and the Groups; The Influence of the Groups considered by Rev. Geoffrey F. Allen, John Maud, Miss B. E. Gwyer, C. R. Morris, W. H. Auden, R. H. S. Crossman, Dr. L. P. Jacks, Rev. E. R. Micklem, Rev. J. W. C. Wand, Rev. M. C. D'Arcy, S.J., Professor L. W. Grensted.     Edited by R. H. S. Crossman.     Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1934.

In 1939, Buchman got into trouble over his use of the Oxford name. A believer died and left a legacy of 500 British pounds to "The Oxford Group", but a British judge ruled that there was in fact no such legal entity entitled to receive the money. The Oxford Group was not incorporated, or legally organized in any way. The judge said, "For such a body to exist there must be some association, some rules binding on members, some constitution, some real membership." Frank Buchman had submitted the book "What Is the Oxford Group?" as evidence, but the judge quoted from the opening lines of the book,

"You cannot belong to the Oxford Group. It has no membership list, subscriptions, badges, rules or definite location."

(Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob, and Clarence Snyder also copied that feature of the Oxford Groups when they set up Alcoholics Anonymous — it also has no official membership list, subscriptions, badges or definite location.)

The judge ruled, "No doubt the group seeks to bind people together by religious bonds. But that is not what is meant by the promotion of religion as it is understood in law. I cannot find anywhere the evidence that the group exists purely for the purpose of the promotion of religion."47

Buchman decided that he should register the name "The Oxford Group" and legally incorporate it. But he ran into trouble there — the Member of Parliament from Oxford strongly objected to Buchman's appropriation of the Oxford name, and sought to legally block Buchman's attempt to register the name. His request was rejected:

Rebuked in Commons After He
Terms Movement Members
'Canting Cheats'


He Sought Hearing on Plan to
Permit Incorporation of Body
Under Companies Act


      LONDON, June 13. — Exchanging sharp passages in the House of Commons today with Oliver Stanley, president of the Board of Trade, over his decision to grant the application of Dr. Frank Buchman's movement to be registered as the Oxford Group under the Companies Act, A. P. Herbert, Member of Parliament for Oxford University, lashed at members of the movement as "canting cheats" and accused them of "obtaining money by false pretenses."
      Mr. Herbert was reproved for both statements by the Speaker of the House and the president of the Board of Trade, who refused to reconsider his decision or to receive a deputation of members of Parliament, as Mr. Herbert suggested. The Minister denied that his permission for registration was, as Mr. Herbert put it, "condoning a course of conduct which is likely to mislead the public."
      Mr. Herbert went on to ask: "Isn't it clear that Dr. Buchman and his followers have for ten years past been obtaining money by false pretenses?"
      Mr. Stanley replied that a statement of that kind should not go out of the House of Commons. He said that he had been informed that the promoter's application proposed to include in the articles of association a statement that the group was not connected with Oxford University or the Oxford Society.
      "Isn't that the final exhibition of the entire dishonesty of these canting cheats?" interjected Mr. Herbert, who in earlier bouts charged that Dr. Buchman was fostering and trading on the belief that he was connected with the university. That remark drew from the Speaker the admonition that Mr. Herbert must not talk of people that way.
      Dr. Buchman's organization tonight issued an official rejoinder stating that it had never made a private or public appeal for funds.
The New York Times, June 14, 1939, page 32.

When Frank Buchman incorporated the Oxford Group in Great Britain, he established an organization which had a Council of Management which was all-powerful. Fifteen men had total control over the organization.

      The Council of Management is all-powerful.
      Membership of the Association was given as 100 for purposes of registration, but the Council can register an increase of members should it wish to do so at any time.
      It can also impose whatever conditions it chooses on applicants for membership, such as the payment of entrance fees, annual subscriptions, or periodical subscriptions. It can decide the terms on which a member shall undertake work for the Group or order resignation or cessation of membership.
      It also has powers to divide members into different classes with different conditions of membership.
      In conducting the business of the Association, the Council has, in fact, a free hand.   ...
      So far as Buchmanism in Britain is concerned, then, its destinies are in the hands of the fifteen men named above."74 These men are the subscribing members of the Association, and no one else can be admitted as a member without their sanction. And anyone who may be admitted can be made to comply with whatever terms the fifteen choose to devise.
      Thus, we have another anomaly. From the fluid constitution of Buchmanism, which is said to have no actual membership, being merely an "organism," we pass to a rigid dictatorship at the head.
Inside Buchmanism; an independent inquiry into the Oxford Group Movement and Moral Re-Armament, Geoffrey Williamson, Philosophical Library, New York, c1954, pages 161-162.

Likewise, the MRA propaganda book Moral Re-Armament: What Is It? declared:

There is no dictatorship in MRA.
Moral Re-Armament: What Is It?, Basil Entwistle and John McCook Roots, pub. 1967, page 62.

But futher down the very same page, they bragged about...

...the truth about MRA which Frank Buchman often expressed — "leadership goes to the morally and spiritually fit."

But who decided who was "morally and spiritually fit"? Well, Frank Buchman, of course. He and his lieutenants doled out the Brownie Points and decided who rated. And wouldn't you know it? They doled out the most points to themselves.

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