THE BUCHMAN CONTROVERSY
This is the story of a man who set out to remake the world. That must be said at the outset because it is only possible to understand Frank Buchman in the context of that aim. Everything he did in his adult life was part of it, and scarcely anything he did could, in his eyes, be separated from it. That aim conditioned where and how he lived, how he approached people and situations, and what he did from hour to hour.
Buchman was always - and still is - a controversial figure. In the thirties Archbishop Lang of Canterbury stated that he was being 'used to bring multitudes of human lives in all parts of the world under the transforming power of Christ', while Bishop Henson of Durham accused him of 'megalomaniacal self-confidence'. In 1940 the British Minister of Information, Brendan Bracken, said that he would be arrested immediately America entered the war, while the United States Department of Justice described his work as 'essential to the defence effort'. The author and Member of Parliament for Oxford University, A. P. Herbert, called him a 'canting cheat' in the House of Commons, and Tom Driberg, later to be Chairman of the Labour Party, attacked the Home Secretary for allowing a man who had never denounced Hitler to re-enter Britain in 1946. The Gestapo condemned him in reports from 1936 onwards and he was periodically attacked on Moscow Radio. His work was investigated at different times by Princeton University, by the Secretariat of the International Confederation of Free Trades Unions, and by a working party of the Church of England's Social and Industrial Council. In 1953 the Holy Office in Rome issued a warning to Catholics, a 'misunderstanding' which was only cleared up years later. Meanwhile he was decorated by seven countries, including France, Germany, Greece, Japan and the Philippines, for his effect on their relations with other countries. When I had nearly finished this book, I was introduced at an Oxford reception to Cardinal Franz Konig, Archbishop of Vienna. He asked me what I was writing, and I mentioned Frank Buchman. 'He was a turning point in the history of the modern world through his ideas,' he said immediately. In the next week he sent me his reasons for saying so.
Such a variety of opinions calls for a more thorough investigation than has yet appeared. A more detailed description of the man himself, his character, beliefs and lifestyle, is overdue. For even some who frequently met him found him puzzling. Sir Arnold Lunn, the author and inventor of the slalom and down-hill races in skiing, used often to question me about him. After criticising Buchman in several books, Lunn decided to visit the Moral Re-Armament centre at Caux in Switzerland, to study him and his work at first-hand. Thereafter, he went there most years over a ten-year period, partly because he enjoyed the company. Yet still Buchman puzzled him.
‘He has no charisma that I can see,' he said. 'He isn't good-looking, he is no orator, he has never written a book and he seldom even leads a meeting. Yet statesmen and great intellects come from all over the world to consult him, and a lot of intelligent people have stuck with him, full-time without salary, for forty years, when they could have been making careers for themselves. Why?'
Why indeed? G. K. Chesterton once remarked that it is well for there to be something enigmatic about the subject of a biography because 'it preserves two very important things – modesty in the biographer and mystery in the biography'. This book aims to give a living picture of a well-known, yet largely unknown, man.