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Oxford Group

The Oxford Group was a Christian organization founded by American Christian missionary Dr. Frank Buchman. Buchman was an American Lutheran minister of Swiss descent who in 1908 had a conversion experience in a chapel in Keswick, England and as a result of that experience he would later found a movement called A First Century Christian Fellowship in 1921, that eventually became known as the Oxford Group by 1931. In 1938, Buchman proclaimed a need for "moral re-armament" and that phrase became the movement's new name.

The Oxford Group enjoyed wide popularity and success, particularly in the 1930s. However, it became very controversial and there was much criticism of its tactics, after the movement became known as Moral Re-Armament.

God Control

In various speeches given by Frank Buchman the Groups Secret and Purpose were detailed :

  • The secret is God Control. The only sane people in an insane world are those controlled by God. God-controlled personalities make God-controlled nationalities. This is the aim of the Oxford Group. The true patriot gives his life to bring his nation under God's control. Those people who oppose that control are public enemies.... World peace will only come through nations which have achieved God-control. And everybody can listen to God. You can. I can. Everybody can have a part.
  • There are those who feel that internationalism is not enough. Nationalism can unite a nation. Supernationalism can unite a world. God-controlled supernationalism seems to be the only sure foundation for world peace!

  • I challenge Denmark to be a miracle among the nations, her national policy dictated by God, her national defense the respect and gratitude of her neighbors, her national armament an army of life-changers. Denmark can demonstrate to the nations that spiritual power is the first force in the world. The true patriot gives his life to bring about his country's resurrection. All those who oppose God's control are public enemies!

The name

The name "Oxford Group" originated in South Africa in 1929, as a result of a railway porter writing the name on the windows of those compartments reserved by a travelling team of Frank Buchman followers. They were from Oxford and in South Africa to promote the religious movement. The South African press picked up on the name and it stuck.

In 1938 Buchman chose to rename the Group and call it Moral Re-Armament. A year later in June 1939, he applied to the Board of Trade in London to incorporate the name Oxford Group. The Court had deemed the Oxford Group legally non-existent and Buchman was not able to collect a £500 inheritance left to Group. The application met opposition in the British House of Commons as opponents claimed Buchman was trying to capitalize on the name of Oxford, however the application was eventually approved.

Not a religion

The Oxford group literature defines the group as not being a religion, for it had "no hierarchy, no temples, no endowments, its workers no salaries, no plans but God's plan." They were simply "Holy Crusaders in modern dress" whose chief aim was "A new world order for Christ, the King. In fact one could not belong to the Oxford group for it had no membership list, badges, or definite location. It was simply a group of people from all walks of life who have surrendered their life to God. Their endeavor was to lead a spiritual life under God's Guidance and their purpose was to carry their message so others could do the same. The group was more like a religious revolution, unhampered by institutional ties, it combined social activities with religion, it had no organized board of officers. The Group declared itself to be not an "organization" but an "organism". Though Frank Buchman was the group's founder and leader, group members believed their true leader to be the Holy spirit and relied on God Control, meaning guidance received from God by those people who had fully "surrendered" to God's will. By working within all the churches, regardless of denomination, they drew new members. A newspaper account in 1933 described it as "personal evangelism -- one man talking to another or one woman discussing her problems with another woman was the order of the day". In 1936, Good Housekeeping described the Group having no membership, no dues, no paid leaders, no new theological creed, nor regular meetings, it is simply a fellowship of people who desire to follow a way of life, a determination not a denomination.

The Four Absolutes

Absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love were the keys to a spiritual life. True happiness was defined as a life without sin. Individual self interest was viewed as one of the major causes of most of the world's sin. It was the surrender of the individual's ego to God that removes the sin. In Oxford terms sin: "anything that kept one from God or one another", "a disease of consequences" and "as contagious as any bodily disease". Like a disease "sin needs an antiseptic to keep it from spreading". "The soul needs cleaning "... We all know ‘nice’ sinless sinners who need that surgical spiritual operation as keenly as the most miserable. sinner of us all. hence the need for Soul Surgery.

Spiritual practices

To be spiritually reborn and live in a state of grace, the Oxford Group advocated four practices set out below: 1. The sharing of our sins and temptations with another Christian life given to God, and to use Sharing as Witness, to help others, still unchanged, to recognize and acknowledge their sins. 2. Surrender our life past, present and future, into God's keeping and direction. 3. Restitution to all whom we have wronged directly or indirectly. 4. Listening to and requiring God's Guidance, and carrying it out in everything we do and say, great or small.


The central practice to the Oxford/MRA members was Guidance, which was usually sought in the "quiet time" of early morning using pen and paper. The grouper would lie on a bed and write down whatever thoughts entered his mind, they could be a recent event or an early childhood memory, each thought could be construed as a message from God. Guidance was also sought collectively from groupers when they formed teams. As a group they would seek guidance with each individual writing down in his guidance book whatever thought came to mind. For example, when determining a plan for a nightly meeting they would sit in a semi-circle, write down their thoughts and check with each other to determine agreement on a particular subject such as sin or intrigue. The process called checking was important to reach group consensus. Guidance on a particular subject went without question when the majority were in agreement. Guidance could be taken to extreme and lead to inconsiderate behavior by the groupers.

Examples of guidance being obtained in every day life: the cook for a large Oxford group gathering told reporters that the menu was planned by God, another individual at a group gathering, who despite being a proud Englishmen, was guided by God to completely surrender his national pride, and hoist the Stars and Stripes. At another event a woman noticed a bad smell possibly from the drains, Buchman reacted to her remark pointing out it was negative, it caused the woman to seek guidance, and when it came she realized that she must "never make negative remarks".

By 1936, the organization had already come to national attention from the media and Hollywood.

Buchman sent one member of the group a wire announcing that he had received "guidance" that the member should bring John D. Rockefeller III to New York to have a chat with Queen Marie of Rumania. The member wired back that this might be Frank Buchman's guidance but it was not his, the member decided to leave the Group and work for a regular church.

Criticism of this practice came from different leaders within many church denominations, for example Rt. Rev. M. J. Browne, Bishop of Galloway wrote: "Groupists actually speak of "listening -in" to the Holy Ghost: whenever they run up against a difficulty they stop for guidance. Such an idea of God is crudely anthropomorphic, derogatory to God's honour, and contrary to natural morality.... Guidance as understood by the Groups encourages all kinds of illusions, it undermines the sense of personal moral responsibility, it leads to fanaticism."


In the Oxford Group, sharing was considered a necessity, it allowed one to be healed, therefore it was also a blessing to share. This was done by sharing ones sins to an already surrendered or changed person and by sharing for witness in a group meeting. Sharing was a tactic that not only brought relief by the unburdening of ones sins but also it led others towards a surrender to God. The Buchmanites believed honest sharing of past sins induced new people to tell the truth about themselves. Sharing built trust. The message one brings to others by speaking of one's own sins, one's own experiences, the power of God in guiding one's life would bring hope to others. But hope was not enough, the Sharer must convince the others by showing concrete proof that a spiritually changed life gives strength to overcome life’s difficulties and it must be done with total conviction for "Half measures are will be as fruitless as no measures.

In the Anglican Church Assembly report on the examination of the Oxford/MRA group, there was concern over the practice of sharing in open meetings in that there was no assurance that what a person revealed would be held secret. They also acknowledged that in process of sharing or conducting the semi-public witness, that in meeting after meeting, many of the Changed ones would exhibit much pride in relating details of their most gruesome sins. They would also go into great detail over some of the most trifling childhood misdemeanors. From this they again with pride, they would undertake the practice of spiritual self advertisement by the reiteration in their testimony to the miracles of change they experienced when they began to live under Guidance and by adhering to the Four Absolutes, the practices of the Oxford Group.

Sharing was noted as a tactic to persuade others: The first public confession can be stirring, but the tenth is likely to strike one as the same old thing And the fatal suspicion arises that confessions are made not through humility but to persuade. They sound a little too much coached, perfected to the point where they seem artificial....

Others found public confession disturbing. Beverley Nichols stated "And all that business about telling one's sins in public.... It is spiritual nudism! Margaret Rawlings, an actress, stood up at a 2000 member Group gathering and said, "this public exposure of the soul, this psychic exhibitionism, with its natural accompaniment of sensual satisfaction', was 'as shocking, indecent and indelicate as it would be if a man took all his clothes off in Piccadilly Circus".The act of Public Confessions, brought criticism from outsiders who believed the Group had an undue interest in sex.

Queen Marieof Rumania stated "I have met Buchman. I did not like him. He seemed to me to be a snob. He spoke of God as if He were the oldest title in the Almanach de Gotha. And all that business about telling one's sins in public -- He wanted me ... me ... to get up before my children and confess everything I had ever done! It is spiritual nudism! Ça se ne fait pas."

Five C's and Five Procedures

The five C's: confidence, confession, conviction, conversion, and continuance was the process of life changing undertaken by the life changer. Confidence, the new person had to have confidence in you and know you would keep his secrets. Confession, honesty about the real state of a persons life. Conviction, the seriousness of his sin and the need to free of it. Conversion, the process had to be the persons own free will in the decision to surrender to God. Continuance, you were responsible as a life changer to help the new person become all that God wanted him to be. Only God could change a person and the work of the life changer had to be done under God's direction.

The Five Procedures: giving in to God, listening to God's direction, checking guidance, making restitution, and sharing for witness. The Oxford Group promoted a belief in divine guidance, in that one should wait for God to give direction in every aspect of life and surrender to that advice. The group used the terms "Higher Power" and "God" interchangeably

Carl Jung on the Oxford Group

Carl Jung on the matter of an individual and his involvement in the Oxford Group:

"My attitude to these matters is that, as long as a patient is really a member of a church, he ought to be serious. He ought to be really and sincerely a member of that church, and he should not go to a doctor to get his conflicts settled when he believes that he should do it with God. For instance, when a member of the Oxford Group comes to me in order to get treatment, I say, "You are in the Oxford Group; so long as you are there, you settle your affair with the Oxford Group. I can't do it better than Jesus."

"I will tell you a story of such a case. A hysterical alcoholic was cured by this Group movement, and they used him as a sort of model and sent him all round Europe, where he confessed so nicely and said that he had done wrong and how he had got cured through the Group movement. And when he had repeated his story twenty, or it may have been fifty, times, he got sick of it and took to drink again. The spiritual sensation had simply faded away. Now what are they going to do with him? They say, now he is pathological, he must go to a doctor. See, in the first stage he has been cured by Jesus, in the second by a doctor! I should and did refuse such a case. I sent the man back to these people and said, "If you believe that Jesus has cured this man, he will do it a second time. And if he can't do it, you don't suppose that I can do it better than Jesus?" But that is just exactly what they do expect; when a man is pathological, Jesus won't help him but the doctor will.

Hitler, Himmler and National Socialism

Moni von Cramon, a German member of Oxford Group, was the invited guest of Heinrich Himmler for the Nuremberg Rally and she in turn invited Frank Buchman. Buchman and Von Crammon attended two of the Nazi Party rallies, one in 1934 and the other in 1935. Buchman and Von Cammron were known to meet with Himmler at social gatherings where they would discuss religion and politics. Due to his background Buchman, was fluent in German. During this period, Buchman's assessment and comments on Himmler included "he was a great lad," and was quoted on saying Hitler was quite helpful to the Group It was after the war, 1954, that Von Crammon stated her association with Himmler came as a result of her seeking him out in the matter of her possible arrest due to a piece of literature found in her possession by a maid, a piece of literature that was construed as anti-Nazi.

In 1936 a couple of articles appeared in the Germany that faulted the Oxford group and its practices. General Ludendorff described the Oxford group, the Jews, the Freemasons, the Pope and the League of Nations as sinister international forces which want to kill the German spirit and they wage a constant underground war against Germany.Ludendorff wanted to eradicate Christianity and replace it with an Aryan faith, his goal was to restore ancient Germanic religion. In February 1936 the principle article in the confidential paper issued by Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, was an attack on the Oxford Group in Germany. Rosenberg described the movement as 'a second world-wide Freemasonary'.

June 1936, The Oxford Group held a rally in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the Marchers in the parade carried the flags of 48 States and 18 nations, including Germany's swastika, a negative comment on this drew the response that " the Oxford Group bring nations together".

August 1936, Frank Buchman accepted an invitation to attend the Berlin Olympic Games, where, again through Moni von Cramon, he arranged to meet Himmler. According to Buchman's young followers who went with him , Himmler came in with his henchmen, gave a propagandist account of Nazism and left, without giving Buchman a chance to speak. A Danish journalist Jacob Kronika reported in January 2, 1962 in a small paper that he edited, the Flensborg Avis, this account of Buchman in Berlin:

Frank Buchman when Buchman stayed at the Hotel Esplanade in Berlin. One day we ate lunch together. In the afternoon he was to have a conversation with SS Chief Himmler, who had invited Dr Buchman to come and see him. The conversation, of course, became a complete fiasco. Himmler could not, as he intended, exploit the 'absolute obedience' of the MRA people towards God for the benefit of the obedient slaves of the SS and the Nazis.

Frank Buchman was then much burdened by the development in Germany under Hitler, for he was deeply attached to this land and this people. He said during the meal at the Esplanade in Berlin, 'Germany has come under the dominion of a terrible demoniac force. A counter-action is urgent. We must ask God for guidance and strength to start an anti-demoniac counter-action under the sign of the Cross of Christ in the democratic countries bordering on Germany, especially in the small neighbouring countries.

Upon his return to the United States, Buchman gave an interview for the New York World-Telegram in August 26, 1936 which was to be repeatedly quoted by critics as representing his views on Hitler and National Socialism:

I thank Heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism, " he said today in his book-lined office in the annex of Calvary Church, Fourth Ave and 21st St. "My barber in London told me Hitler Nazis do Anti-Semitism? Bad, naturally. I suppose Hitler sees a Karl Marx in every Jew. But think what it would mean to the world if Hitler surrendered to the control of God. Or Mussolini. Or any dictator. Through such a man God could control a nation overnight and solve every last, bewildering problem." The world needs the dictatorship of the living spirit of God. I like to put it this way. God is a perpetual broadcasting station and all you need to do is tune in. What we need is a supernatural network of live wires across the world to every last man, in every last place, in every last situation... "The world won't listen to God but God has a plan for every person, for every nation. Human ingenuity is not enough. That is why the isms are pitted against each other and blood falls.

"... Human problems aren't economic. They're moral and they can't be solved by immoral measures. They could be solved within a God-controlled democracy, or perhaps I should say a theocracy, and they could be solved through a God-controlled Fascist dictatorship."

One of Buchman's followers. Garrett Stearly, later claimed the phrase was taken out of context and that when Buchman was asked about Germany. He said that Germany needed a new Christian spirit, yet one had to face the fact that Hitler had been a bulwark against Communism there - and you could at least thank heaven for that. Despite the urgings of colleagues, Buchman refused to respond to the article, saying that to do so would prolong the controversy and further endanger his friends in Germany.

In a report to the British Foreign Office In a confidential minute dated 16 January 1939, it records impressions that Dr Burckhardt, League of Nations High Commissioner of the Free City of Danzig , had gained from his recent talks in Berlin. Asked whether he thought Himmler should be included among the extremists or the moderates of the Nazis, he described Himmler was ‘a very curious character’ and that both he and his wife were members of the Oxford Group.

Of the thousands of Gestapo documents made available after the war only three concerned the Oxford group, in one The Oxford Group was described as 'a new and dangerous opponent of National Socialism'. Another report in 1939 stated that: "The Group as a whole constitutes an attack upon the nationalism of the state... It preaches revolution against the national state and has quite evidently become its Christian opponent." The third, from 1942 says "No other Christian movement has underlined so strongly the character of Christianity as being supernational and independent of all racial barriers... It tries fanatically to make all men into brothers.

In 1938, after another Nuremberg rally and the Anschluss, Oxford Group members telephoned both Diana Mosley and her sister Unity Mitford, who were in Munich at the time attending the celebrations. The Oxford members requested an invitation and introduction to Adolf Hitler, for the purpose of "changing" him. The request was refused by both Unity and Diana. Later that same evening Oxford Group members phoned Unity's father Lord Redesdale who was also visiting Munich, making the same request. His reply was “no damn it, I like the feller the way he is.”During that same time period, journalist Robert Byron, noted in his diary that Himmler doted on the Oxford Group writing to their English members.

During the war, the Oxford Group in Germany divided into three parts. Some submitted to Himmler's demand that they cut all links with Buchman and the Oxford Group abroad. The largest group continued the work of bringing Christian change to people under a different name, Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Seelsorge (Working team for the Care of Souls), without being involved in politics and always subject to surveillance. A third group joined the active opposition. Moni Von Crammons son in law was one of those executed along with Adam von Trott zu Solz ,were executed under Hitler's orders after the July 20 plot.

After the War in 1946, British Minister of Parliament, Tom Driberg who earlier that year in the House of Commons described Buchaman as a "soapy racketeer who never repudiated his admiration for Hitler and Himmler opposed the Frank Buchmans entry into the Great Britain.

LONDON, July 5 -- Asking why facilities had been granted for entry to Britain of 100 members of the Oxford Group led by Dr. Frank Buchman from the United States, Tom Driberg, Labor member, said in the House of Commons today that the movement had a great deal in common with the Nazis. Mr. Driberg asserted that Dr. Buchman had praised Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler and that leaders of his Moral Rearmament had been enthusiastic Hitlerites.The group's standards, Mr. Driberg stated, were "marked by remarkable duplicity," by "intrigue, backstairs methods and wirepulling." Mr. Driberg also attacked the movement on industrial grounds. Its program seemed "nothing less than spiritual strike-breaking," he said, adding that in his opinion it was at its worst anti-socialist and anti-democratic. Home Secretary Chuter Ede, repudiating any idea that he had shown special favor to Dr. Buchman's group, stated that fewer than fifty American citizens were in the party that was allowed to enter Britain.

Buchman's attempts to convert the Nazi leadership was condemned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote: "The Oxford Group has been naïve enough to try to convert Hitler - a ridiculous failure to understand what is going on - it is we who are to be converted, not Hitler.

Later, in 1955 a report from the Social and Industrial Council of the Church of England also condemned Buchman's approach in dealing with the Nazi regime, It stated: "It was surely this that led Dr. Buchman, so it is alleged, to believe that through 'change' induced in Hitler there could come a 'God-controlled fascist dictatorship.' His error was not so much that his appraisal of Hitler was so naive . . . but that he failed to see ... that dictatorship is not bad just because it has a bad man as dictator.

Exemption from military service

In October 1941, British Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin argued against the Oxford Group request for exemption from doing military service and won the debate. He told the House of Commons, that the Group was the only religious organization that had tried to claim an exemption. Bevin disliked the Group for its recruitment of the wealthy and influential in society and an implied linkage with the much earlier Oxford Movements led by John Wesley and Cardinal Newman. Columbia Broadcasting Co's correspondent Larry Lesueur reported as follows: "Some of the most interesting news in London this week emerged from Labor Minister Bevin's decision not to exempt wholetime workers of the Oxford Group (MRA) from the draft. "Before the House of Commons voted on this yesterday (Tuesday) 170 members had signed an appeal favoring the exemption of the Oxford Group. But a spirited speech by the writer A P Herbert (who is Oxford University's member in Parliament) swung them the other way. "Herbert said the Buchmanites' methods were fascist-like and their evangelists Nazi-like."

Oxford Group Investigated by MI5 British Intelligence

In a document provided by MI5 British Security, titled "Right Wing Extremists and groups", showed there was a fear that the Oxford Group might be a front for Nazi Propoganda as a result of Buchmans involvement with key Nazi members, including Himmler. This created a a number of investigations from 1941-1950 , however, no evidience came to light that the group had been penetrated by the German Secret Service.

Later Buchmans' MRA, came under discussion in it's movement for the cause of employers against the unions, in particular the docks and mines. Consideration was given to allying with the MRA against British Communism, though the idea was rejected. The position taken by MI5 : "...we do not think it advisable to enter into any direct relations with MRA which might enable the latter to claim they have common cause with Her Majesty's Government...". An idea proposed and rejected was passing information onto MRA about Communist plots against MRA.

Position on Unions and Strikes

The group exaggerated its influence and importance in regards to a number of strikes and labor disputes. The Groups postion was strikes have no place in a Christian World, and went on to make claims that by applying the Group's practices to labor disputes the problems are resolved. In 1934 they claimed they the had influence on a strike on the West Coast by making Jesus the arbiter, they claimed a miraclous solution , even when the evidence showed otherwise.

Sir Patrick Joseph Henry Hannon, a Member of British Parliament and at one time a Group supporter, faulted the "Buchmanites" for making claim that they settled three impending work stoppages in the Midlands by promoting the groups principles on management and labor. Sir Patrick's investigations found the trouble had been cured by pay raises plus better working hours.

Buchman claimed that there had been no more labor difficulties or strikes on the London docks since Moral Re-Armament started its campaign among the dock workers. Tom Driberg, Member of Parliament, immediately listed three large, serious, prolonged and expensive strikes that had occurred in spite of Buchman's interference in the labor union affairs.

Time magazine reported: "The militantly anti-Communist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which represents 97 unions in 73 countries, tossed a monkey wrench toward the machinery of Moral Re-Armament, the nondenominational, untheological, polite revival movement that evolved out of Frank Buchman's old Oxford Group. A report prepared by I.C.F.T.U.'s secretariat accused the Moral Re-Armament movement of interfering "with trade-union activities and [making] anti-trade-union efforts, even to the extent of trying to found 'yellow unions.' " M.R.A., it said, was undemocratic: "Buchman does not build up his movement from below . . . but from the ranks of leaders . . . The sources from which the Moral Re-Armament movement draws its necessary funds are completely unknown. All that can be said is that those who supply the money must be very well off.

Informal group survey 1943

Walter H. Clark, a master at the Lenox School in Lenox, Massachusetts, in doing his thesis on Buchmanism produced some findings from a questionnaire he submitted to 92 men and women who had been involved with the Oxford group for 18 years previous.


  • Only 12% were still active in the group.
  • Median income was $5000- $10000 {$53,000 -$100,000 in 2003 dollars} with 28% earning over $10,000 {$100,000 in 2003 dollars} Buchman aimed at the up and outs
  • 45% said the group did not benefit them intellectually 7% said it did.
  • People who stayed and people who left said the main benefit was emotional release, however many felt it was an emotional spree which left them distrustful of all religions.

Oxford Group a program for alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous

In Akron, Ohio, Jim Newton an Oxford Group member knew that one of Firestone's sons, Russell, was a serious alcoholic. He took him first to a drying-out clinic and then on to an Oxford Group conference in Denver. The young man gave his life to God, and thereafter enjoyed extended periods of sobriety. The family doctor called it a ‘medical miracle’. Harvey Firestone Senior was so grateful that, in January 1933, he invited Buchman and a team of sixty to conduct a ten-day campaign in Akron. They left behind them a strong functioning group which met each week in the house of T. Henry Williams, among them were an Akron surgeon, Bob Smith, and his wife Anne. Bob was a secret drinker.

Rowland Hazard, claimed that it was Carl Jung who caused him to seek a spiritual solution to his alcoholism, which led to Rowland joining the Oxford group. He was introduced by Shep Cornell to Cornell's friend Ebby Thacher, Ebby had a serious drinking problem. Hazard introduced Ebby to Carl Jungs theory and then to the Oxford Group. For a time Ebby took up residence at Sam Shoemakers Calvary Rescue Mission. Reverend Sam Shoemaker ran the Calvary Rescue Mission that catered mainly to saving down and outs and drunks. Sam Shoemaker taught the concept of God being that of ones understanding to the new inductees.

Ebby Thacher who in keeping with the Oxford Teachings needed to keep his own conversion experience real, by carry the Oxfrod message of salvation to others. Ebby had heard of his old drinking buddy Bill Wilson was again drinking heavily. Thacher and Cornell visited Wilson at his home and introduced him to the Oxford Group's religious conversion cure. Wilson an agnostic, was "aghast" when Thacher told him he he had "got religion".

A few days later, in a drunken state, Wilson went to the Calvary Rescue Mission in search of Ebby Thacher. it was there he attended his first Oxford Group meeting and would later describe the experience: "Penitents started marching forward to the rail. Unaccountably impelled, I started too.... Soon, I knelt among the sweating, stinking penitents.... Afterward, Ebby... told me with relief that I had done all right and had given my life to God.The Call to the Altar did little to curb Wilson's drinking. A couple of days later, he re-admitted himself to Charles B. Towns Hospital. Wilson had been admitted to Towns hospital three times earlier between 1933 and 1934. This would be his fourth and last stay.

Wilson did not obtain his spiritual awakening by his attendance at the Oxford Group. He had his "hot flash" conversion at Town's Hospital. The hospital was set up and run by Charles B. Towns and his associate Dr. Alexander Lambert, who together had concocted up a drug cocktail for the treatment of alcoholism that bordered on quackery medicine known as the The Belladonna Cure. The formula cure consisted of the two deliriants Atropa belladonna and Hyoscyamus niger, which are were known to cause hallucinations. Wilson had his "hot flash" spiritual awakening, while being treated with these drugs. He claimed to have seen a white light and when he told his attending physician, Dr. William Silkworth about his experience, he was advised not to discount it. When Wilson left the hospital he never drank again. .

After his release from the Hospital, Wilson attended Oxford Group meetings and went on a mission to save other alcoholics. His prospects came through Towns Hospital and the Calvary Mission. Though he was not able to keep one alcoholic sober , he found that by engaging in the activity of trying to convert others he was able to keep himself sober. It was this realization that he needed another alcoholic to work with that brought him into contact with Dr. Bob Smith while on a business trip in Akron Ohio. Earlier Wilson had been advised by Dr. Silkworth to change his approach and tell the alcoholics they suffered from a disease, one that could kill them, and afterward apply the Oxford Practices. The idea that alcoholism was a disease not a moral failing was different from the Oxford concept that drinking was a sin. This is what he brought to Bob Smith on their first meeting. Smith was the first alcoholic Wilson helped to sobriety. Dr. Smith and Bill he was later called went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous.

Wilson later acknowledged : "The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."

In 1939 James Houck joined the Oxford Group and became sober on Dec. 12, one day after Wilson did. Houck was the last surviving person to have attended Oxford Group meetings with Wilson, who died in 1971. In September 2004, at the age 98, Houck was still active in the group, now renamed Moral Re-armament, and it was his mission to restore the Oxford Group's spiritual methods through the Back to Basics program, a twelve step program similar to AA. Houck believed the old Oxford spiritual methods were stronger and more effective than the ones currently practiced in A.A. Houck was trying to introduce the program into the prison systems.

Houcks assessment of Wilson's time in the Oxford group: He was never interested in the things we were interested in, he only wanted to talk about alcoholism , he was not interested in giving up smoking , he was a ladies man and would brag of his sexual exploits with other members, and in Houck's opinion he remained an agnostic.

For more details on this topic, see articles on Alcoholics Anonymous and the History of AA.

Recruiting tactics

The Oxford Group's massive growth between 1920 to the 1930s could be attributed to the tactics and methods they employed to draw new followers. After 1930 a number of religious organizations adopted these strategies, now referred to as spiritual retreats as well as the practice of individuals in open meetings sharing their conversion experiences. The first House Party began in China in 1918, this was to become a recognized Oxford Group technique. By the summer of 1930 the first International House Party was held at Oxford, followed by another the next year attended by 700 hundred people. By 1934 the International House Party had grown and was attended by representatives from 40 nations, and by 1935 meeting it had grown and was attended by 50 nations, to the total of 10,000 representatives. The 1936 meeting at Birmingham drew 15,000 people and The First National Assembly held in Massachusetts drew almost 10,000 people

  • The Oxford group employed teamwork, the people who were considered "changed" or "surrendered" were considered part of the whole team. Team guidance led to the selection of smaller units, to direct house parties, handle publicity, issue publications, manage bookstands, organize parades and to conduct witness. Guidance came from God, by either the team or the individual, and guidance received was "checked with the team" before being put into action.
  • There were teams that traveled, many house parties featured out-of-town people who came to the party to relate their experiences in the "Group Way of Life". Teams traveled first class and stayed in the best hotels. They tried to include celebrities on traveling teams. A member of the group was not allowed to appear alone to represent the group. Attendance was by printed invitation and sent by people active in the group. In most cases the invitation would mention that prominent people would be present. Invitations were also sent to "key people” in the *community.
  • House parties were held in a variety of locations: a wealthy home, at a fashionable hotel, inn, or summer resort, as well as outdoor camps, and at times held in less fashionable locations such as a college dorm. House parties were held from a weekend up to two weeks. A house party team would meet in advance for training and preparation. The teams would remain throughout the meetings and handle a number of details. Oxford Group literature was on display.
  • Meetings followed no formal agenda and were not like church meetings as singing and public prayer were absent. Time was devoted to talks by the team members on subjects such as sin, surrender, quiet time, the four absolutes, guidance, and intelligent witness.
  • In most meetings personal sharing of experience was undertaken by a team of up to 12 or more people. The informal spirit was to set the guests at ease and allow for psychological barriers to fall. After a day or two many guests would feel uncomfortable and to release the discomfort would be encouraged by Group workers to undergo the "surrender experience".

The Use of Slogans

Most were coined through Buchman's quiet time, he knew slogans would catch attention, be more easily remembered and more readily repeated. They provided simple answers to problems people face in themselves and others. A few are listed below

  • Pray: stands for Powerful Radiograms Always Yours
  • Constipated Christians
  • Come clean
  • Every man a force, not a field
  • Interesting sinners make compelling saints
  • When a man listens God speaks
  • A spiritual radiophone in every home
  • Sin blinds sin binds
  • World changing through life-changing

Oxford Group literature

Some of the Oxford Group literature is available online. See references. For Sinners Only by Arthur James Russell was characterized as the Oxford Group "bible." { Soul Surgery By H. A. Walter, What is the Oxford Group by Layman with a Notebook, and Eight Points of the Oxford Group by C. Irving Benson.

For alcoholics there were three autobiographies by Oxford members who were active alcoholics which were published in the 1930s. These books provided accounts of the alcoholics failed attempts to make their lives meaningful until, as a result of their Oxford membership, they found a transformation in their lives and sobriety through surrendering to God. The stories contained in Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, are very similar in style to these much earlier works. The books were The Big Bender, Life Began Yesterday and I Was Pagan by V.C. Kitchen.

Published literature critical of the Oxford Group

In 1934 Marjorie Harrison, an Episcopal Church member, published a book Saints Run Mad, that challenged the Group, its leader and their practices. {Note Book is online}

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr criticized Buchman's philosophy and pursuit of the wealthy and powerful. "The idea is that if the man of power can be converted, God will be able to control a larger area of human life through his power than if a little man were converted. This is the logic which has filled the Buchmanites with touching solicitude for the souls of such men as Henry Ford or Harvey Firestone and prompted them to whisper confidentially from time to time that these men were on the very threshold of the kingdom of God. It is this strategy which prompts or justifies the first-class travel of all the Oxford teams. They hope to make contact with big men in the luxurious first-class quarters of ocean liners.

Walter Houston Clark, in his book, The Oxford Group: Its History and Significance, writes of the Buchmanites living off the wealthy: "A small minority of the specially dedicated among the Group, led by the example of Buchman himself, "live on faith" by which is meant that they rely on God to guide others to take care of their material needs. There has been some criticism of the Group on account of this, and there is even occasionally heard the suggestion that it is a kind of money-making racket.... Also there are some evangelists who could not travel in the sumptuous fashion that characterizes the trips of Dr. Buchman without a twinge of conscience. However, that gentleman apparently never questions the propriety of lavish expenditures when the money is there and the cause is a good one. Living on faith has not always been an easy adventure, and he has known what it means not to know from whence his next meal was coming; but he has always been sure that "where God guides, He provides," and that "good Christians and good living go together."

Geoffrey Williamson in his book Inside Buchmanism faulted the organization for its lack of Charity. "The whole movement is supported by charitable gifts. But when I asked at headquarters whether it dispensed any charity, the reply was a frank and emphatic: "No." No matter how sincere the followers of Buchmanism may be, no matter how zealously they may work for the cause; no matter how honest their beliefs, I cannot understand how they can possibly justify their actions simply by saying: "Where God guides, He provides." I dislike their forced heartiness and the way in which they fawn upon the wealthy and the titled. I dislike their flattery and the way they pander to snobbish instincts. They may possibly claim that they are only exploiting human failings in others to bring people to their meetings. It still revolts me." "During my stay at Caux I amassed a great collection of leaflets and pamphlets. They were filled with the same sort of stuff. Thousands of words about "ideology"; but not one mention of "the advancement of the Christian religion."

Polish author Rom Landau in his appraisal of nine cultist credited Frank Buchman with being "the most successful and shrewdest revivalist of our time." Landau found Buchman's movement theologically frivolous. He criticized the Oxford Group's practice of suppressing or "sublimating" the sex impulse and stated with much sarcasm the "Five 'sublimated' Arabs, Italians or Frenchmen, would prove the efficacy of Buchman's sex methods more convincingly than 500 English undergraduates."

Moral re-armament

Prior to World War II, the Group changed its name to Moral Re-Armament (MRA) and believed that divine guidance would prevent war from breaking out. Daphne du Maurier's Come Wind, Come Weather recounted inspirational stories derived from Group experiences during the early years of World War II.

In the post war years Moral Re-Armament (MRA) as it then became called, widened its activities to provide "an ideology for democracy" in the struggle against Communism.The movement underwent a change of image and emphasis from Christian evangelism to that of a political ideology. In 2001, Moral Re-Armament became Initiatives of Change.

Decline of the group

Rev. Sam Shoemaker ousted the Oxford Group (now called MRA) from his New York parish in November 1941. The group lost its headquarters in the U.S. and most strong supporter. Shoemaker believed that Buchman had strayed from his principals where "Buchmanism" was meant to make Baptists better Baptists, Catholics better Catholics. He believed Buchman wanted to start a sect.

After losing their headquarters at the Calvary Church, Mrs. Henry Ford called Mr. Stuart Woodfill, manager of the Grand Hotel on the island of Mackinac, who arranged for the Michigan State Park Commission to give a delapidated old hotel to Frank Buchman's organization

The group became very controversial and there was much criticism of its tactics. Reinhold Niebuhr called the movement "socially vicious" and "religiously vapid". The Church of England's Social and Industrial Council condemned MRA's practices as a means of avoiding responsible living.The Catholic Church advised its members against affiliating themselves with the Group.

Regardless MRA did prosper and flourish. For a U.S. headquarters, it built a multi-million dollar establishment on Michigan's Mackinac Island, with room for 1,000 visitors. From Caux, Switzerland to London's Berkeley Square to New York's Westchester County, Buchman and his followers had only the best and never did without, this brought criticism to the Group but Buchman's response would be "Isn't God a millionaire?"

After the death of Buchman

After Buchman's death in 1961, Peter Howard succeeded him. Under his rule the group opened a center in Odawara, Japan. He was a political columnist who had been assigned to write some pieces about MRA and ended up joining it. The royalties from his writing - $1,120,000 - went to the cause. People, at this time, still attended MRA's rallies at its lavish headquarters at Caux, Switzerland, and Mackinac Island, Michigan, in 1962

Peter Howard warned Britain's Prime Minister Harold Wilson against "satirists and cynics" who "debase our ancient virtue and push pornography and godlessness down the national gullet." The MRA crusade in Holland featured big newspaper ads, written by Howard, condemning the spread of homosexuality ("It can be cured").

In 1965, Up with People was founded by members, and with the support, of Moral Re-Armament. In 2001, Moral Re-Armament became Initiatives of Change.


Because of its influence on the lives of several highly prominent individuals, the Group attracted highly visible members of society, including members of the British Parliament and other European leaders and such prominent Americans as the Firestone family, founders of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Ohio. Though sometimes controversial (the Group attracted opposition from the Roman Catholic Church), the Group grew into a well-known, informal and international network of people by the 1930s. The London newspaper editor Arthur J. Russell joined the Group after attending a meeting in 1931. He wrote For Sinners Only in 1932, which inspired the writers of God Calling.

Confusion with Oxford Movement

The Oxford Group is occasionally confused with the Oxford Movement, an effort that began in the 19th century Anglican Church to encourage High Church practice and demonstrate the Church's apostolic heritage. Though both had an association with members and students of the University of Oxford at different times, the Oxford Group and the Oxford Movement were unrelated.


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