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Few religious figures were as loved and loathed in their own time — and as anonymous today — as Rev. Frank Buchman, the complicated founder of the mid-20th century movement known as Moral Re-Armament (MRA). Promoted by American presidents and consulted by the architects of European integration, Buchman struck the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr and Graham Greene as being hopelessly naïve. “In a materialistic sense, he is undoubtedly the most successful evangelist of this age,” decided one British observer in 1954, but “in a spiritual sense, his gains are less easy to calculate.” Buchman’s emphasis on surrender to a higher power inspired the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, but the MRA was something like a cult to its critics — including current Oscar nominee Glenn Close, whose father joined the movement in the mid-1950s and kept his family at MRA headquarters in Caux, Switzerland while he was doing medical work in Africa. “You basically weren’t allowed to do anything,” she told the Hollywood Reporter in 2014, “or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire” — all thanks to “this wizened old man with little glasses and a hooked nose, in a wheelchair.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Who was Frank Buchman?
Lutheran - Pastor - Buchman - Circles - Beginning
Ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1902, Buchman moved in ecumenical circles from the very beginning of his career, leading a campus revival at Penn State and then serving as a missionary in Asia at the invitation of Sherwood Eddy. He borrowed ideas from many sources, from German Pietism to the YMCA, but Buchman credited the Higher Life movement with inspiring the fundamental turn in his life, in 1908. After listening to a sermon at Keswick by the Welsh revivalist Jessie Penn-Lewis, Buchman had a “poignant vision of the Crucified” and surrendered his life to God. “I remember...
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