Volume 1 Number 9
A Bid to Remake the World
01 May 1988
For 40 years Buchman built up a worldwide network of men and women of different views and backgrounds united by their determination to seek and try to follow God's will.
YesterdayIn May 1938, Frank Buchman first urged the need for moral and spiritual rearmament at a crowded meeting in East Ham Town Hall. Sixty East London mayors and councillors shared the platform with him, as he called for a return to `simple home truths' of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love and to that `great forgotten' fact that when people listen, God speaks. As the nations of Europe rearmed for war, his appeal found an echo in many countries.
Buchman's life work began in 1908 with an experience of Christ's power that transformed his life and impelled him out into a calling which spanned the world. It took him to many lands and people: to India and Gandhi, to China and Sun Yat Sen, to Japan, to Europe and, in 1921, to Oxford, where his work took root and where he found the men and women who were to carry it further.
For 40 years Buchman built up a worldwide network of men and women of different views and backgrounds united by their determination to seek and try to follow God's will. He was a man of immense resilience, an original thinker with a deeply sensitive care for people, coupled with an awareness of what he sometimes called `the full majesty of what needs to be done'. He pointed people towards the radical personal change - in aims, motives, conduct - without which there is a fatal flaw in so much planning and structural change.
The acid test of the reality of such personal changes, he believed, was their impact on society as a whole. He strove ceaselessly to enhance people's perception of the scale on which God could work. In 1938, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, said that Buchman's work had brought `multitudes of human lives under the transforming power of Christ'.
By 1938 this network - unorganized in the formal sense but strong in its relationships - reached into 50 countries and was known as the Oxford Group. It was from this base that Buchman made his now historic call to `generate a moral and spiritual force that is powerful enough to remake the world'.
Factor in independence
Through the war years, Moral Re-Armament - denounced by the Gestapo in Germany - aimed to raise the morale of the free world, in the belief that a nation's true strength lies in the active faith of its people. At the same time Buchman and his colleagues looked ahead to the work of reconciliation, backed by changes in the lives of people, which must follow victory if peace was to be preserved.
This had many practical consequences. In 1946 Swiss families pooled their resources, at immense personal sacrifice, to set up a conference centre at Caux, which could house 1000 people at a time. Matching the centre on Mackinac Island in the United States, Caux became a meeting place for the recently warring nations (see p 4). When the governments of France, Germany and Japan subsequently decorated Buchman, it was in recognition of MRA's work for reconciliation and reconstruction. In 1958, speaking on behalf of the Japanese Foreign Office, Vice-Minister Takizo Matsumoto said, `At every critical turn we have been aided by Moral Re-Armament,' while West German President Carstens stated in 1982, `During the post-war years, when we Germans regained acceptance in the international community and rebuilt relations with France, it was to a large extent due to MRA.'
A similar approach spread to the emerging countries of Africa. From Morocco to Zimbabwe, nationalists came to Caux, and what they learned there became a factor in their countries' successful transition to independence. `But for Moral Re-Armament our country would be engaged in a war without mercy with the French,' commented the principal negotiator of Tunisian independence, Mohammed Masmoudi, in 1955.
The same held true in other parts of the world. When in 1969 Italians and Austrians agreed on partial autonomy for the Germanspeaking Italian province of Alto Adige, for instance, the Milan newspaper 11 Giorno ascribed to Caux the `new spirit that has made possible an effective solution'. The Asian conference centre, opened at Panchgani, India, in 1969 has similarly been credited with helping in the peaceful creation of the state of Meghalaya in the North East of India in 1970.
Bridges were built too in industry, based on change in attitudes in both management and labour, issuing in improved working conditions and productivity. As materialism of the left or right proved increasingly sterile, both communists and capitalists found a deeper motivation. The phrase `not who is right, but what is right' rang through boardrooms, trade union halls and shop floors from the German Ruhr to Jamshedpur in India, from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro, and impinged too on international trade relations. In 1964, a pioneering international agreement stabilizing jute prices, to the great advantage of the Asian growers, was signed under the auspices of the Food and Agricultural Organization. It was the result, in part, of 20 years' work by the head of the French jute industry Robert Carmichael, who ascribed his inspiration to MRA.
Of course there were setbacks too. In 1960, for instance, the President and Vice-President of independent Cyprus sent their first flag to Caux, in recognition of MRA's help in bringing agreement between Greeks and Turks. The end of bloodshed in Cyprus was described by the press as a 'miracle'. But 14 years later partition was forced on the island after all.
Buchman died in 1961. His mantle fell on a British colleague, Peter Howard, who died in 1965. Both men had always envisaged that MRA would develop a collective leadership, based on friendship and shared commitment. This took some years to establish fully. Meanwhile there were spin-offs, in North America and some other countries, as, indeed, there had been during Buchman's lifetime, notably Alcoholics Anonymous.
Today the need for moral re-armament is as strong as ever and the work continues into fresh fields. So much remains to be done by all who want to build a future for our grandchildren. We must turn the tide of materialism, secularism and hedonism - which is leading humanity literally towards a dead end. There are innumerable bridges to be built between classes, races and peoples - to bring peace to those still suffering from war, and free the creative powers of people everywhere. There are massive injustices to be redressed - not least the imbalance between developed and developing nations.
To these tasks, faith is fundamental - not the drive of fanaticism or limp adherence to a creed, but the life-transforming experience which could set the tone for society in the 21st century.
At the 40th anniversary of Caux in 1986, Cardinal Koenig of Vienna stressed two specific challenges-the preservation of the environment and the reconciliation of East and West. 'Buchman showed that the message of Christ is not only for the cloistered cell, for private use, but can penetrate deep into social and political life,' he said. `Problems can be solved where, at the political level, social, racial and historical contradictions are insoluble.' The tasks may be daunting, but it is unlikely that anything less than moral and spiritual renaissance can secure the future. Everyone can begin to live out what is needed in their own situations - and, in doing so, help to shape the decades ahead.
Kenneth Belden has worked with the Oxford Group/Moral Re-Armament since the 1930s.
TodayMoral Re-Armament is about people engaging in a struggle: the struggle between good and evil, fear and faith, power and service which underlies the quest for a better world. The struggle begins within individuals - but its context is the need of a hungry, divided and perplexed world and the desire to do something about it.
Moral Re-Armament does not claim results, although people in a situation sometimes attribute them. Even so MRA is only a factor in any solution - though sometimes an essential one. Moral Re-Armament is both an entity and a philosophy - lived out by thousands, whether or not they have any connection with the entity. It provides people of all backgrounds and affiliations with a basis for common action.
As you read this article, MRA conferences and campaigns in Turkey, India and Central America have just come to an end. A highlevel delegation of Japanese and European industrialists have returned home from talks with their counterparts in the USA. Young people from the Pacific and Britain are beginning to work out the ideas they have absorbed at training courses in Melbourne and the north of England. And final preparations are under way for international meetings in Nigeria, Japan, Korea and Europe.
Such events are the tip of an iceberg - signs of people engaged in the great international and national issues of our day. The industrialists' visit to the United States, for instance, is just the latest in a series of round table discussions aimed at building trust at a time of trade tensions. The meetings in Central America were called by church leaders, trade unionists and ordinary people who are working to lay the foundations of peace on the level of new relations. The conference in Nigeria is in part the outcome of the action of a group of young people who have launched an onslaught against corruption and division, expressed in a play and backed up by their own experiences.
In East Asia, private citizens and government officials are working to create the moral infrastructure for democracy and development. Meanwhile an annual `Dialogue on Development' has taken place for the last eight years at the MRA centre in Panchgani, India, and communities from Jamaica to Thailand are proving on the ground that human development is an essential counterpart of economic development.
In crisis areas from Lebanon to Uganda, South Africa to Sri Lanka, people are meeting across the barriers of race, tribe and religion and taking initiatives for change and peace. A similar process is going on in cities in the developed world, from Britain's Newcastle upon Tyne to Richmond, Virginia.
In industry, trade unionists and management have worked together to save jobs, raiseproductivity and find just settlements. Such groups have proved a factor, for instance, in steps towards `industrial democracy' in the mines of Broken Hill, Australia, in the revival of the British steel industry and in the Indian steel city of Jamshedpur.
Training courses and family conferences help all ages to find new honesty in their relationships and purpose in their lives. In Britain, the Westminster Theatre has provided a catalyst for Christian professional theatre and for the use of theatre in education.
National initiatives benefit from the crossfertilization of experience from abroad. Thus, in the last six months, a group of young Africans have visited Europe and East Africa, while people in Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Central America, Morocco and the United States have invited international groups to their countries. A constant, almost continuous, exchange of visits often facilitates and supplements the larger moves and conferences.
The annual conferences at Caux provide a further opportunity for this interchange. This year's meetings run from 8 July to 28 August and include sessions focusing on the Mediterranean, on health care, on cities and on industry and economic life, a training course for young people and a session hosted by people from Asia, Africa and the Pacific.