Frank Buchman — A Life by Garth Lean (Constable, £15.00).
IN OUR philosophy, there is, of course, Horatio, nothing new. Evangelists have always been with us — they have arrived with a flash and gone with a footnote. Are those from America in the twentieth century any worse than those from Europe in any other century?
Frank Buchman (1878-1961), encountered his particular Damascus Road in Cambridge in 1919 when he sensed a voice tell him that he would be used to remake the world. From then on, we are told, "it is only possible to understand [him] in the context of that aim." He went on to found the Oxford Group, later to be known as Moral Re-Armament, and make some of the most horrendous political gaffs of the second World War which seemed to point to a sympathy with Fascism. "I thank Heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler", though admittedly said in 1936, still fits in with his quite naive observation, "Himmler has closed his heart against us." Such statements were followed by a move in the House of Commons that he should be refused entry to Britain after the war, simply on lack of any condemnation of Hitler.
As head of MRA, the lad from Pennsylvania, of German Lutheran stock, became a citizen of the world, eventually settling for headquarters in Switzerland. He cultivated, innocently or otherwise, the wealthy, the influential and not so minor Royalty. Those who had dealings with him were never neutral — he was either the universal panacea or a charlaton. In the quarter century since his death, his memory has the same divisive effect.
Garth Lean has produced a monumental biography — unquestionably so from a "believer" whose objectivity is rarely compromised. But even if Frank Buchman did not spawn the present crop of American Evangelists, like the Rev Gerry Farwell, "Heavy Rock for Christ" and that unpronouncable "guru" with all the Rolls Royces, then he did point them to their "foot in the door", slick double-glazing patter which buttresses the "haves" and diverts the "have nots."