The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous|
and the Twelve Steps
by A. Orange
Chapter 21: Homophobia and Gay-Bashing
Frank Buchman and his Moral Re-Armament group were viciously homophobic.
A 1954 Moral Re-Armament tract that was written by Peter Howard and
Dr. Paul Campbell tells readers how to spot homosexuals:
There are many who wear suede shoes who are
not homosexual, but in Europe and America the majority
of homosexuals do. They favor green as a color in
clothes and decorations. Men are given to an excessive
display and use of the handkerchief. They tend to let
the hair grow long, use scent and are frequently affected
in speech, mincing in gait and feminine in mannerisms.
They are often very gifted in the arts. They tend to
exhibitionism. They can be cruel and vindictive, for
sadism usually has a homosexual root. They are often
given to moods.
...There is an unnecessary touching of hands,
arms and shoulders. In the homosexual the elbow grip
is a well-known sign.
Remaking Men, Paul Campbell, M.D. and
Peter Howard, 1954, pages 60-62.
The son of one of Frank Buchman's disciples reported that among the
inner circle, it was an open secret that Frank was a
The evidence supports this: Buchman never married, never had any
romantic relationship with a woman, and there was never, ever, in
his entire life, even the slightest hint of any scandal involving a
(In fact, the hottest thing that we can find is Garth Lean's report
that Frank Buchman confessed that in his youth, he once kissed a girl.
"When I was eleven I kissed a girl,"
girl wouldn't have anything to do with me for a
But, apparently, Frank Buchman didn't care to repeat the experiment.)
The same — the total absence of any scandal — is not true of
Buchman and boys. Remember his
getting booted out of the boys' dorm at
Hartford Seminary, and his banishment from Princeton.
While collecting converts, Frank seems to have
preferred young men. He would listen to their confessions, especially
confessions of a sexual nature, tirelessly, while young women's sins
do not seem to have particularly interested him. He had his inventory
of standard scathing denunciations of any woman who had sex, but
listening to their confessions and saving their souls didn't seem
to have the same appeal as boys'. Frank's vicious homophobia was
probably just a cover, to convince other people that he wasn't a
homosexual, and also a way for him to deny his own feelings.
When Frank Buchman was asked some questions about relations between
men and women...
On the subject of relationships,
Buchman's only comment was, 'Sometimes I am sad I never had guidance
from God to get married — I might have been able to help more.'
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 309.
That wording is really funny, if you think about it. When a young men
feels the urge to merge with a young woman, he rarely claims that God
guided him to jump on her.
One reader added:
As a historian, I was very interested in the life of Buchman. One of the
leaders of the OG in Canada was Eileen Ford
[Eleanor Forde] who was from
A friend of mine had a winter home close to her and her husband in Florida.
I asked him if he would ask her a series of questions for me and he did.
One of the questions was as to the nature of Buchman's sexuality. My friend
told me that she laughed and stated that anyone who knew Buchman well also
knew of his homosexuality.
She also stated that to keep the press off his case, he wrote a pamphlet on
how to spot homosexuals by their dress and manners.
People have heard of the pamphlet but I have yet to see one.
Eleanor Forde at Mackinac Island in 1942
As usual, the Buchmanite true believers denied everything.
They insisted that there wasn't anything odd about
Frank Buchman's sexuality — that it was all just slander from
T. Willard Hunter, another long-time member of
Moral Re-Armament, wrote in his thesis:
As to homosexuality, he [Buchman] believed with George Sokolsy, who wrote it
in a syndicated column, that the communists and the homosexuals were an
important factor in the opposition to the MRA movement. He took pains with
his team on how to identify gays and how to help them. He treated homsexuality
[sic.,sp.] as another obsession which could be cured, like alcoholism,
through surrender to a higher power. Because he never married and because
of some aspects of appearance and manner, innuendoes would turn up in the
press about his own orientation.32
He was in good company. Similar charges have been leveled against Ruth and Naomi,
David and Jonathan, Jesus and John, Paul and Timothy. New Testament scholar
Hans Dieter Betz told his colleague Frederick Sontag that scandalous sex
stories have been circulated about every significant Christian leader from
the beginning, including Jesus, as the early literature
Whether or not the suggestions have a basis in fact, it is possible a case
can be made that some of the most powerful and creative personalities in
history have had this predilection. It is sometimes said that the greatest
saints were the most highly sexed. It is possible that as times change, such
implications may become less slanderous. Opponents will have to think up
something else to achieve a similar sting.
32 Time, 18 August 1961, p. 59. Because Time was consistent,
sometimes ruthless, in its steadfast opposition for thirty-five years,
some readers came to regard this sneer about as believable as the rest.
33 Frederick Sontag, "Heresy and the Moon Movement," lecture,
Claremont California: United Church of Christ, 13 February 1977.
Also Hans Dieter Betz letter to T.W.H., 21 February 1977, relating sex
stories told about the Saints. (Both in T.W.H. files.)
World Changing Through Life Changing: The Story of Frank Buchman and
Moral Re-Armament; A Thesis for the Degree of Master of Sacred Theology
at Andover Newton Theological School,
T. Willard Hunter, 1977, pages 130-131.
T. Willard Hunter, 1942.
T. Willard Hunter played the arch-fiend in "You Can Defend America", one of
Frank Buchman's jingoistic road shows.
September 1940, Carson City, Nevada
Arthur Strong captioned this photograph with:
T. Willard Hunter plays the arch-fiend with a team of "rats", representing
fear, greed and hate; they aim to undermine the nation's morale, but are
sent packing in the Finale.
(Preview Of A New World, page 45.)
That sounds a lot like simple, old-fashioned melodrama.
That's a real
minimization and denial tap-dance.
The author, T. Willard Hunter,
never said that Frank Buchman wasn't gay. Hunter did not offer a single
fact on the subject, one way or the other. Instead, he threw up a smoke-screen,
and made a lot of illogical arguments, while using several propaganda tricks:
Ah, the mind of a true believer in a cult religion.
Again, I am reminded of Marjorie Harrison's statement,
"Groupers become extraordinarily evasive people.")
And it is simply outrageous that T. Willard Hunter had the gall to turn in that mess of lies and
propaganda tricks as a thesis for the degree of Master of Sacred Theology.
Good grief! (I wonder if he got the degree...)
The following text was written by Tom Driberg,
the London Express newspaper
reporter who was later elected a Member of Parliament.
He described his experiences with Buchman and his organization
I had been at the Express for little more than a month
when I provided the news editor with my first 'scoop' — an account,
I think the first in a mass-circulation paper, of the revivalist cult
led by Dr Frank Buchman from Pennsylvania. This movement,
which was beginning to be called, misleadingly, the Oxford Group, was
to become world-famous, from 1939 onwards, under the name of Moral
Re-Armament. I had heard about it from friends still at Oxford,
which Buchman was then visiting. I went there, attended one of
the group's sessions in the lounge of the Randolph Hotel, interviewed
the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Streeter, Dr A. E. J. Rawlinson, Father Ronald Knox
and other senior members of the University, and printed what I saw and
what they said. The Express thought the story worth running for
several days, starting on the front page on February 28th, 1928.
Some time later, in the summer vacation, I went to Oxford again and
talked to Dr Buchman personally. I still think that the best description
of him is that given by an early disciple, Harold Begbie: 'tall, upright,
stoutish, clean-shaven, spectacled, with that mien of scrupulous, shampooed, and
almost medical cleanness or freshness which is so characteristic of the hygienic
American'. I remember him walking bouncily towards me across the lawn of
the women's college at which the Buchmanites were having a house-party,
greeting his followers as they gathered round him.
One of them was Austin Reed, of the men's-wear chain of shops.
Buchman was good at remembering names. 'Hullo there, Mr Austin Reed!',
he cried. 'How's that lift-boy of yours coming along?' I thought
it clever of him to remember, in England, to say 'lift' instead of
From then on I took a desultory but increasing interest in the Buchman
movement. I kept newspaper cuttings about it and discussed it with
people who had direct experience of it; some of them had got out
of it, disillusioned. In the 1950s, to my surprise, I was invited
to lecture on it at two Scandinavian universities, Oslo and Göteborg.
The lecture was printed as a pamphlet, and this in turn prompted
my friend David Farrer, of Secker & Warburg, to commission from
me a full-length book on the subject. I went to Pennsylvania to
find out about Buchman's origins there, and acquired some interesting
facts. The book — The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament — was published
in 1964. Both in that book and in everything else I have said and
written about M.R.A., I have tried to be fair and objective.
I am afraid I have not succeeded; at least, the Buchmanites don't
seem to think I have.
One of the characteristics of this movement is its hypersensitive
vindictiveness against anybody who has uttered a word of
criticism of it, however mild, or has mentioned such inconvenient
facts as the interview in the New York World-Telegram on
August 26th, 1936, in which Buchman, who had just been visiting
Nazi Germany, said: 'I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler,
who built a front line of defence against the anti-Christ of
Since I have been regarded for many years as an enemy, M.R.A.
has a copious dossier on me — some of which is wildly
inaccurate, though some, I must admit, will find confirmation
in parts of this book. In 1960 I was one of three speakers
invited by the World Council of Churches to address their
European Youth Conference, at Lausanne. This assembly was
organised by a French Protestant pastor, Michel Wagner,
and some time before it met he was put under heavy
pressure by M.R.A. spokesmen, who demanded that they
should be allowed to send delegates to take part in the
proceedings. The pastor, a shrewd and experienced Christian,
was determined to prevent this intrusion: he explained that
delegates were not being invited on the basis suggested by
M.R.A., and continued to resist their pressure. In
consequence, just before the assembly opened at Lausanne,
a press conference was held at the M.R.A. centre at Caux,
also in Switzerland, at which a fierce attack was made
on the Lausanne assembly. The chairman of it, who is now the
Dean of Liverpool, was falsely said to be a card-carrying
Communist. Others connected with the assembly were
branded as homosexuals: so far as I know, this was
also untrue, except of myself
[Tom Driberg was "out of the closet" many
decades before it was fashionable], and it will be realised that
I would not regard the allegation as particularly shocking
or my presence at Lausanne as tending to corrupt the youth
of Europe. (It was in fact, so far as I was concerned, a completely
chaste occasion.) The correspondents who came on from Caux
to Lausanne reported to us all these slanders. They were felt
to be disgraceful, and the General Secretary of the W.C.C.,
Dr. Visser 't Hooft, a Dutch veteran of the ecumenical
movement so venerable and so universally respected that
even M.R.A. would not dare to try to smear him, issued
a solemn rebuke to the slanderers.
The most fantastic of all the Buchmanite inventions about
myself concerned my brother Jim, of whom I have written.
At some time during the latter, unfortunate part of Jim's
life, when he was drinking heavily, he encountered Dr
Buchman, who apparently recognised his talents and his
potential, took him in hand, and actually cured him of
drinking. If this is true, it is greatly to Buchman's
credit. But then, alas, Jim reverted to his old ways —
and, according to M.R.A. myth, it was I who, in sheer
wickedness, lured him back to the demon drink.
Nothing could be more remote from the truth: as I
have explained, Jim's drinking became both boring and,
to me, expensive; I should have been delighted had he
been able to give it up. But Buchmanites, like other
believers, can construct the most grotesque fables to
embellish their propaganda and to discredit those whom
they have labeled enemies.
Ruling Passions, Tom Driberg, 1978, pages 98 to 100.
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Last updated 18 February 2018.
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