Frank Buchman was born in 1878 and lived until 1961. He was raised Lutheran and studied at Mount Airy Seminary, becoming an ordained Lutheran minister in 1909. He worked first at a suburban church and then as Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) secretary for Penn State. While at Penn State, he claimed to have doubled membership in the club, yet alcohol on campus and other vices seemed unaffected.
In 1915 and 1916, Buchman took missionary trips to India and China. He met Mahatma Gandhi for the first of many times. While Buchman certainly saw himself as an alternative to the white supremacy of other missionaries, his attitudes can best be described as paternalistic. He told his followers apocryphal tales of his wise council to world leaders. He befriended Hsu Ch’ien, the Vice Minister of Justice and later acting Prime Minister of China. As an ambitious and narcissistic man, Buchman cultivated relationships with high status people.
However, this desire for high status connections was coupled with disdain for his actual peers. While in China, he openly lambasted the other missionaries there as prideful, sinful, and probably gay. His relations with fellow missionaries were so bad, and complaints made about him so numerous, his bishop back in the United States sent a telegram simply stating “DISCONTINUE WORK.” He left the country.
At the age of 38, Buchman took a part time position at Hartford Theological Seminary and moved into the dormitories with the young men. Students mocked his obsession with purity, and filed complaints over his “intrusive methods” of discussing sexual sins. He resigned or was asked to resign from Hartford in 1922 and for the next four decades was supported by the donations of his wealthy following.
Buchman was accused by a few of an abnormal and morbid emphasis on sex and of conducting an unwarranted inquisition into men’s private lives. Stories of alleged sexual confessions went round the campus and there was talk of emotionalism and even hysteria.
– On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, Garth Lean