Frank Buchman was in many ways the model of a cult leader. He was narcissistic and heretical, exploitative in his personal relationships, and presented himself as far more accomplished than a former seminary teacher. As membership in the Oxford Group (nee First Century Christian Fellowship), Buchman began to use cult tactics more often and obviously, to criticism from journalists and theologians alike.
One classic cult tactic he adopted was cult speak. He redefined everyday terms for group members, words like sanity, guidance, and surrender. In this way, he could craft a message that sounded innocuous or agreeable to outsiders, while also communicating extremist messages to indoctrinated members. This enabled Buchman to simultaneously exert mental control over members while sounding ecumenical or benign to the outside world.
Under Buchman, Sanity was redefined as adherence to “a God-controlled life”. God-controlled really meant Buchman controlled. Thus anyone not turning to the Group for every need became Insane in the lexicon. Surrender to God’s will became the code phrase for joining the Group. Confession became a comedy routine recruitment tool, and Guidance meant channeling God as a medium might channel a ghost. Such Guidance was treated as infallible, unless it contradicted Buchman. Everyone who was not a member was dubbed Pagan, regardless of faith or practice.
It’s important to understand the hidden meaning of these terms to understand the testimonies (recruitment) of members. This jargon is a tactic employed by most cult leaders. It confounds outsiders, brainwashes members, and impedes real communication between members and the uninitiated, unindoctrinated masses. In every way, it makes life after the cult harder to manage.
A related verbal trick would remind followers of the importance of obeying God, in a way that suggested that could best be done by showing obedience to Frank. An Oxford Group slogan probably authored by him declares, “When man listens, God speaks. When man obeys, God acts. When men change, nations change.” Of course, by obey Buchman meant obey him, and by Change he meant conversion to Buchmanism.
Coming up next: Buchman blended traditional Christianity with spiritualism and the occult.