The pitfalls of public and untrained private confession could have been foreseen by the Group, if only they’d studied the early Christians they were first named after (when called First Century Christian Fellowship). Public confession of sins has not been an accepted part of Christianity for a thousand years. A critic of the Group, Reverend
John A. Richardson wrote about that overlooked history.
“We know, however, that the practice of public confession, or, as the Groups would put it, confession in the fellowship, was deliberately abandoned in the fifth century, because it became a cause of moral mischief. The minds of the young were contaminated by the practice, and the sensibilities of older persons needlessly offended.”
Penitence was not the overarching theme of such confessions, but playfulness. Members who crafted their confession for humor were rewarded with laughter and applause. The shameful and unthinkable became punchlines, and terrible acts became humorous anecdotes. They confessed without repentance.
Buchman invited converts to stand up and confess at one meeting that I attended, he said: “Remember these three points when you speak: BREVITY, SINCERITY, and HILARITY.” Members of his group are taught to be funny and jocular about their sins. I should like to know how that can be reconciled with the teaching of any religion.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the “Oxford” Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 145.
The Group didn’t have measures in place to address when a member confessed to a criminal act, or revealed a predatory nature. Because confession was always responded to with forgiveness and absolution, the impetus to change was kept small and immature. A member remained in good standing if he pleased Buchman, even if he posed a threat to other members. We see this in today’s Twelve Step groups, where sexually abusing new members is jokingly referred to as the thirteenth step.