Frank Buchman claimed, “It is our destiny to obey the guidance of God.” As we discussed earlier in this series, guidance was defined by Frank as “powerful radiograms” from God to Group members, received as passive thoughts during their quiet time. But what if the guidance a member received conflicted with the teachings of Buchman?
To handle disagreement in guidance, members were encouraged to “check guidance” by submitting their written thoughts to a superior member, perhaps someone in Buchman’s Inner Group or even Frank himself. Of course, Buchman did not need to check his guidance with anyone. It was simply presumed divine. He held the power to overrule “the word of God” as the pleased.
In the Groupist system, although the individual is encouraged to attach Divine authority to the ‘luminous thoughts’ which visit the mind during the ‘Quiet Time’, and may be written down in his ‘Guidance Book’, and although he is urged to govern his daily course, even in the pettiest details and in spite of the dislocation of carefully-prearranged engagements which may be entailed by his obedience to their direction, external authority is not lacking. Above the Groupist there is the Group to which he is attached, and beyond the Group there is an ‘Inner Group’ over which Dr. Buchman himself presides, and whose decisions are final. Groupism is thus a closed system, as close-knit and dominating as that of the Jesuits, which leaves to the individual Groupist little liberty and no ultimate responsibility.
We seem to be contemplating a paradox. A religious movement which begins by ignoring all existing systems, and claims to have none of its own, ends by becoming a system more despotic than any!
– Dr. HerbeDurhamsley Henson, Bishop of Durham
An eyewitness account from a former member recounts a time when the Inner Group had received guidance, checked it with each other, and reached consensus. Then Frank walked in with a different idea. Everyone returned to their automatic writing and this time they were in harmony with Frank. Social pressures and a desire to please him made him infallible.
[Frank said] “That’s my guidance. Now I don’t want to dictate. I may be wrong. I want you to check me.” But we knew better. Frank’s guidance was always right.
While the occult mechanisms he used were novel, Buchman’s bait and switch is a classic tool of cult leaders and confidence artists alike. Buchman promised daily, reliable, direct communion with God. He promised divine guidance and the ability to speak with the creator of the universe. But what he actually provided was routine seances and brainwashing. He heard their innermost thoughts and then reinterpreted them in his best favor.