The Cults of Frank Buchman 23

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A homophobic MRA text

Like any cult leader, Frank Buchman was overly sensitive to criticism, and responded to such perceived slanders with name-calling and scandalous allegations. His favorite insults to paint his opponents with were “communist” and “homosexual”. The first is enough to explain, and the second is bit more uncomfortable for me as a lesbian.

Frank Buchman may have been homosexual himself. Rumors to that effect certainly followed him across national boundaries and decades. Buchman never married or publicly courted any woman, and there was never a suggestion of sexual impropriety between him and any woman. There were however hints of scandal when it came to men, particularly the much younger undergraduate men he tended to surround himself with.

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’. 

–  The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps, A. Orange (web version)

As you may recall from the earliest posts in this staggeringly long series, Buchman received so many complaints of ” invasive ” behavior while living as a middle aged man in student dorms he was asked to leave his position at Hartford Seminary. Sexual entitlement is a frequent characteristic of cult leaders, whatever their true sexual orientation may be. In that light, I think it is both likely he was not heterosexual (whether asexual or homosexual) and that he behaved immorally and without consent in whatever sexual dealings he may have had.

Regardless of his own nature, which we can only guess at, what is clear is that Buchman called critics homosexual frequently, beginning in the 1910s when he toured Asia as an evangelist. So frequent were his accusations, he was ordered by his Lutheran superior in the United States to cease all missionary work in China. This go-to slur remained a favored ad hominem attack by the minister for the rest of his life. His cult even once lobbed at a man already open and out as gay.

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, 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. 

Ruling Passions, Tom Driberg, 1978

In 1954, two of Buchman’s inner circle, Dr. Paul Campbell and Peter Howard (who would take over after Buchman’s death), produced an MRA pamphlet advising how to spot a homosexual man.

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.

Remaking Men, Campbell and Howard, 1954

We can speculate on Buchman’s orientation but his bigotry was all too obvious.

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