The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps

Chapter 21: Homophobia and Gay-Bashing

Frank Buchman and his Moral Re-Armament group were viciously homophobic. A 1954 Moral Re-Armament tract that was written by Peter Howard and Dr. Paul Campbell tells readers how to spot homosexuals:

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.
...There is an unnecessary touching of hands, arms and shoulders. In the homosexual the elbow grip is a well-known sign.
Remaking Men, Paul Campbell, M.D. and Peter Howard, 1954, pages 60-62.

Dr. Frank Buchman
Frank Buchman
The son of one of Frank Buchman's disciples reported that among the inner circle, it was an open secret that Frank was a homosexual.1 The evidence supports this: Buchman never married, never had any romantic relationship with a woman, and there was never, ever, in his entire life, even the slightest hint of any scandal involving a woman.

(In fact, the hottest thing that we can find is Garth Lean's report that Frank Buchman confessed that in his youth, he once kissed a girl. "When I was eleven I kissed a girl," he said. "The girl wouldn't have anything to do with me for a week."60 But, apparently, Frank Buchman didn't care to repeat the experiment.)

The same — the total absence of any scandal — is not true of Buchman and boys. Remember his getting booted out of the boys' dorm at Hartford Seminary, and his banishment from Princeton.

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'. Frank's vicious homophobia was probably just a cover, to convince other people that he wasn't a homosexual, and also a way for him to deny his own feelings.

When Frank Buchman was asked some questions about relations between men and women...

On the subject of relationships, Buchman's only comment was, 'Sometimes I am sad I never had guidance from God to get married — I might have been able to help more.'
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 309.

That wording is really funny, if you think about it. When a young men feels the urge to merge with a young woman, he rarely claims that God guided him to jump on her.

One reader added:

      As a historian, I was very interested in the life of Buchman. One of the leaders of the OG in Canada was Eileen Ford [Eleanor Forde] who was from Montreal.43 A friend of mine had a winter home close to her and her husband in Florida. I asked him if he would ask her a series of questions for me and he did.
      One of the questions was as to the nature of Buchman's sexuality. My friend told me that she laughed and stated that anyone who knew Buchman well also knew of his homosexuality.
      She also stated that to keep the press off his case, he wrote a pamphlet on how to spot homosexuals by their dress and manners.
      People have heard of the pamphlet but I have yet to see one.
Jim B. ([email protected])
Eleanor Forde
Eleanor Forde at Mackinac Island in 1942

As usual, the Buchmanite true believers denied everything. They insisted that there wasn't anything odd about Frank Buchman's sexuality — that it was all just slander from Buchman's "enemies". T. Willard Hunter, another long-time member of Moral Re-Armament, wrote in his thesis:

      As to homosexuality, he [Buchman] believed with George Sokolsy, who wrote it in a syndicated column, that the communists and the homosexuals were an important factor in the opposition to the MRA movement. He took pains with his team on how to identify gays and how to help them. He treated homsexuality [sic.,sp.] as another obsession which could be cured, like alcoholism, through surrender to a higher power. Because he never married and because of some aspects of appearance and manner, innuendoes would turn up in the press about his own orientation.32 He was in good company. Similar charges have been leveled against Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and John, Paul and Timothy. New Testament scholar Hans Dieter Betz told his colleague Frederick Sontag that scandalous sex stories have been circulated about every significant Christian leader from the beginning, including Jesus, as the early literature shows.33 Whether or not the suggestions have a basis in fact, it is possible a case can be made that some of the most powerful and creative personalities in history have had this predilection. It is sometimes said that the greatest saints were the most highly sexed. It is possible that as times change, such implications may become less slanderous. Opponents will have to think up something else to achieve a similar sting.

32 Time, 18 August 1961, p. 59. Because Time was consistent, sometimes ruthless, in its steadfast opposition for thirty-five years, some readers came to regard this sneer about as believable as the rest.
33 Frederick Sontag, "Heresy and the Moon Movement," lecture, Claremont California: United Church of Christ, 13 February 1977. Also Hans Dieter Betz letter to T.W.H., 21 February 1977, relating sex stories told about the Saints. (Both in T.W.H. files.)

World Changing Through Life Changing: The Story of Frank Buchman and Moral Re-Armament; A Thesis for the Degree of Master of Sacred Theology at Andover Newton Theological School, T. Willard Hunter, 1977, pages 130-131.
T. Willard Hunter, 1942
T. Willard Hunter, 1942.

T. Willard Hunter played the arch-fiend in You Can Defend America, one of
Frank Buchman's jingoistic road shows
T. Willard Hunter played the arch-fiend in "You Can Defend America", one of Frank Buchman's jingoistic road shows.
September 1940, Carson City, Nevada

Arthur Strong captioned this photograph with:

T. Willard Hunter plays the arch-fiend with a team of "rats", representing fear, greed and hate; they aim to undermine the nation's morale, but are sent packing in the Finale.
(Preview Of A New World, page 45.)

That sounds a lot like simple, old-fashioned melodrama.

That's a real minimization and denial tap-dance. The author, T. Willard Hunter, never said that Frank Buchman wasn't gay. Hunter did not offer a single fact on the subject, one way or the other. Instead, he threw up a smoke-screen, and made a lot of illogical arguments, while using several propaganda tricks:

  • First, T. Willard Hunter invoked the usual bogey-men — he repeated some of Frank Buchman's wild unsubstantiated accusations that "the communists and the homosexuals were an important factor in the opposition to Moral Re-Armament". That's an Ad Hominem attack on critics. It's also reverse association"If Communists and homosexuals hate me, then I must be good."

  • Then Hunter tried to use the propaganda trick of Appeal To Authorities — implying that Buchman's allegations about the opposition of communists and homosexuals were more true because some syndicated journalist had repeated them in a column.

  • Then Hunter made the outrageous allegation that Jesus and the Saints were also accused of being gay, or of being over-sexed. That's the propaganda trick called Faulty Syllogism: Imply that since Buchman was accused just like Jesus, that must mean that Buchman is a great man just like Jesus. "Buchman is in good company." Not!

  • Also notice another propaganda trick, The Use of the Passive Voice, where things just get done by some unnamed, invisible people, and baseless rumors just get repeated by somebody or other:
    • "innuendoes would turn up..." All by themselves?
    • "Similar charges have been leveled..." Leveled by whom?
    • "scandalous sex stories have been circulated... about... Jesus" Circulated by whom?
    • "It is sometimes said that..." Said by whom?

    T. Willard Hunter was also using the propaganda trick of citing mere rumors as if they were established facts — assuming facts not in evidence.

  • Then he tried to minimize the issue of homosexuality by declaring, "it is possible a case can be made that some of the most powerful and creative personalities in history have had this predilection."
    So what's the point of that statement? Was Hunter admitting that Frank Buchman really was gay, after all? ("But it didn't matter, because...")

  • Then the author, T. Willard Hunter, summarily declared that Buchman's sexual orientation was a non-issue, and changed the subject. That is more minimization and denial, and then the propaganda trick of Divert Attention by changing the subject. And it's also just dodging the issue and running away.
    Frank Buchman's homosexuality was not a non-issue when Frank Buchman and Peter Howard so viciously attacked homosexuals. It shows vicious heartless hypocrisy, and it is a great departure from Buchman's much-ballyhooed Absolute Honesty.

  • And then T. Willard Hunter attacked TIME magazine, claiming that they were opposed to Buchman for 35 years (so presumably we can't take their word for anything — they are prejudiced). That's another Ad Hominem attack on a critic.
    And Hunter again made a false assumption when he assumed that TIME magazine was at fault — he obtusely refused to see that TIME magazine had quite good reasons for being opposed to what Frank Buchman was doing — things like lying, deceiving, hypocrisy, teaching superstitious occult practices to young people, teaching a heretical perversion of Christianity, Nazi sympathizing, treason, promotion of "Christian fascist dicatorships", and aiding and abetting chicken-hawk draft dodging during World War II.
    Then Hunter used a variation of the Everybody Says propaganda trick with more unsubstantiated assumptions: "...some readers came to regard this sneer about as believable as the rest."

  • When Hunter declared, "Opponents will have to think up something else to achieve a similar sting", he was again Assuming Facts Not In Evidence — he was assuming that "opponents", or critics of Frank Buchman, were not interested in the truth, that they were only interested in hurting Frank Buchman. So that's also yet another Ad Hominem attack on critics. Hunter was also falsely claiming victory there, implying that he had somehow defused the issue of Frank Buchman's homosexuality and hypocritical gay-bashing.

Ah, the mind of a true believer in a cult religion.

Again, I am reminded of Marjorie Harrison's statement, "Groupers become extraordinarily evasive people.")

And it is simply outrageous that T. Willard Hunter had the gall to turn in that mess of lies and propaganda tricks as a thesis for the degree of Master of Sacred Theology. Good grief! (I wonder if he got the degree...)

The following text was written by Tom Driberg, the London Express newspaper reporter who was later elected a Member of Parliament. He described his experiences with Buchman and his organization like this:

      I had been at the Express for little more than a month when I provided the news editor with my first 'scoop' — an account, I think the first in a mass-circulation paper, of the revivalist cult led by Dr Frank Buchman from Pennsylvania. This movement, which was beginning to be called, misleadingly, the Oxford Group, was to become world-famous, from 1939 onwards, under the name of Moral Re-Armament. I had heard about it from friends still at Oxford, which Buchman was then visiting. I went there, attended one of the group's sessions in the lounge of the Randolph Hotel, interviewed the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Streeter, Dr A. E. J. Rawlinson, Father Ronald Knox and other senior members of the University, and printed what I saw and what they said. The Express thought the story worth running for several days, starting on the front page on February 28th, 1928.
      Some time later, in the summer vacation, I went to Oxford again and talked to Dr Buchman personally. I still think that the best description of him is that given by an early disciple, Harold Begbie: 'tall, upright, stoutish, clean-shaven, spectacled, with that mien of scrupulous, shampooed, and almost medical cleanness or freshness which is so characteristic of the hygienic American'. I remember him walking bouncily towards me across the lawn of the women's college at which the Buchmanites were having a house-party, greeting his followers as they gathered round him. One of them was Austin Reed, of the men's-wear chain of shops. Buchman was good at remembering names. 'Hullo there, Mr Austin Reed!', he cried. 'How's that lift-boy of yours coming along?' I thought it clever of him to remember, in England, to say 'lift' instead of 'elevator'.
      From then on I took a desultory but increasing interest in the Buchman movement. I kept newspaper cuttings about it and discussed it with people who had direct experience of it; some of them had got out of it, disillusioned. In the 1950s, to my surprise, I was invited to lecture on it at two Scandinavian universities, Oslo and Göteborg. The lecture was printed as a pamphlet, and this in turn prompted my friend David Farrer, of Secker & Warburg, to commission from me a full-length book on the subject. I went to Pennsylvania to find out about Buchman's origins there, and acquired some interesting facts. The book — The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament — was published in 1964. Both in that book and in everything else I have said and written about M.R.A., I have tried to be fair and objective. I am afraid I have not succeeded; at least, the Buchmanites don't seem to think I have.
      One of the characteristics of this movement is its hypersensitive vindictiveness against anybody who has uttered a word of criticism of it, however mild, or has mentioned such inconvenient facts as the interview in the New York World-Telegram on August 26th, 1936, in which Buchman, who had just been visiting Nazi Germany, said: 'I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defence against the anti-Christ of Communism.'
      Since I have been regarded for many years as an enemy, M.R.A. has a copious dossier on me — some of which is wildly inaccurate, though some, I must admit, will find confirmation in parts of this book. 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 [Tom Driberg was "out of the closet" many decades before it was fashionable], 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. (It was in fact, so far as I was concerned, a completely chaste occasion.) The correspondents who came on from Caux to Lausanne reported to us all these slanders. They were felt to be disgraceful, and the General Secretary of the W.C.C., Dr. Visser 't Hooft, a Dutch veteran of the ecumenical movement so venerable and so universally respected that even M.R.A. would not dare to try to smear him, issued a solemn rebuke to the slanderers.
      The most fantastic of all the Buchmanite inventions about myself concerned my brother Jim, of whom I have written. At some time during the latter, unfortunate part of Jim's life, when he was drinking heavily, he encountered Dr Buchman, who apparently recognised his talents and his potential, took him in hand, and actually cured him of drinking. If this is true, it is greatly to Buchman's credit. But then, alas, Jim reverted to his old ways — and, according to M.R.A. myth, it was I who, in sheer wickedness, lured him back to the demon drink. Nothing could be more remote from the truth: as I have explained, Jim's drinking became both boring and, to me, expensive; I should have been delighted had he been able to give it up. But Buchmanites, like other believers, can construct the most grotesque fables to embellish their propaganda and to discredit those whom they have labeled enemies.
Ruling Passions, Tom Driberg, 1978, pages 98 to 100.

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Last updated 28 August 2008.
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