Wednesday, May 29, 2013

 (Photo: Margaret Noble)Seventy five years ago this month saw the launch of an international movement that was huge in its impact, global in its outreach and controversial in many quarters. Moral Re-Armament, the forerunner of Initiatives of Change, was proclaimed to the world in East Ham Town Hall on 29 May, 1938. The words that Frank Buchman spoke on that day may be somewhat dated in tone but they are surprisingly resonant with today’s world situation.

Buchman recognised the imminent threat of war – the East Ham event came shortly after Hitler’s Germany had marched into Austria – and was acutely conscious of the deprivations brought on by the economic depression of the 1930s. He was determined to point the world to an answer. The very name Moral Re-Armament was conceived as offering an alternative to rush to war which was happening at that time. As Buchman said, ‘The world’s condition cannot but cause disquiet and anxiety. Hostility piles up between nation and nation, labour and capital, class and class. The cost of bitterness and fear mounts daily. Friction and frustration are undermining our lives.’

Buchman’s diagnosis was surprisingly simple. ‘The crisis is fundamentally a moral one. Moral recovery is essentially the forerunner of economic recovery. Imagine a rising tide of absolute honesty and absolute unselfishness sweeping across every country! What would be the effect? What about taxes? Debts? Savings? A wave of absolute unselfishness through the nations would be the end of war.’

The controversy that his ideas aroused were not entirely intellectual – he pricked the consciences and challenged the lust for control of people in all walks of life, not least in Nazi Germany.

Frank Buchman‘How can we precipitate this moral recovery?’ he asked. The need was for ‘a power strong enough to change human nature and build bridges between man and man, faction and faction’. (He would probably have added ‘woman’ if he were speaking today.) Then he gave what was probably the heart of his convictions: ‘God alone can change human nature.’ This was something that he had experienced himself – and which he had challenged many others to experience.

‘New men, new homes, new industry, new nations a new world’. It’s a compelling vision – and it all starts with each of us deciding to seek within our hearts for the power that can change our lives. This may feel like a threatening process but, in my experience it is surprisingly liberating. It frees us to be ourselves, without having to pretend that we are someone different. It also frees us to build a relationship with our Creator, who disciplines us, gives us a life’s calling and sets us to work.

‘We have not yet tapped the great creative sources in the Mind of God. God has a plan, and the combined moral and spiritual forces of the nation can find that plan.’

Are today’s pressing issues – oppression, brutality and war; economic stagnation; tensions within the European Community; threats to our global ecosystem; famine, malnutrition and disease; illiteracy and poverty; fuel poverty – too complicated to succumb to Buchman’s approach?

In a series of speeches throughout 1938 Buchman spelt out in more detail the programme that he had in mind. They are all published in Remaking the World (Blandford Press 1961). Of course, Buchman understood that there was nothing inevitable about succeeding in bringing about change – though his ideas had and continue to have a remarkable effect. In September of that year, Buchman spoke in Switzerland. ‘We have set ourselves the difficult task of trying to liquidate the cost of bitterness and fear, which mounts daily. The odds are seemingly against us, but just as individuals are delivered from their prison cells of doubt and defeat, so it is possible for nations to be delivered from their prison cells of fear, resentment, jealousy and depression, and oftentimes through one illumined man, one masterful prophet. How often this has been true in history! If this is true of one man, what can happen if a group of people in every nation carry through the illumination and give a whole new public opinion?’

The challenge is just as relevant today as in Buchman’s time.

Read more about the history of IofC

Ken Noble works full-time with IofC in the UK. He is currently Secretary of the charity and was previously an editor of the monthly magazine For A Change.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.