Classical scholar who devoted much of his life to the Moral
In the 1930s, for many people, especially the young,
salvation appeared to lie in a choice between the
certainties of communism and fascism. There was, however, a
now rather forgotten third way, the evangelical Christianity
preached by Frank Buchman.
His Oxford Group, and its later incarnation, Moral
ReArmament (MRA), became both influential and controversial
in Britain, attracting to its fold significant numbers of
those who might be expected to be among the next generation
of leaders. These included Morris Martin, who was to become
a key figure in the movement.
Buchman was an American Lutheran priest who, after working
with the YMCA and students in the US, had made London his
base in the late 1920s. Though the likes of Aimee Semple
McPherson had made evangelical Christianity familiar to
Americans, it was relatively novel in Britain, where Buchman
refined it by insistence on certain introspective and
absolutist principles, including the public confession of
Its tenets, proselytised at weekend house parties, proved
attractive to a generation questioning the order of things
in the wake of the First World War. Buchman's doctrine fell
on especially fertile ground at Oxford University, where it
gained some 150 adherents, including Martin, then a research
fellow at Merton working on a doctorate about Classical
Martin's temperament was more that of contemplative saint
than evangelising apostle, so he was not, perhaps, the
archetypal convert to Buchmanism, which tended to appeal to
cheerful, fresh-air types (including the tennis player Bunny
Austin) rather than to intellectuals. Nonetheless, if
Buchman's unshakeable conviction weighed heavily with
Martin, Buchman in turn came to appreciate Martin's gifts of
organisation and clear expression of thought. Accordingly,
from 1937 until Buchman's death in 1961, Martin abandoned
academia to be the former's private secretary, acting as his
speechwriter, record keeper and de facto chief of staff.
He helped to draft pronouncements by the group that became
familiar at the time, such as "There's enough in the world
for everyone's need, not everyone's greed".
His ease of manner also allowed him to become Buchman's
interlocutor in his frequent dealings with politicians.
These took on new urgency as the world moved towards war in
the late Thirties, prompting the adoption of the name
Moral - as opposed to military - ReArmament. Buchman hoped
to mediate between the great powers but earned lasting
criticism after a speech of his praised Hitler as "the front
line of defence" against atheistic communism.
During the war Martin and other members of the movement were
reproached for spending much of their time in America, which
had the effect of preventing them from being called up.
Nonetheless, Buchman became closely involved in high-level
postwar attempts to prevent future conflicts on the
Continent, and as Martin knew German he interpreted at
discussions with Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schumann about
the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, the
basis of the European Union.
Steadily, however, Buchman and those around him became
identified less with spreading the Gospel than with opposing
communism. Detractors of Buchman also suggested that he was
using his followers and wealthy backers in part to fund an
affluent way of life for himself. After his death various
schisms developed in MRA, notably between its British and
American devotees. Martin chose to remain with the latter,
and in 1966 became academic dean of Mackinac College, a
school based on an island in Lake Huron that centred its
curriculum on the teaching of moral values.
From the late 1960s Martin was educational director of a new
evangelical movement, Up With People. Very much of its time,
this was essentially a travelling roadshow in which
youngsters continued their schooling while touring a
Christian musical throughout North America and Asia. They
performed at several Super Bowls in the 1970s and provided
the extras for the celebrated Coca-Cola commercial that
spawned the hit, I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing.
An even more widely disseminated legacy of Buchmanism was
mutual-assistance groups for those struggling with
addictions and emotional difficulties. The progenitor of
such schemes, Alcoholics Anonymous, whose treatment stresses
inner change and the public admission of one's problems, was
founded by two members of the Oxford Group.
Morris Martin was born in London in 1910, the son of
missionaries active in China. He was educated at Merchant
Taylors' School, London, and at Wadham College, Oxford,
where he took a First in Greats. He developed a particular
interest in philosophy, and as he embarked on postgraduate
work came under the influence of Richard Crossman.
In 1973 Martin returned to the academic world as a visiting
professor of Classics at Princeton, where he taught for six
years. He then retired to Tucson, but in 1983 began to give
lectures for several years at the University of Arizona. He
remained a member of several of its committees until 2005.
A tall, godly but non-judgmental man, Martin retained to the
end a somewhat donnish appearance, as well as a Buchmanite
Looking back with the benefit of experience, he wrote in his
memoir Always a Little Further (2001) that he had come to
doubt the value of Buchman's practice of listening during a
daily quiet time for the guidance of God.
For those who lacked Buchman's intuitive gifts, Martin
believed, this was less a short-cut to the truth than a
deadend road in which one inevitably heard only one's own
thoughts. The danger for any religious movement was that a
strong-willed individual might impose his thoughts as if
they were those of the Almighty.
Martin married first, in 1946, Enid Mansfield, Buchman's
typist and the daughter of an MP. She died in 1979, and in
1988 he married Ora DeConcini, the widow of an Arizona
supreme court justice and mother of Senator Dennis
DeConcini. Ora Martin died in 2003.
Morris Martin, Buchmanite and Classical scholar, was born on
November 3, 1910. He died on May 17, 2007, aged 96