Sunday, March 03, 2013

Obituary of Morris Martin - Chief of Staff for Frank Buchman of Oxford Group



Morris Martin

Classical scholar who devoted much of his life to the Moral

Re-Armament movement


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

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