Moral Re-Armament (MRA) was an international religious movement that developed in 1938 from the ideas of an American, Reverend Frank N. D. Buchman, and his students called the Oxford Group. Buchman headed the MRA until his death in 1961. The Oxford Group believed the world in the late 1930s needed moral re-armament not military re-armament. Initially based in Christian roots, the group grew to encompass people of various backgrounds and faith who believed in the “Four Absolutes,” absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love. Members were encouraged to be active in social and political issues. A core idea, popular during the Cold War, was that changing the worlds starts with seeking change in oneself.
Spinoffs of the group include Alcoholics Anonymous (1936), the global education program Up with People (1965), and the National Viewers and Listeners Association (1965), a watchdog and pressure group for decency in broadcasting.
MRA suffered from Buchman’s famous comment in 1936 “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler who built a front line of defense against the Anti-Christ of Communism…” This quote caused MRA to have problems recruiting members. MRA also tried unsuccessfully to obtain exemptions from military service for its members during World War II.
In 2001 the MRA changed its name to Initiatives of Change (IofC) and formed a non-governmental organization, IofC-International, to work with organizations such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
The organization was also seen as a cult with absolutes that were naïve, impossible to fulfill, and overly dependent on personal revelations. On August 8, 1951, Catholics were ordered by the Holy Office not to become members of the MRA because it supported the heresy of illuminism, in which each person received immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit independently of the Church’s authority.
1941, the MRA was established in the United States. It was considered, at least by its members, as the most effective way to combat communism. By 1948 the international activities of MRA were directed from an office in Hollywood (Calif.).
There were some very wealthy people on Mackinac Island who led the MRA in Michigan. In 1942, the Michigan MRA rented the Island Hotel on Mackinac Island, rehabilitating it and much of the nearby grounds. In May 1947 the Mackinaw Island City Council and Chairman of the Mackinac Island Park Commission proposed a ten year lease to MRA. MRA spent at least $14,000 fireproofing the building and addressing concerns of the local fire marshal. The Attorney General gave an opinion on June 5, 1947 that such a lease was unlawful. This resulted from increasing public concerns about MRA and its goals. In July 1947 the property was leased to the Conservation Department, which temporarily leased the building to the MRA for the summer of 1947. In October 1947 the opinion of the Attorney General was rescinded. The Park Commission refused three times to lease the building to the MRA by July 29, 1948.
Michigan’s Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, Secretary George C. Marshall, and ECA-Administrator Paul G. Hoffman believed that the MRA was important for world reconstruction.
In 1946 Miles and Margaret Phillimore bought the Mission Hotel. (This information is from the Mackinac Island historic buildings site, viewed on Sept. 23, 2008.) Mackinac Island then became the world headquarters of MRA. During the early 1950s, the MRA held world conferences on Mackinac Island. MRA then established a small college on the island, which was unsuccessful due to the difficulty of getting students to the island for winter term. In 1971, MRA left Mackinac Island. Their buildings eventually became Mission Point Resort, a destination-style vacation complex. The Mission House was purchased in 1977 by the Mackinac Island State Park and now houses Mackinac State Historic Park's seasonal workers.
(The above information is from the collection, and a Wikipedia article on the MRA, “An evaluation of Moral rearmament” by Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J., http://www.therealpresence.org, and the Wikipedia entry for Mission House (Mackinac Island), viewed on Sept. 23, 2008.)
These MRA materials were collected by Arthur Shera (Jan. 4, 1895-Nov. 25, 1987) of Grand Rapids (Mich.). Arthur and his wife, Meta, lived with her parents, Christiana and Gustas Behnke, from at least the 1920s through the 1940s. The Sheras were active in collecting food and other non-perishable items for starving Europeans after World War II and in the distribution of MRA materials and ideas.