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What are the Oxford Groups?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Oxford Group is a semi-religious and political movement that swept through parts of Europe and America in the early 20th century. Its nominal leader was Frank Buchman, who had a religious conversion to Christianity in 1908, and would later found the group in 1938 based on his religious beliefs. The group is perhaps best remembered because Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) was a group member, and adopted many of its ideas for A.A. Similarly, Dr. Bob, or Robert Smith, was also a member of the group and a founding member of A.A.

Though the Oxford Groups movement, also called moral re-armament, was based predominantly in Christian beliefs, it did not embrace one sect of Christianity more than another. Instead, Christians and non-believers came together in informal settings to learn how to surrender their lives to God or a Higher Power and to learn how to be guided by his principles alone. Unlike many standard religious sects, Oxford Group meetings did not take place at temples or churches. Most meetings were in homes or halls, and each meeting might elect a specific leader or moderator for the night.

Considerable bad press followed the Oxford Groups on several key matters. First, numerous mainstream religious groups, among them the Church of England and many Catholic groups, criticized it. It nevertheless attracted both Catholics and Anglicans, since the group was not incompatible with most religious objects of either church.

Secondly, the Oxford Group built an extensive and expensive compound on Mackinac Island. Use of funding and the belief that prosperity was compatible with godly living was used as a point of attack of the group. However, the group didn't charge for membership, and in fact no formal membership existed. People attending meetings might be asked to contribute, but were not told to do so.

Perhaps most damning was Buchman's interview prior to World War II about the possible benefit Hitler could bring. He downplayed Nazi anti-Semitism. Though he later expressed public regret for this interview and for accepting any help from Hitler for German factions of the group, it was certainly a blight on the Oxford Groups continued success.

The principles by which the Oxford Groups lived were the following:

  1. Sharing of sins and conversion stories
  2. Surrendering one's life to the higher power of God
  3. Seeking to give restitution to anyone a person had injured
  4. Relying on the guidance of God in all words and deeds.

It is very clear that God and not Buchman or anyone else in the group was the leader. People were asked to surrender their lives to God and bear testament to their sins and problems before this surrender or even afterward. Some Christian groups were particularly offended with the notion that people could actually "listen to God" or claim their actions were God-driven. Others felt that the confessional nature of meetings laid too much bare and were made distinctly uncomfortable by it.

Fervor for the initial Oxford Groups gradually died down, but A.A. is certainly still greatly active. A.A. is no longer solely Christian based, and in fact some groups are specifically non-religious. A higher power can be anything one designates in certain groups. The Oxford Group shifted emphasis toward advocating personal responsibility in reshaping a peaceful world and officially changed its name to Initiatives of Change (IOC) in 2001. The IOC has far greater world respect, and branches across the world. It even consults with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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