History of MRA/IofC
Initiatives of Change Malaysia
Buchman, an American Lutheran minister of Swiss descent who was the originator of Initiatives of Change, has a spiritual experience of release from bitterness in crucial relationships that alters the course of his life.
The Oxford Group
Buchman’s experience in 1908 convinces him that moral compromise destroys human character and relationships and that moral clarity is a prerequisite for building a just society. His ideas take root at Oxford and in some American universities and his work becomes known as the ‘Oxford Group’.
Buchman’s ideas spread through the 1930s into many sectors and on to other continents. Alcoholics Anonymous is established in 1935 as a direct result of the liberating experiences which some people find through their contact with the Oxford Group.
As European nations re-arm for war, Buchman calls for ‘moral and spiritual re-armament’ as the way to build a ‘hate-free, fear-free, greed-free world’. Following World War II, Moral Re-Armament (MRA), as it becomes known, launches a programme of moral and spiritual reconstruction to foster change in private and public life based on a change in motivation and character. Buchman also emphasised the importance of faith. He believed that God has a purpose for people’s lives and for mankind as a whole, and he encouraged people to seek God’s wisdom in regular times of silence and reflection. Buchman, a devout Christian, described Moral Re-Armament as ‘the good road of an ideology inspired by God upon which all can unite. Catholic, Jew and Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Confucianist – all find they can change, where needed and travel along this good road together.’
MRA opens an international conference center in Caux, Switzerland, which is made possible through the generosity and hard work of hundreds of Swiss citizens.
Germans to Caux
At a time when any contact with the Germans is extremely difficult, Buchman and his colleagues invite Germans to Caux. Over the next four years growing number of Germans and French come to Caux and their encounters become the basis of a massive development in reconciliation. Buchman is later decorated by both the German and French governments for his contribution to European reconciliation.
Conferences at Caux and similar ones at Mackinac Island in the US, achieve further public recognition through several other major contributions to international developments in the post-war years. Notably the part played in the reconciliation of Japan with her South-East Asian neighbors, and in the achievement of independence by several African countries without major bloodshed.
By the 1950s, casts of plays presenting MRA’s ideas are traveling all over the world. Centers are established in Latin America, India, Japan and several countries in Africa.
When Buchman dies in 1961, the former British political journalist Peter Howard assumes the leadership of MRA, but four years later he too dies. Without a clearly identified leadership to ensure cohesion, unresolved differences among those taking responsibility begins to surface.
Up With People
In some countries a new approach is tried, concentrating on the younger generation, and in others more traditional ways continue. Up With People, which develops into a global educational programme, becomes a spin-off from MRA. After a period of uncertainty and dissension, trust is slowly re-established, with valuable lessons learned.
1968 sees the opening of Asia Plateau – a major international center for the training of people from industry, education and other national sectors in Panchgani, India.
Period of Consolidation
With reconciliation a primary need in many parts of the world, much of MRA’s work concentrates on supporting peace-making initiatives in Africa and Asia.
During this period in Britain some of the work is focused on bettering industrial relations at the big car and steel manufacturing plants, important at that time for economic stability, and some on the growing multiculturalism of the country’s large cities.
Collapse of Communism
The collapse of Communism triggers new needs and opportunities for the rebuilding of democracy in the post-Soviet world. This becomes one of the major focal points in the 90s.
Other initiatives that develop throughout the 90s are Hope in the Cities, which is created to bridge the racial divide in the US; Clean Election Campaigns in Taiwan, Brazil and Kenya; and a continuing concern for the creation of moral and spiritual infrastructure for development in both rich and poorer nations.
With the approach of the new millennium, there is world-wide recognition that the words ‘moral re-armament’ no longer hold the same resonance as they did in 1938. In 2001 the new name Initiatives of Change (IofC) is announced to the world’s media by the Caux President, Dr Cornelio Sommaruga (former President of the international Red Cross), and Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma.
While ways of expressing truth, and methods of coordinating the global work, continue to change as succeeding generations take on this particular responsibility for the moral and spiritual renewal of society, the essential philosophy of IofC remains the same – that personal change can lead to social, economic and political change. With its emphasis on experience rather than philosophy, it provides a focus where people of different religious and political persuasions can meet without compromising their own beliefs, and be part of a global network committed to working for change in the world.