Moral Rearmament: Its Appeal and Threat

Emotion-based Sing-Out Offers Simple Answers


MRA also does not get long with trade unions as well as it says it does. Peter Howard, one of the two great MRA prophets, wrote: "We stand strongly in favor of trade unionism ... I rejoice at the prosperity of the American unions. I thank God for the conditions you have achieved. I know the struggle you have had." MRA claims to have actively participated in those struggles. A full-page advertisement in the New York Times (10-11-59) credits the organization with settling the London dock strike of 1949, the airline strike of 1952, and the 55-day steel strike of 1952, as well as patching up internal union problems in Brazil, France, Germany, and Italy.

But the unions don't quite see it that way. A report of the Executive Board of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in September, 1953, said that evidence showed MRA "interference in trade union activities ... even to the extent of trying to found 'yellow' unions"... In all cases where the 'trade union achievements' of MRA were examined more closely, they were found to be half-truths of fabricated 'successes.'" Three years later the ICFTU passed a resolution bluntly "advising trade unionists, in view of the continued interference of MRA in industrial matters to sever all connections with the movement." The warning was repeated in 1960.

What do the Sing-Out Kids know about all this? Not much. Ask them a question and they quote the answer verbatim from the MRA handbook. Even the leaders like Sayre do that. Most of the handbook was written by Howard, and it is gospel even though his answers are often incredible non-sequiturs. But the Kids study it and repeat it. The answers are right there and there is no use thinking about it.

The simple answer has an enormous appeal to them. Most of them are not very smart. The movement itself is overtly anti-intellectual, with constant references to the moral poverty of "brainpower." The 18-year-olds have no trouble grasping a simple solution to complex problems. The world and all its tensione, its bombs and its murderers and its corrupt politicians and its hypocritical clergymen, the world is evil. But all the problems will disappear if all men get the message: Change yourselves. Clean up your dirty characters. Be absolutely moral, live with love and purity and unselfishness and honesty and the world will be good. It is all very nice, and very simple for 18-year-old Midwestern minds.


What about practical problems? Vietnam? Well, they answer, if people followed Moral Re-Armament we would not have such problems. Perhaps, but what now? People must change. Oh. And when you confront them with the obvious impracticality of their solutions, they just smile a knowing smile as if to say, "You'll catch on. We know. You'll catch on."

Sing-Out is to help you catch on. First, Frank Buchman, the founder, and Howard tried lectures and books. That was in the 1930's. Then there were plays and movies. They had appeal, but it was limited. Howard thought up Sing-Out in 1965 and all of a sudden MRA caught on. The success was sensational. In just a year and a half, the three national troupes and the numerous foreign troupes have sung before two million people all over the world: South and Central America, Africa, Japan and Korea, and throughout Europe. They have been at 84 military bases, and Sayre reports that Gen. Westmoreland wants them to come to Vietnam if it can be arranged.

Their appeal is strictly emotional. A successful Sing-Out creates an hysterical atmosphere where rationality is lost to powerful feelings of patriotism and goodness in the catchy rock beat of the songs. But you get the message, All about motherhood and chauvinism and the evils of the sex and drink. You get the message. And wealthy businessmen in the fervor of it all dash off $500 checks, and high school and college kids run over to sign up, to be Sign-Out people themselves and solve the problems of the world by spreading the Word.

For the Sing-Out Kids there are other appeals. Many of the boys enjoy the 2-A draft deferments for being in an occupation in the national interest. The decision is made by local draft boards. Some boards classify boys 1-A, and, according to Sayre, 45 of the 300 or so males in the troupes have been drafted.

But Sing-Out is no haven for draft dodgers. Most of the boys in the cast have given up 2-S deferments anyway by leaving college. There is much more to MRA's appeal. Many of the kids have had some sort of bad experience, either with sex or with liquor or with petty law-breaking, and joining MRA becomes a cleansing action. The show itself looks almost like a purification rite or a Southern Christian Revival service.

One big man with Sing-Out is Tom Galleway. He says he attended Harvard, but he is not listed in the Alumni Director. He is the admissions director at Mackinac College, a $5 million layout on Mackinac Island in Michigan. Galleway told an audience of Harvard freshmen at Grays Common Room Sunday night that he felt very guilty about the "stealing" he had done at Harvard. He had, he said, sneaked books out of Lamont. And worse, he had taken girls out for dinner at Winthrop House and paid with coupons on his term bill while at the same time receiving an allowance from his father for such dates.

This is the kind of guilt MRA plays on. This is the stranglehold it has on the Sing-Out Kids. They are straight, they say. No drinking, no smoking, no dating. There are no rules against such vices in the organization, but no one indulges. In the handbook Moral Re-Armament: What is It? it is made very clear that these are evils. They pollute your mind and sap your energy, draw it away from the Cause.

And what are they after? What do they want to get out of spreading the Word? There is no doubt that one thing they want is a better world, and they want that sincerely. Political power they shun for the time being, but they realize that Sing-Out, mobilized behind some party or candidate, could be a fantastic force. Right-wing discontent, the search for simple answers to complex problems, and the American tradition of evangelism all make MRA frightening appealing.

Its threat is its anti-intellectualism, its emotionalism, its irrationalism, and its obsession with the glorious end it sees that justifies any means. Some Sing-Out Kids are saying that MRA could be a force in the 1968 elections.

It already is a force. Some people left the Harvard Sing-Out laughing. Others went away scared