Saturday, June 26, 2010

AA Tolerance of Diversity of Views and Members on Religion

This is just to get folks thinking about tolerance in, of, and about Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery fellowships. Tolerance of diversity. Tolerance of different viewpoints. Tolerance of varied convictions about religion, God, church, Jesus Christ, and the Bible--Pro or Con.

Why ask?

There may be many reasons. First, in A.A. itself, there are many who rise up in wrath and voice objections to any statement by someone about his own religious beliefs or practices. Second, such folks often invoke the claim that such expressions violate this or that A.A. Tradition. Third, many invoke the argument that comments about the Bible or other religious literature cannot be made because the material is not A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature. Fourth, some minority Christian thinkers and writers today are claiming that Christians will go straight to hell and violate God's commandments if they participate in a fellowship which has Christian members of a variety not acceptable to the commentators. Fifth, some claim that A.A. has no Christians, never had Christians, is not Christian, had founders who couldn't have been Christians, and that A.A. principles and practices could not be based on the Bible, the teachings of Jesus Christ, or the practice of leading newcomers to belief in God and coming to Him through Jesus Christ. Finally, there are several writers who claim that A.A. is a cult, is religious, and is based on wrong-teaching and beliefs.

Who is right?

This article rejects the question because you can safely assume that many of the foregoing statements are correct. And some are. But they beg the question.

Where do you start in appraising A.A.?

The answer lies in learning where and how A.A. ideas grew out of Christian organizations' and leaders' principles and practices--largely used in the 1800's to help drunks get well. They were the evangelists, rescue missions, YMCA lay worker revivals, Salvation Army outreach, and Young People's Christian Endeavor Society practices which find an almost exact parallel in the early A.A. Christian Fellowship founded in Akron in 1935. You can find the details in two major sources today: "The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide," 3rd ed., 2010 ( and the newly released start-up recovery class "Introductory Foundations for Christian Recovery" (

The next answer lies in learning exactly what the first A.A. group in Akron did and where the details can be found. One place is our title: "When Early AAs Were Cured and Why" (, and also in "The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide," 3rd ed., 2010 (

The next answer lies in realizing how much A.A. changed between 1935 and 1939 when it abandoned the original Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship program, tossed out Christian and Bible materials in the proposed draft, and adopted a program largely based on the life-changing ideas of the Oxford Group as taught to Bill Wilson largely by the Episcopal priest, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. ( and (

The final answer is still being unraveled as this writing is penned. That is the changes that Bill Wilson and three others alone--one not even an alcoholic--made when they changed the wording of the proposed Twelve Steps to accomodate atheists and agnostics and altered many other words and phrases in the proposed text.

Take all these points together. You therefore have an A.A. which became very diverse in membership beliefs and practices beginning with the Big Book, published in 1939. You also have an A.A. which has increasingly broadened its membership base by eliminating all requirements for belief in God, acceptance of Jesus Christ, study of the Bible, prayer meetings, and Quiet Time observances ( And you have an A.A. which outspokenly publishes pamphlets and other materials that plainly invites and incorporates as members gays and lesbians, atheists and agnostics, varied ethnic groups, those of varied religious affiliations, and most assuredly many who are told they don't need to believe anything at all.

The bottom line, however, that this diversity of members generally lack any real knowledge of the early A.A. program, of its origins, of its Christian principles and practices, and of its astonishing successes. And, whether they are informed of their history or not, there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Christians among the world-wide membership of some two million who believe what they believe, practice what they believe, and profess what they believe while actively and fully participating in every phase of A.A. activity from attending meetings, speaking at meetings, serving groups as leaders, climbing the service ladder involving GSR people, DCM people, delegates, "trusted servants," and paying employed non-alcoholics at various levels.

Yet this diverse membership offers to all members the so-called abc's--which tell them that God can help them if they seek Him; can expel no members for religious or irreligious expressions and beliefs; embraces two important codes--"love and tolerance" and "love and service;" and enables most members to focus on the primary purpose of the fellowship today--to help the alcoholic who still suffers.

And therein lies the reason for continued diversity and for grateful folks of all beliefs or no beliefs to focus on the primary purpose--whatever their beliefs and practices concerning God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible. They were helped, and they want to help others. A.A. calls in "service."

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