Sunday, August 21, 2011

Christianity and A.A.: Is Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) Christian?

More and more, people are Googling in the question: Is A.A. Christian. Is it?

Some, including a few Christian writers who are anti-A.A., are quick to jump in and answer with  a Bible verse or two, an admonition or three, and a condemnation or 20.

Again: Is A.A. Christian?

Why not start with facts before attempting to answer the question in any meaningful, useful, and helpful way! You might first ask, "What is A.A.?" ot "What A.A. literature--past or present--can shed light on the question?" or "Who is asking the question?" Is the questioner studying A.A., condemning A.A., trying to prove the affirmative, trying to argue the negative, contending that AAs will go to hell, stating that the Bible prohibits attending A.A., or stating flatly that A.A. is Christian or not Christian. And of what period in A.A.'s 75 years or so, is the questioner asking?

You can start by finding out the major influences on A.A. historically. These are the YMCA, Christian evangelists like Dwight Moody and F.B. Meyer, the Salvation Army, the Gospel Rescue Missions including the one where one cofounder made his decision for Jesus Christ, and The Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor. One comprehensive, documented study can be found in Dick B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous ( Another is Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W. ( Still another can be found in Dick B. Real Twelve Step Fellowship History  (

Most important, A.A. Cofounder Dr. Bob said the basic ideas for the Steps of A.A. came from their study and effort in the Bible. He specifically named the Book of James, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. He widely distributed Christian literature and devotionals to AA and their families. A.A.'s basic ideas in Akron A.A. came from the Bible. Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book ( A.A.'s basic ideas in the Big Book written primarily by Bill Wilson came from the Oxford Group--A First Century Christian Fellowship, as it called itself.

You can move on to look at the Christian upbringing of A.A.'s cofounders Dr. Robert H. Smith and William G. Wilson. You will mostly have to look outside of A.A. for details. But the books above will be helpful. And two A.A. Conference-approved books can start you on your quest. One is DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (1980). Another is "Pass It On." And still others include the autobiography of Bill W. himself and the biography of Bill's doctor, "The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks." Still others are the works on Bill by Susan Cheever and Nan Robertson.

Then you can look at how the first three AAs got sober. And what they had to say about Christianity and alcoholism.

A.A. Number One, Bill Wilson, was told by his doctor (Silkworth) that the "Great Physician" Jesus Christ could cure him. Bill made a decision for Jesus Christ at the altar of Calvary Mission in New York. Bill wrote that he was "born again." And Bill decided to call on the "Great Physician" for help. Finally, Bill cried out to God for help at Towns Hospital. Bill had a "white light experience." He sensed the presence of "the God of the Scriptures," as he phrased it. And he never drank again. But he did immediately go about with a Bible under his arm, telling his story, and telling drunks they must give their lives to God in order to get well. Bill had been raised a Christian in East Dorset and Manchester, Vermont. He had studied the Bible in both places. He had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in New York. And, in A.A.'s own Big Book, he was quoted as saying "the Lord has cured me of this terrible disease."

A.A. Number Two, Dr. Bob Smith, had been a member of St. Johnsbury's North Congregational Church when his parents were raising him to believe in Jesus Christ and study the Word of God. Bob and his whole family were deeply involved in the North Congregational Church, with Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, with the YMCA, and with the Congregationalist St. Johnsbury Academy. And of it all, Dr. Bob stated he had received excellent training in the Bible as a youngster.
When Bob at last began his march to sobriety, he knelt on a rug with a group of Christians and prayed to God for his deliverance. Shortly, his prayers were answered by the visit of his new friend Bill Wilson. And shortly Dr. Bob quit drinking forever, studied the Bible intensely, and was a member of at least two Christian churches in Akron, Ohio.

A.A. Number Three, Bill Dotson an Akron attorney, and a drunk, had long believed in God, taught Sunday school in and was a Deacon of a Christian church in Akron. Dotson received the witness of Bob and Bill while in the Akron City Hospital. He turned to God for help. And he was instantly cured. In A.A.'s Big Book, Dotson (like Bill Wilson) declared that the Lord had cured him also.

Early AAs in the group founded by Wilson, Smith, and Dotson called themselves a Christian fellowship. All were required to profess belief in God, to make a decision for Jesus Christ, to study the Bible, to make a surrender of their lives to God, and to attend "old fashioned prayer meetings." They also were urged to fellowship with other believers and attend a religious service once a week.

Was Akron A.A. Christian in the 1930's? You be the judge.

Did A.A. as a Society change its requirements when it published its Big Book in 1939? It removed the word "God" from its Second, Third, and Eleventh suggested Steps of recovery. It tossed out some 400 pages of its draft manuscript--all said to have contained Christian and biblical materials. And it avowedly declared it did so in order to placate atheist and agnostic drunks who wanted to get sober in the Society.

Was A.A. Christian after its Big Book and Steps were published in April 1939? You be the judge.

What about today's A.A.? It has changed again so that the Lord's Prayer no longer closes many of its meetings. It often refuses to allow groups to study the Bible, to mention Jesus Christ, or to study Christian literature. Its literature more and more calls the Society "spiritual but not religious"--even though the courts have mostly rejected this statement. Its literature more and more says that you don't have to believe in anything at all to be a member of A.A. Is today's A.A. Christian? You be the judge.

But! The point made here is that you can be the judge. You can be a Christian in A.A. You can believe what you wish, read what you wish, worship where  you wish, and "be" whatever you wish to be. And A.A. has no power to exclude anyone from its membership or to censor books or to "govern" what groups do or do not do. This even though a few vociferous individuals may try.

Therefore, today there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of Christians in A.A. And they are neither barred, nor evicted, nor suppressed by anything except the rude, boisterous, and sometimes insulting remarks of a few intolerant "bleeding deacons"--as Bill Wilson used to call such dissenters.

In the opinion of the author, based on the foregoing evidence: (1) A.A. was Christian to the core in its origins. (2) A.A. founders and the first three AAs were Christians in their upbringing. (3) The same three were believers in God and Christians when they turned to God for help and were cured. (4) The Akron A.A. fellowship--the first group in A.A.--was not only Christian, but said so.

Today, as a member of A.A., you can believe in God or not, be or become a Christian or not, believe what  you wish or have no belief, worship where you wish, belong to a Christian denomination if you wish, read the Bible and Christian literature if you wish, and talk about what you wish in meetings. A.A. is not organized. Its leaders are but trusted servants. They do not govern. Groups are urged to turn to and follow the guidance of "a loving God" as He may express Himself in their group conscience. And anyone who disagrees can, as an A.A., buy a coffee pot and take his resentment and disagreement with him to another group. One he and another alcoholic can form or to which he may choose to belong--Christian or not.

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