Today, I received an email (part of which is set forth in this article) which asks my view on how a Christian can share his faith in an A.A. or N.A. meeting without violating the “Traditions.”
Of course, I can’t and don’t speak either for A.A. or N.A. Nor can I or do I purport to be an interpreter of what is right or wrong, consistent or inconsistent, permissible or “forbidden” by the Twelve Traditions or in precisely how one should “take” the Twelve Steps.. Preliminarily, I do say that I can share my experience. I do say that the “Traditions” are neither laws nor rules nor governing edicts. They are simply suggestions that arose when, just before Dr. Bob’s death, Bill Wilson proposed as “traditions” some ideas from his own experience that he felt would help maintain the unity of his 12 Step fellowship program and its groups. There are no A.A. police. A.A. leaders do not govern. There is no power to “enforce” the ideas of Bill Wilson, Dr. Robert Smith, A.A. General Services, the Traditions, some A.A. leader, some A.A. group, and even some individual member. There is no index of forbidden books, and fellowship members can do or say or read or write what they like, whatever the clamor the remarks might cause. In fact, retiring A.A. “senior” advisor, former General Manager, and former Trustee Bob P. spoke specifically to this problem and the growing rigidity he had observed in his years of service.
Let’s address the matter of unity. Bill explains the matter well when he talks about the fellowship and the common solution upon which, he says, all can agree in harmonious action. Let’s talk about what happened just after Dr. Bob’s death when Bill felt quite free to have two Jesuit priests (Fathers Ed Dowling and John Ford) edit his Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Let’s talk about the almost contemporaneous St. Louis Conference where, in 1955, Bill felt quite free to have Father Ed Dowling, S.J. and Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. (the Episcopal rector from whom Bill had learned most of the steps) speak to AAs. Let’s talk about Bill’s feeling quite free five years later to have a Roman Catholic clergyman and as well as Dr. Shoemaker (for the second time) address AAs at their Long Beach convention. Let’s talk about the religious endorsements Bill sought for his books from Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick and others. Did any of these religious activities, writings, or speeches jeopardize A.A. unity? Apparently Bill didn’t think so; and they really marked a period of enormous growth in A.A. that has now diminished. The common solution in A.A. is not unity. It is God. And yet in today’s A.A. members are free to believe in God, in not-god, in no god, or in nothing at all. That freedom may or may not promote unity, but it certainly doesn’t exclude God or A.A.’s reliance on Him in its Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and Big Book. Unity comes from recognition of what works based on the experience of AAs themselves. And what works is reliance on God; or at least that is our great history of what worked in the beginning. And there is nothing in the Traditions that rejects or suppresses or prohibits that solution or the sharing of that solution.
That said, the real approach for me is how effectively to help the alcoholic who still suffers—how to bring to him or her the same love and service that was brought to me when I entered the rooms almost 23 years ago. It is also how to be free, as a Christian and Bible student and active recovered AA, to tell how God did for me what I could not do for myself. For that is precisely the approach that Bill’s “sponsor” Ebby Thacher used when Bill wanted to argue about religion. Ebby simply told Bill that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. That language is quoted in the Big Book, and it is repeated in the so-called “promises” contained in the Big Book. Moreover, page 29 of the latest editions of the Big Book, points out that, in the personal stories, each individual, in his own language and from his own point of view, tells how he established his relationship with God.
Now what of the Christian in A.A.? What about his or her own victory and cure through belief in God and coming to Him through Jesus Christ? Can he or she say this? Should he or she feel constrained by Twelve Traditions? Does the adoption of Twelve Steps written in 1938 and published by Bill in 1939 somehow intrude on a Christian’s freedom to explain how he established his relationship with God and recovered? A quick look at page 191 of the Fourth Edition of the Big Book published in 2001 will show that Bill Wilson proclaimed that the Lord had cured him and that he wanted to keep talking about it and telling people. It also will show that A.A. Number Three not only endorsed Bill’s statement, but said it represented the “golden text” of A.A. for him and for others (See Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A.).
Perhaps the greatest problem for both the Christians who speak and the naysayers who object is that they simply don’t know their own roots, their own history, and the things that their own founders and pioneers said freely and repeatedly through the years. They also may not know that those founders and pioneers achieved a documented 75% success rate among those who really tried. In fact, the latest edition of the Big Book tells them this on page xx. My objective for the past nineteen years has been to make these facts evident to all who wanted to know them.
Here is part of the email I received—a question I receive with great frequency
Hi Dick !
Hope this note finds you in good health and excellent Spirit. I am still. . . very active in sharing the Good News of the Gospel in local recovery meetings (AA and NA). I will be leading a group this coming Thursday to discuss how us Christians can share our faith in AA and NA meetings and yet not violate any of the traditions (mainly Traditions 1 and 10). Have you ever written any articles about this issue? I would be interested in your thoughts on this matter. I feel that as we share our experience, strength and hope we can bring our faith into the mix. I would support sharing via many "I" statements, stay away from "you" statements. Tie the sharing of my faith to Steps 2 and 3 i.e. "I turned my will and my life over the Jesus Christ" and Step 11 to talk about God's will for me.
There is significant demonic activity in . . . the recovery meetings. I am fully aware how the father of lies and his demon spirits invade men and women and their minds. It very much is a spiritual battle and I am looking for all the practical and useful ways to proclaim Christ wherever I go and especially in AA and NA. God bless and regards.
Here is an edited and enhanced part of the reply I wrote
I favor the history approach and also the one-on-one approach rather than “sharing.” The question is how to share effectively with a newcomer what God has done for you in such a way as to love and serve the newcomer who still suffers. The “Traditions” have no relevance when it comes to that point. If you read or quote or paraphrase accurately our own history—particularly when you work with “A.A. General Services Conference-approved literature”—you can hardly go wrong in applying it to your own recovery experience.
You don’t violate traditions if you share how you established your relationship with God (Big Book 29).
You don’t violate traditions if you quote Dr. Bob and his remarks about where AA came from (These are specifically and well-stated in The Co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks.)
You don’t violate traditions if you quote Bill Wilson on page 191 of the Big Book where Bill told the wife of A.A. Number Three: “The Lord has cured me of this terrible disease, and I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.”
You don’t violate traditions if you tell people the Christian devotionals Bill and Bob and the pioneers used, and which are specifically named in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. These include The Runner’s Bible, The Upper Room, and My Utmost for His Highest, and The Greatest Thing in the World.
You don’t violate traditions if you point out that you, like Dr. Bob and the pioneers, believe that the answer to our problems is in the Good Book and that the parts considered absolutely essential are Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13.
You don’t violate traditions if you describe your own understanding of God and say so.
You don’t violate traditions if you quote the last sentence of Dr. Bob’s story on page 181. And say, as Dr. Bob did, that your Heavenly Father has never let you down!
You don’t violate traditions if you stand your ground when someone spouts off and you quote your sources in A.A. history and literature. But quote them accurately!
There is too much fear among some Christians in A.A. and N.A. that they dare not mention their Creator, Jesus Christ, the Bible, religion, church, and their faith. Why? There is no answer that would keep them or me from feeling quite free to say, in a lead talk, in a meeting, or with a newcomer, exactly how they or I established their relationship with God, were cured, and found that the founders were right when they concluded that God had restored them to sanity, that He had done for them what they could not do for themselves, and that their Heavenly Father did not let them down. My suggestions on “taking” the Twelve Steps as a Christian newcomer and taking someone through the Steps as a Christian sponsor are stated in my title, Twelve Steps for You: Take the Twelve Steps with the Big Book, A.A. History, and the Good Book at Your Side.