CHRISTIANITY’S TENSION WITH AA – A REAL ISSUE


Churchmen and organized religions have generally been of three minds when it comes to Alcoholics Anonymous. Some groups condemn it since it does not specify a religious conversion in line with their particular creed. Others may see it as competition.

Those Churchmen who avoid tension see AA as a tool for recovery.  They may even covet the dedication and loyalty AA can generate in its adherents.

Professional approaches to sobriety often are promoting a certain method based in a theoretical guess as to stopping or curing this addiction. I just read about one new approach to problem drinking which encourages resuming drinking as part of the treatment. Much of that tension is detailed below.

Fr. Ernesto has discovered one of the few insightful articles on Churches and Alcoholic Anonymous (following article). I recommend his blog to gain more understanding about addiction. With nearly 50 years experience with this fine group,  I can testify as to his post’s accuracy.

AA has been the only program with a relatively low recidivism rate (relapse to usage). One of the reasons is that AA cares only about becoming and staying clean and sober. In the 12 steps it defines Higher Power only as that, a power higher than the individual. It manages to stay in existence without a detailed structure or set  procedure beyond a few simple rules based on the 12 steps. Attendance at closed meetings (to anyone other than the addicted) is a staple for the AA member, at least at first. Meeting styles and procedures will vary greatly even in the same geographical area. In recent decades many who enter AA have both alcohol and drug problems. Cross addiction has become very common.

Many of those who do fail to achieve sobriety and become clean from narcotics after attending  AA meetings fall into several groups. In recent decades many have had attendance mandated by court order.  They even have to return signed attendance chits to the courts. The second group which usually returns to, or never stops drinking are those who have been pressured by nonjudicial sources such

as spouses, employers, loved ones, etc. Experience has shown that until a person hits his/her “bottom”, rarely is there success. Only when a person finally wants to stop the addiction more than experience the perceived benefits from the addiction, will he be able to deal with the 12 steps.

Tragically, there are individuals who seem incapable of being honest with themselves or others. They will never deal successfully with their addictions.

Blogroll has Fr Ernesto/OrthoCuban.

Fr. Orthohippo

The same nun about whom I wrote yesterday commented to me that many priests do not know how to deal with people with addictions. In particular, she commented to me about dealing with alcoholism. She mentioned, in particular, the group Alcoholics Anonymous as being a very helpful group. Alcoholics Anonymous has always had trouble with some priests and some Protestant pastors. There is a tendency among some of them to be worried about AA because AA does not have an overtly Christian statement of faith, but has people deal with a Supreme Being. They worry that AA will lead those among them who are alcoholics into a type of “ecumenism.” So, let me quote from Bishop Alexey of Orekhovo-Zuevo:

You ask how I got acquainted with AA Community’s program. I have a spiritual child. You should have seen him earlier! He was always drunk and reeked of tobacco. Now he does not see himself without Church activities. He is a church warden and helps a lot at our monastery. He became such a person due to AA Community! Every day he read aloud to me abstracts from the book “Twenty four hours a day”. The book is intended for those who take part in AA groups and helps them on their recovery course set up for each day. The book makes people think and even helps them learn to pray. Many ideas from the book have sunk deep into my heart. Certainly they are of Christian, Gospel nature.

Enlightener Ignaty Bryanchaninov explains in his writings that a person should be like a condemned one. Surely the Programme helps the person feel himself a sinner, but a sinner who is not indulging in his earthly needs but who believes in his deliverance, his healing, and his ultimate transformation by the grace of God. He also sees others who have found the way…At the AA meetings I was struck by the people’s mercilessness towards themselves. You can rarely hear such things even at confession.

There are some key points made by Bishop Alexey. He caught on to the fact that the self-discipline expected by the AA is every bit as rigorous as some of the monastic schema. For those of you who know AA, you know that the person has to admit their complete incapacity to change unless a “Supreme Being” intercedes. But, they do not expect the Supreme Being to do all the work for them. There are various steps they must follow, including a rigorous code of confession that not only embraces confession to the group as a whole but confession to the people whom the alcoholic hurt because of their addiction. On top of that, the alcoholic must make restitution, to the extent possible, for the damages resulting from their sin.

And, just like the monastics, every member of AA has a “buddy” who not only keeps track of them, but is also available at any time of the day or night to talk to the alcoholic, when the alcoholic is going through a hard time and about to lose self-control. The buddy is himself/herself an alcoholic who has already gone through the Twelve Steps and has remained sober for a while. In other words, the buddy is every bit the equivalent of the elder in Orthodox tradition.

Thus, AA is not like the stereotypical Protestant group which stops at salvation and forgets about the need to go on to a truly changed life. Rather, many of the AA approaches are quite compatible with the Orthodox viewpoint on synergy. In passing, I am convinced that many of our Orthodox would certainly benefit from the AA attitude that unless the Lord intercedes, there is no hope of change. That is not a Protestant statement; that is an Orthodox statement. All too many Orthodox have the attitude that synergy means our doing all the work, and that we are capable of doing all the work. But, that is not what the Early Church Fathers thought. Rather, synergy is the concept of our putting in the mustard seed and trusting God to give the increase. Yes, we must sow unto salvation; but, we must never forget who it is that gives the increase. Synergy should always recognize that the main partner in working out our salvation is God and not us.

So, I can highly recommend that Orthodox parishes open their doors to AA groups meeting in their facilities.

Comments

  1. This is a thoughtful article and temperate in tone. But the writer makes it clear that he does not understand two important facts about Alcoholics Anonymous, God, and religion: (1) A.A. is not monolithic. It is neither correct nor in company with the facts when one writes as if A.A. has some “Supreme Power,” does not involve salvation and what some call sanctification, and is therefore not in harmony with the views of some priests and pastors. (2) The record is clear and well-documented that early A.A. was a Christian Fellowship, that it grew out of a number of Christian organizations and people who wanted to help drunks and addicts to rely on God (these being the YMCA, Gospel Rescue Missions, Salvation Army, evangelists like Moody and Sankey and Meyer, Congregationalism, and the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor; that all three of the first AAs believed in God, had studied the Bible, were Christians, and turned to God for help and were cured. I recommend three important new books that will properly and accurately inform a reader of this article. See Stick with the Winners! http://mcaf.ee/s50mq; Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous http://mcaf.ee/gj7iw; and Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous http://www.dickb.com/drbobofaa.shtml. God Bless, Dick B. dickb@dickb.com

    • It is clear that the earliest members of AA were Christians, drawn from a mostly Christian population. It is not at all clear that they intended it to be a Christian fellowship intended to create Christians. That was a hope for most of them, rather than an evangelism technique. As can be seen in the first version of the “big book” (the only one available to me when I came into AA in 1963), the reason they chose to not offer a definition of higher power was that it might keep some from attaining sobriety. First, one has to get to the point where one can make sober decisions. Anything less interferes with being able to process information and relationships naturally (or, as God intends).
      Of course the various organizations mentioned were, and are, very positive about AA. Many in their own populations were affected by substance abuse. Not to mention that only a few would have a very personal, (and dramatic) “God encounter” and be healed (or “cured”). We do not force God into any action, and can not know how He will choose to bring about any of his promises in specific situations. It is also obvious that Christian organizations and churches will put salvation as the first priority for each individual. This is to be expected. I believe that the accurate understanding of AA is that AA works to give everyone the opportunity to choose sobriety. This is most reliably achieved when we realize that it takes a “higher power (above ourselves). After one starts on the sobriety path, only then will the Christian God become a practical choice.
      Of course there are exceptions to this. AA never believes it is the only way. It is simply the most effective for most persons (as shown by various statistics about achieving sobriety). It accepts other sobriety experiences as valid, and welcome.

  2. Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity: Alas, like a few anti-AA Chritians who are peppering the internet with erroneous information about Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity, the writer illustrates a lack of homework on some vital aspects of Alcoholics Annoymous. Worse, that writer fails to cite a single source for his contentions. So let’s look at a few of the typical gaps in his presentation: (1) The first three AAs were believers in God, born again Christians, and students of the Bible. They got well before there were any Steps, Traditions, Big Books, personal stories, or meetings. (2) The two co-founders were born and raised Christians in their respective families, their respective Congregational churches, the relevant creeds and confessions, and frequent Bible study. (3) Knowledgeable researchers would take the time to look into the Congregationally founded and administered Academies and seminaries attended by Bill W. and Dr. Bob. (4) If they did this, they would discover that each academy had required Bible study, daily chapel–with reading of Scripture, sermons, prayers, and hymns. Each academy had vigorous Young Men’s Christian Association activity–Bill W. was president of the YMCA at Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester, Vermont; and Dr. Bob’s father (Judge Walter Smith) was president of the Young Men’s Christian Associat ion in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. And now it’s time to pause and see the factual sources overlooked by the priest: (a) Dick B. and Ken B., “Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont.” (b) Dick B.,, “The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A..” (c) Dick B. and Ken B., “Stick with the Winners!: http://mcaf.ee/s50mq. (d) “Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous” http://mcaf.ee/gj7iw. (e) Dick B., “Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939″ http://www.dickb.com/annesm.shtml. (5) The early A.A. program made no mention of the odious term “higher power.” See the facts on DR . BOB and the Good Oldtmers, page 131. (6) Every participant in ealy A.A. was required to profess a belief in God–not “a” god, not a nonsense god, not an higher power. God–Creator, Maker, Father, Heavenly Father, and Father of Lights. (7) Every early A.A. was required to follow the precepts of Romans 10:9 and accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Dick B., “The Golden Text of Early A.A.” http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml. (8) Almost every observer of early Alcoholics Anonymous commented to the effect that it was “First Century Christianity” in action–following the daily principles and practices laid down in the Book of Acts–daily fellowship together, daily prayers together, daily hearing of the Word of God together, daily breaking of bread together, daily meetings in the homes or temple, daily witnessing and conversion, and frequent healings–doing the same things that Jesus did and said they would be able to do. (8) Dr. Bob specifically described early A.A. as a “Christian Fellowship.” And there is much much more, the writer above failed to mention, to cite, or even to report–correctly or otherwise. Today, there is a vast and growing International Christian Recovery Coalition whose participants seek to find and report and disseminate the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played in recovery and can play today. See http://www.ChristianRecoveryCoalition.com. The participants in this coalition can now be found listed in all 50 states and many other countries. There is much more about the early A.A. Christian Felllowship program. And readers should be pointed to those facts before being exposed to Bill Wilson’s “new version of the program, the Twelve Steps” which was not published until April 1939 and was altered to mollify atheists and agnostics. Today there are tens and tens of thousands of Christians in A.A., in Twelve Step programs, in Christian counseling and Christian Fellowhips. For an example of the roots, see Dick B., “The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible” http://www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml; and “The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous” http://www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml. As for the self-made religion, absurd names for “a” god, half-baked prayers, new thought “spirituality” that are competing in the rooms and confusion Christian newcomers, it is not surprising to learn what the Adversary’s role is and has been for centuries. See James 4:7, See the titles by the Rev. Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., listed in detail in Dick B., “New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.” http://www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml.
    Readers are welcome to visit my main website http://www.dickb.com or contact me at dickb@dickb.com for further factual materials.

  3. I seem to have stepped on Mauihistorian’s present ministry. My sources came from my now 50 years in AA. While not intended to be a scholarly article, it is intended to point those who want help toward AA. It seems Mauihistorian believes present day AA (with its odious term higher power, and Mauihistorian’s attributions to Satan, etc) is off course and suspect. I am perfectly content with his efforts to help addicts, and encourage his own program to keep helping those who enter it. Mr. Mauihistorian, please don’t demand that only those prepared to come of Jesus are helped. Leave some drunks and addicts for us others to evangelize after they achieve sobriety. That has worked well for many decades. Fr. Orthohippo

About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
This entry was posted in AA, christian, History & eyeball remembrances, Personal, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to CHRISTIANITY’S TENSION WITH AA – A REAL ISSUE

  1. aahistorian says:

    This is a thoughtful article and temperate in tone. But the writer makes it clear that he does not understand two important facts about Alcoholics Anonymous, God, and religion: (1) A.A. is not monolithic. It is neither correct nor in company with the facts when one writes as if A.A. has some “Supreme Power,” does not involve salvation and what some call sanctification, and is therefore not in harmony with the views of some priests and pastors. (2) The record is clear and well-documented that early A.A. was a Christian Fellowship, that it grew out of a number of Christian organizations and people who wanted to help drunks and addicts to rely on God (these being the YMCA, Gospel Rescue Missions, Salvation Army, evangelists like Moody and Sankey and Meyer, Congregationalism, and the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor; that all three of the first AAs believed in God, had studied the Bible, were Christians, and turned to God for help and were cured. I recommend three important new books that will properly and accurately inform a reader of this article. See Stick with the Winners! http://mcaf.ee/s50mq; Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous http://mcaf.ee/gj7iw; and Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous http://www.dickb.com/drbobofaa.shtml. God Bless, Dick B. dickb@dickb.com

    • It is clear that the earliest members of AA were Christians, drawn from a mostly Christian population. It is not at all clear that they intended it to be a Christian fellowship intended to create Christians. That was a hope for most of them, rather than an evangelism technique. As can be seen in the first version of the “big book” (the only one available to me when I came into AA in 1963), the reason they chose to not offer a definition of higher power was that it might keep some from attaining sobriety. First, one has to get to the point where one can make sober decisions. Anything less interferes with being able to process information and relationships naturally (or, as God intends).
      Of course the various organizations mentioned were, and are, very positive about AA. Many in their own populations were affected by substance abuse. Not to mention that only a few would have a very personal, (and dramatic) “God encounter” and be healed (or “cured”). We do not force God into any action, and can not know how He will choose to bring about any of his promises in specific situations. It is also obvious that Christian organizations and churches will put salvation as the first priority for each individual. This is to be expected. I believe that the accurate understanding of AA is that AA works to give everyone the opportunity to choose sobriety. This is most reliably achieved when we realize that it takes a “higher power (above ourselves). After one starts on the sobriety path, only then will the Christian God become a practical choice.
      Of course there are exceptions to this. AA never believes it is the only way. It is simply the most effective for most persons (as shown by various statistics about achieving sobriety). It accepts other sobriety experiences as valid, and welcome.

  2. Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity: Alas, like a few anti-AA Chritians who are peppering the internet with erroneous information about Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity, the writer illustrates a lack of homework on some vital aspects of Alcoholics Annoymous. Worse, that writer fails to cite a single source for his contentions. So let’s look at a few of the typical gaps in his presentation: (1) The first three AAs were believers in God, born again Christians, and students of the Bible. They got well before there were any Steps, Traditions, Big Books, personal stories, or meetings. (2) The two co-founders were born and raised Christians in their respective families, their respective Congregational churches, the relevant creeds and confessions, and frequent Bible study. (3) Knowledgeable researchers would take the time to look into the Congregationally founded and administered Academies and seminaries attended by Bill W. and Dr. Bob. (4) If they did this, they would discover that each academy had required Bible study, daily chapel–with reading of Scripture, sermons, prayers, and hymns. Each academy had vigorous Young Men’s Christian Association activity–Bill W. was president of the YMCA at Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester, Vermont; and Dr. Bob’s father (Judge Walter Smith) was president of the Young Men’s Christian Associat ion in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. And now it’s time to pause and see the factual sources overlooked by the priest: (a) Dick B. and Ken B., “Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont.” (b) Dick B.,, “The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A..” (c) Dick B. and Ken B., “Stick with the Winners!: http://mcaf.ee/s50mq. (d) “Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous” http://mcaf.ee/gj7iw. (e) Dick B., “Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939” http://www.dickb.com/annesm.shtml. (5) The early A.A. program made no mention of the odious term “higher power.” See the facts on DR . BOB and the Good Oldtmers, page 131. (6) Every participant in ealy A.A. was required to profess a belief in God–not “a” god, not a nonsense god, not an higher power. God–Creator, Maker, Father, Heavenly Father, and Father of Lights. (7) Every early A.A. was required to follow the precepts of Romans 10:9 and accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Dick B., “The Golden Text of Early A.A.” http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml. (8) Almost every observer of early Alcoholics Anonymous commented to the effect that it was “First Century Christianity” in action–following the daily principles and practices laid down in the Book of Acts–daily fellowship together, daily prayers together, daily hearing of the Word of God together, daily breaking of bread together, daily meetings in the homes or temple, daily witnessing and conversion, and frequent healings–doing the same things that Jesus did and said they would be able to do. (8) Dr. Bob specifically described early A.A. as a “Christian Fellowship.” And there is much much more, the writer above failed to mention, to cite, or even to report–correctly or otherwise. Today, there is a vast and growing International Christian Recovery Coalition whose participants seek to find and report and disseminate the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played in recovery and can play today. See http://www.ChristianRecoveryCoalition.com. The participants in this coalition can now be found listed in all 50 states and many other countries. There is much more about the early A.A. Christian Felllowship program. And readers should be pointed to those facts before being exposed to Bill Wilson’s “new version of the program, the Twelve Steps” which was not published until April 1939 and was altered to mollify atheists and agnostics. Today there are tens and tens of thousands of Christians in A.A., in Twelve Step programs, in Christian counseling and Christian Fellowhips. For an example of the roots, see Dick B., “The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible” http://www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml; and “The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous” http://www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml. As for the self-made religion, absurd names for “a” god, half-baked prayers, new thought “spirituality” that are competing in the rooms and confusion Christian newcomers, it is not surprising to learn what the Adversary’s role is and has been for centuries. See James 4:7, See the titles by the Rev. Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., listed in detail in Dick B., “New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.” http://www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml.
    Readers are welcome to visit my main website http://www.dickb.com or contact me at dickb@dickb.com for further factual materials.

  3. I seem to have stepped on Mauihistorian’s present ministry. My sources came from my now 50 years in AA. While not intended to be a scholarly article, it is intended to point those who want help toward AA. It seems Mauihistorian believes present day AA (with its odious term higher power, and Mauihistorian’s attributions to Satan, etc) is off course and suspect. I am perfectly content with his efforts to help addicts, and encourage his own program to keep helping those who enter it. Mr. Mauihistorian, please don’t demand that only those prepared to come of Jesus are helped. Leave some drunks and addicts for us others to evangelize after they achieve sobriety. That has worked well for many decades. Fr. Orthohippo

    • You sure missed the point. Early AAs succeeded by relying on God. There was no program like Bill W.’s new version. I entered AA 27 years ago and have maintained continuous sobriety. I listened to the higher power stuff and saw it had no applicability to Christians such as myself. Since 1939, A.A. has been wide open to Roman Catholics, Jews, atheists, agnostics, Protestants, Moslems, Hindus, unbelievers, and those with no belief at all. I haven’t left and am still actively sponsoring those of all faiths or none. Are You?

      • As I said before, I have no problem with your activity in and for AA and addicts. Keep it going. I, too, have had continuous sobriety, not without close calls. I still am in AA, active, and involved.

  4. My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different page and thought I should check things out.
    I like what I see so now i am following you.
    Look forward to looking over your web page for a second time.

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