Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
Many times, questions are asked about Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) by courts, by clergy, by recovering alcoholics and addicts, and by members of the public. They have to do with genuine concerns as to what A.A. is and does; what the history of Alcoholics Anonymous is; where A.A. came from; what someone has to believe in order to be a “member;” and just how A.A., its recovery program, and its fellowship should be characterized.
The following questions and answers are those I have learned as a long-time A.A. member—recovered for over 24 years; as one who has researched and published on A.A. history and roots for over 20 years; and as one who receives these questions with some frequency—by phone, by email, by Facebook comments, by live audiences, and by mail.
Q: Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Christian Fellowship today?
Q: Was Alcoholics Anonymous once a Christian Fellowship?
Q: Were A.A.’s two founders and its third member Christians?
Q: When could it be said that A.A. was no longer a “Christian fellowship?”
Answer: For sure, by the time the First Edition of the Big Book was published in April 1939. By this time, the word “God” had been removed from Step Two; the unqualified word “God” in Steps Three and Eleven had been modified through the addition of the words “as we understood Him” following it; and a large number of Christian and biblical materials had been intentionally tossed out of later versions of the pre-publication manuscripts of the Big Book, primarily to appease a few atheist and agnostic participants.
Q: Can Christians come to, attend the meetings of, and become members of A.A. today?
Answer: They not only can and do, but A.A. has no rule or right to exclude them.
Q: Are there a large number of Christians who attend the meetings of and/or become members of Alcoholics Anonymous today?
Answer: There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Christians in A.A. today.
Q: Was belief in God required when A.A. was founded in Akron in June of 1935?
Answer: Dr. Bob insisted that every member of the fellowship profess belief in God.
Q: Was affirmation of Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior required when A.A. was founded in June of 1935?
Answer: Every person who wanted to belong to the Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” was required to make what was called a “real surrender.” This occurred when a member was taken upstairs in the home of either T. Henry Williams or cofounder Dr. Bob Smith, and required to declare that Jesus Christ was his Lord and Savior.
Q: Did the First Edition of the Big Book published in April 1939 contain mention of the Being Bill Wilson called “the God of the Scriptures?”
Answer: The word “God” used without qualification and with capitalization appeared more than 200 times. In addition, there were many occurrences of capitalized pronouns referring to “God”—pronouns such as “His,” “Him.” Biblical descriptions of Almighty God also occurred frequently—words and phrases such as “Creator;” “Maker;” “Heavenly Father;” “Father;” “Father of lights;” and, of course, “God.”
Q: Does an alcoholic or someone with a drinking problem have to believe in Almighty God today in order to come to, attend a meeting of, or become a “member” of A.A.
Answer: Absolutely not. A.A. literature today speaks of belief in a “higher power,” a “power greater than one’s self,” one’s own conception of god, and a God as one understands Him. Furthermore, it explicitly states that you do not have to believe in God or in anything at all to be a “member” today.
Q: Did the basic ideas for the Twelve Steps come from study and effort in the Bible?
Answer: Yes. Dr. Bob stated so explicitly.
Q: Did early AAs in Akron study the Bible daily?
Q: Did early AAs hold “old-fashioned prayer meetings?”
Q: Did early AAs read Christian literature?
Answer: Yes. They read Christian books and pamphlets, as well as Christian daily devotionals.
Q: Did the 12 Steps of A.A. that were written by Bill W. in 1938 come from the Oxford Group?
Answer: Dr. Bob said the basic ideas came from the Bible and specified the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13, as absolutely essential. Bill Wilson named three major sources for the step ideas: (1) Dr. William D. Silkworth—Bill’s psychiatrist—whom Bill called a “founder” of A.A. (2) Professor William James of Harvard—who was called a “founder” though long dead at the time. (3) Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church of New York. In addition to the Bible and the foregoing three sources, research has since established a number of other sources that made a contribution to the Step ideas and language. They included: (1) Dr. Carl Jung. (2) Christian conversions. (3) New Thought writings by people such as Emmet Fox. (4) Evangelists. (5) Rescue Missions. (6) The YMCA. (7) The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. (8) The Oxford Group. (9) Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Ripley Smith. (10) Quiet Time. (11) Christian books and literature. (12) Experiences of the alcoholics themselves.
Q: How about all those who claim Alcoholics Anonymous is a sect, a religion, even a cult?
Answer: For what it is worth, A.A. itself publicizes that it is not allied with any sect or denomination. With 2 million members and no organized hierarchy or controlling leaders, and with members including Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Mormons, New Thought adherents, atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, gays and lesbians, unbelievers, and folks who say they believe in higher powers that are chairs, tables, rocks, light bulbs, Santa Claus, or “it,” one would have a virtually-impossible task attempting to claim that such a dispersion of believers and unbelievers and nonbelievers constitute a cult. As to religion, most of the courts called upon to decide whether A.A. is a religion have declared that it is, rejecting the spurious idea that it is somehow “spiritual but not religious”—an invention mostly of writers rather than members. Court rulings have tended to point to the frequent references to God and the regimen for “coming to believe”—whatever the belief or unbelief may turn out to be.
Q: How about the minority of Christian writers who claim that A.A. is not “of the Lord,” or that the Bible precludes Christians from associating with those of other beliefs, or that the wide variety of behaviors—whether swearing, fornication, spiritualism, adultery, and psychobabble—somehow allow one Christian to condemn an organization or fellowship or society that has members of varied views?
Answer: In America, and in most membership countries, diversity of beliefs does not call
for condemnation. If Christianity be the standard, one could ask if Jesus carried a
message only to his chosen disciples; or if the day of Pentecost marked the exclusion of
all those who spoke different languages; or if the ministry of Peter, John, James, and Paul
was limited to those who were either Jew or Gentile—but could not include those who
heard the word of God and sought salvation. The story in Acts of the jailer who asked
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” should be proof enough that neither God nor
Christians were respecters of persons.
Q: Can a drunk of any religious persuasion or no religious persuasion or of atheistic or agnostic persuasion walk into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous today and be or become a Christian; explain that he believes in God, in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bible and be silenced or expelled; or be subjected to insulting or condemning language; or prevented from attending church?
Answer: He is free to walk in, to be or become a Christian, to express his beliefs, to
listen to insulting remarks, and to attend any church or religious fellowship he chooses.
There are still loads of bleeding deacons who will go to any lengths to silence him, but A.A. cannot and does not expel or silence anyone—no matter what a newcomer may hear or fear. And any remonstrating Christians outside of A.A. who think otherwise are simply
lacking in knowledge of A.A., A.A. history, and A.A. as it exists today.
Is There Documentation for These Answers?
The documentation starts with A.A.’s own General Service Conference-approved literature—the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, The Co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, Pass It On, and The Language of the Heart.
Further, I have published 39 titles and over 450 articles on Alcoholics Anonymous, its origins, its history, its founding, its programs, and its successes; and they are readily available through my website, through Amazon.com, through Barnes & Noble, and through bookstores. See www.DickB.com.
Finally, the foregoing points have been thoroughly covered in our new “Introductory Foundations for Christian Recovery” class. (www.dickb.com/IFCR-Class.shtml. The class includes four DVD’s, a Class Guide for Students, a Class Instructor's Guide, and The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed. (2010). Furthermore, I am quite willing to answer questions and frequently do receive courteous letters asking further questions on our history and roots. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.