An Early A.A. Suggestion: May You Find God Now!
Today’s Question: Are We Still Seeking Him?
© 2005 by Dick B.
A Word or Two about Believers in A.A.
When I came to A.A. almost nineteen years ago, I had no idea that it was based on the Bible. Nor that it had been a Christian Fellowship in 1935. Nor that people had read the Bible in meetings; prayed in meetings; sought God’s guidance in meetings; and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour as part of becoming members.
It probably would then have made little difference even if I had known these things. Little difference at the beginning, that is. I was an alcoholic. I was very sick. I was in lots of trouble. I was lonely, depressed, frightened, guilty, bewildered, and seemingly devoid of any further purpose in life. I had lost it all, I thought. I wasn’t seeking a new religion. I already had one. Some call it Christianity. I wasn’t seeking a church. I had already been president of a Community Church. I wasn’t seeking a Bible fellowship. I already belonged to one. But everything had gone wrong. Everything! And it was very important for me to learn the part that alcohol and sleeping pills had played. Nobody subjected me to a litmus test on my religious beliefs when I entered A.A.’s doors. They just helped me. At the beginning, that is.
After about a month and a half of sobriety, however, I mentioned the Bible in a morning A.A. meeting. Whammo! Some lady said she resented hearing about the Bible in an A.A. meeting. I shut up. Two months later, I returned to that same meeting. And, by golly, there she was again. She pointed at me and said she still resented hearing about the Bible in meetings (even though I hadn’t said a word). For a long time thereafter, I never mentioned the Bible in A.A. meetings at all.
Then one night, a young newcomer was sitting in a Beginners’ Meeting I happened to attend. He said he believed that Jesus Christ was the way, the truth, and the life. Whammo! A guy was all over him. This guy shouted: You never talk about Jesus Christ in an A.A. meeting because A.A. is not religious. It’s a spiritual program. Then someone read the Traditions out loud, and the disturber quieted down. But I didn’t forget the tongue-lashing that young Christian received.
Finally, after a couple of years of sobriety, after substantial study of the Big Book, and after taking a number of newcomers through their Steps, I began talking a good deal about GodBparticularly in the Friday Nite Beginners’ Meeting where I had cut my teeth. My own treatment center had been bussing people to that very meeting. Whammo! Suddenly, no more newcomers from the treatment center. The director phoned me to tell me that I had been talking too much about God in my volunteer Step Studies at the treatment center and in the A.A. meeting. He said, AHere’s what you have to do.@ I don’t know what else he said because I hung up and stopped volunteering for, and doing Twelve Step Studies with, the patients at his treatment center.
Next episode: A number of my sponsees had begun attending our Bible fellowship. Whammo! My grandsponsor started an anonymous whispering campaign. He had my sponsor call me and say that a Acertain person@ had told him I was endangering newcomers by taking them to Bible study. My sponsor passed along the message that people who read the Bible get drunk. And I got a new sponsor.
Finally, our A.A. Steps To The Solution Group put on a huge history meeting for our whole county’s A.A. people. There were between 600 and 800 AAs present. Dr. Bob’s son was there as a speaker. Mel B., an old timer with over 40 years of sobriety, had come there from Toledo to tell about A.A.’s being based on the Bible. An Oxford Group man was there to tell about A.A.’s Oxford Group root. And I spoke on my research and findings on A.A.’s Bible roots. Whammo! Another one of those Acertain person@ calls. This time I was told that a Acertain person@ had concluded our A.A. group didn’t have enough sobriety to put on a program (that was filled to overflowing with 800 AAs). Mention of the Bible was again our alleged malfeasance! Not surprisingly, my former grand sponsor (a grey-beard with about 12 years of sobriety) was the instigator. He saw to it that there were no more A.A. history meetings in his county. And there’s lots more.
I get hundreds of e-mails, phone messages, and letters from people in A.A. who have run up against the same anti-God, anti-Bible, anti-Christian cross-talk in their meetings. And it intimidates most of them. It produces silence on their part. Hardly a tribute to our primary purpose of message-carrying.
Off to Hawaii I went. By that time, I was traveling widely to learn, and writing extensively on, A.A.’s major spiritual rootsBthe Bible, Quiet Time, Anne Smith, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, the Oxford Group, and Christian literature. One of our Maui A.A. groups had arranged for a history meeting in HawaiiBsimilar to the one that had been such a success in California. Whammo! An anonymous few Apowers that be@ in Maui cancelled it. The Amanager@ of a nearby A.A. office wrote on official A.A. stationary that I had a Alot of nerve@ trying to Christianize AAs on Maui while he was teaching them about a power greater than themselves on his Island. He wrote that I should leave history to the historians. Another AABlater an A.A. delegateBsaid I hadn’t done my homework or our meeting would not have met the opposition it did.
Gossip multiplies quite rapidly in A.A. Later still, three young newcomer women in our area told one of my sponsees that he was making a mistake picking me as his sponsor because I was talking to him about the Bible. He became concerned and frightened. He promptly got drunk. And, as far as I can tell, so did the three women. Not that any of this has stopped my carrying the message of A.A. I spoke at a history meeting at the time of its recent International Convention in Minneapolis. It should be noted, however, that this widely attended and much-acclaimed meeting had to be held next door to the convention. Apparently A.A. history was not acceptable at that high level! Only next doorBwith all kinds of old-timers sharing.
More? Yes, still later, one of our delightful open-air meetings produced the tall tale that our A.A. crowd were AJesus freaks,@ had held a birthday party at our Bible fellowship where booze was served, and were all drinking again.@ Even later, an older member out here tried to ban the Bible at a Young People’s Meeting where one of my sponsees was Secretary. He did not succeed. So he went to the Alano Club out here and tried the same tactic. He was unanimously voted down. Down, but not out!
One night, at the Young People’s meeting, a speaker shared that he had really being enriched spiritually in a Christian fellowship he had joined on the other side of the Island. Whammo! A trouble-maker interrupted. The guy shouted at the speaker that he was a Hindu, and said to the young man: AYou offend me.@ Several of us promptly left the meeting. A fist fight followed, and the police were called to end the fray. The last time I saw the young Christian, he was drinking a glass of wine at an Island restaurant. I have never seen him at an A.A. meeting again..
I’ve traveled to many of our States, spoken at and attended thousands of A.A. meetings, and met hundreds of AAsBboth new and old. Many many times, I have been told that incidents like the foregoing are common, well-known, and intimidating. Such outbreaks often do involve people who are Adry,@angry, sick, egotistical, and looking for something or someone to lay into. They find Christians an easy target if the believers open their mouths about their convictions. It happens all over the United States, and I have innumerable communications that confirm the situation.
What’s the problem? All I know is that early AAs believed in God. They were male. Most were Protestant. Most were, or became, Christians. They studied the Bible. They prayed together. Meetings closed with the Lord’s Prayer. Most in A.A. today are still asking how and why the Lord’s Prayer is part of the Anon-religious@ A.A. ritual. History! Before long, A.A.’s dedicated pioneers had ushered in thousands of Roman Catholics, Jews, women, and, allegedly, even some atheists. But there don’t appear to have been fist fights or verbal attacks that drove any of these people out of A.A. Some Christians, maybe, but not the onrushing hordes. Instead, the treatment centers and courts kept pouring in to A.A. every variety of sick alcoholic. And these people were helpedBnot driven out by agitators. The reason? There was still, A.A. said, a single purpose and a common solution. These did not include Christian-baiting!
Nonetheless, my present series of articles points to a new and growing problem: God seems to have been scratched from A.A. at every turn, and wherever possible. A recent publicity blurb on A.A.’s new AFourth Edition@ Big Book opines that still another new edition will soon be necessary because, before long, most AAs will be from the East. Presumably Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus, who want to hear about their god or gods The complexion of A.A. is changing, the article says. And perhaps it is. But that’s not going to make A.A. any more peaceful or harmoniousBand probably no less hateful than angry trouble-makers are making present-day A.A. It’s almost as if there were a license today to attack religion rather than to propose that you find GodBand find Him now!
Take Almighty God out of A.A. Get angry atheists, funded therapists, confused insurance companies, and government regulators promoting treatment instead of Divine healing. Replace God with assorted radiators, tractors, coke bottles, chairs, tables, somethings, any gods, not-gods, lightbulbs, idols, and Aits.@ At that point, you have no program. In fact many perpetrators of the evil nonsense have never even been members of A.A. or no longer participate in A.A. With that backdrop and the power of the press, you can visualize a basic text that no longer stresses emphatically that you should find God. Now!
Instead, it might well point its message at a polyglot band of new, sick people who are told they don’t have to believe in anything at all, but who are supposed to hold hands and administer help, steps, and studies to other equally confused newcomers.
Ban our Biblical history because that conflicts with the Aany god@ thesis and/or treatment mania. Ban religious utterances because A.A. should be purified and transformed from Areligious@ to Aspiritual,@ whatever that means. Ban Christian words and phrases because Moslems might hear something contrary to their experiences and beliefs. Ban believer meetings and groups because atheists might be upset at the mention of God. Ban Bible-quoters because Bible talk might offend an agnostic. And is all this possible? I don’t know.
But the hand-writing is on the wall. A.A. literature talks of Aany god@ or Ano god.@ AAs who sound off against religious language are tolerated instead of scolded. Specifically, A.A. historical books and materials have been banned from Dr. Bob’s Akron home because of AChristian@ content. A Ableeding deacon@ who is the moderator of one A.A. history group on the internet pointedly bans Christian historical items from her site (saying they are Apreaching@) and seeks to ban items from another history group on the net. You have to concede, when you learn more about these people, that they are often long-term AAs. They often Ahelp@ newcomers. They are often avowedly seeking to Aprotect and preserve@ A.A. Traditions. They are usually self-righteous. But nothing in A.A.’s Big Book, Twelve Steps, or Twelve Traditions supports such attempted censorship. A.A. has no index of forbidden books, and it never had one.
But there are many believers in A.A. today who would rather leave their beloved fellowship, become active in a church, join a Christian Twelve Step Program, or form a Jews for Jesus group than deal with any of the problems we’ve outlined. They are also many unbelievers who would rather seek an atheist or secular solution that sit in the middle of our religious diatribes.
The trend today suggests that A.A.’s highest level servants will keep running the printing presses, modifying the original program, presenting some Auniversal@ program, expanding into the Third World and New Age arenas, and offering a Ahigher power something@ for everybody. With probable success for nobody.
In this article about God and Alcoholics Anonymous, we pose the question: Is recovery, healing, spiritual growth, and Divine Aid (as Bill Wilson called it) in A.A. still about Afinding@ God and establishing a relationship with Him? A.A.’s basic text seems to say, Yes. But other AConference Approved@ literature, the chatter at its meetings, the pronouncements of scholars, the observations of historians, the opinions of professors, and the requirements of treatment professionals all appear to shout a loud, ANo.@ These posit quite clearly that A.A. today is not about God or finding God or establishing a relationship with God. It’s not about ADivine Help.@ It’s gaining a reputation for being about self-help, believing anything you want, not believing anything at all, and carrying any message you like, but making certain you go to meetings and abstain from drinking!
GodBthe Creator of whom our pioneers wrote and spokeBgives us freedom of choice, freedom to screw up, freedom to worship idols, freedom to drink and use, and freedom to destroy ourselves with addictions. To paraphrase the Bible, Shoemaker, and WilsonBallBADraw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you@ (James 4:8). He’s here. He’s available. He’s promised healing, forgiveness, and deliverance to those who want Him and are willing to obey Him. But He’s not known for chasing people. He commands. We are to obey. AThy will be done@ (a phrase from the Bible that Bill Wilson used more than once in the Big Book) means God reveals His will. Our job is to fulfill it (Matthew 6:10, 33; 7:21).
AOld School@ A.A. frequently quoted the Sermon on the Mount: Seek and ye shall find, said the Old School crowd (Matthew 7:7BAseek, and ye shall find@). We seek. Then we find. Ask and ye shall receive, suggested Old School AAs (Matthew 7:7BAAsk, and it shall be given you@). We ask. Then we receive. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7). We knock. God opens. We are told in A.A. to put First things First. In Dr. Bob’s own words from the Sermon on the Mount, that meant: Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Then God takes care of the needs (Matthew 6:33) The A.A. favorite, James, stresses humbly asking and doing (according to His Word), not asking amiss (James 1:22; 4:1-3).
God almost seems to be calling today! And do you have to leave Alcoholics Anonymous to raise your voice and answer? For me, and for many today, the answer is NO! We just have to know where we came from, why we came, and what we received when we sought Almighty God in A.A. Drunks are not always welcome in churches, lodges, service clubs, or even bars. They are welcome in A.A.
God almost seems to be calling. Again! He loved us. He gave His only begotten son so that we could be saved (John 3:16). Early AAs sought and received that salvation and a lot more. They also recognized whom Christ Jesus had been sent to help:
[Jesus declared] The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).
To a down and out drunk in early A.A., that sounded mighty good. They listened. They believed. They were cured. And they received much more. Thus the Apostle .Paul wrote:
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).
Lots of us were not a very pretty sight on arrival in A.A. Some of us were poor. Some were broken-hearted. Many were captives in one sense or another. Plenty were bruised. Without strength. And, yes, sinners. Early A.A. offered to those (willing to believe) real healing, deliverance, freedom, and acquittal of their sins. To a down and out drunk in early A.A. that sounded mighty good. It sounded mighty good to me too in April of 1986; and I never want to forget what God has done for me while in the rooms of A.A. that I could not do for myself. For those who have sought Him, He’s been doing it from the very beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous. From June 10, 1935Beven long before that.
The Biblical Guides to God in Early A.A.
His Name is Yahweh
See, I am Yahweh, the God of all mankind: is anything impossible to me? [Jer. 32:27 Jerusalem Bible (JB)]
And God also said to Moses, AYou are to say to the sons of Israel: >Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’. This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come (Exod. 3:15 JB)
God spoke to Moses and said to him, AI am Yahweh. To Abraham and Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai; I did not make myself known to them by my name Yahweh.@ (Exod. 6:2, 3 JB)
My name is Yahweh, I will not yield my glory to another, nor my honour to idols (Isa. 42:8 JB. See also: Dick B., Why Early A.A. Succeeded: The Good Book in Alcoholics Anonymous Yesterday and Today, pp. 55-66
What the Bible and early AAs have said about Him
Our Creator: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:2 NIV).
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. . . . (Eccles. 12:1 KJV). The Third Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to God as Creator 12 times in the text (pp. 13, 25, 28, 56, 68, 72, 75, 76, 80, 83, 158, 161).
Almighty God: And God said unto him [Jacob]. I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply. . . . (Gen. 35:11). Bill Wilson also referred to Him as God Almighty (Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed., pp. 12-13
Our Maker: Shall mortal man be more just than God; shall a man be more pure than his maker? (Job 4:17. See also Isa. 45:11-13. The Big Book, 3rd ed., twice refers to our Maker, God (pp. 57, 63).
Our Father, Father of Light, Spirit (See for Bible sources and Big Book language, Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, 2d ed., pp. 49-50
God of our fathers; the living God; God our Father, our Heavenly Father (See for Bible sources and A.A. language, Dick B., Why Early A.A. Succeeded, pp. 50, 55-57, 65-67; Turning Point, pp. 158-159
A.A. is no stranger to God:
Whatever you may hear, you’ll never escape the fact that early A.A. and early AAs knew a great deal about God. They read about Him in the Bible. They read about Him in their daily devotionals. They read about Him in all sorts of Christian literature that was in circulation. They prayed to Him. They listened for His guidance. They sought His healing, forgiveness, and deliverance. They Asurrendered@ to Him by accepting His Son as their Lord and Saviour. And they heard about him all the time from Dr. Bob, from Bob’s wife Anne, from Henrietta Seiberling, and from Mr. and Mrs. T. Henry Williams.
The strangers in the patch are the trees, radiators, Big Dippers, any gods, not-gods, Somethings, lightbulbs, and just plain unbelief. All such thoughts are welcome today, but the A.A. of yesteryear would have had no truck with them if they persisted for long. Dr. Bob said he felt sorry for those who had atheist or agnostic ideas (See Big Book, 3rd. ed., p. 181). Clarence Snyder made fun of them by writing his pamphlet: My Higher Power the Lightbulb. And today’s writers, historians, and scholars ought to be making fun of them. It’s for certain that the anti-A.A. writers are doing so with greater and greater frequency. Absurd reasoning invites astute rejection.
Are we still seeking God?
Why not! The Big Book Third Edition says that God could and would relieve us of our alcoholism if sought. Far more emphatic, the First Edition said that God can and will. What’s wrong with that approach? Either we come to A.A. to get well, or we come to locate and worship strange gods. If we come to get well, the One with all power has the most appeal for me. Not some idiotic radiator or lightbulb or ASomething.@ Either God is, or He isn’t. Either God heals, or He doesn’t. Either God loves us, or not. I relied on our Creator, and I’ve lived for almost nineteen years a sober and delivered believer, proving that God has done for me what I could not do for myself. I don’t think it’s heresy in A.A. to believe in God, to seek Him through His Son, to establish a relationship with Him, to proclaim the victory, and to walk forth a free personBjust as A.A. Number Three did in the summer of 1935. See our Third Edition, pp. 188-192. Bill Dotson (our Third AA) came to A.A. solely for the purpose of sobriety. He emerged to say: AIt has been through A.A. that I have found God.@ How about you!