Lets Ask Bill W.
Question & Answer # 36a&b
Why do clergymen so often fail with alcoholics, when A.A. so often succeeds? Is it possible that the grace of A.A. is superior to that of the Church?
No clergyman, because he does not happen to be a channel of grace to alcoholics, should ever feel that his Church is lacking in grace. No real question of grace is involved at all – it is just a question of who can best transmit God’s abundance. It so happens that we who have suffered alcoholism, we, who can identify so deeply with other sufferers, are the ones usually best suited for this particular work. Certainly no clergyman ought to feel any inferiority just because he himself is not an alcoholic. (N.C.C.A., ‘Blue Book,’ Vol.12,(1960).
I thought the answer to be very simple. The Church has the spirituality, but in the case of drunks, it didn’t have the communication to pave the way, one alcoholic to the next, for the Grace to descend. So you have the spirituality, of which we have borrowed, and we have the communication. Therefore we are in no competition at all; we can do together that which we cannot do in separation. (Transcribed from tape. G.S.C. 1960)
Question & Answer # 36b –Another question, same topic.
What can ministers do to co-operate with A.A.?
The approach to the alcoholic is everything. I think the preacher could do well if he does as we do. First find out all you can about the case, how the man reacts, whether he wants to get over his drinking or not. You see, it is very difficult to make an impression on a man who still wants to drink. At some point in their drinking career most alcoholics get punished enough so that they want to stop, but then it’s far too late to do it alone.
Sometimes, if the alcoholic can be impressed with the fact that he is a sick man, or a potentially sick man, then, in effect, you raise the bottom up to him instead of allowing him to drop down those extra hard years to reach it. I don’t know of any substitute for sympathy and understanding, as much as the outsider can have. No preaching, no moralizing, but the emphasis on the idea that the alcoholic is a sick man.
In other words, the minister might first say to the alcoholic, “Well, all my life I’ve misunderstood you people, I’ve taken you people to be immoral by choice and perverse and weak, but now I realize that even if there had been such factors, they really no longer count, now you’re a sick man.” You might win over the patient by not placing yourself up on a hilltop and looking down on him, but by getting down to some level of understanding that he gets, or partially gets. Then if you can present this thing as a fatal and progressive malady and you can present our group as a group of people who are not seeking to do anything against his will – we merely want to help if he wants to be helped – then sometimes you’ve laid the groundwork.
I think that clergymen can often do a great deal with the family. You see, we alcoholics are prone to talk too much about ourselves without sufficiently considering the collateral effects. For example, any family, wife and children, who have had to live with an alcoholic 10 or 15 years, are bound to be rather neurotic and distorted themselves. They just can’t help it. After all when you expect the old gent to come home on a shutter every night, it’s wearing. Children get a distorted point of view; so does the wife. Well, if they constantly hear it emphasized that this fellow is a terrible sinner, that he’s a rotter, that he’s in disgrace, and all that sort of thing, you’re not improving the condition of the family at all because, as they become persuaded of it, they get highly intolerant of the alcoholic and that merely generates more intolerance in him. Therefore, the gulf which must be bridged is widened, and that is why moralizing pushes people, who might have something to offer, further away from the alcoholic. You may say that it shouldn’t be so, but it’s one of those things that is so. (Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, June 1945).