Is A.A. Christian?
Copyright 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved
More and more, people are Googling in the question: Is A.A. Christian?
Some, including a few Christian writers who are anti-A.A., are quick to jump in and answer with a Bible verse or two, an admonition or three, and plenteous irrelevant condemnations alleging in error that A.A. sprang from spiritualism, Masonry, LSD use, New Thought.
Instead of pondering this biased speculation, why not investigate for yourself and then decide for yourself. Making sure you look at all the evidence, and not just some undocumented material by someone who not dislikes A.A. and Christian AAs but is determined to dissuade thousands and thousands from seeking help in it.
Again: Is A.A. Christian?
Why not start with facts before attempting to answer the question in any meaningful, useful, and helpful way!
One very clear set of facts can be found in the words of cofounder Dr. Bob’s last major speech published in The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks. Dr. Bob said the early AAs had no Steps, no Traditions, no drunkalogs, (and, of course, no Big Book text). They simply believed the answer to their problems was in the Bible. They assiduously studied Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13. And Dr. Bob went on to say that even the basic ideas of the Twelve Steps (published four years after A.A. was founded) came from the study and effort that had been going on in the Bible from 1935 until the Steps were published in 1939.
Was A.A. Christian then? Dr. Bob called it a Christian Fellowship! And many observers said it was First Century Christianity in action.
How about the later years after the Big Book was published in 1939 and after Dr. Bob had died at the end of the 1940’s?
You might first ask “What is A.A.?” Or, “What A.A. literature–past or present–can shed light on the question?” Or, “Who is asking the question?” Or, “Is the questioner studying A.A., condemning A.A., researching A.A., trying to prove the affirmative that AA was and is Christian? Or, trying to argue the negative, contending that Christians will go to hell if they set foot in a meeting. Or, stating that the Bible prohibits attending A.A., or stating flatly that A.A. is Christian or not Christian. And then ask: to what period in A.A.’s 75 years or so, does the questioner refer?
You can start by finding out the major influences on A.A. historically.
These are the Young Men’s Christian Association, Christian evangelists like Dwight Moody and F.B. Meyer, the Salvation Army, the Gospel Rescue Missions including the one where one cofounder made his decision for Jesus Christ, and The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. One comprehensive, documented study can be found in Dick B. and Ken B.’s, Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous. Another is Dick B.’s, The Conversion of Bill W. Still another can be found in Dick B.’s Real Twelve Step Fellowship History. And if the inquirer investigates the footnotes, the quotes, and the bibliographies in those books, he will find the documentation.
You can move on to look at the Christian upbringing of A.A.’s cofounders Dr. Robert H. Smith and William G. Wilson in Vermont. You will mostly have to look outside of A.A. for details. But the books above will be helpful. And so will several more recent ones by Dick B. and Ken B. But two A.A. Conference-approved books can start you on your quest. One is DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (1980). Another is “Pass It On.” And still another is the autobiography of Bill W. himself. Another, the biography of Bill’s doctor, “The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks.” Still others, the works on Bill by Susan Cheever and Nan Robertson.
Then you can look at how the first three AAs got sober. And what they had to say about God, Christianity, the Bible, and how they were delivered from alcoholism.
A.A. Number One, Bill Wilson, was told by his doctor (Silkworth) that the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ could cure him. Bill made a decision for Jesus Christ at the altar of Calvary Mission in New York. Bill wrote that he was “born again.” And Bill decided to call on the “Great Physician” for help. Finally, Bill cried out to God for help at Towns Hospital. Bill had a “white light experience.” He sensed the presence of “the God of the Scriptures,” as he phrased it. And he never drank again. But he did immediately go about with a Bible under his arm, telling his story, and telling drunks they must give their lives to God in order to get well. Bill had been raised a Christian in East Dorset and Manchester, Vermont. He had studied the Bible in both places. He had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in New York. And, in A.A.’s own Big Book, he was quoted as saying “the Lord has cured me of this terrible disease.”
A.A. Number Two, Dr. Bob Smith, had been a member of St. Johnsbury’s North Congregational Church when his parents were raising him to believe in Jesus Christ and study the Word of God. Bob and his whole family were deeply involved in the North Congregational Church, with Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, with the Young Men’s Christian Association, and with the Congregationalist St. Johnsbury Academy. And, as to it all, Dr. Bob stated he had received excellent training in the Bible as a youngster.
When Bob at last began his march to sobriety, he knelt on the rug in Akron with a group of Christians and prayed to God for his deliverance. Shortly, his prayers were answered by the visit of his new friend-to-be, Bill Wilson. And Dr. Bob soon quit drinking forever, studied the Bible intensely, and was a member of at least two Christian churches in Akron, Ohio—a Presbyterian church and an Episcopal Church, the latter a year before he died.
A.A. Number Three, Bill Dotson, an Akron attorney, and a drunk, had long believed in God, taught Sunday school in and was a Deacon of a Christian church in Akron. Dotson received the witness of Bob and Bill while in the Akron City Hospital. He turned to God for help. And he was instantly cured. In A.A.’s Big Book, Dotson (like Bill Wilson) declared that the Lord had cured him also.
Early AAs in the group founded by Wilson, Smith, and Dotson called themselves a Christian fellowship. All newcomers were required to profess belief in God, to make a decision for Jesus Christ, to study the Bible, to make a surrender of their lives to God, and to attend “old fashioned prayer meetings.” They also were urged to fellowship with other believers and attend a religious service once a week.
Was Akron A.A. Christian in the 1930’s? You be the judge.
Did A.A. as a Society change its face when it published its Big Book in 1939?
It removed the word “God” from its Second, Third, and Eleventh suggested Steps of recovery. It tossed out some 400 pages of its draft manuscript–all said to have contained Christian and biblical materials. And it avowedly declared it did so in order to placate atheist and agnostic drunks who wanted to get sober in the Society.
At that point, was A.A. Christian after its Big Book and Steps were published in April 1939?
You be the judge.
What about today’s A.A? It has changed again so that the Lord’s Prayer no longer closes many of its meetings. It often refuses to sanction groups that study the Bible, mention Jesus Christ, or study Christian literature. A.A.’s present-day publications more and more call the Society “spiritual but not religious”–even though the courts have mostly rejected this statement. Its literature more and more says that you don’t have to believe in anything at all to be a member of A.A.
Is today’s A.A. Christian? You be the judge.
But! The point made here is that you can be the judge. You can be a Christian in A.A. You can believe what you wish, read what you wish, worship where you wish, and “be” whatever you wish to be. A.A. has no authority, no power, no leader, and no employee who can exclude anyone from its membership or censor books or “govern” what groups do or do not do.
Therefore, today there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of Christians in A.A. And they are neither barred, nor evicted, nor suppressed by anything except by rude, boisterous, and sometimes insulting remarks of a few intolerant “bleeding deacons”–as Bill Wilson used to call such dissenters.
In the opinion of the author, based on the foregoing evidence: (1) A.A. was Christian to the core in its origins. (2) A.A. founders and the first three AAs were Christians in their upbringing. (3) The same three were believers in God and Christians when they turned to God for help and were cured. (4) The Akron fellowship was not only Christian, but said so.
Today, as a member of A.A., you can believe in God, be or become a Christian, believe what you wish, worship where you wish, belong to a Christian denomination if you wish, read the Bible and Christian literature if you wish, and talk about what you wish in meetings.
A.A. is not organized. Its leaders are but trusted servants. They do not govern. Groups are expected to turn to and follow the guidance of “a loving God” as He may express Himself in their group conscience. And anyone who disagrees can, as an A.A., buy a coffee pot and take his resentment and disagreement with him to a group he and another alcoholic can form or to which he may choose to belong–Christian or not.