A.A. STUDY GROUPS:
Planning, Starting, Conducting One?
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Probably the most beneficial thing in the author’s learning of the recovery program (as embodied in the Big Book and the Twelve Steps) were the Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars. They did a line by line study of the first 103 pages. They made the unclear clear. They did it with humor, with purpose, and with brevity.
Many have wanted to do something similar with A.A.’s roots, as a complement to the Big Book study. This is being done in some areas. But there can be a much more precise approach, one that will complement the Big Book and enable spiritual growth within A.A. itself.
More important by far is the benefit that can flow to those who still suffer from the continued education and information made available to speakers, sponsors, and bewildered newcomers. It takes leaders who have studied. It takes leaders who are willing to tell it like it is instead of telling what they’ve heard in meetings. It takes leaders who understand how speakers and sponsors short change their listeners when they are simply telling war stories and looking for laughs or tears.
For example: How many mention the Solution in their talks. How many mention the Creator. How many mention what Dr. Bob said about the origins of the Steps (in the Bible). How many mention what Bill W. wrote about the sources of his “new version” of the program in the Steps (Dr. Silkworth, Professor William James, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.) How many explain how they “took” the Twelve Steps. How many highlight the number of times God is mentioned in the Big Book. How many turn to the Big Book in talking about how to take the Twelve Steps. And. If not, why not!
Today, things are changing. Leaders are reading. Leaders are studying. Leaders are networking and exchanging effective techniques. Leaders are those who have no problem mentioning God, the Bible, A.A. history, the upbringing of Bill and Bob, the original A.A. program of 1935, and what the early Akron AAs did and accomplished
Some are intimidated by this. Even the Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars have been subjected to the comments that they violate the Traditions and that they speak of non-Conference approved literature. But the Seminars stood the test of time, with A.A.’s own archivist from New York often participating. Not so easy when the roots have been involved, but it is simply because AAs don’t know their own history and traditions.
Here are some pointers:
a. Every early A.A. meeting in Akron and some in New York which were hearing Rev. Sam Shoemaker, involved discussion of the Bible and Christian subject matter. They involved use of outside literature, particularly The Upper Room, The Runner’s Bible, The Greatest Thing in the World, Twice-Born Men, and My Utmost for His Highest. Dr. Bob’s Bible was—for many years–taken to the podium at the King School Group meeting in Akron (A.A. No. 1).
b. There is no Tradition that can, should, or does forbid discussion of A.A. history or the Bible or literature that early A.A.’s used. Box 459 had an excellent article on that point. The article can be obtained from General Services in New York or from the author.
c. Learn well the words of the Long Form of Tradition Three: “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.”
d. Learn well the precise words of Long Form Tradition Ten: “No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues–particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.”
e. The foregoing facts have not stopped people from objecting or trying to ban the Bible, early A.A. literature, and discussion of the foregoing at this or that meeting. One group was removed from the meeting list because it studied Emmet Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount. That did not make the prohibitive action correct. But AAs who want to learn, study, and grow in the roots which were part and parcel of their history should not be intimidated by erroneous comments, actions, or interpretations, however sincere, well-intentioned, or vociferous. Thus Roman Catholics have been holding retreats for AAs for decades. Bill Wilson often cited this as an example of why Bible study was permissible in A.A. The matters that the traditions discuss have to do with SECTARIAN or DENOMINATIONAL religious practices. A.A.’s Preamble so states.
f. The point of all this is that AAs today are searching for ways to remain within A.A. and, at the same time, learn more about the language A.A.’s Big Book, Twelve Steps, and Fellowship. They want to remain in A.A. and practice Eleventh Step spiritual growth by learning about, studying, and discussing “helpful books.” The Big Book does not say, “There are many helpful books also” [p. 87]; but don’t you dare read or discuss them. The Big Book does not say, “Suggestions about these may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi” [p. 87]; but don’t ever mention this in an A.A. meeting. The Big Book does not say, “Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they have to offer” [p. 87]; but be sure they are never seen, discussed, or quoted in an A.A. meeting or study group.
g. AAs need to know at least this much about their own history. The Reverend Sam Shoemaker Jr. and Father Ed Dowling, S.J., spoke to all AAs convened at A.A.’s Twentieth Convention in St. Louis. Their remarks are contained in Conference Approved literature (A.A. Comes of Age). The Jesuit priest Dowling died. But then the Reverend Sam Shoemaker and The Right Reverend Monsignor John J. Dougherty spoke to all AAs at their next International Convention, which was at Long Beach. The Reverend Sam Shoemaker wrote many articles for the A.A. Grapevine. Remarks of The Reverend Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick are quoted at length in A.A.’s Conference Approved A.A. Comes of Age.
h. Whatever some may think, A.A. has no index of forbidden books. A.A. has never excluded priests or sisters or ministers or pastors or rabbi’s from its meetings even when they were not drunks. A.A. has studied the Bible in its meetings for years. And whenever two or three AAs are gathered together for sobriety, they may, as they have done for years, discuss the Bible, discuss the books they have read, and compare these to Big Book and Step concepts. They may discuss any and every facet of the Eleventh Step and the Big Book comments about it. It may well be that they would catch flack if they were exclusively a group of Christian Scientists, Roman Catholics, Moslems, or atheists who exclude others, call themselves a Christian Science A.A. Group, or confine their discussions to a Moslem or Roman Catholic view of A.A.
i. But the records are now well known: there are atheist A.A. groups, gay and lesbian A.A. groups, young people’s groups, airline pilots groups, firemen groups, impaired physicians group, and so on. Apparently, these affiliations have not resulted in evictions or riots or insolence, whether that would be justified or not. In short, A.A.’s inclusiveness, does not mean exclusion of books, of meetings, of thinking or of free speech.
j. In years gone by, if someone wondered what they could or could not do, they didn’t beg for permission from some local office or office manager or delegate. If in doubt, they often wrote to the General Services offices in New York office asking for a suggestion. And this is just as people have done for years. Both Bill Wilson and A.A.’s first archivist Nell Wing fielded many a question. The result was not a ban or “not allowed” sign, but rather a passing along of some other group’s experience. Not to prohibit or command or exclude, but rather a sharing of what some other autonomous group has done and discovered.