The Care for, and Cure of, Christian Alcoholics and Addicts

Christian Alcoholics and Addicts– Seeking Care for and Cure of Them

“The Rest of the Story”

Dick B.

© 2014 Anonymous. All rights reserved

In many ways today, seeking care for and cure of alcoholism and drug addiction for Christians can easily find itself facing the same end of the road as, in 1935, did afflicted Christians who wanted God’s care and healing.

The Backdrop for the Mutual Aid by Those Still Suffering

In those early, sorry days, alcoholics and addicts were often pronounced “medically incurable.” Doctors and psychiatrists supported a fellowship that would look after the “seemingly hopeless” relapsed, recidivist alcoholics (and often addicts) for which they had found no cure. Churches and clergy had lost much of the zeal their predecessor organizations and leaders of the later 1800’s had for revivals, healing meetings, and conversions.

Yet the ogre of addiction problems was present. It was growing. And it seemed likely to lead to death, insanity, or incarceration for the frequent repeaters. These recidivists were the folks who weren’t necessarily groveling in the gutters and flea bag hotels. They were the folks who perhaps welcomed “soup and soap” but not the more compassionate and understanding “soup, soap, and salvation” offered by missions, the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, and the evangelists like Moody, Meyer, Folger, and Sunday who were still dishing out healings to thousands—not necessarily just to alcoholics, but to the lost, the derelicts, and the “bums.”

Prohibition had been tried as a remedy, but it didn’t stop the obsession, craving, and repeated disastrous behavior.

The Turning Point in 1935 to Reliance on God by Unskilled Desperate Comrades

But, in 1934 to 1935, by a series of miraculous healings, a tiny group of alcoholics had taken into their own hands as fellow drunks and addicts the best of the best that had gone before them. The Creator was ever-present. That was the best.  His son Jesus Christ was still the towering necessity for a relationship with God as seen by most Americans. That too was the best. And abstinence, obedience to God’s will, and charitable help for others were a good fit.

But the very ingredients that had been tendered to the suffering in the previous century had fallen out of common purpose and concern. Wars, the temptations of liquor, poverty, financial disaster, unemployment, a mere nodding belief, and the lack of medical know-how had left the truly Great Physician behind. And the suffering deplored their own seeming powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness. Yawning open skyscraper windows, the option of homelessness, and the seemingly easier, softer way trumped routes that led to God’s love, healing, and power.

Barriers of Doubt, Temptation, Inaction, Fear, Weakened Will, and Seemingly Insane Thinking Stood in the Way

The purpose here is not to breathe life into the sources, origins, biblically developed, individual victories of the earliest days of such societies as Alcoholics Anonymous. The need for “Divine Aid” was there in 1935. But the trust and believing—such as existed–were largely dormant or unused.

Could God cure alcoholism?

The first answer in Alcoholics Anonymous was, “Yes.” And that view was voiced by almost every early AA who dug into their program, placed his life and efforts in God’s hands, found release, and then insisted on helping others achieve the same cure.

What were the ingredients that fostered the results?

Sticking With the Winners – the First Century Christians

Neither God, nor His son Jesus Christ, nor the Bible were new to society. But out of their own sheer repeated failures, the first three AAs decided they themselves must quit and quit for good. They decided to pray that God would care for, guide, and heal them; and they did so. And when, in short order, each was cured and said so, all three set out to help others do likewise.

Was this biblical? Of course it was. From the Bible and its Acts of the Apostles in First Century Christianity, the practices were easy to find. The practices included repenting, being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, listening to Apostles’ eye-witness-derived doctrine since most written New Testament elements had not yet been promulgated. The brethren prayed together, broke bread together, met in the homes or temple together, kept almost continuous fellowship together, healed others, and went about witnessing and converting others to God through Christ.

The Book of James served almost as a road map with instructions: Patience, Asking God for wisdom and doing so without doubt, Avoiding temptation, Doing God’s Word and not just hearing it, Refusing to be a respecter of persons, Loving others, Accompanying their faith with works, Avoiding devilish conduct, Guarding their tongues, Submitting themselves to God and resisting the devil, Humbling themselves before God in order to be lifted up, Seeking healing, Confessing their faults one to another, Praying for one another, and Believing that the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man would avail much. Adding to these, the guides to God’s will in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and the guides to God’s love in 1 Corinthians 13.

And the church grew by leaps and bounds. Sometimes thousands in a day.

They healed by calling on the name of Jesus Christ, just as Jesus had promised they could. They were guided. They were empowered. And they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit that provided guidance and the power of God. And they believed.

Religion’s Concern for the “Unworthy,” and the Vermont Christian Catalysts for Bill and Bob

In the 1850’s religious leaders began turning to the down-trodden in America. They did it with the message of “soup, soap, and salvation.” They provided shelter. They provided food. They held services where the Bible was read, salvation through Jesus was preached, and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior was regularly invited and sought. Moreover, this produced healing of alcoholism for many a drunk of those earlier days.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob were born and raised Christians in Vermont. They attended Congregational church and Sunday school. They heard Scripture read at home and in church. They heard salvation preached, and they became aligned with Congregationalists through baptism and profession of faith. Both men attended Congregational academies which required daily chapel; and the daily chapel proffered sermons, reading of Scripture, hymns, and prayers. Attendance at Congregational Church services once a week was required by the Academies. The Young Men’s Christian Association was active in both of their lives and villages.

Amidst all of this, they had excellent training in the Bible as youngsters.

Bill took a required four year Bible study course at Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester. And Bob was not at all hesitant to say and repeat that he had had excellent training in the Bible as a youngster. We now know, from church records themselves, that this took place in their family, in their church and Sunday school, (and in Bob’s case) in the regimen of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor where he was active, in St. Johnsbury Academy, and through the YMCA principles and practices to which both were exposed.

Had they learned that there could be healing by the power of God and, as God was with them, as Christians in the name of Jesus Christ?

Biblical Lessons about Cures Obtained by Christians

The answers abounded in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus healed  the blind, deaf, dumb, crippled; and he even raised from the dead. He told the Apostles they would do likewise after he had prayed his Father to send them the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Apostles produced the same kinds of healings and raising from the dead and often gave testimony of what they had received through accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Could alcoholics and addicts be healed by Christians who utilized the power of God, prayed, and believed?

Again, the remarkable healings by evangelists in revivals, the cures at missions like Water Street Mission in New York, and the successes of the Salvation Army and of the Congregationalists all established  that the drunk, the derelict, and the down-and-out people could be delivered “wholesale” (as Bill expressed years later to Dr. Carl Jung).

The Development in A.A. of “Christian Techniques” and a “Christian Fellowship”

And what of the program developed by the Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship—having in your mind that, at the outset, the miraculous healings of the first three (Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D.) took place before there was a group or a program.

Later, in greater and greater numbers, there were hundreds who participated in the early A.A. of Akron seven-point program summarized in A.A.’s DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, page 131.

Then came Bill W.’s “new version of the program the Twelve Steps” published in 1939–four years after the founding. It repeatedly referred to God. It spoke of prayer. It spoke of church. It spoke of religious literature obtainable from or recommended by rabbi, minister, or priest. And it spoke of daily devotions often called “Quiet Time.”      

The Change in A.A. Approaches that Scuttled Homogeneity

After twenty-seven years of continuous sobriety as an active AA and twenty-five years of researching its reported roots–as well as “the rest of the story,” I would call attention to the great change in recovery fellowships today.

Neither the fellowships  nor their members are all of one uniform kind with respect to religion or lack of it, belief in God or lack of it, or whether they can be cured or not.

Their societies are not monolithic today. It is fair to say that A.A. itself has had four “programs,” and that its membership has expanded from three drunkards in 1934-35 to two million in the meantime.

The Unvarying Belief Among Thousands and Thousands of AAs Is No More

If you don’t start with this history, you just start with conjecture and the subjective viewpoints of one or more of the “four” who completely compromised the A.A. principles and practices just before their first Big Book manuscript went to press.

And, before speculating on what A.A. is or isn’t, a reader needs to learn and evaluate the historical research and discoveries of the last thirty years plus years, beginning about 1990.

For example:

(1) Before A.A. was founded in June of 1935, and before their first group was founded in Akron on July 4, 1935, the AAs had no program, no Big Book, no Steps, no Traditions, no war stories, and no meetings like those today. In turn, the healing process of the new society emerged from the successes stemming  from  how the first three got sober:  All three (Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D.) believed in God, were Christians, and had lots of Bible in their backgrounds. Each renounced liquor as a way of life. Each turned to God for help. Each was cured permanently (two of them after a brief binge). And each devoted his life thereafter to helping other drunks by the same means. See The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks.

(2) For the next two and a half years, the Akron AAs–under the leadership of Dr. Robert H. Smith–took their basic ideas from the Bible and felt that it contained the answer to their problems. They developed a program involving five required points, and two that were simply “recommended.” That founding program  is described in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, page 131.

(3) Then Bill Wilson asked permission in Akron to write a book that allegedly would tell others how the first few drunkards had been cured. Bill, got that permission from Akron. And work on the book began in 1938. Wilson wrote the chapters for his “new version” of the program. And the pioneers wrote their personal stories telling how they had worked the Akron program–called a “Christian Fellowship.”

Bill’s new version itself,  he said, was drawn from three sources:

(a) Dr. Silkworth’s suggestions to Bill on the alcohol illness problem–including Silkworth’s statement that the Great Physician Jesus Christ could cure Bill–this last point just left out of the story for years.

(b) Professor William James who had explored “vital religious experiences” primarily in the rescue missions and the cures that had resulted therefrom.

(c) Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. who taught Bill the basics included in the remaining 10 Steps which came exclusively from the “practical program of action” or “life-changing” art of A First Century Christian Fellowship, later called the Oxford Group.

(4) Just before Bill’s book was sent to press, it consisted of what Bill called his program’s  “new version” the Twelve Steps in Bill’s chapters and the “old school” stories of Christian Fellowship drunks. But four people—a secretary, a Christian, Bill’s partner Hank P., and Bill himself re-wrote the manuscript and changed the program dramatically. In addition, they inserted a hand-written piece at the beginning of the typewritten draft.

And that hand-written insert was-neither typed like the rest of the manuscript, nor was it at all accurate as to what Ebby Thacher had actually said to Bill and allegedly assuring  Bill that he could “choose your own conception of God.” And that’s not what Bill’s typewritten text had originally said.

Then the same four people altered the Twelve Steps–taking God out of the Second step, and inserting “God as we understood Him” in Steps 3 and 11.

 So now there were four programs. And there still are. Unfortunately for the newcomer, the New Thought expression “higher power” and some other language from New Thought writers then crept into the talk and writing of AAs, writers, professionals, academics, clergy, history “buffs,” and many lay people.

Worse, AAs were assured at a later point that they really didn’t need to believe in anything at all. In the fourth altered and compromised program, that is.

And this totality of program ideas in the four “programs” is not monolithic, homogeneous, nor uniform. It describes the doings of three drunkards before there was any problem consisting of Steps, Traditions, Big Books, and drunkalogs. Then it describes in detail and summary form what those in the Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship did. Then Bill began writing about six alleged “word-of-mouth” ideas on which there was no common agreement and no common language in the varied versions. Then Bill wrote the new version consisting of his Twelve Steps. And finally, he and three others compromised and turned over the theme of the book to atheists and agnostics and left readers with a self-made “power” and a “god” that could be whatever members understood it to be.

And all this baffles Christians today.  It confuses newcomers. And it fashions for some fellowship participants a quasi-religious program that classes itself as “spiritual, but not religious.” But not for me! Nor for the many I have sponsored. Nor for most in the International Christian Recovery Coalition.

And now for a personal word.

I am a Christian. This a fact challenged by a tiny group which depicts itself as Christian but then says, neither I, nor the founders, nor the early AAs, nor anyone else who subscribes to the A.A. program are, were, or could possibly be Christians. No facts. Just out-of-context biblical and other gibberish.

 I am a Bible student. I believe in God. I was very sick when I came into A.A. I was given immense comfort and friendship by the members of A.A. who greeted and helped me.  I immediately dove into the fellowship and stayed committed. I loved helping others the way I was helped.  Though a Christian and Bible student, I didn’t discover A.A.’s biblical roots until I had been sober three years and started my research. See http://www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml.

I can’t speak for AAs who are atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews, humanists, people of various non-Christian religions, non-believers, and “not-god” believers. But I can tell those who follow secular, unbelieving, or other self-made religions  that I never relied upon, or urged others to believe in,  a door knob, a light bulb, a chair, a table, the Big Dipper, or some strange “higher power” to get well.

I relied on God.

So can you. And you can do so as a full-fledged “member” of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Gloria Deo

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About mauihistorian

Uses pen name Dick B.: Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and active and recovered A.A. member with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. Published 42 titles and over 650 articles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement. www.dickb.com
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