On Tuesday (March 27, 2012) the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Intergroup voted 59 to 19 against including two agnostic AA groups on its meeting list (hard copy and online) and giving them a voice at Intergroup meetings.
The issue was discussed at its meeting in February. The actual motion read as follows: “that the two groups, Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, be re-listed in the Meeting Book and reinstated as members of Toronto Intergroup.” An Intergroup representative, previously unknown to members of the Toronto agnostic groups, David P., spoke to the motion. The following is taken word-for-word from the minutes of the February 28th meeting, posted online by the GTA Intergroup.
By David P.
Denying these groups access to Intergroup’s directory, and to a voice on the Intergroup floor, contradicts the Traditions. Tradition Four states that “any two or three alcoholics gathered together for the purpose of sobriety may call themselves an AA group provided that as a group they have no other affiliation.” All of the groups in question are AA groups. That is clear and simple. There is nothing any of us can do about that. They are AA groups. The only question is how we will join in fellowship with each other.
Traditions One and Four give us advice on how to do that. The Fourth states that “we [have] been given the courage to declare each AA group an individual entity, strictly reliant on its own conscience as a guide to action. …. Every group [has] the right to be wrong.” Tradition One reminds that “Our Twelve Steps to recovery are suggestions; the Twelve Traditions which guarantee AA’s unity contain not a single ‘Don’t’. They repeatedly say ‘We ought…’ but never ‘You must!’”
If we continue to exclude these groups, either:
- we are saying that people gathered together for the purpose of sobriety, and with no other affiliation, are not AA groups, or
- we are saying “You must!” to our fellow groups, or
- we are denying the hand of fellowship to AA groups.
Any of these directly contradict the Traditions.
Excluding these groups is wrong; it is harmful. And it’s harmful in three ways.
First, it will work against AA unity. Remember that these are AA groups we are talking about. Remember that there is nothing we can do about the *fact* that they are AA groups. We see already what happens when Intergroup decides not to act as trusted servant to those groups. The shunned groups try to find other ways to do their twelfth step work – setting up alternative web sites, finding other ways to do service to the community. We also see alcoholics attending meetings, not to share their experience, strength, and hope that they may recover and help others to recover from alcoholism, but to judge and condemn those meetings. A vicious schism has developed. And this is a schism *within AA*. Beyond Belief, We Agnostics, Widening the Gateway ALL ARE AA GROUPS, whether anyone likes it or not! If you don’t like it what you hear in one of those meeting, go to another meeting. If you don’t like that one, go to another meeting. If you don’t like that one, talk to your sponsor about what’s keeping you from hearing the message.
Second, excluding these groups sullies AA’s reputation and its capacity for attraction. For many years I have had to reassure potential newcomers that AA is not a cult; that it admits of the limitless play of individual conscience. That is much harder to do now. If we require each group to affirm God and the Twelve Steps, it’s easy for a newcomer to infer that we require each individual to affirm God and the Twelve Steps. And we do neither.
Finally, exclusion is harmful to our fellow alcoholics. Suffering drunks are finding it harder to find meetings, because Intergroup isn’t listing them. Group representatives are ignored, silenced, and treated with disdain and contempt. I will echo the Traditions in stating that this is not only harmful but murderously harmful. This is a fatal disease. Remember that Step One tells us that “the group must survive or the individual will not.” In attacking these groups we attack the individuals who depend on them for survival. Step Three, in warning us never to compel a fellow AA to believe or conform to anything, reminds us that “to take away any alcoholic’s full chance [is] sometimes to pronounce his death sentence,” and asks “who dare[s] to be judge, jury, and executioner of his own sick brother?” This is serious business.
For God’s sake, what has happened to the saving grace of fellowship in this room, the higher power that expresses itself in the outstretched hand? I have faith in that higher power and faith in that fellowship. I trust it will return in time. Let’s welcome that time, resurrect that fellowship, and turn our attention to making amends for the harm that has already been done.
Clearly David’s comments fell on deaf ears… Here is some more background. Beyond Belief and We Agnostics were removed from the official GTA Alcoholics Anonymous meeting list almost a year ago on May 30th 2011. It created quite a stir, and was covered on the front page of the Toronto Star: Fight Over God Splits Toronto AA Groups. More information about the de-listing and about agnostic groups in AA is available here: A History of Agnostic Groups in AA.