Tradition Two: For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He many express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants.
by Thomas B.
Another Lord’s Prayer Kerfuffle
My home group in Seaside, Oregon, is the Morning Meditation group which meets 365 days a year in the renown Little Yellow House. Several blocks away is the Big Yellow House, Awakenings by the Sea, an Oregon Drug and Alcohol Rehab program for women alcoholics and addicts.
Several months ago there was considerable contention within the group about having patients from Awakenings attend our open AA meetings. This was discussed over several monthly business meetings with the result being that the “group conscience” determined that in accordance with Tradition Five, we would welcome Awakenings patients at all our meetings.
An issue came up later concerning our group format. Over the past couple of years the group has gone back and forth from ending the meeting 1) only with the Serenity Prayer, or 2) any prayer chosen by the chairperson, including the Lord’s Prayer.
At a recent business meeting, I raised the point that since our meeting was openly accommodating newcomers from Awakenings perhaps we might want to insure that the door to AA in our meeting was always wide open to any person regardless of belief or lack of belief. I suggested it would be inappropriate to end our meeting with the Lord’s Prayer.
Here is the rationale I presented to the group:
- Our preamble states that “we are not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution”.
- The Lord’s Prayer is THE prayer of the Christian religious tradition, quoted in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke.
- AA strongly advocates that we are spiritual, not religious, but if we use the signature prayer of the Christian religion aren’t we being just a bit hypocritical?
- Under Tradition Two, we as a group certainly have the right to make a decision to use the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting.
- However, due to the regular attendance of people new to recovery from Awakenings, I suggest we need to be especially mindful concerning a possible mixed message. The Lord’s Prayer might make some folks new to recovery uncomfortable.
- I believe our group seeks to be as widely inclusive as possible, following the letter and the spirit of Tradition Three that the only requirement to be a member of AA is a desire to stop drinking.
- Therefore, I suggest we start our meetings with the Serenity Prayer, a non-denominational prayer to a higher power, and end with the Responsibility Declaration, which states the spirit of AA’s primary purpose which is to stay sober and help others — regardless of belief or non-belief — to achieve sobriety.
After a spirited discussion, it was moved and passed almost unanimously that we would start and end the meetings with the Serenity Prayer. Here is the language decided upon to include on the group format: “It is customary for this group to end meetings with the Serenity Prayer.”
A prominent group member indicated she would retype the Chairperson’s format to include this change. However, the following week I noticed that we did not have a new format, so I hand wrote the above statement on the format.
I became aware that one long time member of the group, a former missionary, who had not attended the business meeting, was quite upset about this change, so I gave him a copy of the points above that had been discussed by the members at the business meeting.
Well, at last Saturday’s meeting his wife was the chairperson. When the meeting closed, she announced we would end with the Lord’s Prayer. Since she hadn’t attended meetings recently I gently informed her that the group conscience had determined that we would end the meeting with the Serenity Prayer. She replied that as far as she was concerned, it was the prerogative of the chairperson to end with whatever prayer they choose. She reiterated her choice to end with the Lord’s Prayer.
I sharply retorted, “THY Will Be Done” — not my most tolerantly compassionate choice of behavior.
There were several other regular attendees of our meeting present who had also been part of the group conscience meeting. None of them spoke up. The Lord’s Prayer was chanted, I remained silent, stepping outside of the circle, and the meeting ended.
As I was leaving, the chairperson confronted me with the remark that my atheism might work in Portland or New York City, but it wasn’t going to work in the god-fearing town of Seaside, Oregon. I was aghast. I was also scolded by the prominent group member who neglected to retype the format — she opined that before my wife, Jill, and I came to Seaside there was never a problem in ending meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. She further suggested that we ought to read and practice Bill’s instruction on page 84 of the Big Book, “Love and tolerance of others is our code.”
I’ll miss the next two business meetings of our group, since I’ll be on an extended road trip back east to visit friends and family. When I return, I’m expecting that the group conscience shall most likely be changed to again leave it up to the chairperson as to which prayer is used to end meetings. So be it.
This doctrinaire controversy regarding the Lord’s Prayer is periodically waged in individual groups throughout North America. As well, it is deliberated in larger associations of AA members. The first Oregon Area 58 Assembly I attended last November ended with the Lord’s Prayer, as did the 2010 International AA Conference coordinated by San Antonio AA members.
The “Many Paths to Spirituality” Pamphlet
It took 39 years for the General Service Conference to produce a “conference approved” pamphlet which initially – in 1976 – was intended to reflect the reality through our stories that agnostics and atheists get and stay sober in AA without god or a higher power.
The result this year is the travesty of the pamphlet, “Many Paths to Spirituality”. A more appropriate title would perhaps be “We Agnostics Lite”.
The graphic with all of the errors — oops, I meant to type arrows — pointing heavenwards is certainly a demonstration of “clueless Christian majoritarianism” as one person commented. Assuredly, it does not adequately reflect the views, much less the stories, of agnostics, atheists and free thinkers successfully recovering in AA without “the god-bit”.
Quite the contrary, it faithfully reflects the views of the majority of Christian members in AA, certainly those who serve at the level of delegate positions to the General Service Conference. At least the pamphlet reiterates the quote from co-founder Bill W. which acknowledges that we have as much right to be members of AA as the most ardent Big-Book-and-Bible-thumping fundamentalist Christian.
So what’s going on here?
Here’s what I suggest. Our Second Tradition states there is only one authority in AA: “a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.”
As Hamlet famously remarked, “Aye, there’s the rub!”
The GSO and American Culture and Politics
The truth is that North American AA exists in a culture that is steeped in a predominantly Christian tradition.
Increasingly in the past three-and-a-half decades, especially since the Reagan Revolution, North American politics has tilted to the right. Frank Schaeffer along with his parents, Francis and Edith, were instrumental during the 70s and 80s in forming the evangelical Christian rightwing movement within the Republican Party. They were motivated by strident opposition to the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision authorizing abortion. Frank has subsequently rejected his evangelical fundamentalist Christian upbringing in a number of books, including the hilarious Crazy for God.
One result of the Reagan Revolution was to diminish progressive, reasonable policy for research about and treatment of addiction which had been advocated by Democratic Senator Harold Hughes in 1969. Instead, emphasis was placed on massively escalating Nixon’s international War on Drugs. As pointed out in the notable film, The Anonymous People, instead of providing funds for research, prevention and treatment services, billions of dollars have been spent incarcerating “criminals”, especially people of color, for alcohol and drug related offenses.
Currently, the Tea Party dynamic continues the rightward tilt in US politics. A recent New York Times article, examining trends of Internet searches, compares richer, more prosperous areas with those areas where economic conditions are not so prosperous. In the poorer sections of the US included within the top ten items searched for on the Internet are these four subjects in ascending order: the rapture (10), the antichrist (7), about hell (6) and antichrist (2)! Dan Silver, a cultural sociologist from the University of Toronto, remarks, “They are not just about religion, they are about apocalyptic religion.”
In a newly published book, The Violence of Organized Forgetting, Henry Giroux, prominent scholar at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, cites sources that indicate some 46 per cent of the American population, influenced by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Christian talk radio/TV programs, adhere to a creationist view of evolution. Such folks also tend to dismiss scientific evidence, research, and rationality for evolution as being “academic” or irreligious.
To many devout evangelical Christians, we agnostics, atheists and freethinkers are “the other,” alien objects to be shunned or obliterated if we don’t convert to their true Christian religion. In a recent Pew Research poll – How Americans Feel About Religious Groups — atheists are a mere one point higher than Muslims, the most negatively rated religious group in the US.
The composition of the 133 delegates to the yearly General Service Conference mirrors this tilt to the right that has occurred within American society. During the past 30 or so years much of AA has fallen under the influence of folks devoted to return AA “Back to Basics” prevalent in the Oxford Group in Akron during the 30s.
The White Paper, based on Christian orthodoxy influenced both Toronto and Vancouver, B.C. Intergroup Offices to delist agnostic, atheist and freethinker AA groups. In this anonymous screed the author prominently refers to Tradition Two, and exhorts those of like minds “to insist that the theme of the International Conference in Atlanta, GA in 2015 be the following: “ONE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY —a loving God…” (underlined and bold face in the original.)
Fortunately, wiser sensibilities prevailed and the theme of the 2015 International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous is “80 Years — Happy, Joyous and Free”.
So, do I ever expect the General Service Conference to more effectively respond to our views? In a word, no. I think what we got with “Many Paths to Spirituality” is about as much as can rationally be expected of the Christian theists who comprise a significant majority of delegates to the General Service Conference.
These delegates are duty-bound to follow the precepts of their “loving God,” regarding what they understand “He” expects of them. This dynamic, I propose, has resulted in the travesty of the pamphlet, “Many Paths to Spirituality”. The GSC shall continue to block any acknowledgment by AA that officially suggests that recovery and long-time sobriety is possible without “the god-bit.”
So, what are we agnostics, atheists, and free thinkers to do? Essentially, we have two options:
First, a number of members of AA choose to vote with their feet, leaving AA to join the growing number of alternative recovery programs for alcoholics, such as Life-Ring or SMART Recovery. This is a viable course of action, one I cannot fault anyone from pursuing. It is a reasonable, rational response to the arrogant intolerance and shunning behavior on the part of many ardent Christians within AA.
Second, we who are emotionally attached to AA can strive to respectfully make our voice be heard within the rooms of AA. We can relate our “experience, strength and hope” as sober and productive members of AA, who do not rely upon a god or higher power, other than the power that manifests though our shared Fellowship.
This is the path I choose to follow, even though a part of me believes that AA is perhaps substantially flawed due to a doctrinaire interpretation of the Second Tradition. Nevertheless, I remain gratefully loyal to AA, which has provided me with a lifetime of bounteous gifts as a direct result of being a longtime sober member.
I also strongly support Joe C.’s call for us to become involved in AA’s Service structure.
I’m greatly encouraged by the blossoming of new meetings springing up across North America during the last several years. This validates Robert Merton’s law of unintended consequences, resulting from the delisting of meetings for agnostics and atheists in Toronto in 2011, which was the impetus for the AA Agnostica website. The movement to include us fully within AA shall wonderfully continue in November with the first We Agnostics and Free Thinkers International AA Convention (WAFT IAAC) in Santa Monica — I can hardly wait to attend and take part in this momentous event in the history of AA with other like-minded AA members from around the world.
Essentially, I accept that I cannot remain sober — which results in me being reasonably “happy, joyous and free” — without AA. I continue to adhere to the generic ethical, moral and humanist principles inherent within the AA program which includes our Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions and Twelve Concepts of Service. I’ll continue to do what I was gifted to learn in New York City through the AA Fellowship in 1972 — I won’t pick up today, I’ll go to a meeting tomorrow and, whenever and however I can, I’ll help other alcoholics.