By Dave S.
I had my last drink on February 28, 1984. Within my first year I became aware that, for lack of a better term, I was a nonbeliever. At the time it seemed that in order to be a “real” member of AA I was ultimately going to have to come to believe in a Judeo-Christian God. At the time I became aware of my nonbeliever status I trusted it, but I stayed open to becoming religious. Truth be told, I am still open to it, but it’s been 30 years so while I’m open to it I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to happen.
I didn’t struggle with my lack of belief. My sponsor for the first nineteen years of my sobriety was Dr. Earle M., author of “Physician Heal Thyself” in our big book. I was self employed and he was retired so over those years we spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours together. His message to me was that I was perfect the way I was and that there are as many programs of AA as there are members of AA, so whatever I believed or didn’t believe was totally acceptable and as I like to say, more than anything else, he allowed me to find my own way. He passed away on January 13, 2003. In a very real way he is still my sponsor and I am virtually certain I will never have another.
I heard about Toronto in bits and pieces at first and was appalled. I subscribed to AA Agnostica and in one post I got a link and sent an email and the next thing I know I’m talking with the people that were putting on the WAAFT convention. My friend Russ H., who contributes here beautifully and succinctly did the same and shortly thereafter he told me he was going to start a We Agnostics Meeting.
We were both extremely enthusiastic. Over the years I had always been fairly vocal about my lack of belief. The thing was that I was always looking for a way to voice my thoughts without offending the believers. While that sounds like a nice thing, and I got pretty good at it, in a very real way I had a sense it was something less than genuine. With Toronto, the upcoming convention, the vast numbers of people I had spoken with over the years about lack of belief I made a conscious decision to find a “bigger” voice when it came to talking about this issue.
I have lived in the same county where our “central office” is located for the entirety of my sobriety and I have been active all that time, so I know a lot of people and I am known. I have never been an intergroup or general service “type.” I have never had the mind set, dedication or patience to do those AA chores. I had done them, simply because I felt I at least needed to give it a shot, but they are not my cup of tea.
Russ H. got the ball rolling as our Intergroup requires that a proposed new meeting fill out a form which is to be submitted to the office manager “special worker” at the physical location of our central office. The form is fairly innocuous, he filled it out and the special worker refused to list the meeting.
Here is where the craziness really started. Our Intergroup has bylaws and an operating manual. I am a lawyer by trade so I started looking at those documents to try and figure out what was happening (I had been involved in a similar skirmish years before when Intergroup attempted to delist a meeting that a friend of mine had begun so I knew a little bit about the process).
As I looked at the documents it appeared that there were significant conflicts between the two documents and that the bylaws should prevail as those were the way in which the Intergroup came into existence.
Further, the way the procedure was set up, once the special worker refused to list the meeting then the Intergroup Operating Committee would review the materials and if they then refused to list the meeting, then the meeting was required to make a presentation to Intergroup at large and after a two-month discussion/waiting period, a vote would be taken and in order to list the meeting we needed a 2/3 yea vote to get listed. This seemed daunting and impossible. To generalize maybe unfairly, my experience was that people who get involved in Intergroup / General Service are generally conservative and the likelihood of getting a 2/3 vote seemed unattainable.
After the special worker refused to list the meeting, the question of listing the meeting went to the Intergroup Operating Committee and they too declined to list the meeting so we were now faced with a difficult road which we didn’t think we could successfully travel.
Russ and I believed that we had to try to change the procedure to have any chance. We first approached the Intergroup Operating Committee and we asked to be allowed to make a presentation to that Committee (they meet privately and secretly which is a whole other issue). They agreed and one evening, armed with handouts and their own documents I pointed out many ways in which the bylaws were inconsistent with the operating manual and I suggested that a committee be formed to study this issue and report to the operating committee and Intergroup at large to make proposed changes. I told them that I felt the most egregious situation was the absolute power of one person, the special worker, to decide if a meeting is or is not listed. I further requested to be on that committee. I was then thanked and told I could leave.
They formed a committee, did not ask me to be on it and in executive session they took the power of the special worker to make the decision to list the meeting away from him/her and placed the same power with the Intergroup Operating Committee… the one that meets privately and secretly. That change was announced at the next meeting of Intergroup. A motion was made by Russ H. that if the IOC decided not to list a meeting that a reason had to be given to the meeting itself and Intergroup at large. While a vote was taken on that motion, it is still in limbo as we are having some difficulty in determining what is a 2/3 vote if there are abstentions (Remember, I am not making any of this stuff up).
We were out of options. The only chance we had was to make a presentation to Intergroup as a whole, the intergroup representatives then would take the issue back to their groups, the groups would discuss it for two months and we would then have a vote of the intergroup representatives.
Russ and I discussed this and we decided that I would be the one to make the presentation so I got started on a draft. I felt it was important to read from a prepared text so I would know what I had said. Russ and I worked on the text and ultimately we had what we felt was our best shot. I brought enough copies with me to give at least one to every intergroup representative in attendance (about 50-65 as I recall). I didn’t want them to tell their groups something that I said that I hadn’t said. It was a 15 minute presentation filled with quotes from our literature, quotes from Bill W., quotes from other AA luminaries. We felt it logically and forcefully made the case that AA not only allows things like this to happen, it encourages them. This is supposed to be a big tent, not a small one, that we are inclusive, not exclusive.
After the presentation [you can read it here: Presentation to Intergroup] there were questions and on that night, every question came from someone who was clearly opposed to the existence of our meeting. Our intergroup meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month (except December) and our presentation was made at the end of October. We had another meeting at the end of November and this issue was discussed again. At the November meeting it was totally different. Many people spoke in support of the meeting and the idea of the meeting. After the meeting people came up to both Russ and me and apologized for putting us through this wringer. It was a love fest but nonetheless I still didn’t think there was much of a chance.
It was at this point that something happened. A large number of involved AA people got behind us. These were not fellow travelers, they were people who believed in big G God, that prayed and meditated. They were normal AA people who understood that AA is the AA that many of us know. The AA that doesn’t restrict beliefs, the AA that tells each and every newcomer that we have been waiting for them to arrive and that we are ecstatic now that they are here, the AA that means it when it says the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
We heard rumors, both good and bad, of what was happening in the trenches. We thought we were going to “win”. We thought we were going to “lose”. By this time though I’m pretty sure that both Russ and I had decided we had, had enough. That win or lose this fight was over, that we didn’t have any energy to go further as it had been so long in coming. By the night of the vote our meeting had been in existence 18 months (and flourishing, by the way).
On January 27, 2015, the vote was taken. Preliminarily the mechanics of the vote was discussed, the voting eligible members had been tallied and it was determined that we needed 47 votes to get our 2/3 majority. The “yeas” were asked to stand and we then counted down. By the time we were done counting there had been 54 yea votes cast. Russ and I were both stunned. The final count was 54 yeas, 12 nays and 2 abstentions. On the next published meeting schedule for Contra Costa County of California (east San Francisco Bay) our meeting will be listed.
The post script on this for me is a complete change of perception. When I started out I felt this was us against them. The “us” was the liberal, inclusive, non believing, third tradition “correct” minority members of AA. The “them” was the conservative, restrictive, God believing purist majority of AA. What I am now convinced of is that while there is a “them” it is not a majority, but it is loud. I am hopeful that most AA members want to give us our space and our due. Whether that is because of apathy or sincere belief doesn’t matter I don’t think. The Live and Let Live slogan is alive and well and we are finding our voice more and more as time goes by.
We are unstoppable.
Dave S. is a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous who attended 1,000 meetings in his first two years of sobriety and presently regularly attends six meetings per week. He describes his involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous as the greatest passion of his life. He came to terms with his status as a non-believer when he was about six months sober and that was more than thirty years ago. He has always been vocal about his non-believer status in and out of AA meetings. He met his sponsor when he was 35 days sober and describes him as the greatest human being he ever met. They spent hundreds and hundreds of hours together over a 19 year period until his sponsor died on January 13, 2003.