Intergroup Votes Against Re-Listing Agnostic Groups

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.
Frontrunners Group

Denying these groups access to Intergroup’s directory, and to a voice on the Intergroup floor, contradicts the Traditions. Tradition Three 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. In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, it 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.” About Tradition One we are reminded that 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. Tradition Three, in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 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.


6 Responses

  1. Harry R. says:

    This indeed was a powerful statement from David P.

    I am saddened and disappointed by this small minded and short sighted stance by Toronto intergroup. It seems to me there are two fears at play in this decision. The first is that the ripple of allowing a couple of groups to rephrase the 12 steps in a way that allows non-believers to participate in AA recovery will somehow grow into a seismic wave that will bring down all of AA.

    The second fear is, I believe, that seeing others recover without a “god” will somehow threaten the faith of the “believers.” A long-time AAer once told me that a person of real faith can’t have it shaken by the lack of faith of someone else.

    The mindset that AA is accessible to all those who want recovery is misguided. Many, many people can’t (not won’t) come to terms with the concept of ‘God’ in AA and are denied our path of recovery; those (like myself) who do come to terms with it often require a lot of time and struggle.

    The claim by some members that AA must not change an iota otherwise AA is jeopardized for future alcoholics is self serving, and ignores the agnostics and atheists who were part of AA in its formative years.

    These non-traditional groups are not weakening the foundations of our AA home, they are opening its doors to more suffering alcoholics.

  2. Eric T. says:

    I’m grateful to be sober today. All this intolerance is difficult to endure, and so I try to let it go, one day at a time. I must say being rejected by my own fellowship hurt, and I have learned much from the experience. I will not sit at the back of the bus or start my own thing. My own thing kept me drinking. The AA fellowship I have engaged with, in different cities, in different formats, INCLUDING agnostic AA groups with adaptive steps have all helped save my life from this deadly disease. My commitment to the responsibility pledge includes ANY alcoholic. It is only when I look beyond beliefs that I move past my own prejudices to be of real service.

    Fear of change almost killed me. I hope we all learn to move towards acceptance and tolerance, but I must say I am discouraged. This too shall pass. At least I know where the Beyond Belief meeting is held. It’s the still suffering agnostic alcoholic I am concerned about, so thank goodness we are not going away. Every time I have rejected AA over stuff like this, I relapsed. This time I shall not give the intolerant ones the permission to mess with my sobriety. I own it today. It is also not my role in AA to work other people’s programs.

    For those lessons, I thank you all and am grateful. I wish you all another safe day of sobriety, however you work it!

  3. Bill says:

    I agree with David P, of course. IMHO, Toronto Intergroup is an irrelevant add-on, not AA. Until Toronto Intergroup accepts everyone who has a desire to stay sober, I’ll just contribute enough to cover my coffee.
    [Side note] Interesting to hear of the SOS groups and amusing to think of the letters standing for Save Our Souls.

  4. Steve says:

    I personally prefer SOS (secular organization for sobriety) to AA. SOS is an organization for recovering alcoholics modeled on AA, but stripped of religiosity and steps. A typical SOS meeting is like an AA discussion meeting where the topic of a higher power never comes up (unless to say that no such thing exists). The problem with SOS is that it hasn’t caught on, and there are very few meetings. I can see the point of joining atheist AA groups, for where else is an atheist supposed to go if he wants to avoid the irrationality which is ever-present at traditional meetings?

    The excluded groups are obviously entitled to remain within AA. Is the GTA Intergroup the final authority on which groups can be members? How important is it for the atheist groups to be in? This whole situation reminds me of how many religions splinter over doctrinal differences, and AA definitely resembles religion in many ways. I don’t know what the answer is, and it is obvious to me that AA is a deeply flawed organization. I don’t know what the answer is, and it’s for the excluded groups to decide for themselves.

  5. John L. says:

    An eloquent and moving statement from David P. What could the Intergroup religionists have said against his arguments? From my experience in the past, religionists or faith people don’t feel obligated to give reasons for their positions — that is, they don’t really feel the need for discussion. I remember one “group conscience” meeting where I and others had moved that the group cease reading “How It Works” (HIW) at the beginning of each meeting. We presented arguments that HIW was harmful, untruthful, and in violation of AA principles. The faith people just scowled, and one of them said: “I like it.” They had packed the meeting with people, some of whom were not alcoholics, and overwhelmingly won the vote. I stopped going to that meeting, and found others that were more congenial. I look forward to a fuller report on this shameful meeting, and hope the minutes will be posted here.

  6. Aaron G. says:

    Shameful!! That is why I haven’t been to a meeting in 8 months, because I would rather not subject myself the faith-head’s sicknesses. I suggest starting something new. Something that is an alternative to AA; that doesn’t discriminate against people that chose a different substance as well. That doesn’t discriminate at all! I would be a part of that!!