The Lord’s Prayer: It has no place at the 2020 International Convention
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
By Kim and Chris
I was making a presentation for AA’s welcome wagon, Bridging the Gap, to a group in a treatment facility recently, when my partner, a long-time member, talked about the closing of the 2015 International Convention of AA in Atlanta, GA at a local stadium. He reflected: “the closing of this wonderful convention ended with 50,000 plus members, holding hands, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I could feel my spine tingling!”
The International Convention is supposed to be the voice of AA throughout the world. How does this speak to world-wide members who practice Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, atheism, and secularism?
The Lord’s Prayer is part of every Christian Church’s liturgy. The purported author of the prayer is the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, who introduced it to his followers in the New Testament Gospels of Mathew and Luke. It is not found in any other religion’s holy books. Therefore, reciting this biblical prayer at an official AA International Convention is implicitly endorsing one religion and excluding all other religions, beliefs and non-beliefs.
AA is meant to function in ways that will not prevent any alcoholics from benefiting from the program.
However, there is a very strong element of AA that in fact does discourage many alcoholics who need help, and that is the strong emphasis on a belief in an interventionist God. That emphasis is reinforced by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at so many meetings. Because of this, our program is failing many people who desperately need us.
Take the case of LG. LG had a DUI as a young man and was told to attend AA meetings. He did so, but didn’t benefit from something that felt to him like church. He knew he had problems with alcohol and tried AA again several times when things were bad but his feelings that it wasn’t for him because he didn’t believe in God didn’t change. In his mid-thirties, with a good job at a college and a wife and two children, he got drunk, drove, and was involved in a multi-car crash in which several people were hurt and one person killed. He was convicted of murder, and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. He’s serving that time now.
Or the case of MR. She and her best friend decided to stop drinking together. They managed on their own for a few weeks, then MR suggested that they try AA. Her friend wasn’t interested because she believed it to be a religious organization. MR did go, and has maintained her sobriety. A secular meeting began in her area, and although she believed in God herself, she began attending to see if it might work for her friend. MR liked the meeting and continued to attend but was unable to convince her friend that it was possible for there to be an AA meeting without the God element. MR’s friend died of complications from alcoholic drinking, and MR has become an advocate for secular meetings.
Or the case of DW. DW has multiple issues including dual addiction, mental health and physical health problems. She knows that she can only hope to work through all of these problems if she is sober. For years, she has attended AA meetings, done service, worked the steps, and worked with sponsors, but has been unable to achieve lasting sobriety. Her sponsors have told her that if she didn’t come to believe in God she never will succeed in recovery. She heard the same message in meetings for years, along with the Lord’s Prayer. She had almost given up hope until she attended a secular meeting and heard that other people actually do get sober through AA without a belief in God. It’s a relief to her to attend meetings with no prayers and with no one telling her she is going to fail, and she is starting to feel hope again.
While it’s true that there are many statements in our literature that promote the use of a Higher Power (or God) of one’s understanding, there are many more references to the need for a supernatural God’s help. In Chapter Two of the AA big book it says, “The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way that is indeed miraculous.” Also, “What seemed at first to be a flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God.” These sentiments, which run through our literature, make it difficult for a non-believer to trust that the words “Higher Power” are not just another way of saying God. This difficulty is much increased by the inclusion of prayers in AA meetings, especially the Lord’s Prayer, which comes straight from the Christian bible.
Every meeting is autonomous and decides on its own format. This isn’t something that should ever change. But the General Service Office of AAWS sets the tone for AA as a whole. If AA is truly trying to reach out to all alcoholics it needs to recognize and acknowledge the number of us for whom the barrier of religious belief is a true barrier, and not just one of “willfulness” on the part of those who don’t believe in God.
The 2020 International Convention of AA will be held July 2-5 in Detroit, Michigan and will be celebrating 85 years of AA history. The theme of the Convention: “Love and Tolerance is Our Code.”
It is time to practice this Code. Not just say it, but actually do it. After all, our primary purpose is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. We therefore strongly suggest that the International Convention, and all other meetings sponsored by AAWS and its General Service Office, reject the use of the Lord’s Prayer and use the Responsibility Declaration instead.
That would be something we could all truly believe in.
In Gratitude and Service,
Christopher S and Kim L
Chris S lives in the Sonoma Valley of Northern California. A life-long Roman Catholic, he renounced his faith while studying the Bible on his path to ordained ministry. While already sober since 1998 in traditional AA, Chris searched and found secular meetings in Forestville and Petaluma which spoke to his newfound rejection of gods. With the fervor of the newly de-converted, he co-founded Santa Rosa’s first secular meeting Without a Prayer in 2016 and became its first GSR. In his first GS Assembly his group endorsed and his Area CNCA overwhelmingly recommended the US/Canada AAWS to publish the UK’s pamphlet “God Word”. Chris’s long term goal, besides staying sober, is to discourage the recitation of the Christian Biblical Lord’s Prayer throughout AAWS and continue to carry AA’s life-saving message of inclusivity in recovery.
Kim L. is from Sonoma County in Northern California. She’s been sober for seven years and happily serves as the designated driver for her friends. A lifelong agnostic turned atheist, Kim feels passionately that AA must be welcoming and open to everyone.