AA and the Lord’s Prayer

Fifty Chosen Articles:
Number Thirty-Nine.
Originally posted in February 2019.

AA needs to grow up – as if it were now the 21st century and not 1935.
It needs to discard the Lord’s Prayer.

All [women and] men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his [or her] own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others.

The Catholic Church, Vatican II, 1965

By Roger C.

The Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father who art in Heaven” – is a venerated Christian Prayer. It can be found in the New Testament in two places: in the Gospel of Matthew and with a shorter version in the Gospel of Luke. It was taught by Jesus as the way to pray and it is universally understood as the summary of the religion of Christianity.

In the United States, the Lord’s Prayer – or any other prayer, for that matter – has been prohibited in public schools since 1962. This was the result of a Supreme Court decision in which Justice Hugo Black, delivering the opinion of the Court, affirmed that the State should not in any way “ordain or support” any religion.

In Canada, the public use of the Lord’s Prayer ended in 1988. At that time the Ontario Court of Appeal heard a case in which several parents objected to prayer at the beginning of the school day. Their children – non-Christians – would have to leave the room if they did not wish to participate in the recitation of the prayer.

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the “recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a Christian prayer… impose(s) Christian observances upon non-Christian pupils and religious observances on non-believers” and constituted a violation of the freedom of conscience and religion provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That ended the use of the Lord’s Prayer in schools not only in Ontario but in all parts of Canada.

For the three decades since then, children in Canadian schools have somehow survived without a daily dose of “Our Father.”

So what about AA and the Lord’s Prayer?

Across North America most traditional AA meetings end with the Lord’s Prayer. People stand up, hold hands, and recite the “Our Father who art in Heaven…” out loud.

And please note: some AA members are extremely dogmatic when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. I once submitted a motion to have my AA District stop ending its meetings with it and was literally told by the Chair of the meeting to “get the fuck out of AA”.

How could this possibly happen in the AA fellowship?

Well, AA began a long, long time ago. In 1935. In especially Christian communities, such as Akron, Ohio. And, moreover, the “co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous met through the Oxford Group… a Christian organization founded by an American Christian missionary”. (Wikipedia)

Perhaps not surprisingly then, the word “God”, or a variation of it, appears 281 times in the first 164 pages of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939.

And let me add this: by and large, it’s an ancient and out-dated conception of God. I say this as someone who studied religion for almost a decade, and read the books in the New Testament, at the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University.

A bit of the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread…

So this particular god is understood as anthropomorphic, male and interventionist.

Anthropomorphic and male. A god with human attributes and of a male gender: “Our Father who art in Heaven”. A guy in the sky, as it is sometimes derisively put. (Or sometimes not derisively. At my first AA meeting in a rehab, the speaker said he owed his recovery to a guy in the sky. I was, I will admit, stunned.)

Interventionist. This is a characteristic of this god that is most shared within AA. In “How It Works”, chapter 5 in Alcoholics Anonymous, which is read at most traditional AA meetings, Bill Wilson wrote: “God could and would if He were sought”. He could and would do what? Well, get and keep you sober of course. No matter what else is going on in the world, one of His main functions apparently is to help the alcoholic in recovery.

Now let me be clear and interrupt myself for just one paragraph: There are without question other conceptions of god, both in the world at large and yes, in AA. And I am not just talking about religions now. Some of these conceptions of “god” are more personal, contemporary and not in the least related to any form of religious dogmatism. They can be exploratory and, rather simply, a part of spiritual growth. This “spiritual growth” is something that Sam Harris describes in his book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, as a form of “self-transcendence”, that is, growth in which an individual comes to understand the world beyond the obsessive characteristics of her or his ego consciousness. I personally laud spiritual growth as a part of recovery, indeed, as a part of life itself.

Okay. Back to AA and the Lord’s Prayer.

My message is very simple: AA meetings must stop ending with the Lord’s Prayer.

Two reasons.

First, it is a contradiction and violation of Alcoholics Anonymous itself. AA insists that while it is indeed spiritual, it is not, nor should it be in any way, religious. Well Christianity is a religion. And The Lord’s Prayer is a Christian prayer. To suggest otherwise is an appalling act of ignorance or hypocrisy. Or both.

If you don’t believe that then re-read what the United States Supreme Court had to say. It removed prayer from schools because it recognized that it should not “ordain or support” any religion. You can also re-read what the Ontario Court of Appeal had to say: the “recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a Christian prayer… impose(s) Christian observances upon non-Christian pupils and religious observances on non-believers”.

AA needs to respect its own principles, its own self. Weird, but true. As it was put recently in The Fix: “It is baffling why the Our Father – a prayer praising a conventional paternalistic, heaven-dwelling religious deity – still closes many meetings, as it directly contradicts the organization’s stated non-alignment with any sect or denomination, per its Preamble.”

Spiritual not religious? No outside affiliations? Then behave accordingly.

Second, the religiosity of the AA born in 1935 and the Lord’s Prayer is increasingly driving alcoholics out of meetings. AA also needs to quit pumping “Conference approved” literature, virtually all of which is based on the ancient Godly thought of the mid twentieth century, and understand that it is now the twenty first century and that AA needs to recognize that and mature as an organization, a fellowship.

AA needs to grow up, to modernize itself and thus be both more relevant and more inclusive, as if it were 2019 today and not 1935. It needs to discard the Lord’s Prayer. A vote at the General Service Conference by AA Area delegates and AA officials is all that would be needed.

Otherwise, as my friend Joe C put it years ago: “My bold prediction is that if AA doesn’t accommodate change and diversify, our 100th anniversary will be a fellowship of men and women with the same stature and relevance as the Mennonites; charming, harmless and irrelevant.”


For a PDF of this article click here: AA and the Lord’s Prayer.


22 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    We end our “Beyond Belief” meeting with the “Responsibility Statement”. This statement was approved by Bill Wilson & spoken by him at one of the world conferences. Sorry – I don’t know which one.

  2. Bullwinkle says:

    50 years ago when living in greater Los Angeles, weekly I attended an AA fellowship meeting in West Los Angeles that the circuit speaker Bob Earl started. The meeting was 60 minutes, it didn’t begin and end with prayer. Nothing was read from AA literature. There was no topic. Attendees sat in a circle in silence until someone shared without a time limit. Some of these attendees were faith based other weren’t. There was no 7th Tradition, because in the same building was a very large 90 minute speaker meeting of 150 to 200 participants that donated for meeting space. This meeting didn’t recognize GSO NYC or the publishing company A. A. World Services, Inc. NYC. GSO has no authority over any AA fellowship meeting that doesn’t recognize them.

  3. Bill G. says:

    I go mostly to traditional meetings. Honesty is important dealing with this disease. As of now I just share that I’m out of the God business. Can’t prove if there is one or not. I just want to be sober and have been so in AA for 43 years. Also I’m a drug addict crossed addicted to the drug alcohol. Crazy insane that alcohol has a special status.

    Bill G. Born again Cosmic Naturalist. PS I always stand out of the Lord’s Pray. It’s just not the right place for it. Hey if you like it okay, take to your church. I’ll be meditating in the woods. PS Disease.

  4. Annemarie H. says:

    About 35 years ago I moved to Wilmington DE and joined a very well organized AA group that did a lot of service work which I loved.

    At one of my first group consciences I asked that changing the “Lords Prayer” be put on the agenda. I was a Unitarian Universalist (where to be an atheist is just fine) and found the prayer unreasonable and a put off to non Christians. I was listened to mostly politely and the vote was everyone no and me for a change. It is almost universally the same now.

    I presently live in the rural South and its even worse. I see newcomers leave because of the strident Christian ethos and the almost century old setting. I have long time sobriety but sometimes its in spite of local AA. And as an old retired lawyer, I can tell you that there have been FIVE federal cases that have ruled that AA is a religion. Period.

    People are dying out there, because they cannot swallow the strident religiosity so often preached. And sadly in my home group, homophobia. And so on. But I won’t drink today. And because of our group (AAAA) I can actually breathe. Thanks to all of you.

  5. J.X. Mason says:

    I totally agree!
    The “Lord’s Prayer” should not be used in AA meetings.

  6. Thomas B. says:

    When the LP is recited in my home group that I attend several times a week — thankfully with no hand-holding — I remain silent and scan the room for others who like me don’t chant it. When motivated I may chat with them after the meeting to possibly recruit them to perhaps again attempt to start a new secular meeting in Tucson, AZ, where I’ve resided off and on since 2002. In the past two decades several attempts have been made to start a secular meeting, all which have eventually petered out.

    Tucson is also is the home of Wally P., who does seminars all over North America based on his book Back to Basics, which according to him represents the only true AA since it is most religiously biased on the blatant Christianity of the Oxford Group that was prevelent throughout the US during the 1930s and1940s.

    Following his logic were there to be no evolution, we would all be tadpoles swimming around in an endless sea !~!~!

    • bob k says:

      I attended a Wally P. presentation in Oshawa about ten years ago. The “Back to Basics” guy is clearly a “Back to the Oxford Group” guy. Ah, the GOOD OLD DAYS!! The room was filled with worshipers which added to the vibe of total weirdness.

      Wally got hit by some Agent Orange in Vietnam and very clearly there are lingering effects. His venture is extremely commercial and he had poor answers to my question of where the hundreds of thousands of dollars had gone. The rabid mob wanted to lynch me but I escaped while they were searching for a rope.

  7. john says:

    Thumbs up Roger. Very well delivered. The Hipos, and Bigos out number us Nons. I haven’t seen a big change in my area,but we are definitely here.”Baby steps” I say. Thanks

  8. Bobby Freaken Beach says:

    It’s “Guy in the freaken sky” with a capital freaken “G,” you disrespectful heathen!! I’m praying for you right now.

  9. Murray J says:

    I could no longer accept the religiosity of traditional AA. I felt like a hypocrite when I was asked to read things like How It Works. I put forth a motion at a business meeting to ditch the LP. The push back was scary. It was as if I was threatening their sobriety. I was relieved when I heard about a new secular group that met next door to my traditional meeting. I have been attending that meeting for 8+ years now. No more dogma. Just simple sharing one drunk to another.

    • bob k says:

      I once lost a vote to ditch Christianity’s Number One prayer 18-1. I lost the seconder in the discussion about how AA would be ruined.

      You must have been lonely at the Mississauga meeting 8 years ago. It didn’t start until 7 years and 1 month ago.

  10. Annette says:

    I don’t think traditional AA will ever let the Lord’s Prayer go, and that goes for the first 164 pages as well. At least we don’t hold hands!!! My husband and I used to argue about it, he would say America is becoming less religious and I would tell him to go to an AA meeting. And I live in NYC!!!!!! It used to bother me a lot, I’ve since learned to let it go. It’s better for my recovery, as selfish as that sounds.

  11. KIM says:

    I need some help. I have been sober for 4 years and stopped going to meetings about 2 years as I was so put off by the God talk and religious slant. Now I am being plagued with thoughts of drinking again, almost feeling as if it is inevitable. I don’t want to go back to meetings, as frankly they make me want to drink. What to do?

    • Dave says:

      KIM..there are literally hundreds of secular meetings available. Try this one to start with tusnua.org. Great diverse meetings available there.

    • bob k says:

      Secularists need to embrace the ZOOM.

    • Brien O. says:

      Kim like already mentioned, zoom is better than nothing. LifeRing, Smart Recovery, Secular AA. Godless Heathens 7 days a week is a good secular AA zoom meeting one. Hang in there.

  12. Jackie K says:

    “God could and would if he wore socks” is what I always say. I too wish the Lord’s Prayer would be removed entirely. For years I’ve been standing and joining hands, but my lips do not move when that prayer is recited.

    • Susan B. says:

      First time hearing this. Love it!

    • Brien O. says:

      Same – my lips are sealed. I chaired a regular AA meeting Friday and tonight mentioning the different types of recovery meetings for non believers and also stating I do not believe in God. Just trying to make friends:)

  13. Susan B. says:

    Bang on, again!

  14. Debra says:


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