2.18.2017

What the Church can Learn from the Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

     As a member of the church, I am constantly dreaming up ways in which the church could be better.  Although churches are set up to carry the message of Christ's love into the surrounding world, they are also set up to function as a business entity.  There is no doubt about it that in order for a church to stay on its feet financially, communally, and spiritually, there must be bylaws and statutes set forth in order to maintain a healthy, long-lasting cohesiveness.  Most churches establish themselves as 501(c)3 entities through the county courthouse, so that they can receive benefits from the state in the way of taxes.  That is fine, but I believe it is possible that not enough emphasis is placed into the actual bylaws and statutes that are established in the process of becoming an organization.  I am proposing that as a church, there is just as much spiritual responsibility in the paperwork processes of forming the state-recognized institution, as there is in carrying out the "spiritual vision" of the church itself, aka feeding the hungry, forming community, when/where to meet, etc.  Is it possible that when a group of people interested in starting a church sit down to establish the bylaws to appease the powers that be, the group may not place enough spiritual importance in the process?  Questions arise that may not be given enough though.  For example, any non-profit organization must have a board of directors.  Who will they be?  Should there be any prerequisites?  Financial questions must be addressed as well.  Where will the money go?  Where will it come from?  Will we need a paid staff?

      I love the church, and my love is continually growing.  However, there are parts of it that confuse me and make me wonder how the church I am a part of is any different than, say, the business I work at.  There are parts I love and parts I abhor, naturally.  As churchgoers, I believe we all have the responsibility of challenging the status quo.  We all have the responsibility of challenging the traditions and structures of the church.  After all, we are the church.  The building is not the church.  So, in my attempt to challenge the minor bureaucratic systems that I see taking place in churches big and small, I will parallel what I see as the typical structure of the church with that of the A.A. group.  Before I begin though, I must say that I do not speak for A.A. nor the church.  These are only my opinions, and some of them will undoubtedly be biased toward either entity.  The gauge I am using is the twelve traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I do not have access to and bylaws or statutes of any church, so this will mainly be a chance for the reader to ask him/herself, "Is it possible that A.A. has figured something out that my church could possibly try on for size?" I am writing this as an outside observer who has little inside information.  But, I believe the point of this essay will drive home questions more than anything.  I am not trying to prove a point, but am trying to question the spiritual emphasis placed on church structure.

     To give a little background on A.A. and the traditions, I will take an exerpt from the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp 16-18:

"Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935 at Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a meeting between a well-known surgeon and a New York broker.  Both were severe cases of alcoholism and were destined to become co-founders of the A.A. Fellowship.
The basic principles of A.A., as they are known today, were borrowed mainly from the fields of religion and medicine, through some ideas upon which success finally depended were the result of noting the behavior and needs of the Fellowship itself.
After three years of trial and error in selecting the most workable tenets upon which the Society could be based, and after a large amount of failure in getting alcoholics to recover, three successful groups emerged - the first at Akron, the second at New York, and the third at Cleveland.  Even then it was hard to find twoscore of sure recoveries in all three groups.
Nevertheless, the infant Society determined to set down its experience in a book which finally reached the public in April 1939.  At this time the recoveries numbered about one hundred.  The book was called "Alcoholics Anonymous," and from it the Fellowship took its name.  In it alcoholism was described from the alcoholic's point of view, the spiritual ideas of the Society were codified for the first time in the Twelve Steps, and the application of these Steps to the alcoholic's dilemma was made clear.  The remainder of the book was devoted to thirty stories or case histories in which the alcoholics described their drinking experiences and recoveries.  This established identification with alcoholic readers and proved to them that the virtually impossible had now become possible.  The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" became the basic text of the Fellowship, and it still is.  This present volume proposes to broaden and deepen the understanding of the Twelve Steps as first written in the earlier work.
With the publication of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" in 1939, the pioneering period ended and a prodigious chain reaction set in as the recovered alcoholics carried their message to still others.  In the next years alcoholics flocked to A.A. by tens of thousands, largely aas the result of excellent and continuous publicity freely given by magazines and newspapers throughout the world.  Clergymen and doctors alike rallied to the new movement, giving it unstinted support and endorsement.
This startling expansion brought with it very severe growing pains.  Proof that alcoholics could recover had been made.  But it was by no means sure that such great numbers of yet erratic people could live and work together with harmony and good effect.  
Everywhere there arose threatening questions of membership, money, personal relations, public relations, management of groups, clubs, and scores of other perplexities.  It was out of this vast welter of explosive experience that the Twelve Traditions took form and were first published in 1946 and later confirmed at A.A.'s First International Convention, held at Cleveland in 1950.  The Tradition section of this volume portrays in some detail the experience which finally produced the Twelve Traditions and so gave A.A. its present form, substance, and unity.
As A.A. now enters maturity, it has begun to reach into forty foreign lands.*  In the view of its friends, this is but the beginning of its unique and valuable service.
It is hoped that this volume will afford all who read it a close-up view of the principles and forces which have make Alcoholics Anonymous what it is."
*In 2009, A.A. is established in more than 180 countries. 
     Obviously, I can not go into much detail each of the traditions, for that would require writing a whole book on the subject.  However, I will give each Tradition in it's "long form" and then give my opinion as to how the church fairs in comparison.  Again, this is not an attempt to discredit the church as an institution that does amazing good in the world, but only an exposition of possible alternatives and/or supplements that have been tried and tested by A.A. and have shown incredibly successful results.

Last but not least, we will need to define some terms that will be used in the following text.  In the sections addressing the church, we will redefine:

membership of Alcoholics Anonymous as "membership of the worldwide Church"
A.A. group as "Ecclesia Clear Lake"
group conscience as "collective voice of the congregation"
alcoholism as "oppression"
recover as "grow spiritually"  s
sobriety, recovery as "freedom"
regional committee, General Service Board, General Service Committee as "our referees"
Twelfth Step work as "mission work"


Tradition One
"Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole.  A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die.  Hence our common welfare comes first.  But individual welfare follows close afterward."

Questions for the church:
1.  Does Ecclesia Clear Lake acknowledge that it's a small part of a great whole?  
2.  Does Ecclesia Clear Lake acknowledge that the Church must continue to live or ECL will surely die?  
3.  Does ECL place the common welfare of the Church first?
4.  Does the welfare of ECL follow closely afterward the welfare of the Church?

Tradition Two
"For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience."

Questions for the church:
1.  For ECL's purpose, is a loving God our one ultimate authority? 
2.  Does a loving God express Himself through the collective voice of the congregation?  
3.  Does the congregation have a collective voice in decision-making?  

Tradition Three
"Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism.  Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover.  Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity.  Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation."

Questions for the church:
1.  Does ECL membership include all who suffer from oppression?  
2.  Does ECL refuse anyone who wishes to grow spiritually?  
3.  Does ECL membership to the Church depend upon money?  
4.  Does ECL membership to the Church depend upon conformity?  
5.  Are there groups of two's and three's who are gathered together for spiritual growth within ECL?  
6.  Does ECL recognize groups of two's and three's who are gathered together for spiritual growth as churches?
7.  Does ECL have any affiliations not adherent to spiritual growth? 

Tradition 4
"With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience.  But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted.  And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board.  On such issues our common welfare is paramount."

Questions for the church:
1.  Is ECL responsible to any other authority than it's own collective congregational voice?  
2.  Does ECL's plans ever concern the welfare of neighboring churches?
3.  When ECL's plans concern the welfare of neighboring churches, do we consult them?
4.  Does ECL ever take action that might greatly affect the Church?
5.  Do ECL's referees ever take action that might greatly affect the Church?
6.  If ECL takes action that might greatly affect the Church, do we consult our referees?
7.  When taking action that might greatly affect the Church, do we acknowledge that the common welfare of the Church is paramount?

Tradition 5
"Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose - that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers."

Questions for the church:
1.  Is ECL a spiritual entity?
2.  Is the primary purpose of ECL that of carrying its message to the oppressed?

Tradition 6
"Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim.  We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to A.A. should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual.  An A.A. group, as such, should never go into business.  Secondary aids to A.A., such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups.  Hence such facilities ought not to use the A.A. name.  Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them.  For clubs, A.A. managers are usually preferred.  But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside A.A. - and medically supervised.  While an A.A. group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied.  An A.A. group can bind itself to no one."

Questions for the church:
1.  Do problems of money easily divert ECL from its primary spiritual aim?
2.  Do problems of property easily divert ECL from its primary spiritual aim?
3.  Do problems of authority easily divert ECL from its primary spiritual aim?
4.  Does ECL separately incorporate any considerable property of genuine use to the Church?
5.  Does ECL separately manage any considerable property of genuine use to the Church?
6.  Is ECL dividing any considerable property of genuine use to the Church from its primary spiritual aim?
7.  Does ECL believe it should ever go into business as a church?
8.  Has ECL gone into business as a church?
9.  Do ECL own any secondary aids to the Church (food pantries, homeless shelters, detox centers, etc.)?
10.  Has ECL incorporated its secondary aids?
11.  Has ECL set apart its secondary aids?
12.  If necessary, could ECL freely discard all secondary aids?
13.  Do any of ECL's secondary aids use the name of the Church?  
14.  Is the management of ECL's secondary aids the sole responsibility of those people (members/non-members) who financially support them?
15.  Does ECL cooperate with anyone it chooses?
16.  Does ECL's cooperation ever go so far as actual or implied affiliation?
17.  Does ECL's cooperation ever go so far as actual or implied endorsement?
18.  Has ECL bound itself to anyone?

Tradition 7
"The A.A. groups themselves ought to be fully self-supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members.  We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligations whatever, is unwise.  Then, too, we view with much concern those A.A.treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose.  Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority."

Questions for the church:
1.  Is ECL fully self-supported by the voluntary contributions of its own members?
2.  Has ECL achieved this ideal?
3.  Does ECL believe that any public solicitation of funds using the name of the Church is highly dangerous?
4.  Has ECL ever solicited any public funds using the name of the Church?
5.  Does ECL believe that acceptance of large gifts from any outside source is unwise?
6.  Does ECL accept large gifts from any outside sources?
7.  Does ECL believe that acceptance of contributions carrying any obligations is unwise?
8.  Does ECL accept any contributions that carry any obligations?
9.  Does ECL continue to accumulate funds beyond a prudent reserve?
10.  Does ECL continue to accumulate funds for no stated Church purpose?
11.  Does ECL believe that futile disputes over property will destroy its spiritual heritage?
12.  Does ECL believe that futile disputes over money will destroy its spiritual heritage?
13.  Does ECL believe that futile disputes over authority will destroy its spiritual heritage?

Tradition 8
"Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional.  We define professionalism as the occupation of counseling alcoholics for fees or hire.  But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we might otherwise have to engage nonalcoholics.  Such special services may be well recompensed.  But our usual A.A. Twelfth Step work is never to be paid for."

Questions for the church:
1.  Is ECL remaining nonprofessional?
2.  Is ECL counseling the oppressed for fees or hire?
3.  Does ECL employ the oppressed where they are going to perform those services which it might otherwise have to engage un-oppressed?
4.  Does ECL recompense its oppressed who perform those services?
5.  Does ECL believe that its usual mission work is never to be paid for?

Tradition 9
"Each A.A. group needs the least possible organization.  Rotating leadership is the best.  The small group may elect its secretary, the large group its rotating committee, and groups of a large metropolitan area their central or intergroup committee, which often employs a full-time secretary.  The trustees of the General Service Board are, in effect, our A.A. General Service Committee.  They are the custodians of our A.A. Tradition and the receivers of voluntary A.A. contributions by which we maintain our A.A. General Service Office at New York.  They are authorized by the groups to handle our overall public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal newspaper, the A.A. Grapevine.  All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in A.A. are but trusted and experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real authority from their titles; they do not govern.  Universal respect is the key to their usefulness.

Questions for the church:
1.  Does ECL have the least possible organization?
2.  Does ECL rotate its leadership?
3.  Has ECL elected a secretary?
4.  Do ECL's referees provide services for ECL?  
5.  Are the referees of ECL being good custodians of Church traditions?
6.  Is ECL contributing anything to its referees?  
7.  Do the referees of ECL handle our overall public relations well?
8.  Do the referees of ECL guarantee the integrity of our principal communication elements?
9.  Are ECL's referees guided in the spirit of service?
10.  Are ECL's referees trusted servants of the Church?
11.  Are ECL's leaders trusted servants of the Church?
12.  Are ECL's referees experienced servants of the Church?
13.  Are ECL's leaders experienced servants of the Church?
14.  Do ECL's leaders derive any real authority from their titles?
15.  Do ECL's leaders govern?
16.  Is the key to the usefulness of ECL's leaders universal respect?

Tradition 10
"No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues - particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion.  The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one.  Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever."

Questions for the church:
1.  Does ECL ever, in such a way as to involve the Church, express any opinion on outside controversial issues?
2.  Does ECL ever, in such a way as to involve the Church, express any opinion on politics?
3.  Does ECL ever, in such a way as to involve the Church, express any opinion on sin reform?
4.  Does ECL ever, in such a way as to involve the Church, express any opinion on sectarian religion?
5.  Does ECL ever oppose anyone?
6.  Is ECL willing to express no view whatever concerning such matters?

Tradition 11
"Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity.  We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising.  Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not to be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed.  Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion.  There is never need to praise ourselves.  We feel it better to let our friends recommend us."

Questions for the church:
1.  Is ECL's relations with the general public characterized by personal anonymity?
2.  Does ECL avoid sensational advertising?
3.  Does ECL publicly broadcast names and pictures of its church members?
4.  Does ECL publicly film names and pictures of its church members?
5.  Does ECL publicly print names and pictures of its church members?
6.  Are ECL's public relations guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion?
7.  Does ECL believe there is never need to praise itself?
8.  Does ECL let its friends commend it rather than praising itself?

Tradition 12
"And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance.  It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility.  This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all."

Questions for the church:
1.  Does ECL believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance?
2.  Does ECL place principles before personalities?
3.  Is ECL practicing a genuine humility?
4.  Are any of ECL's blessings spoiling it?
5.  Is ECL living in thankful contemplation of God?