A.A. STUDY GROUPS:
Planning, Starting, Conducting One?
Anonymous. All rights reserved
Probably the most beneficial thing in the author's
learning of the recovery program (as embodied in the Big Book and the Twelve
Steps) were the Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars. They did a line by line study
of the first 103 pages. They made the unclear clear. They did it with humor,
with purpose, and with brevity.
Many have wanted to do something similar with A.A.'s
roots, as a complement to the Big Book study. This is being done in some areas.
But there can be a much more precise approach, one that will complement the Big
Book and enable spiritual growth within A.A. itself.
Some are intimidated by this. Even the Joe and
Charlie Big Book Seminars have been subjected to the comments that they violate
the Traditions and that they speak of non-Conference approved literature. But
the Seminars have stood the test of time, with A.A.'s own archivist from New
York often participating. Not so easy when the roots have been involved, but it
is simply because AAs don't know their own history and traditions.
Here are some pointers:
- Every early A.A. meeting in Akron
and many in New York, involved discussion of the Bible and Christian subject
matter. They involved use of outside literature, particularly The Upper Room
and My Utmost for His Highest. Dr. Bob's Bible is still taken to the podium
at the King School Group meeting in Akron (A.A. No. 1).
- There is no Tradition that can,
should, or does forbid discussion of A.A. history or the Bible or literature
that early A.A.'s used. Box 459 has an excellent article on that point. The
article can be obtained from General Services in New York or from the
- Learn well the words of the Long
Form of 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."
- Learn well the precise words of
Long Form Tradition Ten: "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."
- The foregoing facts have not
stopped people from objecting or trying to ban the Bible, early A.A.
literature, and discussion of the foregoing at this or that meeting. One
group was removed from the meeting list because it studied Emmet Fox's The
Sermon on the Mount. That did not make the action correct. But AAs who want
to learn, study, and grow in the roots which were part and parcel of their
history should not be intimidated by erroneous comments, actions, or
interpretations, however sincere, well-intentioned, or vociferous. Thus
Roman Catholics have been holding retreats for AAs for decades. Bill Wilson
often cited this as an example of why Bible study was permissible in A.A.
The matters that the traditions discuss have to do with SECTARIAN or
DENOMINATIONAL religious practices. A.A.'s Preamble so states.
- The point of all this is that AAs
today are searching for ways to remain within A.A. and, at the same time,
learn more about the language A.A.'s Big Book, Twelve Steps, and Fellowship
use. They want to remain in A.A. and practice Eleventh Step spiritual growth
by learning about, studying, and discussing "helpful books." The Big Book
does not say, "There are many helpful books also" [p. 87]; but don't you
dare read or discuss them. The Big Book does not say, "Suggestions about
these may be obtained from one's priest, minister, or rabbi" [p. 87]; but
don't ever mention this in an A.A. meeting. The Big Book does not say, "Be
quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they have to
offer" [p. 87]; but be sure they are never seen, discussed, or quoted in an
- AAs need to know at least this
much about their own history. The Reverend Sam Shoemaker and Father Ed
Dowling, S.J., spoke to all AAs convened at A.A.'s Twentieth Convention.
Their remarks are contained in Conference Approved literature (A.A. Comes of
Age). The Reverend Sam Shoemaker and The Right Reverend Monsignor John J.
Dougherty spoke to all AAs at their next International Convention, which was
at Long Beach. The Reverend Sam Shoemaker wrote many articles for the A.A.
Grapevine. Remarks of The Reverend Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick are quoted at
length in A.A.'s Conference Approved A.A. Comes of Age.
- Whatever some may think, A.A. has
no index of forbidden books. A.A. has never excluded priests or sisters or
ministers from its meetings even when they were not drunks. A.A. has studied
the Bible in its meetings for years. And whenever two or three AAs are
gathered together for sobriety, they may, as they have done for years,
discuss the Bible, discuss the books they have read, and compare these to
Big Book and Step concepts. They may discuss any and every facet of the
Eleventh Step and the Big Book comments about it. It may well be that they
would catch flack if they were a group of Christian Scientists, Roman
Catholics, Moslems, or atheists who exclude others, call themselves a
Christian Science A.A. Group, and confine their approach to a Moslem or
Roman Catholic view of A.A. But the author has heard there are atheist A.A.
groups, gay and lesbian groups, young people's groups, and so on.
Apparently, these affiliations have not resulted in evictions, whether that
would be justified or not. In short, A.A.'s inclusiveness, does not mean
exclude thinking or free speech.
- Finally, if in doubt, write to the
New York office as people have done for years. Both Bill Wilson and A.A.'s
just retired archivist have fielded many a question. The result was not a
prohibition, but a sharing of A.A. experience.
Author Dick B. has written several
books and many articles on A.A. study groups. Some of the books include By
the Power of God, The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolutes
Essentials, When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, Why Early A.A. Succeeded, The
Good Book-Big Book Guidebook, and Real Twelve Step Fellowship History.
These can be found described and can be ordered through
http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml. Dick B.
has also written many articles, which are listed on his main website articles
page, and cover such subjects as James Club groups, Bible study groups, and How
to Form a Study Group.
There are many of these basic
history groups now going strong around the globe, and I list them from time to
time. Here is a list of articles written to guide you.
More and more folks are writing
and asking for instructions on forming, conducting, publicizing, and resourcing
such groups. And while I try to answer all inquiries personally, I refer you to
the following articles posted on my main website, my personal A.A. history blog
site, and our aa-history.com site. I list them here by the titles you will find
on the article navigation bars:
The Articles as Listed on
A.A. History Study Meetings
A.A. Study Groups
Guide for Recovery Groups
Starting Your Journey
Studying the Steps
Study Group Topics
The James Club Group
Christian Track Treatment
Guidebook for Christians
New Study Groups
Five new titles have come out that
will be of specific use (http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml)
A New Way In –
Twelve Steps for
Real Twelve Step
Fellowship History –
of Bill W. –
the Sources and Founding of Alcoholics Anonymous
More articles are also coming out
each month on this study group topic, and those who are conducting groups are
sending me their flyers which are available to readers on request.