Recovery Myth-Buster: A.A. Is A Christian Organization
Non-Christians think A.A. is a Christian organization and Christians question whether A.A. can be compatible with Christian theology. Is A.A. Christian, anti-Christian, or none of the above?
The answers to these questions come from A.A.’s early history. Several of the founders of A.A. would have labeled themselves Christians and as they developed the 12 Steps, they drew heavily on the teachings of the Oxford Group, a Christian organization that had developed practical steps for living. The founders saw that these principles were universal and that they could be applied to finding a solution for alcoholism. Before there was a Big Book, meetings and devotions were often based on Scripture from the New Testament. Does this mean A.A. is a Christian organization? Not exactly.
While A.A. has roots in the Christian tradition, it was decided by the group that A.A. would be of greatest benefit to the masses of suffering alcoholics if it did not establish a religious foundation or affiliation. Having seen the sectarianism that has the power to dismantle even the best intentioned of organizations and groups, the founders elected to develop a program that was based on universal principles without a specifically Christian bent. Though these principles are often detected within the pages of the Bible, they are also elements of many world religions.
While the development of faith in a Higher Power is a necessary element for the working of the 12 Steps, the A.A. literature does not define the identity of this God. Christians will naturally define their Higher Power as the Trinitarian God and they are free to do so. But adherents of other faiths are also welcome to define their Higher Power in accordance with their own doctrine. Those who come to the group as atheists or agnostics are encouraged, initially at least, to see the group as a power greater than themselves and to put their trust in that.
“Beyond a Higher Power, as each of us may envision Him, A.A. must never, as a society, enter the field of dogma or theology. We can never become a religion in that sense, lest we kill our usefulness by getting bogged down in theological contention.” (Bill W., Letter, 1954)
The purpose of this approach was not to diminish the Christian faith or to promote universalism or polytheism. The aim was to open the door wide to those who were dying in their alcoholism and desperately in need of a solution. Rightly, the founders understood that many of those sufferers were non-Christians and non-religious. They knew that placing a Christian label on the organization would shut the door on untold numbers of alcoholics who wanted help but didn’t want church.
The founders also realized the destructive power of sectarianism and denominationalism. Theological arguments and doctrinal differences would naturally arise and they believed that A.A. was not to be the forum for these debates. A.A. was a program with a spiritual foundation—there was no way around that. But how that spirituality was to be defined was up to the individual addict.
Today the 12-Step groups adhere to this principle of religious non-affiliation. The door is open to people of all faiths. Though many find God or become Christians through the program, they would likely never have gone so far as to enter a meeting if they thought this faith was a requirement for membership.
“While A.A. has restored thousands of poor Christians to their churches, and has made believers out of atheists and agnostics, it has also made good A.A.’s out of those belonging to the Buddhist, Islamic, and Jewish faiths. For example, we question very much whether our Buddhist members in Japan would have ever joined this Society had A.A. officially stamped itself a strictly Christian movement.
You can easily convince yourself of this by imagining that A.A. started among the Buddhists and that they then told you you couldn’t join them unless you became a Buddhist, too. If you were a Christian alcoholic under these circumstances, you might well turn your face to the wall and die.” (Bill W., Letter, 1954)