A.A. “Conference-approved” Literature That Frequently Mentions the Bible and God
Yep! You heard or read that correctly
A Two-Part Discussion of the Long Overlooked Big Book Personal Stories
Copyright 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Part One: A.A.’s “Experience, Strength and Hope” Publication
Protests by the Hundreds and Hundreds
“You can’t say that!” “You can’t read that!” “You can’t put that book on the table!” “You are reading from something that’s not ‘Conference-approved!’” “You can’t sell that here because it’s not ‘Conference-approved?” “Furthermore, it’s a ‘violation’ of the Twelve Traditions!”
For at least forty years in meetings, this or that AA has winced and sometimes shouted reproof when someone mentioned the Bible, talked about Jesus Christ, or read from some literature that early AAs read. Sometimes it was about verses from the Bible. (That happened to me when I read from the Book of James to an audience of at least 800 AAs with Dr. Bob’s son and the principal author of “Pass It On” and an Oxford Grouper sharing). Nobody left the meeting. But secretive, indirect phone calls from my grand-sponsor and sponsor started ringing as soon as the Conference was over. Secretive, but clearly intended to intimidate.
There was also the claim that anything in A.A. before 1939 and the Big Book was not really A.A. Also the claim that the Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship founded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935 was “pre-A.A.” You can still find that distortion floating around on websites today.
And, since the First Edition of the Big Book had not been copyrighted by the A.A. hierarchy, it too fell under the condemnation of not Conference-approved. So a least a generation heard and passed along the view that, if Bill W. hadn’t said it and copyrighted it and received royalties from it, it somehow should not be touched, used, or approved in an A.A. meeting.
This attempted suppression—the early A.A. program blackout—was often excused by calling the early A.A. practices and principles the “flying blind” period or the “trial and error” period. Or other denigrating names even though the practices were launched and used by Bob and Bill themselves. And those “flying blind” and similar phrases can still be found in A.A. Conference-approved literature today.
The shackles began to fall. The doors began to open. The literature began to appear—though sometimes through non-A.A. publishers. And then: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. published in 2003 Experience, Strength and Hope: Stories from the First Three Editions of Alcoholics Anonymous. And the copyright page, bearing date 2003, said: “This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature.”
There were caveats—warnings—in the introductory portions. But pages ix-x did say:
The importance of these personal stories cannot be overstated. Co-founder Bill W. articulated it in a 1954 letter: “The story section of the Big Book is far more important than most of us think. . . . it is the written equivalent of hearing speakers at an A.A. meeting; it is our show window of results. . . . Thus in the pages that follow, you will meet a large number and variety of A.A.’s from earlier times, whose stories are no longer part of our basic text, but are most emphatically part of our common experience.
Page xi said,
As a collection, therefore, they greatly enrich our knowledge of “what we used to be like” as a Fellowship. Most of the A.A. writers got sober before the Twelve Traditions had been adopted, many of them in that chaotic period when A.A. was flying blind
and learning from its many mistakes. (italics added)
Do you, as an intelligent reader, think the First Edition personal testimonies were merely a “collection” of writings from bygone days in a period when early AAs nonetheless called themselves a Christian Fellowship, were likened to First Century Christianity, were studying the Bible daily, were having old fashioned prayer meetings daily, were observing Quiet Time daily, were using Christian devotionals daily, were reading Christian literature daily, were witnessing daily, and were insisting on a belief in God and taking newcomers upstairs to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?
If so, then how does a reader explain the fact that the Big Book itself stated the personal stories enabled each member, in his own language, and from his own point of view, to tell how he established his relationship with God. Was that just an antiquated explanation or collection of flying blind or trial and error thoughts about how the Creator had entered their lives in a way that was truly miraculous? Were that the case, both the book and the stories were useless. Not!
Was this just what “we used to be like?”
Did the Twelve Traditions somehow trump or supersede God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, prayer, and Quiet Time?
Were the daily Akron fellowship meetings in Dr. Bob’s home and other homes, and those at T. Henry‘s Wednesday night meetings nothing more than pointlessly “chaotic?”
Did the sober teachers of AAs and at the meetings—Anne Ripley Smith, Henrietta Buckler Seiberling, T. Henry Williams, Clarace Williams, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rev. W. Irving Harris, and Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman merely “fly blind” and make “many mistakes?”
That’s not how Bill Wilson explained the God-given results surveyed in November, 1937.
Do you really believe that, collectively, the teachers and students who were at it daily--reading the Bible, praying, and asking God for guidance--were wasting lives in a riotous “chaotic” program of far less importance and value than the often vulgar, “relationship-questing,” and mindless chatter of uninstructed diverse “meeting makers” today? Or are drunks, drunks? Were drunks, drunks? Are addicts, addicts? Were addicts, addicts? Were and are they just people who have unmanageable lives and cannot help themselves or be helped by others? People simply flying blind toward God and making mistakes along the way?
That is not what the First, the Second, the Third, or the Fourth editions tell us. The “mistakes” and shortcomings of the afflicted can scarcely be compared with the truth of the Bible that early AAs studied daily.
Yet there has been even more vacuous opining
Page 2 says:
The stories that follow, reprinted from the first edition, take us back to the “trial and error” days. . . They were still a little unsure and afraid of this “thing” they had found, still groping for clear guidelines, still largely “uneducated about their alcoholism.” (italics added)
[Note the “trial and error,” “thing,” “groping,” “guidelines,” and “uneducated” words. These while the Big Book spoke—not of trial and error—but of finding God, not a “thing.” The Big Book did not use such mischaracterized words as “groping,” “guidelines,” and “uneducated.” The First Edition personal stories and testimonies were talking not about uneducated groping or “guidelines.” They talked of a program where Guidance was sought directly from God and also from His Word—the Bible.]
Much of the terminology is strange to us: they wrote of “former alcoholics,” described their recovery as a “cure,” and referred to alcohol in such terms as “John Barleycorn.”
[Once again, the language of the Big Book itself, on page 191 of its latest edition, still carries the statement of Bill Wilson (and also A.A. Number Three) that the “Lord had
cured” Bill of his “terrible disease.” And did not that “cure”—so plainly and simply described—truly make all three of the first alcoholics “former alcoholics?”]
Do the historical facts validate the foregoing allegations of groping, unguided stupidity?
Page 3 recants slightly. It says:
. . . the differences between the stories we hear today and those written in 1939 are not important. These writers were alcoholics, and their experience rings true to any A.A. member of any time or place.
Who was doing the investigating, teaching, and writing?
Dr. Bob and Bill’s many mentors deserve the first attention:
Dr. Bob was teacher, learner, and leader! He had graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy; graduated from Dartmouth; attended the following medical schools—University of Michigan, Rush Medical College, further medical training at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; and at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia; and also been awarded a highly coveted internship at City Hospital. Moreover, he was thoroughly trained in the Bible by his father, a judge and Academy examiner; by his mother, a state library commissioner, Academy teacher, and writer; by YMCA workers and Academy teachers; and by Congregational pastors, teachers, and deacons.
Educated in his Christian home, church, Sunday school, and prayer meetings. Active in the very demanding and serious Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. Required to attend daily chapel with sermons, hymns, and Scripture reading; and attend weekly Bible studies.
He said he had received excellent training in the Bible as a youngster. And his ready and constant references to the Bible in early A.A. bespeak that training—something that Bill applauded more than once. And then, in preparation for sobriety, he read the Bible from cover to cover three times as well as refreshing his memory and reading at least an hour every night.
Anne Ripley Smith, Bob’s wife, was a graduate of Wellesley and had been a teacher.
Henrietta Buckler Seiberling was a graduate of Vassar and an avid Bible student and reader.
T. Henry Williams was a brilliant and successful inventor and a former Sunday School teacher.
Clarace Williams had extensive training to be a missionary.
Dr. William D. Silkworth was considered the leading authority on alcoholism at that time.
The long-dead Professor William James and the Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung were considered tops in the areas where their work and studies had contributed ideas.
Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., was a graduate of Princeton, a YMCA leader, an author of more than 30 books and countless articles and sermons, and held many prestigious positions in the Episcopal Church.
Frank Amos, who investigated the Akron program for the Rockefeller group, was hardly “flying blind” when visited Akron, specifically summarized their program, and specifically described their successes. Nor were the Rockefeller people who met with the AAs and were elated to find that theirs was “First Century Christianity at work.” All the Rockefellers were devoted Christian readers and spokespeople—not just “trial and error” parishioners.
Bill Wilson himself
Somehow, in 2003, with both Dr. Bob and Bill and all the others, dead and gone, a “Conference-approved” publication then belatedly labeled the “uneducated,” “blind” bunch mentioned above.
In a sense, the johnny-come-lately editors in 2002 were rejecting and disparaging the very education and religious training that had characterized the leadership of Bill Wilson, and of Dr. Bob before him.
Bill was trained in East Dorset, Vermont by his sage grandfather Fayette Griffith; by the pastor and people at East Dorset Congregational Church; by his Oxford Group friends—Ebby Thacher, Rowland Hazard, Shep Cornell, and Cebra Graves, who all had Christian training; then by the ministers, teachers, and lay Congregationalists at Burr and Burton Academy, and then by a similar group at Norwich Military Academy. Bill’s writing capability and products alone marked him as a man who was hardly flying blind, tinkering with trial and error, and uneducated in the medical and religious aspect of the program that he heard and learned frequently from his friends and mentors, Dr. William Silkworth, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Rev. W. Irving Harris, Dr. Frank Buchman, and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
The Explanatory First Edition Tool Just Published by Dover Publications
Shortly, we will review the specifics of the First Edition Big Book and how its personal stories actually explain the original Akron Christian Fellowship program and boldly talk of the Bible, God, and Jesus Christ. Ironically, because there was yet to be a Big Book and a body of steps, they were not even talking about the program Bill had just extracted largely from Rev. Sam Shoemaker and embodied in the language that preceded the personal stories.
More important, perhaps, in the second part of this article, we will review the purpose, contents, and conclusions found in the introduction to the recently published book by Dover Publications: Alcoholics Anonymous “The Big Book: The Original 1939 Edition Bill W. With a New Introduction by Dick B. (Minoeola, New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 2011).