This week I’ve been researching the history of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and getting up to speed on all things related to addiction and Christian addiction recovery—for that new book project I mentioned last week. Funny thing is, my research interests seem to be once again relating to that demographic we know best as the “spiritual but not religious.”
It turns out that Bill Wilson and Sam Shoemaker, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, were Christians who cared a whole lot about helping people with addiction, and who believed the root issue for people struggling with the disease of alcoholism was ultimately spiritual in nature. Their response (to what they believed was essentially a spiritual problem) was to put into practice some key spiritual principles for daily living that they believed would help to heal and restore broken lives. The centerpiece of this embodied spirituality was the “12 Steps,” at the core of which is submission to a Power greater than oneself (God). Since AA’s founding in 1935, these simple resolutions have helped millions of people find hope and healing from alcoholism and other addictions.
It is notable that much of this great work of healing transformation has come outside church communities (despite AA meetings often still taking place in the basements or fellowship halls of church buildings, or, even ending with The Lord’s Prayer): many of the people who attend AA groups would probably not darken the doors of an actual church worship service, and would prefer to call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” But this fact has not stopped one scholar from likening AA to a “Third Reformation” in the history of Christianity.
What is it about the AA that makes it a place of welcome and redemption? And, what might the church learn from AA groups? How might the church become more of an authentically spiritual community that is itself a place of transformation and restoration, not just for addicts, but for all broken people who are longing for a genuine, life-changing relationship with their Higher Power? These will be a few of the many questions I’ll be asking in the days to come, and as usual, you’re invited to weigh in.