by an anonymous South Bend professor
A.A.’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions are excellent tools for guiding us away from deeds of intolerance and persecution. Let us see how that took place. The Third Tradition was especially important. On the surface, it merely declared that “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol.” But that turned out to have broad and sweeping implications.
In 1937, when the movement was only two years old, the first test case walked in. This was a man who asked to join the A.A. group in Akron, OH, who told them he was an alcoholic but that he was afflicted with another addiction; with a worse stigma than alcoholism.” He was a “sex deviate,” that is, a homosexual. Dr. Bob finally asked the simple question, “What would the Master do?” The man was allowed to join, he stayed sober and passed A.A.’s message to dozens of other alcoholics, who in turn passed it on to thousands of others. His sexual orientation never created any problems.
Not long after that, a man asked to join the New York City group who was an atheist. He spent a good deal of time not only attacking all the other A.A. group members who believed in God, but doing so in a highly obnoxious fashion. Again the A.A. group was confronted with the fact that because of Tradition Three they could not exclude him from their meetings.
The first edition of the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous” was already being drafted, and the man simply pointed out to them that the forward contained the words: “the only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking.” The atheist met the only requirement for membership and they could not kick him out.
Within the “Historic Heritage” (cannot be changed) of A.A.’s 12-step program, other precedents were also established during the early years. Protestants and Catholics found that they had to cooperate with one another and let go of the old religious animosities.
Although the Oxford Group was totally Protestant, A.A. broke with them and had no such religious requirements which allowed Sister Ignatia the freedom to set up an A.A. treatment program in her alcoholic ward at Saint Thomas Hospital, in Akron, OH. When Father Ralph Pfau set up the first experimental one-day “spiritual retreat” at the Little Sisters of the Poor, they had sixty-seven participants of whom twenty or so were Catholics and the other two thirds were Protestants.
When Sister Ignatia tried to lead a Jewish man into the Catholic chapel at St. Thomas in order to do A.A.’s Third Prayer, he told her as a Jew, he could not go into a Catholic chapel kneel and pray.
Mrs. Marty Mann and other early women pioneers also made it clear that Tradition Three did not allow discrimination against women.
It took longer and involved more controversy before the first black members were admitted to A.A., but the racial barriers eventually collapsed because of Tradition Three’s “only requirement” clause, and yet another precedent was established.
By the time Twelve Steps and 12 Traditions had been written in 1952, these experiences had been generalized into the principle that A.A. members had to practice tolerance of all people, regardless of “race, creed, politics, and language.” They could not discriminate against beggars, tramps, people who had been in insane asylums and penitentiaries, prostitutes, or any other group of people. No A.A. member can participate in things like the Spanish Inquisition, or condone Nazi death camps while following the true spirit of A.A.’s Twelve Traditions, nor can they be involved with any organized hate groups at all, no matter who a particular group’s target might be. A.A. is not only active in North America but also in more than 100 foreign countries and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol. For any chronic alcoholic, to hate or become obsessed with revenge is to die. To be continued.
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