From: "Dick Burns" Email: email@example.com
To: "Dick Burns" Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Three Christian Women Leaders and Teachers of Bible Study in Alcoholics Anonymous
Date: Sun, 25 May 2008 21:03:39 -1000
Three Alcoholics Anonymous Christian Women Leaders:
They Studied, Taught, and Discussed the Bible in A.A.
By Dick B.
© 2008 by Anonymous. All rights reserved
About A.A., the Bible, and Christian Women in Recovery Today
They Studied, Taught, and Discussed the Bible in A.A.
By Dick B.
© 2008 by Anonymous. All rights reserved
About A.A., the Bible, and Christian Women in Recovery Today
The following sound like simple questions for which there must be simple answers today. And that is the case. The problem is that many women in Alcoholics Anonymous, in Al-Anon, in 12 Step programs, in recovery programs, and in Christian recovery groups just don’t know the real facts that can readily provide them with the answers.
Are there women in recovery groups today? Of course there are. This, despite the fact that the earliest A.A. fellowships consisted of men only. And are there Christian women in recovery groups today? Of course there are. This, in spite of the fact that 12-Step literature pouring out of service offices, treatment programs, and social agencies suggest you don’t have to believe in God or make a decision for Christ in order to recover from alcoholism and other addictions.
Do women have to be or become Christians in order to belong to A.A., receive treatment, or recover from alcoholism. The answer is a very clear “No.” But can women and men believe in God, be a Christian, study the Bible, and read Christian literature today and still be active and in recovery and recovery groups today. The answer is an equally clear “Yes.”
Are there Christian women in recovery and recovery groups who study or wish to study the Bible as part of their recovery effort? Once again, the answer is “Yes.” Of course, there are. This is the case even though women and others are intimidated in today’s fellowships—if they mention the Bible, Jesus Christ, or religion in meetings, groups, conferences, or to their sponsors. Have I personally seen that situation? The answer is “Yes.” All too often.
Are A.A., Al-Anon, most 12 Step fellowships, and treatment programs “Christian” today? They most certainly are not—at least not A.A. or Al-Anon, or even a substantial majority of anonymous fellowships and treatment programs.
Given this strange assortment of facts, is there a place today in A.A., Al-Anon, 12 Step fellowships, and treatment programs for Christian women who want to participate fully in their societies and programs and still study the Bible? A place for Christian women who desire to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ? A place for women who devotedly choose to attend, talk about, and share facts about some Christian church of their choice—be it Roman Catholic, Protestant, or non-denominational? And the answer is most assuredly “Yes.” They can do this freely, openly, and sincerely even in the face of the oft-heard rumbling in recovery halls today about some “higher power” that is not Almighty God, about a supposed “spirituality” that has nothing to do with Christianity or the Bible, and about an alleged difference between A.A. as “spiritual” and A.A. as a society that rests on countless Biblical and Christian words, roots, language, historical principles, and practices. And also a society that regularly studies and quotes a basic text that patently uses Christian language. It refers to God and to Bible verses taken straight from Scripture. It urges concepts about doing God’s will—concepts that definitely necessitate a belief in Almighty God. These truths are firm whether AAs talk about “a” god of their understanding, “a” power greater than themselves, or some great, undefined “Reality.” These curious and often contradictory usages do not make A.A. Christian or Biblical. They simply contract some basic, biblical ideas. But they do plainly point to the religious wellsprings from which A.A. emerged and was constructed.
Those are the facts today.
In brief, today A.A. and many other recovery societies are not, do not purport to be, and do not require members to become, Christian. Nor do they insist on acceptance or mouthing of any Christian creed, statement of Christian faith, Christian literature, or of any association with some particular sect, denomination, or church—Christian or otherwise—as a condition of recovery.
These also are the facts today. But they do not justify close-mindedness, exclusivity, condemnation, criticism, skepticism, atheism, agnosticism, or unbelief. In fact, typifying his own personal belief in, and reliance on, Almighty God, AA Cofounder Dr. Bob wrote at the close of his personal story that follows the basic text:
If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. If you still think you are strong enough to beat the game alone, that is your affair. But if you really and truly want to quit drinking liquor for good and all, and sincerely feel that you must have some help, we know that we have an answer for you. It never fails, if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink. Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!
What was the answer of which Dr. Bob spoke? The help of Almighty God! Dr. Bob made it plain that God never fails those who believe in Him and diligently seek Him.
One could argue endlessly in meetings today about the irrelevance of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Or that you can stop drinking, get sober, and remain sober without religious affiliation, Christian principles, and Biblical practices. In fact, many many people make these points every day. And that is their affair, as Dr. Bob put it. These doubters and critics are not suppressed, chastised, or expelled because of their views in, for, against, or about God. They are free to hold them and express them.
But my own emails, letters, and phone calls—including hundreds from women in recovery—have emerged from the questions posed above. They ask: Is A.A. is anti-Christian? Is it against religion? Is it non-Christian, and opposed to Bible study, religious literature, and church?. The queries arise largely because of frequent vociferous objections from bleeding deacons, because of some individual’s distaste for churches and Christianity, or because of a widespread misunderstanding of what A.A. is, where it came from, or how it really proposes that people get well.
The best approach I know in dealing with arguments hostile to Christians and Christian ideas and statements in recovery today is to raise clearly the following points: (1) Ask the hostile contender to point to some “rule,” some “law,” some “tradition,” or some authoritative announcement from a General Service Conference that holds one may not be a Christian, may not study the Bible, may not mention Jesus Christ, may not attend a Christian church, and may not—in such situations—claim to be, belong to, and embrace A.A., Al-Anon, or 12-Step fellowship principles and practices today. (2) Ask the hostile contender if he or she has read such A.A. materials as DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers and the many other “Conference Approved” pieces of literature that talk about the Bible, the early Christian fellowship, the Christian women who taught early AAs, and the importance of the Book of James, Jesus’ sermon on the mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 in every day recovery meetings and language. (3) Ask the hostile contender if he or she has any knowledge of the early A.A. Christian fellowship in Akron; of its regular study of the Book of James, Jesus’ sermon on the mount, and 1 Corinthians 13; and of the widespread desire among the pioneers to call A.A. The James Club because of the popularity of the Book of James. (4) Ask the hostile contender if he or she is at all familiar with the role that three Christian women played in the founding and development of the program; and with their teaching of the Christian principles, literature, and practices. (5) Ask the contender if he or she has studied the actual history of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Dominating the background of my interest in what the early AAs did, what they believed, and how and why they succeeded, is the Bible itself. Why? Because I believe the Bible tells us about our Creator, His son, and His will, and enables us to understand them. And because I believe the original A.A. program called specifically for “finding” God, for “establishing a relationship with God,” for being of maximum service to God, and for trusting God. I found it important to discover the real Biblical ideas, practices, and teachings in early A.A. Yet, almost as soon as my interest in A.A.’s Bible roots developed, my sponsor and his sponsor insisted to me that people who read the Bible get drunk. My sponsor was no Bible student. And his sponsor had never ever read the Bible. Yet each insisted that it was wrong to discuss the Bible with a newcomer and offer him or her the chance to learn from the Bible. Each vociferously and also surreptitiously objected to a huge A.A. history meeting that was held in Mill Valley, California, where I discussed the Book of James and its place in our history. By that time, I had learned what Dr. Bob read in and recommended in the Bible. I knew what Anne Smith had taught AAs and their families from the Bible. And I had begun to see the Bible’s prominent place in the early A.A. practices and recoveries. This, in turn, led me to realize that it was not only appropriate, but immensely practical and valuable, for AAs—particularly women AAs—to learn the forthright way in which the Bible was authoritatively presented by three women in the fellowship itself.
Why Learn About the Christian Women Pioneers and Leaders
Today there are a number of women employed by and paid to serve A.A. offices today. Some of these women write materials that become published by A.A. and embedded in its meeting chatter. AAs themselves really have no part in that process. Yet these employed women even write letters to members defining what they believe is the nature of A.A.—“spiritual, but not religious.” But they do not represent, do not speak for, and are not acting on behalf of A.A. members—individually or as a group. So it seems appropriate to look (for reliable experience, precedent, guidance, and actual historical facts) to the three important Christian women who had founding or experienced roles in the founding, development, and successes of A.A. fellowships themselves. Moreover, each of these three unpaid Christian women served A.A.’s primary purpose—to help the alcoholic who still suffers—and certainly did hands-on work with drunks.
This is not to make a special case for women leaders, or for Christian women, or for Christian activities in today’s A.A. The focus on these Christian leaders, however, may be more than justified on the following basis. AAs and others in recovery today may show more deference to the Christian roots and relevance of early A.A. ideas if it is known that they developed in an all male society but were taught, fostered, and practiced in the fellowship by women who were extraordinary leaders, teachers, and believers. And it was the work of these Christian women which contributed mightily to the astonishing 75 to 93% documented success rate among seemingly hopeless, medically incurable real alcoholics who went to any lengths to establish their relationship with God and get well. They contributed yesterday. And today!
Perhaps too it is easier to understand and study A.A.’s Christian roots by turning to the hands-on service of its Christian women leaders, rather than dwelling on the moral shortcomings, spiritual wanderings, and warped theological thinking of some of the men who helped found, and then substantially changed, the early fellowship. These men included some who were cheating on their wives, grabbing for profit and prestige, and fostering interest in spiritualism and drugs like LSD. Admittedly, these men weren’t perfect. Few of us are. But the track record of the Christian women perhaps offer a better and more substantial picture of honesty, fidelity, love, and service. And in any case, I believe they have earned mention as vital contributors to the fashioning of A.A. successes arising out of reliance on the Creator..
The Fruitfulness of Learning About Three of These Women Leaders
Four men whose writings or ideas caused Bill Wilson to dub them A.A. Co-founders: As the years rolled on from the actual founding of A.A., Bill Wilson began extending the title of “founder” to a number of men who played roles in influencing Wilson’s own Twelve Step program. These men included Dr. Carl Gustav Jung and his conversion cure theory; Professor William James and his voluminous study of actual conversion cures; Dr. William D. Silkworth and his ideas about the disease of alcoholism and the Great Physician’s ability to cure it; and Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., who—according to Bill himself—taught him most of the specifics incorporated in Bill’s Twelve Step program of recovery. All four men were called “founders” by Bill. And the fruits of their ideas can be seen in the A.A. program’s history.
Sister Ignatia, the Roman Catholic nun, acknowledge by Wilson to have “played a considerable part in the founding of A.A.” Ignatia’s biographer called her the “Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Bill Wilson pointed to her close work with Dr. Bob in ministering to some 5000 alcoholics treated at St. Thomas Hospital operated by the Roman Catholic Church. Her biographer said she seldom met Dr. Bob’s wife in person, but stated that Anne Smith and Sister Ignatia conversed regularly on the telephone. And, though Sister Ignatia, was not an alcoholic, was not a “member” of A.A., and was not a participant in the fellowship’s early founding years, she became an inescapable part of the Akron family that ministered with success to hospitalized alcoholics in their early days. Admirers spoke of her as the “Little Angel.”
But we turn to three women who were leaders within the fellowship itself.
The three Christian women leaders and where to find more about them:
Anne Ripley Smith: It is appropriate to start with Anne Ripley Smith (wife of Dr. Bob, founder of A.A., and the woman Bill Wilson called the “Mother of A.A.”). You can read a few details about her in A.A. Conference Approved literature. But you will find much much more in my titles Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939 (http://www.dickb.com/annesm.shtml); The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml); and Turning Point: A Histsory of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (http://www.dickb.com/Turning.shtml).
Henrietta Buckler Seiberling: Henrietta was the Christian non-alcoholic woman who, in Bill Wilson’s own words, worked together with Anne Smith and “infused much needed spirituality into Bob and me” while Bill lived with the Smiths in the summer of 1935. It was Henrietta’s determination to get Bob sober that brought the Christian fellowship and Dr. Bob to prayer on their knees for his recovery. It was she who received the initial call from Bill Wilson that caused her to declare that Bill was “manna from heaven” and quickly recognized a God-given opportunity to help Dr. Bob. It was she who immediately introduced Bob to Bill at her home. It was she who “called the shots” at most of the early, weekly meetings. And here also, you will find much much more in my titles, Henrietta B. Seiberling: Ohio’s Lady with a Cause (http://dickb.com/HenriettaSeiberling.shtml); The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.dickb.com/Akron.sthml); Turning Point: A History of Early A.A. (http://www.dickb.com/Turning.shml); and my own biographical chapter on Henrietta in the Hazelden title, Women Pioneers.
Grace Moore Snyder: Grace was the woman of God who was steeped in Christian training and upbringing; earned and maintained long-term sobriety as an AA; married A.A. pioneer Clarence H. Snyder; and learned the facts from Clarence about the real, early A.A. program. It was she who joined Clarence Snyder in conducting many many spiritual retreats for AAs and their families. It was she who literally devoted her life to bringing as many kids as possible “to the Lord” (as she put it). You will find the Clarence-Grace details is my title That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous (http://dickb.com/AmazGrac.shtml). There is more about their work in the How It Worked title by Mitch K. and in the Our Legacy book edited and compiled by me for its Three A.A. Oldtimer Clarence Snyder Sponsees and their Wives—which can be read and obtained through www.cametobelieve.org.
Why These Three Christian Women
As to Anne Ripley Smith: There are so many details about Dr. Bob’s wife and her Bible that I can only summarize them here. Anne began reading the Bible to Dr. Bob and Bill throughout the summer of 1935. She kept a journal from 1933 to 1939 in which she recorded all the facets of the early A.A. program. She shared its contents with, and discussed the subjects therein, with Bill and Bob. Also with early AAs and their families at daily morning quiet times at the Smith Home. She often read from and discussed the Bible in the early and later meetings of Akron Number One—later known as the King School Group. She formed the first women’s group as early as 1936—one year after A.A. was founded. She even counseled Lois Wilson in Lois’s trying times when wives were meeting as a “kitchen group” in the Wilson home. She recommended the reading of all sorts of Christian books. And her most significant statement—recorded in her journal—was:
"Of course the Bible ought to be the main Source Book of all. Not a day should pass without reading it.”
And she made specific suggestions about the portions that should be read, and in what order. I was perhaps the first person in recent years to obtain a copy of her Journal and review it carefully for its 64 pages of spiritual principles and practices taught to and discussed with AAs and their families. Anne was a graduate of Wellesley and had experience as a teacher. She and Dr. Bob attended several churches in Akron and took their children to Sunday school there. All the evidence I saw indicated that Anne was particularly able to make newcomers feel welcome, work with the wives of alcoholics, be a regular fixture at early meetings, and counsel both AAs and their families from her journal, at morning quiet times, and in the Smith home where many lived from time to time. One long-time friend Florence B. wrote that Anne was “evangelist, nurse, salesman, employment bureau all in one” and that “Anne’s personal religion was simple and workable. She never sought to rewrite the Bible nor to explain it. She just accepted it.”
Henrietta Buckler Seiberling: I believe I was the first person to interview each of Henrietta’s three children in depth about Henrietta’s A.A. role and about her statements, reading, teaching, and Bible studies. From her son John Seiberling, who attended early A.A. meetings with his mother, I was told the specific verses she treasured in the teachings of Jesus and in the later portions of the New Testament—such as Corinthians and 1 John. Henrietta’s older daughter Mary Seiberling Huhn wrote me a great many letters about her mother’s Bible remarks, beliefs, and studies. And I visited the Town House in New York where her younger daughter Dorothy lived with her husband. There I was permitted to review Henrietta’s own Bible, look at and copy the dozens of handwritten notes she had placed in it, and hear Dorothy’s comments about how her mother viewed the Bible. Henrietta’s entire family attended a Presbyterian church in Akron. And Henrietta’s voluminous reading of Christian books and pamphlets somewhat closely paralleled the same Christian titles that Dr. Bob read and circulated widely among early AAs and their families. Henrietta, a Vassar Graduate, was particularly capable in her teaching Christian materials and frequently did so in the early meetings. She was forceful, articulate, Bible-oriented, and personally compassionate in dealing with AAs.
Grace Moore Snyder: Though her role in Alcoholics Anonymous came much later in the A.A. timeline (as compared to the Anne Smith—Henrietta Seiberling period), it was highly effective, personal, and Bible-oriented. In a very real sense, it paralleled the outspoken enthusiasm for Bible study so clearly evident in the service of Anne Smith and Henrietta Seiberling years before. From her earliest years, Grace worshipped at, attended, and participated in churches. I heard Grace speak at several of the retreats she and Clarence had founded or led. I saw her bring many newcomers to Christ at those retreats. I saw her pray for individuals in need. I heard her frequently refer to the Bible. And, in preparation for the book I wrote about her, my son Ken and I spent a week at her home in Florida learning what she had received and passed along from Clarence. I carefully examined her several thoroughly marked Bibles, heard her talk about important Scriptural ideas and passages, and interviewed her in depth about how she and Clarence had sponsored so many in Alcoholics Anonymous—always stressing salvation and fidelity to the truth of God’s Word. Grace was an attractive, loving, and dedicated servant of our Heavenly Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Encouraging and Useful News for Christian Women
In Recovery Today
In Recovery Today
The recovery population and its present-day membership sources: I can’t pretend to be a surveyor or statistician when it comes to how many incoming newcomers, of which gender and from which source, enter recovery fellowships today. Nor what their religious persuasion may or may not be. In fact, there is probably a totally inadequate understanding of the believer, unbeliever, and non-believer recovery numbers today. But what I can report is information gained from having been much involved in a treatment center and its after-care program, from attending thousands of A.A. meetings around the United States, from receiving hundreds and hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls from all over the world, from connections with the penal and hospital systems, and from wide reading and wide speaking experience in various types of recovery fellowships—religious retreats, Christian recovery conventions and conferences, and congregations of Christian counselors and facilitators. Nonetheless, I make this disclaimer as an “expert” statistician because I simply speak as a male who was a Christian before, during, and after recovery fellowship involvement. I speak also as one who has sponsored more than 100 men, sponsored four women, and often been a speaker at mixed-gender recovery meetings of all kinds. Often, the Bible was discussed, studied, and used.
Where the new people seem to come from: Today’s newcomers come from a wide variety of sources—court ordered attendance, treatment center sponsored attendance, referrals by therapists and psychologists and physicians, referrals by government programs and agencies, referrals by churches and clergy and non-profit agencies, interventions, and by walking through the doors. In almost every case, they come encumbered by a variety of disasters that are drinking-related—job loss, divorce, death, physical illness, accident, abuse, abandonment, injury, debt, loss of a companion or relative or relationship, imprisonment, hospitalization, severe health and withdrawal problems, and just plain despair.
Their religious or irreligious convictions: My own experience as an AA “member,” as a sponsor, and as a recovery observer tells me that few enter our rooms for religious reasons. Few enter our rooms intent on pursuing a religious solution. Moreover, few enter intending to oppose religions, churches, Christianity, Bible study, or prayer. In fact, there is so little mention of A.A. in company with religion that they probably don’t even know there is an issue. Their overwhelming burden of rampant drinking gone bad hardly produces an inevitable prejudice about any particular kind of solution.
The changes that confront them. It doesn’t take long for prejudice to rear its ugly head! These same bewildered, sick, confused, fearful, and despondent new people will soon hear phrases like “A.A. is not religious;” or “A.A. is spiritual but not religious;” or “all you need is a willingness to believe in some power greater than yourself,” or that your “higher power” can be anything you like—from a radiator to Santa Claus, from a door knob to a light bulb, from an A.A. group to good-orderly-direction, from a tree to the Great Pumpkin; or that sharing about your reading of the Bible, being a Christian, going to church, or praying in the name of Jesus is contrary to the “Traditions” and introduces “outside issues” not appropriate for an A.A. meeting; or that reading or bringing to a meeting or discussing any literature that is not “Conference Approved” is forbidden. That’s all news to entering persons. They don’t want to be preached to, be admonished, be taught definitions, or be pounded with higher power nonsense. Further, the nonsense material is usually presented dogmatically, critically, and in an intimidating fashion which quickly forces the wary new person into silence about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, his church, his religion, or his religious beliefs.
Newcomers aren’t looking for a religious battle. The point is that people don’t come to a recovery fellowship looking for a scrap over religious matters. They just hurt. They just suffer. And they just want to believe someone will help them get over and out of their troubles—last, but not least, over their drinking problem yet to be defined in their own minds. I expected and found A.A. to be such a place when I entered the rooms.
The plain language of recovery books, literature, and articles: Strange it is that a newcomer may hear or notice frequent mention of Bible words or verses. Language such as “Creator,” “Maker,” “Father of lights,” “Father,” “Spirit” (all capitalized) and such verses as “Thy will be done,” “Faith without works is dead,” “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and many more. Then there is that plain, simple, easily understood word “God.” It is always capitalized. It was used in the Third edition of A.A.’s basic text over 400 times, counting the capitalized pronouns and Biblical “names” for God. Then there are plain, simple, frequent references to forgiveness, restitution, confession, prayer, meditation, minister, rabbi, priest, God-sufficiency, God’s will, and many more words commonly derived from the Bible, religion, and churches. These words leave no doubt in the mind of the Judges who are called to rule on the nature of A.A. and 12 Step programs that the program is clearly a religious one, albeit a confused conglomeration of religious chatter. And if reasonable judicial experts, religious leaders, doctors, and Bible students use such ideas, how can any new person conclude that God, the Bible, religion, priests, and God’s will are anything but OK. I quickly reached that conclusion. I felt comfortable with God. I felt comfortable talking about the Bible. And I felt comfortable mentioning the Bible fellowship to which I belonged. In fact, my sponsees and I called our group “the God squad.”
But that lasted only until I saw people chastised for bringing a Bible to a meeting, chastised for mentioning Jesus Christ, chastised for discussing New Thought literature written by Emmet Fox, and chastised for even mentioning early A.A.’s Christian origins, roots, principles, and practices. One good friend said she was going to “bar” her women sponsees from coming to a huge A.A. history meeting where A.A.’s New York Archivist, Dr. Bob’s son, and the writer of Pass It On were scheduled to speak. She saw mention of the word “Christian” in a flyer. And that terminated her support for the ideas that her sponsees could attend. 800 others did!
But consider the facts that were and are at stake in any such denial. Early AAs got completely well. They were cured. They recovered. And they never drank again. Very few did that. But those who totally gave themselves to the early program achieved astonishing success. In that group, a documented 75% succeeded. And that raises the question whether their actions warrant our knowing about them today when it comes to choosing an option for attempted recovery.
One way is to learn about the three Christian women leaders who helped bring about healings by the power of God within the great fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. That doesn’t make A.A. Christian. But it can and will make AAs wise.
Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808 874 4876; http://www.dickb.com/index.shtml
EDIT: Received by Dick B. via Email in an Attachment that was in Times New Roman Font. I have reproduced the educational information here best I could. ~ PSL