In reaction to secular and psychological influences many more traditional Twelve Step members, particularly in AA, begin to make distinctions between “true” and “false” interpretations of the Twelve Steps. The conservatives generally advocate an earlier version of the Twelve Steps, such as that which appears in the Big Book, or one that more closely resembles the practices of the Oxford Group. Conservatives tend to support their views with a depiction of the program as adrift from its spiritual roots.
Shortly after the publication of the Big Book, a third fellowship develops in Cleveland , Ohio . This new fellowship is the first to use the Big Book as a part of their regular practice. The Cleveland groups develop a method of personal sponsorship that involves the sponsor introducing the newcomer to the Twelve Step program by reading through the Big Book together. Cleveland sponsors emphasize the importance of working with other alcoholics. Due to a sudden swell in membership, newcomers are often put to work taking other newcomers through the book before they have even finished the Steps themselves. Due to the same swell in membership, Cleveland ’s Big Book style sponsorship quickly becomes the most common form of AA.
Forty years later, the inheritors of the Big Book sponsorship tradition find themselves a minority perspective within the rapidly growing recovery culture. Generally, Big Book sponsors are unhappy with the prevailing presentation of the Twelve Steps. Some see the recovery culture as:
|proliferating victim groups, a sort of endless Oprah Winfrey show that claims the A.A. Twelve Step method as its inspiration, but in which the real meaning of the Twelfth Step is lost amid an incessant whine about the injured self.
A.A. at the Crossroads
These AA’s begin to present their style of sponsorship as the original method and the only one that really works. Some adopt strict definitions of the Big Book process in an attempt to set a boundary between their style of Stepwork and more social or psychological interpretations of the Big Book message.
Gresham’s Law, by Tom Powers, is one of the best expressions of the sentiments of Big Book conservatives. Powers begins his article by dividing AA into three categories:
|1. The strong, original way, proved powerfully and reliably effective over forty years.
2. A medium way – not so strong, not so safe, not so sure, not so good, but still effective.
3. a weak way, which turns out to be really no way at all but literally a heresy, a false teaching, a twisting corruption of what the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly stated the program to be.
Gresham ’s Law
Powers’ first category describes Big Book sponsorship; his third refers to the message of recovery culture.
Another group of conservatives emphasizes the Christian roots of the Twelve Steps, of these, AA historian Dick B., is the best example. Dick B. has written a series of books investigating the “biblical roots” of Alcoholics Anonymous. These books read less like histories than historically based arguments with recovery culture. In his Books, Dick B. makes his purpose clear:
|We hope our work will challenge others to look more deeply into the Bible as the standard for truth to which alcoholics were able to look in their search for God, His Will and His Way of Life.
The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous
In Dick B’s opinion, the Twelve Steps are actually a deviation from the original program of the Akronites, which was responsible for all of AA’s early success.
| Akron provided a unique atmosphere for developing an effective spiritual solution to alcoholism. Its progenitors all possessed substantial capabilities…in spiritual areas—the Bible, Christian belief systems, and the Oxford Group…and took the time to focus on a spiritual recovery program—one that stressed (1) prayer, (2) Bible study, (3) religious literature, and (4) Quiet Time listening.
The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous
According to Dick B, the religious elements of the Akron program were responsible for Akron ’s success with alcoholics, and the decline of these practices has led to a vastly decreased rate of success in AA. Dick B and many Conservatives like him look to the early days in Akron as a golden age, one which they hope to revive someday.
|There is a quip that has made the rounds of A.A. rooms in recent years. It goes like this: Akron is like Bethlehem . Something good happened there a long time ago; and nothing much has happened there since.
The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous
Conservatives are a vocal minority within the Twelve Step fellowships, particularly AA. Often characterized as “Big Book Nazis” or “AA Fundamentalists,” and derided for their sometimes confrontational manner and strict interpretation of program literature, Conservatives tend to be at the center of conflict. Some of this conflict is caused by the conservatives themselves, but much conflict is generated by some basic misunderstandings of the recovery culture at large.
The conservative movement should be understood in terms of its felt need to preserve a spiritually-centered understanding the Twelve Steps that was all but washed out by social and psychological interpretations of the Steps during the rise of recovery culture. If conservatives are confrontational or strict in their interpretations of the Steps, this should be understood as due to the pressure that comes of holding and trying to propagate a minority point of view.
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