Long before Mockingbird put out its own pamphlet cataloging some of the many uncanny (and crucial) insights the church could glean from Alcoholics Anonymous, The Rev. Sam Shoemakerr, one-time rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in NYC and significant contributor to the founding of AA, did the same. You’ll probably not be surprised to hear that his short essay was a key inspiration for ours, and not just because our first office in New York was down the hall from where Shoemaker met with Bill Wilson in the mid-1930s to help formulate the 12 Steps. A few potent bits from the horse’s mouth:

The first thing I think the Church needs to learn from AA is that nobody gets anywhere til he recognizes a clearly-defined need. These people do not come to AA to get made a little better. They do not come because the best people are doing it. They come because they are desperate. They are not ladies and gentlemen looking for a religion, they are utterly desperate men and women in search of redemption. Without what AA gives, death stares them in the face. With what AA gives them, there is life and hope. There are not a dozen ways, there are not two ways, there is one way; and they find it, or perish.

Is there anything as definite for you or me, who may happen not to be alcoholics? If there is, I am sure that it lies in the realm of our conscious withholding of the truth about ourselves from God and from one another, by pretending that we are already good Christians. Let me here quote a member of AA who has written a most amazing book: his name is Jerome Ellison and the book is Report To The Creator. In this (p.210) he says,

‘The relief of being accepted can never be known by one who never thought himself unaccepted. I hear of ‘good Christian men and women’ belonging to ‘fine old church families.’ There were no good Christians in the first church, only sinners. Peter never let himself or his hearers forget his betrayal in the hour the cock crew. James, stung by the memory of his years of stubborn resistance, wanted the church members: ‘Confess your faults to one another.’ That was before there were fine old church families. Today, the last place where one can be candid about one’s faults is in church. In a bar, yes, in a church, no. I know; I’ve tried both places.’

Let that sting you and me just as it should, and make us miserable with our church Pharisaism till we see it as just as definite and just as hideous as anybody’s drunkenness can ever be, and a great deal more really dangerous.”

…One can find kindness and even good advice in the Church. That is not all men need. They need to be helped to face themselves as they really are. The AA people see themselves just as they are. I think many of us in the Church see ourselves as we should like to appear to others, not as we are before God. We need drastic personal dealing and challenge. Who is ready and trained to give it to us? How many of us have ever taken a “fearless moral inventory” of ourselves, and dared make the depth of our need known to any other human being? This gets at the pride which is the hindrance and sticking-point for so many of us, and which, for most of us in the Church, has never even been recognized, let alone faced or dealt with.

To listen to Kate Norris and John Zahl’s talk on addiction, which expands greatly on this topic – click here.