Columnists > Voices

Drastic in love

What churches can learn from alcohol addiction recovery groups

Issue: "Demsnami," Nov. 4, 2006

Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf tear it up in the Warner Brothers meadow from dawn to dusk, Ralph doing what wolves like to do, and Sam doing his ablest to stop him. Then the 5 o'clock whistle blows and no matter what's going down, the arch nemeses come to a screeching halt, pick up their lunch pails, and punch their time cards. "See ya tomorrow, Ralph." "See ya tomorrow, Sam."

Washington wars are as perennial as cats and dogs, but when the gavel falls a deeper unity sometimes abides, of common frail humanity. Notice, for example, the Tuesday night restaurant conversations, over Coke and spring water, of Reps. Jim Ramstad (Republican, Minnesota) and Patrick J. Kennedy (Democrat, Rhode Island). Some problems and some powers transcend entrenched antagonism and foment friendship across the aisles of power.

This column is my second pass at alcohol addiction recovery groups and sponsors, indulging a personal fascination with the difference between how men seek after God when they're desperate and addicted (AA) and how men seek after God when they're not addicted and have all the time in the world (church). Of course all men are desperate and addicted but only some know it. Jesus told a group of Pharisees He had come not for the well but for the sick, but He was being ironic and intended all His hearers should see themselves among the sick.

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Bill Wilson, founder of AA, said: "When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. . . . What was our choice to be?" (Alcoholics Anonymous).

When a man talks like that, I take note of the Bible emphases he selects for his organization to help drunks. The AA "12 Steps" are the Bible in work clothes with no luxury of time for frill concerns like repaving the church parking lot, nor inclination to split split split over frivolous issues.

I will not here trace each of the "12 Steps" back to its Bible moorings; even a poor Scripture student can do it on his own time. Let me rather share Samuel Shoemaker's epiphany upon seeing AA at work in the early years (he was rector at Calvary Church in New York in 1935 where Bill Wilson got saved):

"The first thing I think the Church needs to learn from AA is that nobody gets anywhere till 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. . . .

"The second thing the Church needs to learn from AA is that men are redeemed in a life-changing fellowship. AA does not expect to let anybody who comes in stay as he is. They know he is in need and must have help. They live for nothing else but to extend and keep extending that help. Like the Church, they did not begin in glorious Gothic structures, but in houses or caves in the earth. . . . [An AA's] soul gets kept in order by trying to help other people get their souls in order, with the help of God. . . . He may be changed today, and out working tomorrow-no long, senseless delays about giving away what he has got.

"'A life-changing fellowship' sounds like a description of the Church. It is of the ideal Church. But the actual? Not one in a hundred is like this. . . . Have you ever been drastically dealt with by anybody? Have you ever dared to be drastic in love with anybody?"

Rep. Ramstad (Republican) has dared to be "drastic in love" with Rep. Kennedy (Democrat). That's why they oppose each other on many votes but have those Tuesday night sponsor meetings to fight addiction. Christ's church should pay attention.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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