Like an anonymous airline travel club whose cachet is enhanced by a set
unmarked doors in the middle of a busy airport terminal, Chester County's
Pennsylvania) Malvern Center, inconspicuous between a convenience store
a copy center in the middle of the bustling Rt. 202 high-tech corridor,
leverages its anonymity to attract hundreds of recovering alcoholics to
dozens of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings there each week.
Alcoholics Anonymous shuns the spotlight, opting for attraction rather
promotion as a public relations strategy. I thoroughly respect that policy
but at the same time, I would like to draw some attention to AA's model
these days, especially with the advent of President Bush's Office of
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
The opinions here are my own and not those of AA or Malvern Center.
said, I would argue that Alcoholics Anonymous wrote the book on faith-based
initiatives with is pioneering, spirituality-centered approach to
alcoholism.. As policy makers and religious leaders of all stripes engage
a new offensive to combat social ills such as alcoholism, drug addiction,
out-of-wedlock pregnancy and the like, they would do well to acquaint
themselves with the AA approach.
The basic texts of AA are where to begin. Like a modern mission statement
's Preamble defines what the organization is (and just as important, what
is not), the 12 Steps codify its spiritual principles, and the 12
Traditions are the means by which AA " maintains its unity and relates
itself to the world about it, the way it lives and grows."
The Preamble declares that Alcoholics Anonymous is a " fellowship
of men and
women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that
they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from
alcoholism." The only requirement for membership is "a desire
drinking." AA is self-supporting through its own voluntary contributions;
not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or
institution; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. A member's primary
purpose " is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety."
Unlike many modern nonprofits, AA solicits no dues or fees, employs no
professional class of fund raisers, lobbyists or therapists, seeks no
alliances or endorsements. As Clint Eastwood once said, a man has to know
his limits. AA knows its limits, choosing to concentrate on doing what
does best than try to be all things to all people. Membership has no
privileges, not even a free lunch.
Yet, against all odds, Alcoholics Anonymous continues to grow in numbers
and renown with its unique blend of community, unconditional acceptance,
shared experience, equality, diversity ( membership ranges from Yale to
and sometimes both), and practical spiritual principles practiced as a
of life. All function within a bottom-up framework which ensures that
voice of even the newest newcomer is heard and respected
This grassroots democracy, rooted in the 12 Traditions and manifested
through the group conscience of thousands of AA groups world wide,
underscores why the 12 Traditions merit equal credit with the 12 Steps
cornerstones of AA's longevity and success. Just as the perfect crab cake
contains as little filler as possible, so AA functions with as little
organization as possible, eschewing managers and bureaucrats and rules
regulations, trusting that a sober alcoholic living by spiritual principles
most times will act not only in his or her own best interests but also
the best interests of AA as a whole and the world around them.
Politicians and religious leaders will want to keep these precepts in
as they weigh the billions of dollars soon be on the table for faith-based
initiatives if President Bush gets his way. Early-on John D. Rockefeller
cautioned AA's founders about the risks of economic dependency. Leaders
faith-based organizations owe it to themselves and those they serve to
determine whether the inevitable rules, regulations and bureaucracy that
follow the money might not only mute their message, but worse, preempt
A visitor to the Malvern area on a sleepy Sunday morning might be surprised
to see the many SUVs, motorcycles, pickup trucks and BMWs clustered around
an unremarkable store- front in an otherwise deserted shopping center.
visitor might also be surprised to learn that the dozens of congenial,
well-dressed men and women milling about and coming and going who drive
those vehicles are sober alcoholics of all backgrounds, each of whom was
rescued from the depths of hell by the helping hand of other alcoholics
themselves had been similarly rescued.
Chances are the visitor wouldn't know that he was witnessing the fruits
the extraordinary blend of freedom coupled with personal responsibility
AA offers. It is a formula that not only works but that from its founding
has made AA so attractive to alcoholics with nowhere to turn. And all
without dues, fees, organization, federal aid, association, affiliation