The acceptable use of non-“conference-approved” literature use in AA meetings comes up from time to time. To be a bona fide AA meeting, must all literature used in meetings be conference-approved? Many in AA feel something must be wrong if a meeting doesn’t read “How It Works”, recite the 12 steps and 12 traditions from the Big Book, and use a prayer or two (including the “Serenity Prayer”).
Most of us have been to AA meetings that don’t do all (or any) of these things. How can so many different meeting styles still be real AA meetings? If you are a Mason, or member of an Elks club, or a Boy or Girl Scout, don’t these organizations have specific rituals, use common signals, jargon, uniforms, etc to assure members they are part of a distinct organization? AA must, some might think, have some minimum code or requirement to set it apart … to identify its fellowship to one another in meetings.
Fortunately for us in AA, there are no such signals or codes needed for a meeting. (This may be unfortunate for those who expect or need them.) Without these, how else can we be sure a meeting is really AA without the incantations, calls and response, and group prayers said aloud?
In its service material the General Service Office (GSO) says this: “Conference approved literature and audiovisual material is that published by AA World Services, Inc, and has been approved by the Conference for this purpose.” It further explains, “The term has no relation to material not published by GSO. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about AA. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.”
In the GSO Box 4-5-9 from summer of 1978, the meaning of “conference-approved” is presented. Quoting from that item, the GSO Conference does not “disapprove of any other publications. Many local A.A. central offices publish their own meeting lists. A.A. as a whole does not oppose these, any more than A.A. disapproves of the Bible or books on health or any other publications from any source that A.A.’s find helpful. What any A.A. member reads is no business of G.S.O., or of the Conference, naturally.”
The breadth of variety in AA meeting types is great, including speakers meetings, Grapevine studies, and discussion topic meetings, to name but a few. Literature variety is also great, including the Holy Bible (in Celebrate Recovery meetings), the Emmett Fox Sermon on the Mount, books about and by Bill W or Dr. Bob,etc. Literature used in the history of AA meetings include the Tablemate, the Little Red Book, and a multitude of study guides.
Whatever makes a meeting is at the discretion of that meeting’s group conscience. If one group member is offended or outraged, there are other meetings (including those online) to suit the temperaments of everyone in AA.
“In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a universal suffering. Therefore the full liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy should be a first consideration. Hence let us not pressure anyone with individual or even collective views. Let us instead accord to each other the respect that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way towards the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she so declares.” (Bill W., from his speech to the General Service Conference held in New York City in April, 1965.)
Finally, I recommend the online article on this topic from aaagnostica.org (http://aaagnostica.org/2014/03/23/conference-approved-literature/). From that article, “the term ‘Conference-approved literature’ is meant only to identify the books ‘solely owned, copyrighted and published’ by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services (AAWS). The AA Agnostica article suggests that this Conference-approved imprimatur is an attempt at censorship and a way to sell items from which GSO makes money. To give the impression that there is AA “approved” literature is, at best, misleading. Some might consider this illusion or falsehood just further proof that AA is a cult. The Many Paths meetings want to dispel that notion and show that secular meetings and recovery are possible.