AA History: Looking at Its Oxford Group Link in Context

No facet of Alcoholics Anonymous history has been more misrepresented than A.A.’s connection with the Oxford Group. There are some relevant fundamentals concerning the relationship. But there are far more erroneous pieces of information still being promulgated by many today. Consider the following:

Yes, after he got sober, Bill Wilson became involved with the Oxford Group on the East Coast. But the real activities that brought about Bill’s sobriety had little to do with the Oxford Group at and before the time he got sober. Bill actually learned the solution to alcoholism–conversion to God through Jesus Christ–from his friend Ebby Thacher and from his physician Dr. William D. Silkworth.

To be sure, Bill also learned about the Oxford Group from Rowland Hazard and Ebby Thacher. But he did not rely on Oxford Group principles and practices (their life-changing program) when he: (1) made his decision to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at Calvary Mission in New York; (2) became born again and so stated in his autobiography; (3) decided he needed to turn to the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, for help and so stated in his autobiography; and (4) went to Towns Hospital, cried out to God for help, and had his indescribably white light experience-which included sensing the presence of God and having the thought: “Bill, you are a free man. This is the God of the Scriptures.” .See Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W. (www.DickB.com/conversion.shtml). See also Dale Mitchel, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks. And seeBill’s own words in The Language of the Heart, page 284.

And Bill Wilson never drank again. Later, Bill went to Oxford Group functions on the East Coast and belonged to its businessmen’s team. But Bill and his wife were “kicked out” of the Oxford Group in 1937. When Bill got authority to write a book on the A.A. program, he worked out his Step ideas with Rev. Sam Shoemaker prior to publishing the Big Book in 1939. See The Language of the Heart, pages 297-98.

What about Dr. Bob and the Oxford Group link?

Dr. Bob stated in his last major talk that the basic ideas of the 12 Steps came from the Bible. He said he had nothing to do with the writing of the Twelve Steps. He also said that, for some of the older A.A.’s, the Bible’s Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 were the absolute essentials for the Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program founded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935. See The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks, pages 13-14. Did Dr. Bob attend a small Oxford Group meeting once a week at T. Henry Williams’ house? Yes. Did he get sober by applying Oxford Group principles? No. He got sober earlier by joining with the people of the little Oxford Group meeting in praying for his deliverance–and, with his prayers answered in the form of his meeting with Bill Wilson, he got sober as the two studied the Bible for three months in the summer of 1935.

For most writers, the story has ended there. But there is more. Bill W., Dr. Bob, A.A. Number Three Bill D., and the other pioneers developed and practiced a “Christian fellowship” program as a daily discipline-much like that of the Apostles in First Century Christianity. The program they developed is summarized in A.A.’s own literature on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. The 16 Christian practices of the Akron program and comments about the daily First Century Christianity of A.A.’s pioneers are covered in Dick B. and Ken B., Stick with the Winners!: How to Conduct More Effective 12-Step Recovery Meetings Using Conference-Approved Literature: A Dick B. Guide for Christian Leaders and Workers in the Recovery Arena. (http://www.ChristianRecoveryRadio.com/Stick-with-the-Winners.shtml)

How, then, to what extent, and if at all, did the Oxford Group’s 28 life-changing principles and practices become a part of Bill Wilson’s new A.A. program and previously non-existent Twelve Steps?

Bill Wilson did that primarily by working with Rev. Sam Shoemaker in 1938 and 1939, and then codifying Oxford Group ideas in ten of A.A.’s new Twelve Steps and recovery program produced in 1939 in its Big Book first edition. Bill spelled out the real sources of those Twelve Steps and ideas in The Language of the Heart, pages 297-98!

Gloria Deo