Episode 48: Larry K. and the Settlement with Toronto Intergroup

When I first heard the news of the Toronto Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous removing the agnostic groups from the Greater Toronto Area meeting directory and preventing them from having a voice at intergroup meetings, I couldn’t help but ask myself how I would feel if I were faced with these circumstances. I would feel, in a word “rejected,” and it would be one of the more painful rejections that I could imagine.

I credit my local AA Central Office with saving my life. Every interaction that I’ve had with them has been warm and friendly and compassionate. If these same people who I admire and respect were to one day tell me that my group is no longer welcome to participate and no longer to be listed in the meeting directory with other groups, it would simply be heartbreaking. Heartbreaking! 

Roger C. from AA Agnostica describes the pain and shock of the Toronto delisting in the following passage from his book A History of Agnostic Groups in AA: 

Fallout 

On Thursday, I went to the evening meeting of my home group Beyond Belief, one of the two groups booted out of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup (GTAI).

There were, as usual, some thirty people present. They were, to put it mildly, broken hearted. There was a fear in the room that the group and the meeting were as good as dead. If it did not die immediately, it would wither away over time. After all, we were not now on any lists.

“Where will I go?” “But I love this meeting!” “They hate us.” “What am I going to do now?” That was the mood as I entered the room.

Some were crying. One of them was a wonderfully talented Canadian actress. I had sat beside her and chatted with her at her first Beyond Belief meeting, some six months earlier. After that first meeting, she had given me a big hug and told me, “Roger I have a new home!” Now her head was on the table, and she sobbed uncontrollably.

Joe C, the author of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life and one of the co-founders Beyond Belief, described the expulsion of his group this way:

“I was crushed by Toronto Intergroup’s decision. I grew up in AA. I have been sober since I was a teenager. I have always been outrageous. I have always pushed the envelope. I have always been tolerated and loved. When I was told that I was no longer welcome here, it was an innocence lost that I cannot properly express. It was like having my family tell me to leave and never come back. For weeks, I was flabbergasted. I was angry, and I was hurt.”

Larry K, one of the founders of We Agnostics, the other group booted out, put it this way:

The decision prompted tears and shock among the three dozen or so people who had embraced the secular groups. “It was painful. It’s shunning,” said Knight. “It was unbelievable that an organisation that can’t kick anybody out, and that prides itself on that, had kicked us out.”

The action taken by the GTA Intergroup was extreme. But let us be clear: there has always been tension between agnostics and the Christian members of Alcoholics Anonymous. What happened at the Intergroup meeting in that church basement in Toronto merely exposed a long-festering wound within AA.

 

—”A History of Agnostic Groups in AA,” Roger C. 

Though the behavior of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous is not the norm, sadly they are not the only Intergroup to practice discrimination against agnostic groups. The Vancouver Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous refuses to list agnostic AA groups in their meeting directory, and the Denver Central Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous refuses to list agnostic AA groups in their meeting directory. 

What will it take to end this discrimination? In Toronto, Larry K. helped bring it to an end by filing a complaint at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The complaint was heard, and the Tribunal determined the case had merit. All parties agreed to mediation and today, the agnostic groups have been returned to the meeting directory, and their voting rights at Intergroup have been restored. 

In this episode of AA Beyond Belief the Podcast, Larry K. walks us through the experience from beginning to end. 

Beyond Belief’s Listing 

We Agnostic’s Listing


Transcript

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  1. John S February 22, 2017 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Here’s a link to the media release with Bob K’s Intro.

    Toronto Agnostic AA Groups Win Fight for Inclusion

  2. Toni February 22, 2017 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    I’d be pissed enuf to see if there was anything I could do to get our name back on!    We are a totally a legitimate Group

  3. Stephen R February 22, 2017 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    I wish to express my gratitude to Larry for his contribution to AA.I have followed it closely.Its a time in history when the concepts need more study particular as regards concept 5.As the culture changes A.a. will need more like Larry.I think its a strong start to filtering out bigotry in an organization where it really should not exist.

  4. Mark C. February 22, 2017 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Fantastic and informative interview John and Larry.! Hat’s off to both of you. Thank you both for all you  continue to do for all of us others…

    This conversation should clear up a lot of confusion floating around. peace!

     

  5. Jerry F. February 22, 2017 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Larry, for your explanation of the GTAI delisting experience to all of us in the secular AA movement. We’ve heard rumors, comments, but you’ve pulled it together in one article for all of us to understand. And thank you and your cohorts for fighting the good fight, for your perseverance. It must have been difficult at times but it was well worth the struggle. While the settlement applies only to GTAI, it has great significance for all of us. The doctrine of “acknowledges or adopts the suggested 12 steps and traditions of AA” will be a touchstone for all of us who may find ourselves in disagreement with our Intergroups or with our fellow AA members. The reconciliation between the groups and GTAI is the optimum result for all of us who love AA and who practice a godless recovery.

    And thank you AABB for publishing this article. The Toronto delisting will always be a truly watershed chapter in our secular history. You’ve captured it now for posterity.

    Which leads me to a question that perhaps only AABB can answer. The article reveals that Vancouver and Denver are currently delisted by their Intergroups. Who else? Has Indianapolis been resolved? There was, I believe, a coastal California group that was being shunned. Those of us who travel would appreciate this information as we may attend these meeting to show our support and solidarity. John?

    • John S February 22, 2017 at 4:01 pm Reply

      Jerry,  it is only Denver and Vancouver of which I am aware that are not listed by their central office. Des Moines is listed by their district, but I’m not sure about the status with their Central Office.

      I think Indianapolis is now listed.

      Please anyone correct me if I am wrong.

  6. life-j February 22, 2017 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Larry, thanks for all your hard work on this and seeing it through.

    i wasn’t quite clear on the acknowledge or adopt thing – is that something they asked to retain in the settlement, or did Y’all make a settlement to the fact that a belief in god is the only thing that isn’t required, and then they snuck in this acknowledge or adopt on the tail end of the settlement without discussing it?

    I imagine that Intergroup for now has “learned its lesson”, but could see in the future how that acknowledge or adopt could become problematic, right now you interpret it as you have to either or, but somewhere they could come and say they were really intended as synonyms, not two separate options.

    Also i would have liked to hear more about how it came to be that everything was kept so secret the whole time. It did result in quite a rumor mill.

    • Bob K. February 22, 2017 at 11:03 pm Reply

      I’ll have a go at this. When I first that to be relisted, the delisted groups would be required to apply agreeing to the intergroup’s terms, I was outraged. Then I found out the Group Submission form was a new one, and significantly deviated from the “rules” passed in 2012. Here’s my take on it from the intro blurb I wrote to accompany the Feb. 6 media release, presented here on the 12th.

      “In applying for reinstatement, the now relisted groups agreed to the terms of the now standard submission form, viewable at aatoronto.org. There is an agreement to “adopt or acknowledge” AA’s 12 steps, traditions, et. al Although this can clearly be seen as a face-saving measure on the part of Toronto Intergroup, there are two keywords. “Or” allows us to dismiss the “adopt” option, and move on to the second keyword “acknowledge.”

      Prior to the 2011 delisting, the agnostic groups read a blurb before reciting a secularized interpretation of the 12 steps. The blurb “acknowledged” that what they were reading weren’t AA’s original 12 steps, which they further “acknowledged” were to be found in Chapter 5 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I expect that these acknowledgments will continue.

      The now relisted groups, at their option, will be reading altered versions of the 12 steps. Toronto Intergroup is aware of that. GSO is aware of that. There will be no interference. There will be no policing. The taste for battle has disappeared.”

  7. John C. February 22, 2017 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Fascinating info. I was part of helping to move along a “Beyond Belief” meeting in Ojai that is very well respected, even attended by Christians, one who called it one of his favorite meetings and he’s got good “emotional sobriety” and someone I respect very much. For a noon meeting, it was very well attended once word spread that despite the fact it did not begin or end with a prayer (and How It Works was not read), that is was a “spiritual meeting.”

    We knew if we moved it to the evenings we would likely have one of Ojai’s largest meetings. I since have moved to Senoia, GA in the heart of the Bible Belt. They don’t even have Sunday morning meetings in nearly every town south of Atlanta here except for one in Newnan before church starts, lol.

    I found a fellow agnostic/atheist in Fayetteville who people ask regarding him “how can he be so spiritual sounding when he does not believe in a god?” I say the Lord’s Prayer out of respect for the local traditions but people are already wondering who I am if I don’t go to church and I acknowledge in meetings I have many higher powers that experience has taught me to trust, whether it be the scientific method (I know what happens when I drink and go into my ego, the same experiment gets same results every time), the 12 steps (my personalized version which is fairly close to the one mentioned in the podcast), a group conscience sometimes, and most of all, the experience and wisdom of those billions of people who have gone before me.

    I even quote the Bible on the efficacy of how AA works (paraphrasing) “where two of you are gathered, there am I.” Most interpret that to mean the holy spirit as defined by Christian doctrine. Me, I translate “I” as the power of “we” meaning “connection.” As Johann Hari likes to say in the Ted Talk on Youtube “Everything You know about addiction is wrong,” the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. I left a great life in Ojai, CA and drove 3,000 miles to start over in Senoia, GA. The problem was before AA, wherever I went, there went “I”. The solution is wherever I go, there go “we”.

    Time to start a Beyond Belief meeting deep in the Bible Belt, lol. I loved Ojai and the program there, but I really miss my old friends on Thursday at noon in Ojai. Rachel, Tony, Thomas, Elaine, Clive, Mary Pat and rest of the gang did a great service.

  8. David K February 22, 2017 at 8:37 am - Reply

    Thanks, Larry, not only for the Podcast but for the entire evolution. All of the documentation I’ve gleaned has been helpful. I am one of the “traditional AAs” if you will, and frankly, young in sobriety, though not in age… AA’s program has made a huge difference in my life – I actually have a wonderful life now.

    You noted, toward the end of your presentation, the potential US cost in an effort like this. In our area of the Northeastern US, we’re already trying to take what has been available in this effort and apply it wisely in our own situation. We have not delisted any group – however, a request has been received from an atheist group for publication in the meeting list.

    The publication request couldn’t have occurred at a better time – as the Tribunal decision was published at about the time this request came forward. We’ve been working with the AA Area and GSO in this regard to obtain the best possible experiences. The Toronto Experience (I hope you don’t object to the title) will definitely be included as a collective experience as we proceed. I am truly grateful for the information.

    Sincerely,

    David

  9. Bob K. February 22, 2017 at 8:17 am - Reply

    Thanks to Larry for an extremely articulate account of the fascinating situation recently resolved in Toronto. I’ve been following the events with great interest, and this interview clarified details that were previously a matter of speculation.

    Although I have concerns moving forward about potential bitterness among the Toronto AA members who will chose to view themselves somehow as victims of injustice, I believe that the current executive committee is interested in moving forward in harmony. To promote that peace moving forward, I hope that “our side” will keep the dancing in the end zone to a minimum.

    Many thanks to Larry for seeing through a struggle that I expect will have a tremendous positive impact on so many of those yet to come. The level of effort that he put into this is staggering, and trust me, I know staggering. I used to have the odd drink, you know 🙂

     

  10. Thomas B. February 22, 2017 at 7:45 am - Reply

    Wonderful podcast, explicating this extremely lengthy and complicated process. Thank you again, Larry, for the time and energy that you expended to achieve this outcome favorable to all parties, the agnostic groups, Greater Toronto Intergroup Association and AA as a whole represented by A.A. W.S.

    One thing I was curious about, which was not discussed in the podcast, was the impact, if any, that the infamous “White Paper” had in the initial stages of the delisting of the agnostic groups. My understanding is that it was distributed to Intergroup representatives before the initial vote was taken to delist the agnostic groups. The “White Paper” certainly is skewed to a dogmatic religious view of what AA is.

    • Joe C February 22, 2017 at 9:54 pm Reply

      The white paper was sent to Intergroup reps, with the urging to stop agnostic AA before they destroy AA, by a member named Bryan W who wasn’t a member of Intergroup. He was  a member of the same group Barb H belonged to. Barb was the Intergroup chair who took charge in April 2011 and her first order of new business was to hear a motion to de-list the groups.  Why or how Bryan W had a list of Intergroup email addresses is anyone’s guess. Someone on the mailing list sent me a cc and that was the first we heard that there would be a vote coming.  Here was the text of his email:

      Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 9:34:59 PM
      Subject: Agnotic Groups, FYI

      “Friends:
      A motion was made at the last Intergroup Meeting to remove the 2 Agnostic Groups in the city from the both the AA Meeting Directory and the Web site as they have changed the wording of the 12 steps completely. Not allot of members do not know about these new groups……

      I have enclosed an article called the white paper, (it shows the revised steps), and speaks clearly to this issue, as there is a agnostic movement happening in the US.”

      • John S February 22, 2017 at 10:01 pm Reply

        Here’s a link to the White Paper on AA Agnostica for those interested in reading it:

        White Paper

    • Bob K. February 22, 2017 at 8:40 am Reply

      I wasn’t at the original delisting meeting in May, 2011, but as the rep for my traditional home group in Pickering, I was involved in the 2012 relisting motion. Ironically, while the delisting in 2011 was rushed through, the relisting motion was tabled for 3 months, and then discussed for 3 more. We had somehow been freed of the need for speed.

      The White Paper, which is quite a screed, and atrociously written, was being circulated and discussed. There was a good deal of fear-mongering about the heathens threat to bring about the collapse of AA. To the credit of the organizers of the anti-agnostic movement, they did very good politicking. Their actions were well orchestrated, and they “brought out the vote.” On the night of the defeat of the relisting motion and the booting of the Richmond Hill Group, there was a record turnout, and the vote wasn’t even close.

      There were reps voting at the meeting whose groups hadn’t been to an intergroup meeting for years. I suspect there was a telephone campaign operated by those laboring in the cause of the righteous. The White Paper was just one of the tactics of the crusaders.

      • life-j February 22, 2017 at 11:15 am Reply

        Bob, yes, I experienced the exact same unfolding of events, the white paper, the bringing in the votes, groups suddenly showing interest in Intergroup whose representatives coincidentally came out on the side of the white paper. Only thing which still puzzles me is that the person who orchestrated the whole thing refers to herself as a buddhist.

        and thanks to Larry, rumors about the HRC, rumors was all we had, weirdly enough, helped these people to quietly rotate out, and when our meeting here in Laytonville was relisted a couple of years later, nobody came out rabidly and felt a need to discuss it, it had become the housekeeping item i had expected it to be in the first place.

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