Conference “Approved”

I’ve tried taking non-approved literature to regular AA meetings, and get met by looks of incredulity, and occasional abhorrence.

Many people think the conference approved literature is all we’re allowed to read in the meetings, and there is indeed an issue with that, since the AA publication smf-29 on conference approved literature states:  

The term has no relation to material not published by G.S.O. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about A.A. 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.

What it does not say is: AA does not try to tell any individual member or any group what they may read.

I have noticed this kind of unclear wording before in other places. It is of course problematic when things are left unsaid. One could almost think it is a deliberate omission when the preamble does not say “AA is not allied with any religion, sect, denomination, etc.”

When it comes down to arguing about it all, we have of course found a variety of quotes from Bill in support of groups being autonomous in every way, that we can throw at whoever is open-minded enough to listen. I won’t reiterate those here. I am on a different errand:

We need to get the term “conference approved” changed.

It originated at the 1951 General Service Conference, and the decision at that time reads as follows:

Prior to the vote on this subject it was pointed out that adoption of the suggestion would not preclude the continued issuance of various printed documents by non-Foundation sources. No desire to review, editor or censor non-Foundation material is implied. The objective is to provide, in the future, a means of distinguishing Foundation literature from that issued locally or by non-AA interests.

These assertions notwithstanding, at this point all non-approved literature is pretty much outlawed in regular AA meetings, and the term “approved” is in large part to blame for it.

So, I would ask that all, who are engaged in the AA service structure, start working on changing that. I know changing one word will take a minimum of two years to decide, and probably a couple more to implement, but let’s get started.

So, what’s it going to be? I would suggest “Conference published”, but let’s toss it around for a bit, see what’s the best we can come up with, and get going with it.


About the Author

ife-j got sober in Oakland in 1988. He moved to a Northern California coastal mountain village in 2002 and helped wake up the sleepy AA fellowship there. He’s been involved in service work of every kind all along, but now thinks the most important work is to help atheists and agnostics feel safe and welcome in AA. Events in the fellowship conspired to make him become way more radicalized than he ever wanted to be, and he finds it difficult to settle back down to focus on his own program again, for better or for worse. He’s spent parts of his life as a building contractor, part as a technical translator, and has dabbled a bit in artwork and writing. life-j is now semi-retired on a five-acre homestead together with his sweetie, and his dogs, chickens, and gardens.

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life-jGalen T.Dan LJoe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs)Tomas L Recent comment authors

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Galen T.
Galen T.

The suggestion to change “conference approved” to “conference published” is a good one. But there is still a practical problem when a group looks beyond conference materials. Several years ago a group I attended opened itself up non-conference materials and all kinds of stuff began showing up — whatever individual members, or non-members, of the group thought of interest. Some of it had nothing to do with alcoholism or recovery, but rather with spiritual growth, broadly defined. The group soon became rife with controversy over just what non-conference materials should be permitted. It soon became clear that setting any general… Read more »

life-j
life-j

Galen, that’s a very real concern, as indeed one of my fiercest opponents in a meeting always asks me “so what do you want to do if someone wants to read ’24 hours a day’?” – that does indeed put me on the spot. And yes, we can’t just say we don’t want to accept literature affiliated with any actual religion, since there may be some of us who would want to read a Buddhist recovery book. It is difficult. Thanks for bringing this up. I hope the discussion can focus on this for a bit and see where it… Read more »

Dan L
Dan L

Oh! Oh! Oh!  The Terrible Slippery Slope of literature not approved by “the Council”!!  I myself nearly went into an alcoholic coma the first time I read some of the clandestine literature!  But then I got better.  At our “Beyond Belief” meetings we use the appropriate daily essay from Joe C.’s eclectic book coincidentally titled “Beyond Belief” as the discussion topic.  Certain local “AA Guardians” were absolutely horrified and suggested we would be struck dead in our tracks.  Oh well.  Life goes on.

Tomas L
Tomas L

I think the truth is hidden in plain sight: The Lord’s Prayer proves that groups are allowed to read non-approved literature. The LP is a quote from the Bible, which is not Conference Approved, yet thousands of groups read it every meeting. As far as I know, all official AA statements about the LP have confirmed that AA groups are allowed to use it. (There are good reasons to get the LP out of AA, but Conference Approval is not one of them.)

Alex M.
Alex M.

Thanks life-j.  I suspect A.A. knows exactly what they are doing by using the term “conference approved,” which not only intimidates and confuses members, but helps boost AAWS literature sales and income. Switching from “approved” to “published” makes sense and is honest, but personally I’m not optimistic. Interestingly, the following literature is “not conference approved:” Alcoholics Anonymous – First Edition & Manuscript copy 24 Hours a Day (meditations) – Richmond Walker The Little Red Book (step guide) – Ed Webster Stools & Bottles (1st 4 steps and meditations) – Ed Webster Varieties of Religious Experience – William James A.A. writings… Read more »

MsrySusan
MsrySusan

My own experience as a District Committee member, an Area Committee member, and a General Service Representative  (and having served as alternate GSR and Alternate DCM prior to these positions, as well as service to group through various other positions) over the 33 years of my continuous sobriety has afforded me a view of how principles not only get distorted they get embedded in their distorted conversion. Here was the original decision about non-Conference approved material: Any individual is free to read, think, purchase, distribute outside of AA meeting any material they choose. However the money donated to AA through… Read more »

John S

What if an individual member who is chairing a meeting, reads from a book that is not approved by the conference as a meeting topic? In this case, the group itself did not purchase the book from group donations. Our group reads from non conference approved literature all the time. Our Central Office stocks non-conference approved literature that they purchase from group donations. Very few groups around here read from books that have not been approved by the Conference, but when I was first getting sober in 1988, many groups were reading from the 24 Hours A Day book published… Read more »

Tomas L
Tomas L

Frankly, that decision seems like complete bs. It would mean that no group could buy coffee and not use any meeting location that they have to pay rent for. Buying coffee would “affiliate” them with the grocery store and coffee brand, and paying rent would “affiliate” them with the land lord. It would also mean that the old AA custom of placing an ad in a newspaper is verboten, and that no group can use any flyers to spread information about the group. (Unless they get paper and ink for free.)

Joe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs)

I too have spent a lot of time in service meetings and gabbing around coffee pots talking about what founders meant by this or that. Each group should have its own thoughtful discussion about what’s right for their members. But neither other groups or AA has a whole ever did or ever will have the authority to tell a group what to do or not do – or inflict consequences for nonconformity. Does the two-sided coin of Tradition Four 1) Each group is autonomous 2) except in matters affecting other groups or AA as whole mean a) Groups are autonomous… Read more »

life-j
life-j

Joe, agreed, and yes, I will be at the history symposium in los altos next weekend. And if susan doesn’t tell us where she found this, I guess we can ask michelle mizra, AA’s archivist  at the symposium. Seems like an oddly un-AA-like piece of writing. What I quoted above I believe was from the minutes of the original decision, so this must be something else.

life-j
life-j

Susan, can you tell us where you found this (specifically, so we can go find it in its context)

life-j
life-j

Susan, please come forward and tell us where you found this quote. Though some of the wording sounds familiar, the piece as a whole sounds very un-AA-like. I have done a search for it both in the service manual and on Google, and did not find it. It seems like it must be someone’s personal over-interpretation of the guidelines in question, and if so, that is of course that person’s right, but it is problematic if it subsequently gets posted as “official” AA material. We always have a few people waiting eagerly  in the wings for an opportunity to enforce… Read more »

life-j
life-j

Indeed I have now contacted the World Service AA archives, and they searched their archives for the above quote and found nothing. In other words IT IS NOT THE ORIGINAL DECISION TEXT, or even related to it. MsrySusan, for all the service credentials she lists needs to get her facts in order. But I would still like to know where it came from, now that we know for sure it is not official AA writing. Of course here we all live by the principle that AA writing does not have to be official to be true, but the quote provided… Read more »