Throughout my ministerial career I have spoken favorably of Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. In contrasting their work with the emphasis on institutional preservation that is often the church, I have commented that AA is the most redemptive community that I know. From their willingness to admit their problem to their acceptance of each other to their mentorship and accountability, the members seek to live in relationships with one another that bring about healing.

However, in a recent article in Religious Dispatches titled, “Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Religion?” Galen Watts notes recent criticism of AA. He writes that some perceive it as not being scientific or not being as successful in treating alcoholism as other programs.

I’m not about to get into the deep weeds of how effective AA is (although Watts does a good job of summarizing the arguments). What struck me was a comment he made late in the article. He says that AA has always focused on character. He wrote, “To AA, ‘alcoholism’ isn’t understood in purely medical terms, it has a deeply moral dimension to it. It’s for this reason that AA members continue to return years after getting sober; for these people AA is ultimately about living a certain kind of life, and stopping drinking was merely the prerequisite for doing so. Put another way, for AA members not drinking is symbolic of a foundational commitment to being a different kind of person than one was while addicted.”

I trust the Christian parallel immediately comes to mind for you. Becoming a Christian is not simply about curing sin, though its forgiveness is certainly part of the process. Far more important, however, is a commitment to a particular kind of life, what we call life “in Christ.” Our “success” is not determined by our righteousness, but by our willingness to live lives of moral character. Our focus is more on becoming like Jesus than counting the days since we last committed a sin that has plagued us.

As Christians, we are, in Watts’ words, “about living a certain kind of life.” As we live that life together, let’s strive to be as redemptive a community as the local chapter of AA. (You might also remember that they have a very high expectation for attendance at meetings.)