by Cliff Walker
Introductory Note: A loyal but free-thinking Narcotics Anonymous member examines the popular use of The Lord's Prayer to close allegedly non-sectarian NA meetings. Notice that the editorial makes no direct statements, but merely asks challenging questions. This little piece caused quite a stir after being published in Portland's local NA lewsletter. As a direct result of writing this article, the author received several threats of physical violence from NA members -- one as late as four years after publication. After this, the author was summarily dismissed and discredited by people who (the author had initially been told) would "love you until you can love yourself." Reprecussions from this article and similar actions by others can still be felt in Portland NA today. The most important change: In 1989, many people felt very awkward when an NA meeting was closed with anything but the Lord's Prayer; today, it feels just as awkward to hear a meeting closed with the Lord's Prayer. The title is a reference to the popular practice of leading the Lord's Prayer by asking "Whose Father?" The group then responds by chanting, "Our Father..."
Update: Ten years to the month after writing this the United States Supreme Court reiterated a Circuit Court's ruling that Alcoholics Anonymous' use of the Lord's Prayer renders as "factually misleading" the claim that AA is nonsectarian, and is thus immune to the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. Justice Leval, of the 2nd Circuit Court explains: "The County argues further that the nonsectarian nature of the A.A. experience immunizes its use of religious symbolism and practices from Establishment Clause scrutiny. The argument is at the very least factually misleading, for the evidence showed that every meeting included at least one explicitly Christian Prayer. Furthermore, the claim that nonsectarian religious exercise falls outside the First Amendment's scrutiny has been repeatedly rejected by the Supreme Court."
Recently, our Area Service Committee voted
on a motion to stop closing the business meetings with the Lord's Prayer.
I found it amazing that this issue needs to be discussed. I found the outcome
of the vote (*) even more amazing. I decided to
reexamine my views on this matter.
When I first came to NA, I felt funny that we said this prayer at the end. They used to say the Lord's Prayer in Church. The NA members assured me that this program is spiritual, not religious. My initial skepticism soon gave way to a form of acceptance.
I surrendered to this quirk in the NA program, and the Lord's Prayer began to grow on me. When we form a circle and recite this prayer together, I get struck with a sense of history that I can almost feel in my genes. This is the prayer that my race has chanted day after day for hundreds and hundreds of years.
As my recovery progressed, I became more acutely aware of some important aspects of the NA program. Our Third Tradition (**) makes our Fellowship accessible to all addicts who want recovery. I noticed that some people don't say the prayer with the rest of us. Some won't even stand in the circle with us. I began to ask some questions.
That funny feeling returned when I discovered where the Lord's Prayer comes from. It is a direct quote from the Christian Bible, called, "The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." The passage is from Matthew 6:9-13, and is part of "The Sermon on the Mount." This struck me as very different from the "policy of non-affiliation" that our NA Trustees claim we practice.
My next discovery caused that funny feeling to come to a head. In our quest for God, some of us join non-Christian religions. This makes little difference to most people. Many appear to be loyal to the Lord's Prayer. A minority is painfully aware that the Lord's Prayer is the prayer of a specific religion.
People in the minority are generally the most appreciative of the protection offered by our Third Tradition. This includes equal access and treatment in NA, despite such things as creed, religion, or lack of religion. For some, recovery is possible only because NA does not endorse or associate with any religion. Few things impair our ability to surrender like a reason to stop taking the NA program seriously.
It is very easy, through selfishness or ignorance, to offend a suffering addict right out the door. Our Fellowship developed the present interpretation of our Twelve Traditions through countless mistakes. Individual members cultivate a working knowledge of these principles -- often by trial and error. Our understanding is more fully completed as we become involved in service work.
When the World Convention came to Portland, many of us received a crash course in "the NA way of doing things." We were told, among other things, how important it is to use language that is not "drug specific" in NA. Many also learned, some for the first time, why using the AA Big Book in our meetings is a violation of the Traditions. The Basic Text of NA addresses this issue in its discussion of Tradition Six.
Does this mean that using the Lord's Prayer in our meetings is a compromise or a violation of the Traditions? This is not as simple to answer as the question of the AA Big Book. Our Basic Text clearly describes the "use of literature" from "other Twelve Step Fellowships" as "an implied endorsement" of those Fellowships. It is difficult to argue against such clear wording.
A motion listed in our service manual, Temporary Working Guide to Our Service Structure, is subject to a broader interpretation. In May, 1980, our Conference recommended "that any meeting using outside literature (***) that is not WSC approved be dropped from any NA directories." This definition is clear; the Big Book, the Bible, a Hazelden book -- anything "not WSC approved."
One difficult question is, what do we mean by "using" outside literature in our meetings? Does this only mean reading it? What about group-sanctioned use? Am I surrendering to the Traditions if I recite passage after passage of, say, the Big Book? I'm not reading it.
If we use a disclaimer, would that place us in unity with the rest of the Fellowship? If all the groups, and the ASC, and the other fellowships are doing it, doesn't that mean it's right? Besides, aren't the groups autonomous? Can't they end their meetings how they choose to?
I have heard these reasons, and I don't believe they address the issue. Getting back to the original question, the ASC is a committee, not a group. Groups are autonomous, committees are directly responsible to those they serve. One main point of an Area Service Committee is to set an example. This body needs to follow the letter and the spirit of the Traditions.
These are some questions I feel we should be asking ourselves: What is the primary purpose of Narcotics Anonymous? Does our practice of reciting the Lord's Prayer hurt anyone? What are the reasons our Area refuses to let go of this prayer?
Why do most areas and regions, and the World Services, use only the Serenity Prayer or the NA Third-Step Prayer in their meetings? Why do these two prayers have NA Conference approval while the Lord's Prayer does not? What if our prayer of choice was the official prayer of a religion that I felt was antagonistic toward the one I belong to? Would I feel safe in NA meetings?
* The Committed voted not to stop using the prayer, but to allow, for the first time, the use of alternate prayers. (return to reference)
** Third Tradition: "The only requirement for membership
is a desire to stop using." (return to reference)
*** This motion was carried in 1980 anticipating (or, more likely, urging) the 1982 approval of NA's book Narcotics Anonymous (also called the Basic Text), and was designed specifically to ban the use of Alcoholics Anonymous literaure -- especially the AA Big Book. (return to reference)