By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
The year our son was born, a friend asked if I would co-lead what we came to call a “Shalom Group.” Using the 12 Steps of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon as our guide, we gathered weekly for prayer and support – trusting that our work together would help us live more “shalom-filled” lives.
I was in my first pastoral call, and though I still wrestle with that first step of admitting my “powerlessness,” I began to see the deep wisdom in AA’s philosophy. In addition to its unabashed call to vulnerability and radical trust in God, it provides one of the most rigorous processes for confession and making amends to those we’ve wronged.
“AA provides one of the most rigorous processes for confession and making amends to those we’ve wronged.”
Reading the headlines this past week brought that philosophy to mind. Could the 12 Steps have something to say to:
- Harvard’s decision to revoke the admission of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate, Kyle Kashuv, after it discovered that Kyle had made deplorably racist comments as a 16 year old, and
- The testimony of a panel of prominent African Americans before Congress about creating a commission to study the legacy of slavery and make proposals on reparations.
Could the rigorous nature of AA’s wisdom have something to say to such issues? Steps four through ten call us to:
- make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves;
- admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs;
- become ready to have God remove all these defects of character;
- humbly ask God to remove our character defects;
- make a list of all the persons we’ve harmed;
- become willing to make amends to them all;
- make direct amends to people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others; and
- continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit
KYLE KASHUV APOLOGIZED for his racist comments and asked for help to become a better person. Instead of revoking admission, what if Harvard gave Kashuv a year on probation or a gap year where he engaged such a rigorous 12-step process?
The question of reparations for a systemic injustice doesn’t fit so easily into the 12 steps. It’s clearly for individuals. But, is there wisdom that can be adapted for communal problems?
“What if Harvard gave Kyle Kashuv a year on probation or a gap year where he engaged such a rigorous 12-step process?”
To be sure, only I can do my own 12-Step work. We’re not called to take another’s “moral inventory.” Or as Jesus said, “you without sin cast the first stone.”
And, the 12 steps say nothing about the hard work of forgiveness. That’s a topic for a whole new blog (or, perhaps, several). If you can’t wait for that, I commend Lewis Smedes’ book The Art of Forgiving.
Maybe, I will attend the Addiction and Faith Conference in Bloomington in September with a two-fold vision – to look at myself and to look for lessons from the recovering community that guide us to corporately confess, make amends, and seek reconciliation.