12 Step Recovery and Christianity — do they click or clash?

Some Christians are hesitant to participate in 12 Step recovery programs, because they want something that is specifically Christian-focused. While I would be the first to say that there are some excellent Christian recovery programs available for sexual strugglers (such as LIFE groups and the Sampson Society), I still participate in and recommend 12 Step programs as well. In fact, I’ve written an article profiling the various 12 Step options for sexual strugglers.

Today we have a guest post from Joe Herzanek, author of “Why don’t they just quit?,” and founder of the Changing Lives foundation. Joe’s focus is primarily on substance addiction, but what he has to say about the 12 step approach and Christianity is really helpful, no matter what the addiction.

I’m often asked, especially by many in the Christian Community, if the AA 12-step program conflicts with Biblical Christianity. Some feel that the two just don’t go together. Personally, after three decades of studying and being part of both groups, I have to disagree.

Some in the faith community have come up with alternative support groups to the AA 12-steps. These well-meaning Christians, in my opinion are attempting to “reinvent the wheel.” The real rub seems to come from the term “Higher Power.” There are people who feel that if they don’t say “Jesus Christ-the Son of God” during these meetings, that they are somehow denying their faith. This is just not true.

After counseling with thousands of addicts (and their families) over the past three decades, I’ve discovered two common challenges that occur, when discussions by alcohol and drug dependent people turn spiritual, or to “things of God.”

The first challenge deals with a person’s “history.” An extremely high percentage of recovering people have a negative, or skewed background concerning a belief in God. Most of these people end up thinking that if there is a God, he surely doesn’t care much about me. Many churches (not all) will try to use guilt to convince a person that they need God. Well-meaning parents, and some family members have also used this tactic. In addition to this, negative news stories about men and women of faith, caught living a double life have become more and more common-making the “God thing” even more complex. There’s nothing like a high-profile pastor-caught living a “secret double life”-a hypocrite, to add fuel to the fire (no pun intended).

I would venture to say that for most of us, coming to a clear understanding and commitment to our faith was a process. I know it was for me. It was not until I did my own personal searching and seeking, that I was able to make an “informed decision.” Well-thought, and informed commitments seem to last much longer than those made rashly, during an emotional, spur-of-the-moment event.

As I search the scriptures about Jesus, I see a pattern in His approach. Jesus, quite often attended to a person’s physical needs before talking about spiritual matters. Feeding the hungry, healing the blind, deaf or crippled, came first. Once a person’s physical needs were addressed, He opened the door for deeper discussions. You might say He had earned the right to be bold about faith.

We, (myself included) in the Christian Community will sometimes approach problems in just the opposite way. I think this is a big mistake-especially when I look around at some people’s quick emotional “conversions” which are often followed by repeated relapses to an old way of living.

Are faith, prayer and a strong belief in a kind and loving, benevolent God-critical for real, long-lasting change? You bet. But it’s good to remember that some things take time.

It’s also good to remember that concerning a person’s addiction, God is just as concerned, if not more, about the addict’s well being as we are. None of this has caught Him by surprise.

The second challenge with the 12-steps and faith is this; the founders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob knew that they needed to “walk a fine line” when it came to religion and/or God. I’ve read much, and done a lot of research over the years-on both of these men. It’s a fact that both of them studied and read the Bible daily. It’s also a fact that their faith had great influence on their writings.

So why, you might ask, is the 12-step literature so generic when it comes to “things of God?” It appears to me that Bill W. and Dr. Bob intimately understood the mind of the alcoholic. They knew that if they placed great emphasis on a specific belief on Jesus Christ, it would alienate a large number of those needing recovery.

I believe these men had to come to a consensus on this matter. They needed to resolve these questions: What are we truly wanting to do?… to accomplish?

I feel they made the perfect choice. Yes, the “God part” is critical and must be a big part of AA and the 12-steps. They knew that if they stepped “over the line” and were looked on as “preachy” many would “tune out.” They decided to trust God-to bring true seekers to Him.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob decided to let AA help with the sobriety part, and to let “God be God” (He will take it from there).


Joe Herzanek is the president and founder of Changing Lives Foundation. As a certified addiction professional in Colorado he spent over seventeen years working in the criminal justice system as the Chaplain at the Boulder County Jail. Joe is the former host of Recovery Television, speaker, producer of several DVDs, including “The 10 Toughest Questions Families and Friends Ask About Addiction and Recovery” and author of the award-winning book “Why Don’t They Just Quit?”

Is there an alcoholic or addict in your family? Have you tried everything? Your situation may be unique, but it’s not hopeless. Joe specializes in those tough, “seemingly impossible” situations. Reasonably-priced expert counsel and solutions you can use right now. http://blog.whydonttheyjustquit.com/?page_id=2402


4 thoughts on “12 Step Recovery and Christianity — do they click or clash?”

  1. The one thing I always found interesting was that the founder of AA was supposedly a sex addict basically until the day he died! It tells me, basically, that sex is ‘different’. It is somewhere between alcohol and eatting. We dont necessarily quit it cold turkey. We should neither minimize it or maximize it. We learn to live with it.

    Mark, thoughts on the Brett Farve incident?


  2. Yes it’s true … Bill W’s sexual struggles have been well documented, as well as his 3 pack a day smoking habit! I think this tells us that nobody is perfect, and that we need to look to principles and to God, not to people. This relates to Brett Farve as well. We can admire people for their skills or their character, but always remember that they are human and have their flaws too. There is a reason why only dead people get to be given the status of “sainthood.”

  3. I\’ve been clean for a year now, I\’m in a program caleld drug court where i\’m drug tested weekly. The program is about over now so i\’m worried. I have stayed clean for3 and 4 years at a time, but the meth always takes over again. I am a miserable man looking for an answer.Don

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