Do Christians need recovery? Or is recovery something needed by the church itself?
Addiction—whether to a substance or to a behavior—is a problem within faith communities, just like it is everywhere else. But because churches are rarely experienced as safe places for dealing with addiction, co-addiction, or the legacy of family dysfunction, Christians tend to seek recovery from these conditions in Twelve-Step fellowships. Once they become accustomed to the ethos of vulnerability, acceptance, and healing that these fellowships provide, however, they are often left feeling that the church has failed them, with many asking: why can’t church be more like an AA meeting?
Inspired by his own quest to find in church the sort of mutual support and healing he discovered in Twelve-Step fellowships, Stephen Haynes explores the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and its relationship to American Christianity. He shows that, while AA eventually separated from the Christian parachurch movement out of which it emerged, it retained aspects of Christian experience that the church itself has largely lost: comfort with brokenness and vulnerability, an emphasis on honesty and transparency, and suspicion toward claims to piety and respectability. Haynes encourages Christians to reclaim these distinctive elements of the Twelve-Step movement in the process of “recovering church.” He argues that this process must begin with he calls “Step 0,” which, as he knows from personal experience, can be the hardest step: the admission that, despite appearances, we are not fine.
Stephen R. Haynes is professor of religious studies at Rhodes College, adjunct professor of recovery ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, and theologian-in-residence at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. A contributor to The Christian Century and HuffPost, he is the author of several books, including The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump and The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation.
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