Elder Statesmen versus the Bleeding (Bleating) Deacons

Do we as “elder statesmen” govern by exerting power or influence, controlling newcomers, and building political alliances or do we serve by sharing service and rotating out of leadership allowing God, through our group conscience to lead?

…our so called elder statesmen are often perceived to have power and/or influence. Through the development of down line representation (e.g. Sponsees) at the district or area level, these elders maintain their influence, which may be so permanently established at the district or area level that newcomers often surrender. This stifles change and growth for these local fellowships.” (CA Newsgram Article, Third Quarter, 2002)

Dictionary definition of “bleeding (bleating) deacon” n. a person who believes himself indispensable to a group, esp. a person who becomes so over-involved in a group’s internal management, policies, or politics as to lose sight of its larger goals; (hence) a person with a negative, moralizing character, who acts like the sole source of wisdom.

The term “Bleeding Deacon” is a corruption of an old New England term from the 18th or 19th century. The original term was Bleating Deacon, evoking a farmer’s image of an old goat in the pulpit.

When the term was first applied it was intended for those people who have a set of cries such as “it will never work” or “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” The actual term used was “bleating beacon” [sic] (as in sheep). The A.A. Grape Vine even ran a series titled “The Bleating Deacon’s Corner.”

On page 123, Alcoholics Anonymous comes of Age, Bill Wilson states:

Does A.A. have a REAL leadership? The answer is “Yes, notwithstanding the apparent lack of it.” Let’s turn again to the deposed founder and his friends. What becomes of them? As their grief and anxiety wear away, a subtle change begins. Ultimately they divide into two classes known in A.A. slang as “elder statesmen” and “bleeding (bleating) deacons.” The elder statesman is one who sees the wisdom of the group’s decisions, who holds no resentment over his reduced status, whose judgement, fortified by considerable experience, is sound, and who is willing to sit quietly on the side lines patiently awaiting developments. The bleeding deacon is one who remains convinced that the group cannot get along without him, who constantly connives for re-election to office, and who continues to be consumed with self-pity. A few deacons hemorrhage so badly that they get drunk. At times the A.A. landscape seems to be littered with bleeding forms. Nearly every old-timer in our society has gone of through this process in some degree. I have myself. Happily most them survive and live to become elder statesmen. This the real and enduring leadership of A.A. their is the quiet opinion, the sure knowledge, and the humble example that resolves a crisis. When sorely perplexed, the group inevitably turns to them for advice. They become the voice of the group conscience. They are, in fact, the true voice of Alcoholics Anonymous. They do not drive by mandate; they lead by example. This is how Tradition Nine was evolved. This is why A.A. can never be organized under any known form of government.

On page 119-120, Alcoholics Anonymous comes of Age, Bill Wilson states:

Relapse and disintegration are not penalties inflicted by people in authority; they are results of personal disobedience to spiritual principles. We must obey certain principles, or we die.

The same stern threat applies to the group itself. Unless there is approximate conformity to A.A.’s Twelve Traditions, the group too can deteriorate and die. So we of A.A. do obey spiritual principles, first because we love the kind of life much obedience brings. Great suffering and great love are A.A.’s disciplinarians; w have no others.

Therefore it is now clear that we ought never to name boards no govern us…It is in this spirit of service that we elect the A.A. groups’ informal rotating committees, the Intergroup Associations of the area, and the General Service Conference for A.A. as a whole.

“If anything is going to destroy A.A.,” says Dr. John Norris, a nonalcoholic physician, friend of Bill Wilson’s and for many years chairman of A.A.’s board of trustees, “It will be what I call the ‘tradition lawyers.” They find it easier to live with black and white than they do with gray. These ‘bleeding deacons’ – these fundamentalists are afraid of and fight any change.” (Source: The New York Times Magazine, February 21, 1988)

AT JUST WHAT point does a person become an old-timer, anyhow? What special status goes with the title? Is there really any need for the old-timer? After all, we are living in a changing world. To coin a phrase, is the old-timer’s experience “relevant”?

19 thoughts on “Elder Statesmen versus the Bleeding (Bleating) Deacons

  1. I was walking with a homeless alcoholic/addict last nite and I asked him "You know Dave, do you think that an Elder Statesman has more rights to sit in on a AA meeting than a Bleeding Deacon." So he asks me, "You know Scott, I’m dying of alcoholism today, I’m really really sick, but even though I don’t know the difference, if I answer correctly will I get better?" So I said, "Well, not really Dave, we still have to go make that amend tomorrow to your brother for that labour job you didn’t show up for. Then you will begin to get better, but there is alot more work to do brother".

    P.S. Keep it real.

  2. Point well taken Scott!

    I should take my own advice: Get two Big Books and one newcomer and call you in the morning. :)

  3. I find it so difficult to penetrate through the stonch separation of alcoholic and addict in meetings.It is very clear why WE who are in the program know this to be necessary but the newcomer does not. When a life is at stake, we as a group need to steer very clear of the slam down, stop the meeting tactics so often used by old timers and their kin. Approaching the addict AFTER the meeting and explaining HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS and lovingly offer to redirect and FIND a place, person, or solution is key to so many that are seeking help. I have never known of a situation yet that has required anything less than patience love and TOLERANCE for the alcoholic and addict that still suffer. Clancy himself once said..:"a nod is a nod" meaning? sick is sick no matter how it walks in the door. BLEEDING DEACONS ARE YOU LISTENING? LaDonna M. Riveside Ca. 16 years.

  4. Hmmm depends on the old timer and who has the fortitude to stand up to them. Also covering that in a group conscious. I take Dr Bob’s words "what would the master have us do?" 16 years that’s close to being one.

  5. An Ego-Maniac with an Inferiority Complex looks the same if his name is Clancy,Sam or Dan…It also does not matter if he (or she) is 2 days sober or 105 years and and has wall paper describing how brilliant they are…AA’s purpose was not set up as a means to make a name for our selves in the fellowship or out of it…If anything the opposite is true if we follow the 12 Traditions….Actions speak louder than words do..
    If I may suggest Look and Listen and for God’s sake THINK about What is being said rather than who is saying what…We are all just a pile of ex drunks remember that…Put things in proper perspective…It all come down to Principles before personalities.

  6. We have a few bleeding deacons at my home group. We meet at night and all 7-days are represented as one big group. The business secretary has been there for 2 or 3 years and all the secretaries obey him. The secretaries are generally less than a year sober and lack fundamental knowledge of traditions and business meetings – being a transient meeting – no one in intergroup seems to notice. Our secretaries will be in their position for years at a time too — because “no one can replace them” — quite a few relapse or thirteen step too.

  7. So your intent is to tell other what to do? 16 years? Is that what I have to look forward to some internet Belching Deacon trying to tell other what to do? Not for me.

  8. I know an old timer, 41 yrs sober,who won’t lead or even go to most meetings at our Hall anymore. His reason is, the newcomers just won’t step up and be of service. At last. Count I think we have over 18 meetings a week. I have to say “somebody” is opening the hall making coffee collecting rent and leading meetings! He says A.A. is gonna die in this town! I’ve got 12 years sober and I can only hope I don’t turn my back on the people in the town who helped me get to where I am today, which is sober one day at a time.

  9. Long-timers doing for Newer-timers in the group eventually kills it when the Long-timers can no longer do it leaving the Newer-timers as helpless as the kids of helicopter parents. Such groups have always been dying for this reason. The good news is that the Newer-comers are finally required to start and contribute to new groups instead of just “going to meetings”.

  10. The issue arises only when the Group decides to be an “organization” instead of the “fellowship” that is the subject of the 12 Traditions.

  11. Bravo, well done! AA bleaking deacons as well as AA 95% current old timers and new comers are falling short of what God designed for us drunks, drug addicts and downright misfits of society!

    If your life is based self will and selfish thinking than I am referring to you!

    If you do not approach the newcomer after a meeting and offer your services to sponsor him each and every time you meet a new comer than you are guilty of being disobedient to God.

    I can only imagine Dr
    Bob and Bill Wilson watching us from a distance and a tear or two running down there cheeks as the new comer walks to his car alone and consumed with fear!

    Please get back to basics and work10,11 and 12 foe the Love of God!

  12. When we speak of intolerance, are we not being intolerant ourselves. Love and tolerance of others is our code. Thats all others. Not just the people i see fit to deserve it. Says my loving understanding of the internal condition in all its deadly forms. Love thy neighbour as thy are

    • Well said, anonymous. i (39yrs) don’t use the terms because they are arbitrary, could be divisive and lead to intolerance.
      As far as i can tell, almost all of us are addicted to something besides alcohol (caffeine for me). Members in my home group commonly identify as alcoholic and addict (tradition 2, 4). However, when chairing a meeting, i will cut someone off who apparently forgets traditions 1,3,5 and 12.

  13. Thanks to everyone justifying drugs addicts in meetings. And the Bleeding Deacons. I am currently a bleeding deacon. I used to be an elder but not a statesman. I am in the UK and through the raise of treatment centres and various non AA Sponsors the message has become lost. I got sober because of, through and continues use and attendance of AA’s three legacies.
    The town I got sober had no treatment centres just the usual alcoholic dry out wards and mental hospitals. So we had AA. The fellowship grew in our town and it’s was AA. Alcoholics only or people who think they are. I got and stayed sober.
    9 years ago I was fortunate to move to a new town. Expecting the similar type of fellowship I found a town awash with treatment centres for profit and non profit, where other towns problems were shipped out to. The meetings were huge…….. I mean huge above the national average and also above the estimated of alcoholics.
    The town was awash with crime from theft and drug related incidents. And AA meetings comprised a myriad of identifying tags. Im clean today, I’m an addict, and very little talk of alcohol. In fact everything other than, it also became apparent that these meetings were very large social events. And I mean social. Everyone thought that coffee and chat was recovery.
    Coming from an AA background of I’m an Alcoholic because I have developed an allergy and obsession for and around alcohol I heard the it was people drug of choice. This confused me and some there’s who’s understood the I had no choice. And yet the meeting grew. The slips got larger, or relapses as people start to medicalised them and I look for alcoholics within the meetings. And boy did I struggle.
    My experience of meeting structures, the AA Traditions, the service structure and sponsorship was not the loving common welfare I been guide to and by for years but was used to justify poor behaviour by non AA Sponsors sponsoring AA meetings and venues. This really disturbed me and continues and yet I raise my voice. I have to for me.
    The alcoholic still suffering who hasn’t smoked heroin, taken crack, used meth or speed, who thinks the disease is dis-ease, is my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to ensure that they hear about the allergy and the obsession and that recovering from the loneliest disease in the world is still possible. I drank alone, got drunk alone and everyday I died alone, then I found others who drank like me, thought like me and felt like me. I was no longer alone.
    Addiction and alcoholism are not the same. Go to an NA meeting and start sharing about the allergy to alcohol and they will ask you to leave. Therefore, respectfully as I don’t go to NA please do take away the only lifeline I have because I have no where else to go.

  14. Wow !
    Thank you well put. When I came into AA drugs were not spoken about. AA singleness of purpose. Drugs and alcohol are two different types of addictions. Its like saying sugar alters your mind. (IDK) OA people don’t come to AA and speak about that proublem, then why is it ok now to just identify as an addict ? I recently sat in on NA open meeting open said nothing. It’s not where I belong. Please if NA people need to come into AA either stay with the program or please stay quiet.
    This thread started speaking about the Elder Statesman and Bleeding Deacon. Funny how my home group is has so many people with 30 + years. No one talks they just listen ! 20 plus years here and I have average sobriety in my group. The old timers don’t put up with the Bleeding Deacon ! Strong group with the singleness of purpose. Charleston, SC. Rocks !!!

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