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”?
43 thoughts on “Elder Statesmen versus the Bleeding (Bleating) Deacons”
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.
Point well taken Scott!
I should take my own advice: Get two Big Books and one newcomer and call you in the morning. :)
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.
Somehow the fellow you mention and his ‘followers’ didn’t read the BB and Appendices ‘we are a democracy.’
I just sat through a rather explosive confrontation about singleness of purpose at the beginning of a meeting. The oldtimer in question basically exploded at the newcomer, took out all the groups treasure stuff, threw it on the table and walked out. One lady with PTSD ran away crying, triggered. She is also new to AA. Here’s the thing? This is a small town meeting, maybe 6 to 10 people on any given night. The person who identified as an addict will tell you they are alcoholic. They cannot drive to a NA meeting even if they wanted to.
The takeaway for me is this. It’s NOT what we say so much as how we say it. The confrontational nature of that exchange, the cussing, temper tantrum doesn’t represent authentic recovery in my eyes. The oldtimer in question has 16 years and to everyone’s estimation, has never been beyond step 3. This guy is a GSR? I have avoided him since that meeting because I am tired of his general negativity about all things AA. He frequently talks negatively about members not working the program, meetings not being run right, AA is just going to hell. I am biting my tongue, you know, the difference between taking his inventory and making an observation when he is so verbal is plain to see. Does it need to be said? Absolutely. Does it need to be said by me? To a degree, yes, I am done cosigning this person’s BS and need them to stop speaking to me of their negative views of everything AA. How I do this has yet to be determined, but we all have to have healthy personal boundaries and I have let this person complain to me for far too long. I’ve bitten my tongue for a while and see now that this was a mistake on my part. As for the addict and newcomer with PTSD. We all reassured them that this behavior was not typical or tolerated and that they were most definitely welcome. Further, I went over the singleness of purpose with the addict and explained that this is just what we say, they were free to do whatever they liked but the possibility of triggering a response was a possible outcome.
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.
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.
As Bill said with no doubt a healthy dose of irony wrote in our BB there will be those (people or groups) who will seek power and prestige.’
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.
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.
Did you even read the article? Your response is to typical of the “bleeding deacon” – “thou dost protest too much!
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.
Amen. When I was a couple of years dry my sponsor said we had to take AA underground to private meetings. I never went to those meetings. He died with 59 years of sobriety and gratefully I keep going to AA even in thes covid times.
Yay! Me too: I never stopped going to live meetings, getting those nods and those AA hugs. I am very clear which disease is going to kill me first. I never drank via zoom- so I don’t expect to stay sober that way either.
Special thanks to all the AA warriors who stood strong and kept the actual doors open and chairs set up during the crisis. Love you guys!
(BLEEDING DEACONS): LEAVE YOUR EGO IN YOUR OTHER COAT. PATIENCE AND TOLERANCE ARE PRICELESS!
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”.
The issue arises only when the Group decides to be an “organization” instead of the “fellowship” that is the subject of the 12 Traditions.
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!
Well said! The meeting after the meeting!
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.
Dr Paul never identified as an addict but simply an alcoholic, he who founded Pill Anonymous.
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.
Where did you miss Dr. Bob was an “alcoholic and an addict?”
May I suggest reading “Dr. Bob’s Nightmare pages 176-177.
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 !!!
I went to treatment a year ago and have attended the same AA meeting since. The same “bleeding deacon” has chaired the meeting everyday. The meeting is attended by anywhere from 10-25 daily M-F. This bleeding deacon collects the money, chairs and has control of the entire meeting, including the newcomer. He recently tried booting a fellow he doesn’t care for, blaming it on sexual misconduct. Our deacon is commonly making unwelcome comments to women. He held a group conscience meeting and was called out for his own behavior. He is the classic egomaniac with very low self-esteem. People that have attended this meeting for a long time have just accepted his bluster; I do not, however. Can someone give me some help in regards to getting him out?
Take him out to coffee and talk to him directly and honestly about what you perceive to be the problem. We forget that we should be able to honestly communicate with each other in AA. No matter how much time we are all just a bunch of alcoholics trying to stay sober “One day at a time”.
Well said! The meeting after the meeting!
I’ve never heard of a situation this bad….Go to other meetings….
Great tool for all this group personalities thing is to do a group inventory. Sometimes it resets a meeting back to the principles and traditions.
There is a flyer about it . It is suggested to have someone from outside meeting to facilitate.
‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ – is useful to me. Not because I do not want change. Because sometimes its the best course of no action. Personally I like to use ‘I’ statements. When people in AA start telling me what to do, and especially when they manage to cross-share through a couple of meetings, not just one, I begin to wonder where they get the time from to do all of that. I have had resentments against these members and I pray for them as the Big Book suggests. They are sick people. That helps me get a better perspective. I like to believe we are all doing are best at any given time. I do not like comments on my shares in Zoom when chat is enabled. I share for myself and have recently learnt that when a newcomer is present to include them in my share in some way. As for the business meetings and the other types of hierarchies, I have no interest in attending except usually as an observer. I do not sponsor anyone – a sponsor took me through the 12 Steps from the Big Book and I use them daily to the best of my ability. I could so easily be put off AA and I have been in the past and then taken a drink. I learnt from that to rely on my Higher Power and not other people. Who are, like myself, frequently wrong. I don’t share when some people are present due to the cross-talk that can go on for days, I have seen it happening to me, at least. Cannot be bothered with them and I pray for their peace of mind, health and happiness. I avoid them in other words and don’t feed them anything. Best way. Another helpful thing I learnt is that someone else can take them to task sooner or later so why should it be me. Better that its not me because its causing trouble for myself. I need to look after me in the best way I can. I live in England. The idea of taking someone through the Steps is not in my opinion good for me. I do help newcomers with questions about this or that and thats as far as it goes. Some people just are not made to be sponsors or do lots of service work. I share at meetings when no trouble is around I share my experience, strength and hope.
love & tolerance & acceptance.
I identify as a drug addict because I am and because *alcohol is a drug* which is the one that’s legal – and advertised – today.
I share *what is true for me today* NOT “Truth from the Mountain” with a capital ‘t.
The “my way or the highway” folk belong in a church or other institute of shame . . . .
Then why not just go to NA would seem to be more effective as BB says purpose is?
not sure why anyone else gets to decide whether a member qualifies to attend AA?
In many rural areas, AA is the only game in town. Why deny anyone the opportunity to recover from addiction to alcohol?
AA has NO requirements to identify as anything. if you read Bill Wilson’s 1965 address in Toronto to the International Convention, a person is a member if they decide so. Not anyone else
Any alcoholic is a member if they say so. As such, Alcoholics Anonymous is for alcoholics who wish to recover. Read the the “long form ” of the traditions. Why do you think Wilson talked about singleness of purpose? Why do you think he was more than willing to share the steps with groups with other, outside issue problems? AA does one thing, helping the alcoholic who still suffers. This premise really isn’t very hard to follow. If having a problem other than alcohol, and you still feel entitlement to the AA program and fellowship, then it becomes an issue of being selfish and self centered . In my experience, addicts of other persuasions are usually the ones complaining that “AA doesn’t work”. It would seem to make more sense to find the fellowship that deals with the particular affliction.
Clean and sober now over33 years. Heard it all and done it all.Still go to meetings, not as many though. I was obsessed with being right. Big mistake for us. Prideful opinions never help internal peace. With everything you think you know and that includes myself, know only a little. God is smarter than all of us. Get humility and mind our own business
Thank you – I’m an old timer too. I want to carry the message & be inclusive to help people stay in AA. My religious view point stays out of AA. My generic “GOD” has always been a group of drunks ❤️. If I force my beliefs on new comers I am promoting not ATTACKING- Amen
God grant me the serenity ,, too accept the things I cannot change courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
But for the grace of God go I
Pertaining the program, working with others was an absolutely necessary action for the first 100. References and mentions of working with others is laced throughout the text, mentioned many times even before chapter 7. Meetings began to spring up, the first group calling themselves an AA group being the one Clarence Snyder started in Cleveland. Sucess rates were around 90%. Admittedly, there are some differences from then to now.
A person was talked to one on one to see if they were alcoholic. Allergy and obsession was discussed, pointing out what defines an alcoholic and if the person “qualified” themselves, they were “sponsored” into a meeting. Again, things are different now, but some things don’t have to be. We have dispatched 12 Step calls to treatment centers. Going to treatment is in the public psyche when it comes to getting help. No need to list all the things that may have contributed to the decline in sucess AA enjoyed in the early years but those people were working with others as soon as they completed the Steps.
Now, a great percentage of members are of the meeting makers make it mindset. That is their program, often not even working the Steps but restricted to an 11 Step program even when they do.
Again, working with others is laid out as being vital to being recovered. I think the lack of it is the single greatest shortcoming in AA today. If that makes me a bleeding deacon, then someone insists on the modern, watered down version of the program, meaning they are in the 5 or 6% who make it and insist on doing what they did,
AA is based on a book written by Bill W. that presents what the first 100 did. That is the “We” the book is talking about every time that word is used. If you want what “We” have. Do this. All of it. At some of these (Steps) we balked . That includes Step 12.
As Bill stated, anyone can borrow everything we have discovered. Steps, Traditions, all of it. Except our name. If it isn’t being done by the specific, clear cut directions in the Big Book, it isn’t AA. Call it something else and stop profaning the AA name by standing on Meeting Makers Make It, Just Don’t Drink and go to meetings, and building resentments about people who know how to work the program because you aren’t yet convinced enough to go to any length.
They aren’t trying to be know-it-alls. They just know what AA is supposed to be. Times are changing but alcoholism is the same as always and some people found a solution back in the 30”s. Get with the program or start a new one that suits your liking.