Question: My group sometimes reads from The Original Manuscript of The Big Book because many of us favor the more forceful language it uses. Some have objected to doing this because they say only AA approved books can be used in meetings. Is it OK to read from non-AA books in meetings?
Answer: Yes, it is OK to read from “non-AA” literature in an AA meeting unless your group decides to use “conference approved” literature only. Groups are under no obligation to adopt such a restriction.
When talking about whether a book is “AA approved” the question is often this: “Is the book General Service Conference approved literature?” Conference approval is only considered for books published by AA World Service in NY (AAWS). It serves as a way of saying that AAWS has put together a book and the General Service Conference has approved it. AAWS organizes the General Service Conference.
The list of books with conference approval is not a list of what may or may not be used in meetings but a list of literature the conference feels accurately reflects AA’s basic message. Some groups independently decide that they will only use Conference Approved Literature, but there is no requirement that a group limit itself to a list. Each AA group is the highest authority in AA and can use any literature it wants to.
In 1978 the AA General Service Office described what “Conference Approved” means in their Box 4-5-9 newsletter (Volume 23, No 4). Here the General Service Office said:
It (Conference Approved) does not mean the Conference disapproves of any other publications. Many local A.A. central offices publish their own meeting lists. A.A. as a whole does not oppose these, any more than A.A. disapproves of the Bible or any other publications from any source that A.A.’s find useful.
What any A.A. member reads is no business of G.S.O., or of the Conference, naturally.
The General Service Conference has also dealt with the meaning of the term “Conference Approved” in a “Conference Approved” pamphlet (SM F-29) called: Conference-Approved Literature. Here it is explained this way:
“Conference-approved” — What It Means to You
The term has no relation to material not published by G.S.O. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about A.A. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.
Books like the Original Manuscript and the First Edition of the Big Book are not Conference Approved Literature since there was no conference at the time they were published.
An odd side effect of a group that limits itself to conference approved literature would be that if the rule were rigorously followed, the group would not allow someone to read from Dr. Bob’s personal copy of the Big Book because, as a First Edition, it would lack conference approval.
Regional newsletters and literature also lack conference approval but are widely used in meetings. Since 1954 the Hazelden published “Twenty Four Hours a Day” (ISBN 9780894860126) has been very widely used in AA meetings and has never been considered for conference approval.
The first AA group in Akron, Ohio (still going today) continues to display the Bible that AA’s founders read from in the earliest meetings. What would have been fine literature for AA founder’s to read in a meeting would spark outrage in some groups today. It all depends on the individual group’s conscience to decide what is appropriate.
A.A. seems to have dealt with this controversy…Do other fellowships such as C.A., N.A., etc., have the same guidelines?