A.A. members can read any books they believe will help them obtain sobriety and spiritual growth, A.A. groups can read from any literature they wish to in their meetings, and A.A. groups, intergroups, and conferences can sell any literature which they choose to.

Conference-approved literature

Glenn C.

The author's name may often be spelled or misspelled as Glenn C., South Bend / Glenn F. Chesnut / Glenn Chesnut / Glen F. Chesnut / Glen Chesnut / Glenn F. Chestnut / Glenn Chestnut / Glen F. Chestnut / Glen Chestnut

  Official statement from the New York GSO service material:

"The term 'Conference-approved' describes written or audiovisual material approved by the Conference for publication by GSO. This process assures that everything in such literature is in accord with AA principles. Conference-approved material always deals with the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous or with information about the AA Fellowship."

"The term has no relation to material not published by GSO. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about AA.  A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and AA does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read."

"Conference approval assures us that a piece of literature represents solid AA experience. Any Conference-approved booklet or pamphlet goes through a lengthy and painstaking process, during which a variety of AAs from all over the United States and Canada read and express opinions at every stage of production."


We should remember that all the term "conference-approved" really means, at the basic level, is that the Delegates to the A.A. conference in New York voted to use conference money to print and distribute that book.

The Delegates whom the Areas elect and send to New York are of varying degrees of wisdom and experience. I still cringe at the memory of one unbelievably ignorant and obnoxious Delegate who was elected from an Area in my part of the upper midwest around twenty years ago, in a moment of panic when the candidate who was supposed to have run (and would have done an extremely good job) backed out at the last moment. Some Delegates have had years in the program and some have not much time at all. A few of the Delegates have a detailed knowledge of early A.A. history and the way good old-time A.A. actually worked, but the overwhelming majority do not. All have their own individual points of view.

Their decisions as a group usually reflect a good deal of common sense when dealing with disputed issues. But none of the Delegates whom we elect are divinely inspired, and all of them are ordinary human beings who also have the capability of making disastrously wrong choices. They are no better and no worse than the people who are elected to the U.S. Congress or the British Parliament (neither of which bodies has ever been thought of as a source of divinely inspired and hence universally infallible Truth with a capital T). Actually attend one of your Area Assemblies and listen to the debates to see what I mean.

Drunks who try to get sober by mechanically following all conference pronouncements to the letter will find that there is no magical rule book anywhere which will allow people to heal their spiritual problems by blindly obeying hundreds and thousands of rules. People who try that are seeking the "easier, softer way" that never works, and refusing to take full adult responsibility for their own behavior and its consequences.

William James noted that the human race requires a variety of different kinds of religious experience, because different people are of different psychological types. This means that the Delegates as a group can talk about spirituality only in terms of bland generalizations and inoffensive little greeting card statements. If they back anything stronger, it will be greeted with cheers by one portion of the A.A. membership, but attacked on the spot by all the people whose personalities require a different kind of spirituality. And this in turn means that -- once Bill Wilson was dead and was no longer using the New York operation to publish works expressing his own powerful and highly individualistic spiritual vision -- the GSO has never been able to sponsor any publication written by anyone else which goes into spirituality at any real depth.

All of this means that there are limits to what we can expect from conference approved statements. But a crisis was created within A.A. at the end of the twentieth century when events which had taken place during the 1970's and 1980's created highly vocal groups of A.A. members in the 1990's who had forgotten this simple fact, and who also did not know enough about good old-time A.A. to realize that they were cutting the modern program off from the very roots of the A.A. tradition.

It is a major crisis -- bigger than many people realize -- because cut flowers (separated from their roots) may continue to bloom for a while when stuck in a vase of water, but are not going to continue to blossom for years to come. They will in time wither and die, and will not be able to rejuvenate themselves so that they can ever blossom again.

Until the 1970's, no one worried at all, you see, about whether a piece of literature about alcoholism and the A.A. program was or was not a conference-approved publication paid for and printed by the New York office. But then the passage of the Hughes Act began to give rise to thousands of self-proclaimed alcoholism treatment facilities living off the enormous amount of health insurance money which now started becoming available.

These places were all too often run by psychiatrists and psychotherapists who were hostile to the A.A. program and had their own unworkable theories about alcoholism treatment. In fact from the very beginning -- one can see it happening already in the debates and power struggles over the Hughes Act in the U.S. Congress when it was being passed -- a large number of psychiatrists were doing their best to divert all the funds and grants which had been intended to help suffering alcoholics, and transfer all this money into their own pockets.

Then alcoholics started coming out of some of these treatment programs, brainwashed by the kind of psychiatrists and psychotherapists who looked down on the twelve-step program with contempt, and indoctrinated by that group of mental health professionals who were convinced they could produce long-lasting recovery in more "scientific" fashion through their own bag of psychological gimmicks. When these treatment center graduates started attending A.A. meetings, bringing their treatment center books and pamphlets with them, it caused instant problems. The easiest way for A.A. old-timers to combat these unworkable strategies for recovery -- or so it seemed at the time -- was to say that "we cannot read and discuss that material here because it is not conference approved."

The actual enemy they were combatting when they used this tactic, we must realize, was that group of hostile psychiatrists and psychotherapists who had taken over so many of the newly created alcoholism treatment facilities and the vast body of "psychobabble" literature (written by them) that had now started flooding into the commercial bookstores. The people running the A.A. meetings were focused in such single-minded fashion on attacking that specific kind of literature that they did not stop to think about how much traditional A.A. literature was ALSO not conference-approved, at least not in that kind of legalistic fashion.

By the end of the 1990's, most of these insurance-money-financed treatment centers had disappeared, the commercial bookstores had quit carrying shelf after sheft of "recovery" books written to make money, and the issue should rightfully have died at that point.

That problem was that some of the younger A.A. people had come to believe during that period -- falsely -- that A.A. rules said that A.A. meetings were not allowed to read or discuss any material on alcoholism at all which was not "conference approved." And they began extending this imaginary rule (which was never an actual rule in the first place) and began insisting that intergroup offices and other A.A. functions were not allowed to sell even greatly admired traditional works such as Twenty-Four Hours a Day or The Little Red Book or Emmet Fox's Sermon on the Mount.

This was in spite of the fact that there have been endless statements coming out of the New York office itself for over sixty years saying that they "were not policemen" and that A.A. groups could read and sell any books they wanted to -- and in spite of the fact that the universal witness of the good old-timers from the 1940's and 50's is that A.A.'s back then had no rules about what people could or could not read, and that "we read anything that might get us sober" (see The Books the Good Old-Timers Read, Part 1Part 2,  and Part 3).  Getting sober is not a matter of making up silly childish rules for people to follow, but a task which demands that we start thinking for ourselves, and taking personal responsibility for our own lives and our own decisions, and that we do whatever we have to do in order to save our lives.

This misunderstanding, by some of the younger A.A. people during the 1990's, has created a situation, a decade later, in which A.A. is now in danger of being completely cut off from its traditional roots because of this small but highly vocal group of people who fail to understand what the term "conference approved" actually means, and are invoking this phrase to try to turn A.A. into the kind of dangerously authoritarian cult where the gurus or cult leaders attempt to practice total thought control over all their members, and where salvation is believed to come from fanatically following hundreds of arbitrary rules laid out by a small circle of people at the top.

I am trying to avoid sounding overdramatic about this issue, but an A.A. which no longer follows the traditional A.A. program laid down by the good old-timers, will lose its heart and spirit, and its power to transform human lives and lift lost souls out of the miry pit where they had lain them down to die. The good old-timers took what they received from God and passed it on to us. We in turn must take their message and pass it on to the next generation of newcomers, or we will have failed to carry out the task which God assigned us.

How could it conceivably be "against the rules" in A.A. to read what these good old-timers wrote, and the books that they advised newcomers to read? Let's start using some simple common sense. The authentic tradition of the good old-timers -- the ones who were proved to be channels of grace by the hundreds of lives they saved -- is the most accurate touchstone we possess for judging the worth of our message and our practices today.

The solution is simple:  warn newcomers about the dangers of being over-impressed by some of the psychobabble books and theories which are still coming from psychiatrists who are hostile to A.A. and are trying to propagandize other supposed methods for getting sober, which never did work, and still do not work today. Then tell them to start reading the four great early A.A. authors and early A.A. pamphlets, and the books on the Akron Reading List above, and immerse themselves in A.A.'s Historic Heritage and sit at the feet of the great spiritual masters who taught the early A.A. people. We must sell these books in our groups and intergroups (how else are people going to get copies, since the commercial bookstores won't carry these works), and we must read from and study these books and pamphlets in our A.A. meetings. The solution to our problems is simple.  DO THE OBVIOUS.

          -- Glenn C.

Letters from Bobbie Burger
and Bill Wilson

Wally P. says that "in the Fall of 1944, a copy of the Washington, DC pamphlet reached Barry C[ollins] -- one of the AA pioneers in Minneapolis. He wrote a letter to the New York headquarters requesting permission to distribute the pamphlet. We talk about 'Conference Approved Literature' today; but this is the way the Fellowship operated back then. This is a letter from Bobbie B[urger], Bill W.'s secretary, printed on 'Alcoholic Foundation' stationary."
November 11, 1944

Dear Barry:

. . . The Washington D.C. pamphlet and the new Cleveland "Sponsorship" pamphlet and a host of others are all local projects. We do not actually approve or disapprove of these local pieces; by that I mean that the Foundation feels each Group is entitled to write up its own "can opener" and let it stand on its own merits. All of them have good points and very few have caused any controversy. But as in all things of a local nature, we keep hands off, either pro or con. I think there must be at least 25 local pamphlets now being used and I've yet to see one that hasn't had some good points. I think it is up to each individual Group whether it wants to use and buy these pamphlets from the Group that puts them out.

                             Sincerely, Bobbie (Margaret R. Burger)
In November 1950, Bill W. wrote Barry Collins about The Little Red Book, the introduction to the twelve steps which Barry and Ed Webster had been publishing in Minneapolis since 1946 under the sponsorship of the Nicollet group in that city:
The Little Red Book does fill a definite need and has wide circulation. Therefore, its usefulness is unquestioned. AA has a definite place for such a book. Someday I may try to write an introduction book myself which I hope might complement favorably with The Little Red Book. Here at the Foundation we are not policemen; we're a service and AAs are free to read any book they choose.
In other words, in good old-time A.A., nobody ever thought that New York was supposed to decide what books A.A.'s could and could not read -- they were neither "policemen" nor gurus of some authoritarian religious cult -- as Brooklyn Bob, one good old-timer, put it, "We read anything we could get our hands on that might help us get sober." Individual A.A. groups could print any books they wanted to and sell any books which they felt would help their members.


Our Greatest Danger: Rigidity

Bob Pearson

  Bob Pearson (1917-2008) was General Manager of the General Service Office from 1974 to 1984, and then served as Senior Advisor to the G.S.O. from 1985 until his retirement. His story is in the Big Book as "AA Taught Him to Handle Sobriety," 3rd edit. (1976) pp. 554-561, 4th edit. (2001) pp. 553-559.

During the 1986 General Service Conference, Bob gave a powerful and inspiring closing talk to the conference at the closing brunch on Saturday morning, April 26. It was an especially significant occasion, because he knew that he was going to retire early the next year, and that this would be his last General Service Conference. The following excerpts are taken from that farewell speech, as published in the Conference's final report: The Thirty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous 1986 (Roosevelt Hotel, New York City, April 20-26, 1986), Final Report.

This is my 18th General Service Conference -- the first two as a director of the Grapevine and A.A.W.S., followed by four as a general service trustee. In 1972, I rotated out completely, only to be called back two years later as general manager of G.S.O., the service job I held until late 1984. Since the 1985 International Convention, of course, I have been senior adviser. This is also my last Conference, so this is an emotionally charged experience.

I wish I had time to express my thanks to everyone to whom I am indebted for my sobriety and for the joyous life with which I have been blessed for the past nearly 25 years. But since this is obviously impossible, I will fall back on the Arab saying that Bill quoted in his last message, "I thank you for your lives." For without your lives, I most certainly would have no life at all, much less the incredibly rich life I have enjoyed.

Let me offer my thoughts about A.A.'s future. I have no truck with those bleeding deacons who decry every change and view the state of the Fellowship with pessimism and alarm. On the contrary, from my nearly quarter-century's perspective, I see A.A. as larger, healthier, more dynamic, faster growing, more global, more service-minded, more back-to-basics, and more spiritual -- by far -- than when I came through the doors of my first meeting in Greenwich, Connecticut, just one year after the famous [July 1960] Long Beach Convention. A.A. has flourished beyond the wildest dreams of founding members, though perhaps not of Bill himself, for he was truly visionary.

I echo those who feel that if this Fellowship ever falters or fails, it will not be because of any outside cause. No, it will not be because of treatment centers or professionals in the field, or non-Conference-approved literature, or young people, or the dually-addicted, or even the "druggies" trying to come to our closed meetings. If we stick close to our Traditions, Concepts, and Warranties, and if we keep an open mind and an open heart, we can deal with these and any other problems that we have or ever will have. If we ever falter and fail, it will be simply because of us. It will be because we can't control our own egos or get along well enough with each other. It will be because we have too much fear and rigidity and not enough trust and common sense.

If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity -- the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to "enforce" our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., "banning books"; laying more and more rules on groups and members. And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting farther and farther away from our co- founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for he was perhaps the most permissive person I ever met. One of his favorite sayings was, "Every group has the right to be wrong." He was maddeningly tolerant of his critics, and he had absolute faith that faults in A.A. were self-correcting.

And I believe this, too, so in the final analysis we're not going to fall apart. We won't falter or fail. At the 1970 International Convention in Miami, I was in the audience on that Sunday morning when Bill made his brief last public appearance. He was too ill to take his scheduled part in any other convention event, but now, unannounced, on Sunday morning, he was wheeled up from the back of the stage in a wheelchair, attached with tubes to an oxygen tank. Wearing a ridiculous bright-orange, host committee blazer, he heaved his angular body to his feet and grasped the podium -- and all pandemonium broke loose. I thought the thunderous applause and cheering would never stop, tears streaming down every cheek. Finally, in a firm voice, like his old self, Bill spoke a few gracious sentences about the huge crowd, the outpouring of love, and the many overseas members there, ending (as I remember) with these words: "As I look over this crowd, I know that Alcoholics Anonymous will live a thousand years -- if it is God's will."

The Books the Good Oldtimers Used to Read

For a look at the traditional way that AA handled this issue, see the article by Glenn C. on the books the good oldtimers used to read at

http://hindsfoot.org/nread1.html (Part 1)

http://hindsfoot.org/nread2.html (Part 2)

http://hindsfoot.org/nread3.html (Part 3)

Only A.A. Material?

by Barefoot

at the Barefootsworld AA history website

From http://www.barefootsworld.net/aaonlyaamaterial.html

I don't know who in hell came up with the "Only A.A. Approved Material" dictum ... but occasionally we have a "bleeding deacon" who is so afraid for his/her own sobriety, that any new or "outside" information or inspiration brought to group might upset his/her tenuous hold on reality or sobriety, and then proceeds to make an ass of them self in meeting insisting that "Only A.A. Conference Approved" material be brought before the group.

Hehhh!!, as if some of the spoutings of members bears the "A.A. Conference Approved" stamp. The ONLY reason the "This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature" is imprinted on AA literature is to replace the Circle Triangle logo, long since removed as the result of potential ill-advised lawsuits, to indicate that the material is copyright by Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office, and published by AA-GSO.

The Term "Conference-approved" describes written or audiovisual material approved by the General Service Conference for publication by GSO. This process assures that everything in such literature is in accord with AA principles. Conference-approved material always deals with the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous or with information about the AA Fellowship.

The term has no relation to material not published by GSO. IT DOES NOT IMPLY CONFERENCE DISAPPROVAL of other material about AA. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and AA does not try to tell any individual members what he or she may or may not read.

To quote from the Big Book, page 565:

Tradition 4, Long Form: With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. Group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience. But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.

Read the rest of the long form Traditions ... no where in them is there any authority to make a dictum to a group ... they are free to follow their conscience as a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose -- that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

To quote from Page 164:

"Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answer will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us."

The above and the 12 Steps are all the instructions needed.

The charts on the wall of the 12 Steps and the Short Form of the Traditions give us, in 472 words or less, a total and complete philosophy for successful sobriety and life, Happy, Joyous and Free. All else of whatever nature, whether "A.A Conference Approved" or not, is merely by way of explanation.

All the problems in the world today are the result of the "Theologians" "the Bleeding Deacons," "the Inerrantists" generating the inerrantist nonsense that "only our way is right"... in religions, in civil, secular and fraternal groups, in politics and government, and in A.A.

Of course, if a true group conscience is reached by consensus, not bird-dogged and browbeaten by some heavyhanded individual or clique, the theologians and bleeding deacons are usually left behind ... and if that true group conscience says "only A.A. GSC approved material" will be used by the group, then so be it, the voice of God has spoken.

Early A.A. groups and many today use(d) all sorts of aids and books to carry the message of the 12 Steps of A.A. for the recovery of the sick alcoholic ... everything from Varieties of Religious Experience by James, The Sermon on the Mount by Fox, the various Hazelden books and others, and even to the various scriptures, ie. the Bible, the Torah, etc, (After all is said and done, it was from the understanding that Bill had of these, especially "The General Epistle of James", that the the 12 steps came into being.), to aid the individual and group members in understanding the tenets, the principles and ideals, of our basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book, to which we should adhere ... and the understandings given in all the various A.A. published literature, especially A.A. Comes of Age and the other histories of A.A.

The "Only A.A. Approved" thing smacks of what was happening in A.A. a long time back when long lists of rules were formulated out of fear that the then struggling members might become "contaminated" by those who did not conform to their sensibilities ... and resulted in Rule 62 ..."Don't take yourself too seriously" ... Remember, always, who is in charge ... it isn't any one of us ... K.I.S.S.

I, myself, will use any damn thing I can lay my hands on to reach through to a sick alcoholic right down where he lives, that will give him the spiritual understanding and connection available in the many non-AA resources, so that he can learn to practice and live the 12 Steps in his life in all his affairs and stay sober a day at a time.

Love and Peace, Barefoot


What "Conference Approved Literature" Means

Dick B. (Hawaii)

From http://www.aabibliography.com/aa_conference-approved_dickb.htm

See also http://www.dickb.com/conference-approved.shtml

Please post this much needed article from Pete's Stuff. It incorporates the long-ignored Box 459 article that GSO said it couldn't find. If you want to see an excellent and much longer discussion of this, go to the Hindsfoot Foundation site where Professor Glenn Chesnut lays it all out in terms of its importance.

I receive questions about this all the time; and people at conferences, Central Offices, and meetings are confronted with the conference approved nonsense with great frequency. Any AA can read anything any time anywhere for any purpose. There is no Tradition that says otherwise. There is no Tradition that can or should or will censor or censure what is presented at a meeting. And if someone thinks they've found the mythical tradition, tell them the Traditions are not laws, are not binding on anyone, and were never intended to prohibit free speech or freedom of religion by AAs or others. Those who suggest otherwise just don't know A.A. Nor do they know that early Alcoholics Anonymous was a Christian Fellowship, studied the King James Version of the Bible, read all kinds of literature--Protestant, Roman Catholic, New Thought, medical, and otherwise, and put out reams and reams of pamphlets and guides as the years went by. Included were pamphlets from many Central Offices and Intergroups--including the long-running Cleveland Central Bulletin, the four Akron AA pamphlets, The Four Absolutes.

Then there were other writers mentioned below and not mentioned below--Clarence Snyder, Sister Ignatia, Marty Mann, Father Pfau, Richmond Walker, Ed Webster, and on-and-on. Not to forget over 500 Oxford Group and Sam Shoemaker books and pamphlets that were read and circulated by Dr. Bob himself. And let's not forget that the most ignored and suppressed writing of all - Anne Smith's Journal - contained the heart of early A.A. and was discussed almost every morning at the Smith home Quiet Times.

Take off the shackles, and use your mind! Better still, see what someone else has had to say. Particularly, the Creator in what He revealed in His Word. Our basic ideas came from there.

My recent title Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous specifically identifies hundreds and hundreds of writings that have contributed to the origins, history, founding, principles, and practices of A.A. in just the few years it has been in existence.

God Bless, Dick B.

What "Conference Approved"
Literature Means

GSO Box 4-5-9 1978 (Volume 23, No 4)

Any literature that pertains to the principles of AA or is approved by a Group Conscience -- is perfectly acceptable to be read by any AA member or in an AA meeting.

You hear it in meetings, "…we have AA Approved Literature available for sale at cost…"

You hear it in group conscience meetings "…we should only allow readings from AA Approved Literature…"

You hear non-group members crosstalking in a meeting when someone reads from Richmond Walkers' 24 Hours a Day, Emmet Fox's Sermon On The Mount, or one of Ralph Pfau's Golden Books –"You can't read that in an AA meeting – it's NOT AA Approved Literature…"

Factually, unlike Alanon, there is no such thing as AA Approved Literature. The early AA's read from the Bible, the Upper Room, Oswald Chambers, Cecil Rose, Leslie Weatherhead, Sam Shoemaker, Emmet Fox, Richmond Walker, Ralph Pfau and many others – a simple visit to Dickb.com will bear this out. As Dick B. aptly points out "Whatever some may think, A.A. has no index of forbidden books."

In the 1950's AA World Services took over WORKS publishing's rights to publish the Big Book and began publishing other books as well. In the course of the next 40 years AAWS began to publish more books but eventually lost the copyright on the first two editions of the Big Book. Until 1993 books which were owned and printed by AAWS were identified by the use of a Circle/Triangle Symbol bearing the three legacies.

On May 21, 1993 , an AA World Service Ad Hoc committee released an unsigned document titled: Follow-up Statement Regarding Use of the Circle/ Triangle Symbol. In it, AAWS stated that Alcoholics Anonymous will phase out the 'official' use of the circle and triangle symbol in and on its literature, letterheads and other material. That document was issued without a conference action or a group conscience.

The term "Conference Approved" literature now replaces the Circle/Triangle Logo to merely "identify" (AAGV Vol. 50-7 1993) the books solely owned and published by AAWS and not as a predetermined list. The most definitive illustration of this is that the public domain first edition of the Big Book is NOT "Conference Approved". "Conference Approved" in no way constitutes a list of any written documents of which an AA body approves or disapproves. (Please see the ad hoc committee Final Report of the 1993 General Service Conference)