Short form: 'Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.'
Long form: 'No AA group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate AA, express any opinion on outside controversial issues—particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.’
What is not an opinion? Fact, principle, and experience.
Are opinions bad? No, because if they were, Tradition X would read AA has no opinion on issues or no AA member should express any opinion.
Give me an example of an 'inside issue'! What works and does not work in the treatment of alcoholism.
Are there dangers of avoiding opinions on inside issues? Yes: (a) excessive open-mindedness and the presentation of all paths through AA as equally likely to bring about permanent, contented sobriety (b) being so enigmatic and cautious with newcomers that they have no clue what to do to stay sober.
What outside issues should be left at the door?
(a) Membership and jargon of other twelve-steps fellowships.
(b) Negative views of particular religions (never say, ‘I’m a recovering Catholic’. You’re insulting newcomer Catholics).
(c) Positive views of particular religions (don’t advertise Jesus; don’t vaunt Buddhism).
(d) Religious practices (don’t cross yourself; don’t introduce Buddhist meditation into your AA group).
(e) Any view on politics whatsoever.
(f) Negative views of treatment centres (do not say, ‘that idea is just treatment centre rubbish’; don’t dismiss psychotherapy).
(g) Positive views of other methods of recovering (don’t advertise treatment centres, psychotherapy, other support groups, or particular writers on recovery, religion, or spirituality).
Why? Because it affects unity (Tradition I) and primary purpose (Tradition V), and because newcomers in particular will mistake your view for that of AA and may be put off AA.
Give an example of a breach! A member of a twelve-step fellowship wrote to a website devoted to criticising AA in general and certain groups in particular, and the website published his views of that group and of one of its more prominent members. There was a furore. That was the first breach of Tradition X. The second breach was the group’s very public upset and personal hostility towards the other twelve-step fellowship and individuals and groups within it.
What should they have done instead? Everyone should have kept their big, fat mouths shut at the public level.
What if people are spreading misinformation? Concept XII answers that: stay silent publicly but write to them correcting the misinformation privately.
How does Tradition X apply within sponsorship? Convey only what is in or consistent with the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
Are relationships and medication outside issues? They are partly inside and partly outside. Both affect the individual’s spiritual welfare, but both have aspects clearly outside the scope of AA.
What is the sponsor’s role, then? Share knowledge and experience and ask pertinent questions; do not tell anyone what to do.
Are there exceptions? Absolutely: as with any set of principles, sometimes they conflict with one another. If someone is in danger of harming himself or others, there is a moral obligation to share one’s opinion.
Does this not breach Tradition X? If there is a risk of the opinion being mistaken for that of AA, take your AA hat off and preface the opinion with: ‘I’m saying this to you not as your sponsor or as an AA member but as a friend who is concerned about your welfare.’ If in doubt, add, ‘this is just my opinion, and sometimes my opinions are 100% wrong.’
Is this the last word on Tradition X? No.