Tradition of the Month: God is an outside issue

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.


Believe it or not, OA does not have an opinion on the nature of God, even though we practice a program of spiritual recovery. To be effective, OA can’t have a stance on God, and Tradition 10 assures that we won’t, as a fellowship, tread that dangerous path.

To be accurate, OA does take certain positions on God. They are very few, very specific, and address as little as possible the question of the nature or identity of God:

A) Each member needs a conception of an HP to recover
B) To be effective, a Higher Power must be more powerful than the member him- or herself
C) Each member can have their own conception, and no one can tell them what the specific conception must be
D) The conception must be one whose will they are willing to surrender to then to trust and rely on for daily living.

OA only talks about God in relation to recovery. It only takes positions on what it knows: How a Higher Power enables us to get better. That’s because God is an outside issue.

How can God be an outside issue in a spiritual program? Here the previous traditions guide us:

Tradition 1 tells us that “personal recovery depends upon OA Unity.” Imagine trying to achieve OA unity on the question of what God is or isn’t. Millions, probably billions, of people worldwide have been killed across history over the question Which is the one true God? How could we each recover if we busy fighting amongst ourselves about the nature of our Higher Powers?

Tradition 2 tells us that God is the source of our group conscience. How many My God can beat up your god arguments would arise if OA took even a simple and vague position on God?

Tradition 3 denies us the right to exclude anyone who wants to stop eating compulsively. Religious and spiritual tests are, therefore, disallowed. We’re having a hard enough time with our own food trials to be putting anyone else’s beliefs on trial.

Tradition 4 reminds us that groups are all autonomous except in matters affecting the entire fellowship. If OA took a position on God, every meeting would have to accept that stance.

Tradition 5 clearly states that OA’s primary purpose is carrying the message of recovery. We are not evangelists, but if OA took a position on the nature of God we would be. That would ultimately prove exclusionary, which would severely limit our ability to carry the message to all sufferers from this killing disease.

We could go on, but we needn’t. By taking a position on the nature of God, which is, perhaps, the most controversial question ever asked, OA would sabotage itself completely. There are programs sponsored by churches that attempt to use the 12 Steps in a specific religious setting, and those programs are not affiliated in any way with OA or any other 12 Step group. They can’t be if OA is to survive and thrive.

So when our members remind themselves and other members to trust and rely on God, we must always remember that while they may experience a Higher Power in a certain way, we each interpret that suggestion through the lens of our own concept of an HP. And even though the Big Book has a chapter devoted to the question of whether there is reason to believe in God, we are free to disagree with it always remembering the words we find in the famous promises: “This book is meant to be suggestive only.” No one can tell us that our HP must be a supernatural being. No one can tell us that our HP must have a personality of any sort. Or have a name. Only that we’d better something more powerful than we are that works for us. Because in the end, even God is an outside issue.

Tradition of the Month: Controversy

8. Overeaters Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.


Tradition 8 ain’t sexy. It seems like a throw-in. “Hey, guys, by the way, don’t hire anyone to carry the message or run the joint.” But Tradition 8 is vitally important to OA for reasons that become clear when we think about how controversies play out in the fellowship.

One such controversy that pops up from time to time is who is allowed to share during an OA meeting. Some meetings may create restrictions on sharing based on presumptions about a member’s quality of recovery. These restrictions may violate OA’s Traditions and bylaws, and that’s where things get testy—and where Tradition 8 saves us.

Unlike most organizations where all the power rests in the hands of a few (a CEO, a board, or a presiding committee), in OA, the power rests with the many. Our service structure looks like an upside down triangle, with meetings at the top, intergroups serving them, the regions serving the intergroups, and the World Service serving the regions. This structure is counterintuitive to a hierarchical society like ours that often opts for centralization as a means of creating economies of scale. But OA would have withered and died were that the case.

That said, those who take on increasing responsibility in our service structure are asked to deal with controversies like the example above. A member complains to the Intergroup about the situation. The Intergroup appeals to its Region trustee for guidance, and that trustee may well consult with World Service for expertise on interpreting whether the situation demands action. And when it does demand action, things get dicey. The Region trustee may tell the local Intergroup that this represents a violation of Traditions. The Intergroup can then inform the meeting that its practices are not sanctioned by OA. To be considered part of OA, a meeting must agree to abide by OA’s Traditions and bylaws, and if it is out of compliance, it’s reckoning time.

In the business, government, and non-profit worlds, showdowns like this are filled with game playing, leverage taking, and personal agendas. Professionals typically have competing incentives as they negotiate a situation: Is what’s best for the organization in my team’s best interests or my own? Will I get noticed for promotion if this thing comes out in our favor? How can I gain power of a rival in this situation? How can I avoid being fired?

Because OA is nonprofessional, we don’t have those kinds of worries. Wherever in the service structure we may find ourselves, from a meeting to the World Service, we are still just another bozo on the bus. We pray for the right answers, we seek common ground in the OA principles represented by the Steps and Traditions, and we leave aside petty questions of pride, position, and power.

In fact, nonprofessionalism allows us to take a more kindly view in our example situation. If we carry anger over the World, Region, or Intergroup-level service person asking us to consider changing our meeting format, we can ask ourselves whether we honestly believe they are trying to harm us or our meeting. Could they instead be trying to safeguard OA’s Traditions? Is it possible that we have a difference of opinion over which Tradition supersedes another? Are we all working toward the same goal of helping others? When we ask ourselves Who are they to tell us what to do?!, could the answer be that they are OA members just like us?

Is it possible that they have ulterior motives? Of course. Pride gets in everyone’s way. But when it comes to OA, what’s there to be gained by exercising power over an anarchic organization?

If those in the service structure were professionals, we’d be questioning their motivations constantly. We’d wonder what power game they were playing. We’d ask ourselves if they put OA principles after personal gain. When we asked ourselves Who are they to…?!, our answer would be someone from outside who doesn’t really get OA. But because OA service is done by us, without compensation, we can perhaps take a more charitable view of the matter and consider the other party’s perspective with an easier mind.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 10

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Imagine this scenario:

May 25, 2016

Overeaters Anonymous, the nation’s largest food-addiction support group has entered the increasingly divisive debate around whether sugar is addictive. OA’s World Service released a statement which indicated its position. “A vast majority of our members claim sugar as one of or the major food substance to which they are addicted. We are sympathetic with those who argue for increased attention to its addictive qualities.” Sugar industry representatives called the statement “irresponsible,” and one shrugged off the statement, wondering whether OA would have the government classify sugar with cocaine or heroin. Medical and nutritional leaders told reporters that the organization was overreaching its mandate by commenting on the controversy and suggested that OA’s recovery program is not scientifically based.

In this entirely fictitious scenario, we can understand the motivation for OA issuing a statement about sugar like this. It would raise awareness of the problem, provide an avenue of hope for those who read it. It would be a way to carry the message to those who are suffering.

Our fifth tradition tells us we have one primary purpose, to carry the message, and anything that might keep us from that purpose is probably a bad idea. How could telling the world about the addictive properties of a substance that many of our members know to lead to compulsive eating damage our primary purpose?

For one thing, internally, OA is not exclusively composed of people who identify as sugar addicts. By sending a message to the world about what part of our fellowship experiences, are we excluding others? Would that affect our OA unity (tradition 1)? Why would we even want to find out?

For another, once we enter any fray publicly, we are stepping into advocacy. When we take a side, we tell others they are wrong. Wouldn’t that possibly limit our ability to attract newcomers?

As the scenario above suggests, when we take a position, we also open ourselves up to being stigmatized by others who have a differing agenda or those who are simply ignorant of OA’s program and principles. Many people and organizations in the world are far less principled than OA is, and when we oppose them, we are providing opportunities for them to spread misunderstandings. Clearly, negative press coverage or publicity could inhibit our ability to carry the message of recovery to those swayed by news reports.

Perhaps most importantly, getting involved in controversy takes our focus off of recovery. If we are busy debating the merits of OA’s position on an issue, we aren’t busy getting better or helping others get better. If we are busy crafting position statements, we aren’t busy setting up workshops and other valuable events. Then there’s the whole issue of managing public relations in the face of public position statements. What a vortex of time, work, and personality!

The whole point about controversy is that it separates people. If, as Bill W. wrote, we are an ever widening circle of peace on Earth and good to will toward our fellow man, then why would we allow divisiveness into our fellowship? Even if it seemed like it was for a good cause.