We explored the third tradition a bit in an earlier post on “Ed the Atheist” from the Big Book’s second edition. “Ed”, really Jimmy Burwell, is credited with the third tradition and with the use of ” Higher Power ” in place of God. He also inserted the phrase “as we understood Him.” Jimmy was a sober atheist and Oxford Group member, one of the first ten converted by eventual Alcoholics Anonymous founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith.
Rather than celebrate their friend’s success, and perhaps adjust the program to be more inclusive of nonbelievers, the Alcoholic Squad of the Oxford Group hoped for the worst. They openly wished for him to relapse, so he could come to depend on God as much as they did. When he did, they refused to come to his aid. They only took him back after he claimed to have had a conversion experience.
3rd Tradition. Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
Short: The only requirement for A.A. membership is a[n honest] desire to stop drinking.
Including all of course didn’t mean truly accepting Jimmy’s sobriety to Bill W. And his own prohibition against refusing members wasn’t followed when he and other Elders hoped for relapse. Conformity was absolutely required for membership: Jimmy was only readmitted when he conformed to Bill’s beliefs about God. The first three sentences are all lies.
The part about money is closest to truth: AA meetings don’t charge an upfront fee. They do however pass around a collection basket where everyone can see who gave and how much, and they do sell “AA conference approved” (and published) pamphlets, magazines, and books, all of which members are encouraged to buy for themselves and each other. Literally the only form of charity or giving approved by AA is the giving of AA materials (which they profit from.)
In the original wording of the short form, it specified “an honest desire to stop drinking.” This was changed in later versions to simply “a desire”. But of course, this is not true either. Membership in AA requires a willingness to believe AA theology, readiness to submit to God (or the group), belief in AA’s concept of a “loving God”, endless detailed confession, getting a sponsor, and both regular meetings and special AA events like “sober parties”. Lots of people want to stop drinking, and they don’t need cult membership to do it.