Documentary looks at faith and Alcoholics Anonymous

Broadcast premiere will be at 10 tonight on local PBS channels. Filmmakers interview experts on religion and 12-step program

The place of religious faith in Alcoholics Anonymous gets extensive consideration in the documentary God As We Understand Him: A Film About Faith and the 12 Step Movement.

Airing at 10 tonight on WNEO/WEAO (Channels 45/49), the hourlong production comes from the Akron-based husband-and-wife team of Joshua Gippin and Shane Wynn, who began work on it two years ago. There have been some public screenings; tonight's telecast is its broadcast premiere.

In news materials for the show, Gippin says he set out to understand how non-Christians could use A.A.'s 12 steps when A.A. has roots in Christianity. The film, in fact, looks not only at non-Christians but also at nonbelievers, atheist and agnostic. And in doing so, it has to confront the controversial We Agnostics chapter in A.A.'s Big Book. While the chapter does not call for belief in a specific god or higher power, it still argues for some basic belief — that the Big Book's message is ''spiritual as well as moral.''

To see how people have dealt with that issue, God As We Understand Him interviews not only theologians but also members of A.A. of different beliefs. The A.A. members are shown from the neck down, preserving their anonymity; onscreen graphics identify their religious foundation (even if it's a phrase like ''born-again heathen'') and how long they have been sober. Gippin says he interviewed 33 A.A. members between January and November 2007.

Local experts in the documentary include Victoria Sanelli of Ignatia Hall, Colleen Ryszka of Edwin Shaw Rehab, Pastor George Murphy of St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Akron, Mohamed Ismail of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent, Rabbi Susan B. Stone of Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, the Rev. Nancy O. Arnold of Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, and Hindu priest and Kent State professor emeritus Surinder Bhardwaj.

While the program throws off a lot of sparks about the issues of faith and A.A., in the end it rests on a statement from A.A. co-founder Bill W.: ''Honesty gets us sober. Tolerance keeps us sober.''

''For all their apparent differences, [A.A. members] are united by a common problem,'' the documentary says shortly before presenting a range of people reciting the Serenity Prayer, in more than one language. ''And this is the story of us all, the story of over 6.6 billion humans who live together on Planet Earth. If only the world were more like an A.A. meeting.''

God As We Understand Him is also available on DVD, with about 50 minutes of extra material and a discussion guide. You can buy it through