The Matrix
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon May 15, 2006 at 11:12:26 PM EST
Perhaps one of the most often used devices circulated amongst our churches under attack is a document we refer to as "The Matrix."

sample 'matrix'

This particular document purports to be an objective analysis of how the United Church of Christ compares to biblical principles, orthodox theologies, and the historic faith. It is most often presented as the work of a "Research Committee" whose purpose it is to present objective analysis about the merits of staying or leaving the UCC; and it is presented with the assumption that the members of the committee came up with this information on their own.

It is, in fact, a document that - though in each location it goes through some editorial revision to appear "new" and particular to that church - began circulating almost 20 years ago and which gets handed to the activists in a local church by whomever it may be that is coaching the takeover.

It is filled with biblical literalism, bad theology, and reinvented history. Couple that with the innuendo, lies, and faulty logic used to describe the United Church of Christ in this document and you have one of the most effective tools used by these zealots to create the intended impression that the UCC is no longer a legitimate denomination.

This document has taken many forms and gone through many revisions (again, each church is coached to make it appear as though the work and the research is their own), but the basic style of "The Matrix" is almost universal.

There is an opening page with a title that will read something like: "Positions on Critical Issues." Of course, all the critical issues are ones chosen by the radical right, most of which have been employed as wedge issues over the years.

A grid follows, and at the top of each column in the grid will appear the following (or something very much like it): Issues (column one), Scriptures (column two), Historic Faith (three), Our church (usually the name of the church), and UCC (five).

Down the far left side of the page will be listed all the key issues that they believe have the potential to divide the congregation, phrased in just the right way. For example, in the Matrix circulated this spring at our church in Napoleon, MO the first issue is "Sanctity of Life". As you read across the grid, you see YES written in the column under the heading "Scriptures;" YES under the column marked "St. Paul's" (the name of the church); and NO under the column marked UCC.

And there it is in black and white for all to read: the UCC does not uphold the sanctity of life. Months of research have purportedly gone into this work - so who would question it? And who in their right mind would want to belong to a church that did not believe that life itself was sacred?

The basis of this particular claim is substantiated in the documents by such flimsy evidence as: an ad purchased in the Conference newspaper of the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the UCC reads in part "Embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged, not criminalized:" "the UCC website has abortion rights articles;" and a quote from our long-time nemesis Mark Friz that begins "Our conference has done nothing to take a stand on the sanctity of human life." On such evidence churches are told that the UCC does not uphold the sanctity of life.

This is a disgrace. It is a breech of covenant when this occurs WITHIN the United Church of Christ, as well as a breech of ethical behavior when perpetrated by activists WITHOUT the UCC.

Other claims made in these various matrices are the following:

The UCC does not believe in the Cross of Jesus;

The UCC does not recognize the authority of scripture;

While the UCC approves of the use of inclusive language - the Bible, tradition, and local the selective local churches in which this material is being distributed do not;

The UCC does not believe that the Mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel to all the world;

And finally, my personal favorite - and one that will take a whole new article to write about - is this one:

The UCC promotes and approves of Goddess worship.

Each of these claims is ridiculous and cannot be substantiated; yet attempts to do so are made in the documents that are distributed with the same kind of flimsy arguments already seen when we looked at the claim made about the sanctity of life.

Typically, these documents are handed out preceding a vote to leave the UCC, and more often than not little time is afforded those who would choose to take issue with the claims being made.

But one church did respond by asking for the time to refute the claims. I will write more about them soon - I just this week received the 65-page document they produced to respond to what some recognized as frivolous accusations. The church is St. John's UCC in Bem, MO - a place where activists from the right have been attempting a takeover for over a year; where the pastor has already been chased off; and where some members are finally standing up and defending their history, tradition, and denomination.

The matrix works as a tool for the radical right because it names the agenda so clearly and succinctly - and for the simple minds who can't absorb anything deeper than a single statement, and upon whom subtle arguments about polity and metaphor are often lost, and who have already proven receptive to the notion that to be liberal is to be evil - the matrix can be used to finish off work that had begun months, if not years, before.

It is a particularly deceptive tool that uses faulty logic and depends on very narrow theological assumptions to feed and fuel the anger it is intended to exacerbate.

And it only further demonstrates what we have been writing about all along: these zealots will do whatever it takes, say whatever needs to be said, and write whatever they think they can get away with while showing no remorse, no awareness of covenantal relationship, and no compunctions about fabricating half-truths, slandering, and destabilizing otherwise healthy congregations.

Before "matrix" became a household word, I saw documents like this circulating in Southern Baptist circles.

The issues are the same.  The malicious and slanderous distortions of truth are the same.  The only thing that changes is the name of the pastor, or church or denomination which is being attacked.

Here's a link to an article I wrote to counteract a "matrix" document that circulated in my church while I pastored in Texas.

Here's a link to an article I wrote when the pastor at the First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City was being attacked by a group disseminating "matrix" documents.

One thing that moderate, Mainstream Baptists discovered the hard way is that you cannot ignore the distortions raised by "matrix" documents.  Either you rise up and define your own convictions clearly for yourself or they will define your convictions for you in the public mind.  Don't expect the public to see through the propaganda of the religious right.

by Mainstream Baptist on Tue May 16, 2006 at 04:58:50 PM EST

And you are so right about responding in ways that define your identity and mission, or settling for others defining you. We have learned that lesson the hard way, after much failure. Our entire staff this past week took the time to write a page to respond to each issue named in the Matrix as it appeared at our church in Napoleon. They met last night to review that document, and I am very curious to hear how that was received.

I would love to get any copies of matrices that appeared in any of the churches in your settings. We are doing our best to collect these, in all of their various manifestations. And I very much appreciate the resonpses you cited: I will add them to my own growing file.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue May 16, 2006 at 05:30:38 PM EST

Not only do we get to study the modus operandi of these semi-covert operations -- we also are better able to show others how it works -- and prove it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed May 17, 2006 at 03:12:42 PM EST

is not to spur critical thinking, but to bypass critical thinking and promote an illusion that leads to repression.

And in that way, there's an analogy to be made with the film starring Keanu Reeves, also called "The Matrix."

As I have written elsewhere on Talk to Action, Reeves plays Mr. Anderson, who

spends his days at a soul-sucking corporate job in order to spend his nights seeking all sorts of information that is forbidden to him. He struggles with the choice of whether to escape from or remain imprisoned in the Matrix -- a simulation program that perpetuates ignorance through illusion in order to bypass people's critical thinking and drain their vital energy. His alternative is to gain the knowledge necessary to wake up, and then take action to liberate himself and others. Mr. Anderson's role as one who fights ignorance and illusion, and who invites others to awaken to a life of liberty is seen in his family name, which literally means "son of man." You may recognize that as an alias that Jesus often used to describe himself, such as when he tried to wake up his sleeping disciples on the Mount of Olives. (Gospel According to Mark, 14:41)

So it is ironic that religious right leaders also invoke the "Son of Man" as they labor to put his followers back to sleep by perpetuating illusions based on intellectual dishonesty. Their Matrix is the myth of the "Christian Nation," a totally comprehensive but illusory simulation program. Perpetuation of the illusion relies on isolating people culturally and feeding them a steady diet of junk science, fake history, and baloney of biblical proportions.

Talk to Action is a place to wake up to reality, deprogram yourself from illusion, and fortify yourself with ideas that lead to critical action that liberates yourself and others.

by jhutson on Sat May 20, 2006 at 08:00:44 AM EST

John, here's the link to the American Anglican Council's version of "The Matrix" called "Equipping the Saints which attacks the Episcopal Church:{0124EFED-8D9A-4067-9C7C-969A768F1648}/ETS_2ndEdition_Final.pdf

Donna Bott
Episcopal Voices of Central Florida

by bottsky on Sun May 21, 2006 at 06:43:56 AM EST

Dear Rev. John,

Thank you for your enlightened discussion on the IRD and Fundies attempts to takover Mainstreamchurches in your area, especially UCC.  

Here in LA over the past decade the problem is, of all things, Praise Music.  Designed upon the way the Fundementalists grew their churches, Liberal pastors are told that the best way to "grow their church" is to do "modern" music and split the congregation into two services. The choir service becomes deadly dull and osified beacause the pastor puts all his/her energy into the praise service and the choir's morale begins to deteriorate and some start to leave. Meanwhile the Praise service looks and sounds like a fundamentalist service and brings in very conservatice members.  After about five years either the church is back to it's original state with a diminshed choir.  Or the choir is gone, only a Praise Service remains and the conservatives have taken over the church council and the liberals are pushed out. I was in a church were this attempt to grow the church was tried and the effects were devestating.  The Praise Music failed to grow the church but the choir is down from 30 to 5 members and the congregation is half what it started. There were other reasons this happend as well but the Praise Music was the catalyst.

Unfortunatley there are many churches in our area, most of them presbyterian, who turned to the dark sideb because of these naive attempts to turn gold into lead and many wonderful liberal folk got pushed out and no longer have a liberal church to attend.  The biggest irony of it all is that studies I read in the LA Times when all thie was happening states that Gen X wants the more conservative chior style of service that thier grandparents enjoyed.

I can't see that this was a conspiracy of the IRD in the making but I was wondering what your comments were on this. Has this ahppened in your area too?

On a possitive note, Churches in LA  have grown by becoming Open and Afirming, and/or choosing to be a congregation with a prophetic witness. The strongest of these discuss the teachings of  the Jesus Seminar from the pulpit. As someone who considers themselves a New Reformationist Christian I think this is good news.


by CMHinLA on Mon May 22, 2006 at 02:32:32 PM EST

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