Law and Order Christians

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“Law and Order” was a dog whistle used by the Nixon campaign in its well documented Southern Strategy to take the White House. It was heard by many, especially in the South, as a way of putting black people back in their place. If the concepts and practice of law and order are used to provide equality of opportunity and equal protection under the law, then they are an important basis for a flourishing society, but that was not what Nixon was appealing to. He and his advisors knew the message that an emphasis on law and order would send to white conservative voters, especially in the South. It was a law that protected the interests of white male supremacy and order that kept inequality in place. Sadly, that legacy continues to this day.

“Law and Order” Christians are also using similar language to keep persons who are LGBTQIA in their place. An appeal to God’s law is made to affirm the sinfulness LGBTQIA persons and keep them from full participation within religious communities. In my denomination, the United Methodist Church, the appeal to law is expressed in the Book of Discipline, which in matters related to sexual orientation and gender identity functions as a book of law to keep persons who are LGBTQI from participating in the full life and ministry of the church. The Book of Discipline tells people who are LGBTQI that they are not compatible with Christian teaching and that they are not worthy of being married or ordained as ministers within the church. The law keeps them “in their place” and out of full participation in community.

An appeal to order is also used within the United Methodist Church to maintain the exclusion of LGBTQI persons from marriage and ordained ministry in the church. The Order of the ordained clergy is used as a mechanism to keep ministers from fully including LGBTQI persons by enforcing adherence to the exclusionary language and practices prescribed by the Book of Discipline. If clergy disobey and perform same gender weddings or become open about being LGBTQI themselves, they are charged under church law and often put on trial and removed from ordained ministry for their disobedience so that the order of exclusion may be re-established. When they disobey exclusionary prescriptions, they are told that they have broken the covenant of the Order that connects us as one united Church.

Law, order, and covenant are all used to keep LGBTQIA persons in their place, but when a law is unjust, it is no law at all; when order is used to exclude, it is simply a tool of discrimination; and when covenant is used to control, it becomes an instrument of manipulation rather than an expression of committed relationship. The maintenance of unity through exclusion is actually the maintenance of discrimination. It is likely not an accident that the Law and Order Christians are most powerful in the South where law and order have been used effectively for so long to keep people in their places. Excluding persons who are LGBTQIA from the full life and ministry has become the new Southern Strategy of the United Methodist Church.