Bringing charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the church where he's been been a member for many years, more than 600 clergy and lay people of the United Methodist Church wrote a formal complaint this week regarding Sessions' enforcement of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
The attorney general's "harmful actions," a letter (pdf) detailing the charges noted, have separated thousands of children from their parents and guardians as the administration has begun detaining all adults who cross the border and recommending them for prosecution.
"We have an ethical obligation to speak boldly when one of our members is engaged in causing significant harm in matters contrary to the Discipline on the global stage," wrote the members. "We believe that the severity of [Sessions'] actions and the harm he is causing to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylees calls for his church to step into a process to directly engage with him as a part of our community."
"Mr. Sessions' unique combination of tremendous social/political power...and the severe and ongoing impact of several of his public, professional actions demand that we, as his siblings in the United Methodist denomination, call for some degree of accountability." —United Methodist Church membersThe complaint states that Sessions is guilty of several "chargeable offenses" including child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and "dissemination of doctrines" that violate the church's standards.
Last week, Sessions defended the administration's forcible separation of families by quoting the Biblical verse Romans 13—the same passage often used before the American Civil War to defend slavery—saying the government must enforce laws, despite the fact that there is no law requiring the Trump administration to separate families who cross the border.
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"The misuse of Romans 13 to indicate the necessity of obedience to secular law, which is in stark contrast to Disciplinary commitments to supporting freedom of conscience and resistance to unjust laws" amounts to a chargeable offense, wrote the United Methodist Church members. The charge echoed concerns brought forth last week by the United Methodist Board of Church & Society.
"To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel," wrote the board.
The letter also condemns Sessions for detaining children in "mass incarceration facilities" after taking them from their families and refusing to recognize those fleeing domestic and gang violence as asylum seekers.
Sessions, the members' letter notes, is a longtime lay leader of Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama and has also been involved at Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia.
"While we are reticent to bring a formal complaint against a layperson, Mr. Sessions' unique combination of tremendous social/political power, his leading role as a Sunday School teacher and former delegate to General Conference, and the severe and ongoing impact of several of his public, professional actions demand that we, as his siblings in the United Methodist denomination, call for some degree of accountability," wrote the members.