Hundreds of members of the United Methodist Church have filed claims of child abuse and racism against Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the church’s “Book of Discipline” after he enacted a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has led to the separation of thousands of parents and children at the U.S. border.
Some 640 clergy members and laypersons in the church have written an open letter to the leaders of the two congregations where Sessions, a longtime Methodist, attends church. They are calling on church leaders to reach out to Sessions and help him “step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.”
The letter condemns Sessions, alleging he has misused his “tremendous social/political power” in his enforcement of the nation’s laws — especially the recent policy that has led U.S. Border Patrol agents to take more than 2,000 children from parents arrested at the border. The separations are the result of the Trump Administration’s policy of prosecuting everyone who is caught crossing the border illegally. They have caused an uproar, which have been fueled by the release of photos and videos of children in detention.
The letter also criticizes Sessions for citing Romans 13 to justify the policies and saying people are called by the Bible to “obey the laws of the government.” During a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed Sessions by saying, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”
The United Methodist Church members are accusing Sessions of: child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church” – for his citation of Romans 13.
The letter claimed that while other federal government employees are also guilty of the charges against Sessions, the Attorney General is accountable to the church.
“As his denomination, 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,” the letter read. “Several Bishops and other denominational leaders have spoken out about this matter, urging Methodists to contact Mr. Sessions and for these policies to change, but we believe that the severity of his 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.”
This is not the first time religious leaders have sought to publicly shame politicians whom they view as wayward. In 2004, there was intensive debate over whether Sen. John Kerry, then the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, should be denied communion by the Catholic Church because of his support for abortion rights.
Read is the full text of the letter below:
Dear Rev. Boykin and Rev. Wines,
We, the undersigned laity and clergy of the United Methodist Church, issue a formal complaint against fellow United Methodist layperson Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, by our understanding a lay member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church, in Mobile, AL, and an active participant in Clarendon United Methodist Church, Arlington, VA. 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.
We write to you, Mr. Sessions’ pastors, copying his District Superintendents and Bishops, in the hopes that you will, as members of our connectional system, dig deeply into Mr. Sessions’ advocacy and actions that have led to harm against thousands of vulnerable humans. As members of the United Methodist Church, we deeply hope for a reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.
Pursuant to Paragraph 2702.3 of the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline, we hereby charge Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, a professing member and/or active participant of Ashland Place United Methodist Church (Mobile, Alabama) and Clarendon United Methodist Church (Alexandria, Virginia), with the chargeable offenses of:Child Abuse (examples: advocacy for and implementation of documented practices that indefinitely separate thousands of young children from their parents; holding thousands of children in mass incarceration facilities with little to no structured educational or socio-emotional support) Immorality (examples: the use of violence against children to deter immigration; advocating and supporting the separation of children from their families; refusal of refugee/asylee status to those fleeing gang or sexual violence; oppression of those seeking asylum or attempting to enter the United States with refugee status; directing employees and staff members to kidnap children from their parents) Racial discrimination (examples: stopping investigations of police departments charged with racial discrimination; attempting to criminalize Black Lives Matter and other racial justice activist groups; targeting incarceration for those engaged in undocumented border crossings as well as those who present with requests for asylum, with a particular focus on those perceived as Muslim or LatinX) Dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church (examples: 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)
While other individuals and areas of the federal government are implicated in each of these examples, Mr. Sessions – as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position – is particularly accountable to us, his church. He is ours, and we are his. As his denomination, 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. Several Bishops and other denominational leaders have spoken out about this matter, urging Methodists to contact Mr. Sessions and for these policies to change, but we believe that the severity of his 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.
We look forward to entering into the just resolution process with Mr. Sessions as we seek to journey with him towards reconciliation and faithful living into the gospel.
In the community of Jesus, the Liberator and Redeemer