Jeff Sessions may be regretting his quotation of Bible verses in support of the universally denounced zero-tolerance immigration policy he instituted on behalf of Donald Trump.
The policy, which seizes refugee children from their asylum-seeking parents when they cross the border and places them in prison-like detention facilities, is leading more than 600 clergy and lay members of the United Methodist Church — which Sessions has nominally been a member of — to bring church law charges against the Attorney General.
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“Specifically, the group accuses him of child abuse in reference to separating young children from their parents and holding them in mass incarceration facilities; immorality; racial discrimination and ‘dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrines’ of The United Methodist Church,” United Methodist News said.
The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline calls for a church trial and the possible expulsion of a lay member, but only after a long process including the member’s pastor and district superintendent attempting to solve the complaint through “pastoral steps,” according to Rev. William Lawrence, professor emeritus at Perkins School of Theology and an authority on Methodist history and polity.
“’I really never would have thought I’d be working on charges against anybody in the Methodist connection, much less a lay person,’ said the Rev. David Wright, a Pacific Northwest Conference elder and chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, and organizer of the effort to charge Sessions.”
“But Wright said the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy as enforced by Sessions, combined with Sessions’ use of Romans 13 to justify the policy, led him and others to conclude that more than a statement of protest was needed.”
The letter sent to church leaders explains exactly why the signatories felt the action was necessary.
“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.” the letter stated.
While it’s exceedingly rare for Methodists to bring formal charges against a layperson, complaints that do come up are usually resolved at the local level, after a member’s pastor and district superintendent offer counseling. However, if the complaint isn’t resolved, it’s possible for charges to result in a church trial and even expulsion.
While Sessions’ office has yet to issue a response to the church’s move, we’ll soon see how the Bible-quoting Attorney General reacts to the accusations of actions heretical to the church’s teachings.
It will be curious to see if the outwardly pious Sessions values his job enough that he chooses to continue to back the president’s policy and renounce his church’s teachings or if he is willing to rejoin the flock at the peril of alienating Trump who is itching for a reason to fire him already so he can shut down the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian collusion and obstruction of justice.
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