Clergy group brings church charges of abuse against Jeff Sessions over immigration policy (updated)

Updated 8-13: The United Methodist Church has dropped the four charges lodged against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stemming from the government’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Debora Bishop of Mobile, Alabama, said last week that the charges brought against Sessions were not applicable because he is a private citizen and those actions applied to his role as a government employee.

Sessions is a member of a Methodist church in Mobile.

“A political action is not personal conduct when the political officer is carrying out official policy. In this matter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was carrying out the official policy of the President and/or the United States Department of Justice. It was not an individual act,” Bishop said.

The decision came on July 30. The explanation was released to the Washington Times last week.

The original story:

A group of United Methodist clergy and laity said it is bringing church law charges against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the  “zero tolerance” immigration policy, according to a story from the United Methodist News Service.

The group has accused Sessions, who is a member of a Mobile, Alabama, Methodist church, of, among other things, child abuse for his part in the policy that leads to migrant children being separated from their parents once they enter the United States illegally.

The  June 18 statement says that Sessions violated Paragraph 2702.3 of the denomination’s Book of Discipline. The charges brought by the clergy include:

  • 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 Latin) 
  • 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)

The statement went on to say that while other entities of the government played a part in the implementation of the policy, Sessions, being a longtime Methodist, is “particularly accountable” to the church.

“He is ours, and we are his,” the statement reads. 

The Rev. David Wright, a Pacific Northwest Conference elder and chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Washington state, organized the effort to bring church charges against Sessions. He told the United Methodist News Service that he “really never would have thought I’d be working on charges against anybody in the Methodist connection, much less a lay person.”

Wright said Sessions use of the New Testament passage from the book of Romans, along with the zero-tolerance policy, led him to bring the charges.

“I hope his pastor can have a good conversation with him and come to a good resolution that helps him reclaim his values that many of us feel he’s violated as a Methodist,” Wright told the United Methodist News Service. “I would look upon his being taken out of the denomination or leaving as a tragedy. That’s not what I would want from this.”

Click here to read the full statement issued by the more than 600 church leaders.



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