Over 600 United Methodist clergy and laypeople lodged a formal denominational complaint against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for enforcing the separation of children from migrant families.
United Methodist elder and University of Puget Sound chaplain Dave Wright authored the letter with the signatories charged Sessions with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.”
All of the charges relate to Sessions’ use of the Bible to justify the policy of separating children from their parents in illegal immigrant families while the adults are prosecuted or in cases where it is not clear that the adults are the actual parents of the child. (RELATED: WaPo Compares Sessions to ‘Slaveholders’ After He Quotes Bible Passage Related To Immigration Policy)
Wright addressed the letter to Ashland Place United Methodist Church, in Mobile, Alabama and Clarendon United Methodist Church, in Arlington, Virginia, where Sessions is known to be a member and an active layperson, respectively.
“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,” the letter reads.
The signatories filed the charges against Sessions in accordance with the official 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline. Now that charges have been filed, a pastor or district superintendent will attempt to counsel Sessions in amending the grievances through a process called “just resolution,” according to Religion News Service.
If no resolution is reached, Sessions could be subjected to a church trial, which could result in a maximum punishment of being stripped of membership in the United Methodist Church.
Academic dean professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary David F. Watson told RNS the letter was “an extraordinary development” and that it was “very unusual” for a complaint to be lodged against a UMC layperson.
While the process could, in the worst case scenario, result in stripping Sessions of church membership, it would not go as far as to ultimately expel or excommunicate Sessions from the UMC as there is no process for that, according to Rio Texas Conference UMC elder John Feagins.
“The goal of a process like this is not the expulsion of someone, but the resolution of conflict — that’s very important, because these things are about a person’s relation to the church,” Feagins told RNS.
“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 said.
“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,” it continued.
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