More than 600 United Methodists are planning to file charges against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the zero tolerance U.S. immigration policy.
The charges could lead to a church trial of Sessions and expulsion from the body. Sessions is a member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama.
The effort was organized by Rev. David Wright, a Pacific Northwest Conference elder and chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State.
Specifically, the group accuses Sessions 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.
Several reasons were listed for accusing Sessions of racial discrimination, including intervening in police investigations on racial bias and cracking down on groups like Black Lives Matter.
Wright is also upset with Sessions’ use of Romans 13 to justify the policy. In a speech earlier this month, Sessions admonished those concerned to remember Scripture commands us to “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
The complaint called the biblical reference “in stark contrast” to the church’s commitment to “supporting freedom of conscience and resistance to unjust laws.”
“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.
The first step in a long process would be for the member’s pastor and district superintendent to solve the complaint through “pastoral steps.”
Wright said the complaint was emailed to Sessions’ home church in Alabama, and to a Northern Virginia church that Wright said he understands Sessions regularly attends.
Sessions’ pastor at the Alabama church did not return media calls for comment.
A spokeswoman for Bishop David Graves of the Alabama-West Florida Conference said he hasn’t been given details of the complaint.
The Rev. William Lawrence, professor emeritus at Perkins School of Theology and an authority on Methodist history, said while anyone in the church can bring a charge against anyone else, he’s unaware of a complaint against a lay person ever moving past the district level.
Wright started the movement on his Facebook page last week. A site that supports many left-leaning political causes.
Wright said he hopes Sessions is not expelled or decides to leave the denomination, explaining to UMC.org that the group’s goal in filing the charges is to prompt discussions about the immigration policy.
“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 said.
The effort follows other faith based criticism of the immigration policy. Earlier this month, the Clergy Letter Project, an organization representing a wide array of religions and denominations, including The United Methodist Church, also voted to condemn the government’s separation of immigrant children from their parents.