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Clergy led by NW reverend charges AG Sessions with child abuse, immorality

Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a meeting between President Donald Trump and state and local Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In an effort spearheaded by a Northwest reverend, more than 600 United Methodist clergy members have filed charges within their church against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The clergy charges Sessions with child abuse and immorality as it relates to the zero tolerance immigration policy, and his “misuse” of a Bible quote to defend it.

Sessions belongs to a United Methodist church in Mobile, Alabama.

The campaign to bring the charges was led by Reverend David Wright, a Pacific Northwest elder and a chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Wright told United Methodist News, “I really never would have thought I’d be working on charges against anybody in the Methodist connection, much less a lay person,” but the use of Romans 13 to justify the immigration policy that separates children from parents spurred him to take action.

“A combination of Mr. Sessions’ church identity being so visible, his tremendous social, cultural, political capital and the scope of the harm he is causing on the border made us feel we had to do something and this was all we could see that might require some kind of an action,” Wright told KIRO Radio.

RELATED: Separated from Children, SeaTac asylum seekers face legal limbo

The complaint alleging four charges has been sent to the AG’s home church and argues that through the immigration policy, Sessions has violated the church’s Book of Discipline.

“The four specific charges are: child abuse; immorality; racial discrimination; and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church,” Wright said.

The last charge — dissemination of doctrines — is for misusing a Bible quote as he defended the zero tolerance policy.

Religious response

Charges within the United Methodist Church can be brought against anyone in the church, but a formal complaint against a layperson — non-clergy member — is rare. Resolutions don’t often go higher than a pastor or a district superintendent of the church. But the United Methodist church does have a process for a trial and potential expulsion. Wright has said he does not wish Sessions to be expelled from the church.

RELATED: Video reveals children crying out for parents after separation

“My goal … is really not just being a change of heart for Mr. Sessions, but to come back in line with the historic commitments of our denomination toward social justice, especially for those on the margins – immigrant, asylees, refugees, persons of color in this country,” he said.

“As we understand the church rules, the outcome should be, hopefully, that his pastors or his church leaders will be asked to sit down with him and have a conversation about these charges and work towards what we tend to call a ‘just reconciliation,’” Wright said.

The complaint stating the charges is signed by a range of reverends from the Northwest Conference and around the world. It also mentions Sessions’ attempts to “criminalize” racial justice groups and his halting of investigations into police departments charged with racial discrimination.

It is not the only religious response against Sessions and the immigration policy coming out of the Northwest. The Seattle Times reports that about 300 people attended an Interfaith Service and Vigil organized by the Church Council of Greater Seattle. That council includes 320 congregations in King and Snohomish Counties. They focused their talk on the more than 200 asylum-seekers held at a federal detention center in SeaTac — many of whom are parents separated from their children.

RELATED: Other sides of the asylum-seeking argument

The church council is also collecting signatures for a letter in support of the asylum-seekers. It plans to deliver those signatures to Homeland Security and state lawmakers on June 20. More than 850 people had signed the letter by Monday.

Church charges

The church charges against Sessions are as follows (unedited from the original complaint):

  • 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)

Sessions and immigration policy

The immigration policy enforced by the Trump administration and defended by Sessions has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Some parents have been sent to a federal detention center in SeaTac. Many children have been sent to detention centers as well. Sessions recently defended this policy by quoting Romans 13 from the Bible, which speaks to obeying laws.

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