More than 600 United Methodist clergy and laypeople have signed a formal denominational complaint against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accusing President Donald Trump's top law enforcement official of child abuse over the Justice Department's new zero-tolerance policy at the U.S. border.
The Trump administration rule resulted in the separation of about 2,000 migrant children from their parents and guardians along the southern border with Mexico during the six weeks ending on May 31.
Monday afternoon's complaint is an extraordinary example of protest, as it is highly irregular for a layperson in the United Methodist Church to receive such a condemnation from the religious body, USA Today reports.
The complaint, which was provided to Religion News Service, reads:
We, the undersigned laity and clergy of the United Methodist Church, issue a formal complaint against fellow United Methodist layperson Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.
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 certain of his public, professional actions demand that we, as his siblings in the United Methodist denomination, call for some degree of accountability.
The chief author of the complaint is Dave Wright, an ordained United Methodist elder and chaplain at the University of Puget Sound. Wright "hopes the complaint will result in pastoral conversations between Sessions and church leaders," according to USA Today. The goal is not to push Sessions out of the church but rather to find resolve.
The charges brought forward against Sessions include child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.”
USA Today elaborates:
Of the four charges against Sessions, the first three — child abuse, immorality and racial discrimination — are in reference to the border policy. The last, regarding the dissemination of doctrines against Methodism, follows Sessions’ attempt to defend separating families during a speech Thursday, in which he rebuked “church friends” who criticized the policy by insisting its enforcement is biblical, citing Romans 13.
Sessions came under further scrutiny Tuesday when Brad Parscale, Trump’s reelection campaign manager, announced it was time for the attorney general to be fired from his position and for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election – a dark cloud hanging over the president's 2020 chances – to be ended. Sessions has drawn the ire of Trump loyalists, who view the attorney general's decision to recuse himself as negatively impacting his presidency.
"You can't obstruct something that was phony against you," Parscale wrote.
And the United Methodist Church and Parscale are not the only parties who have condemned Sessions’ actions as of late. A group of 72 former U.S. attorneys also called on Sessions to end the “tragic and unsustainable” family separations in a letter to the attorney general. This bipartisan group of legal minds demanded that humane practices be used along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The letter, which was released publicly on Monday, was highly critical of the Sessions-backed zero-tolerance policy. It reads:
When parents and their children arrive at our border, particularly when they come seeking the protection of the United States under our asylum laws, we witness a universal story of humanity: parents willing to face all odds to protect their children. Every administration for decades has grappled with the complexities inherent in families illegally crossing our borders.
Until now, every administration has chosen a path that has balanced the need for effective enforcement and deterrence with humanity and compassion. This balanced approach is especially critical when we are faced with persons seeking entry who may be eligible under established U.S. laws for the protection of asylum, as they flee persecution, horrific violence, or danger in their home countries.