More than 600 members of the United Methodist Church have filed a formal complaint against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a fellow Methodist, accusing him of violating church law with his policy of separating children from parents when immigrant families enter the U.S. without authorization.
The 640 people who signed the complaint, including clergy members and laypeople, say Sessions violated church law, as stated in the Book of Discipline, against child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and dissemination of doctrines contrary to Methodist beliefs. Sessions has contended the immigration policy is justified by the Bible, and he, Donald Trump, and other administration officials say the policy is merely an enforcement of a law that Democrats have failed to change -- but in reality, the policy is clearly a choice of the Trump administration.
Indefinitely separating children from their parents and placing them in mass incarceration facilities is child abuse, the complainants say, and using children to deter immigration is immoral. This and other Trump administration immigration policies, which particularly target Muslims and Latinos, engage in racial discrimination, as do the Justice Department's decision to stop investigating racial profiling by police departments and attempts to criminalize Black Lives Matter and other racial justice groups, the complaint states.
"While we are reticent to bring a formal complaint against a layperson," the document reads, "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 complainants further note, "While other individuals and areas of the federal government are implicated in each of these examples, Mr. Sessions -- as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position -- is particularly accountable to us, his church. He is ours, and we are his. 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 complaint, filed Monday, is addressed to the pastors of two churches Sessions attends -- Rev. Sterling Boykin of Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala., and Rev. Tracy Wines of Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, Va.
Some complaints of violating denominational law have resulted in church trials, such as for ministers who conduct same-sex marriages, something the United Methodist Church does not endorse, even though many members have advocated for a change in this policy. But the signatories to the Sessions complaint ask not for a trial but for "a reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families."
"The goal is to hopefully get Attorney General Sessions to talk to his pastors and church leaders, bring his position in line with the church's doctrines and social principles, and end the damage he is causing," Rev. David Wright, who took the lead on the complaint, told CNN. Wright is a chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.
He added that he does not want to see Sessions ejected from the church. "That would be a tragedy," he said. "We are a big-tent denomination."
A Justice Department spokesperson declined comment to CNN on the complaint. Bishop William Graves, who is in charge of the region that includes Sessions's Alabama church, also declined comment to CNN and other news outlets, including BuzzFeed,but he and other church leaders have issued statements condemning the immigration policy.
"I implore Congress and the current administration to do all in their power to reunite these families," Graves wrote Monday. "Changes to these laws need to be addressed starting today. Let us join our voices in prayer for the separated families, for those working to end this injustice, and for our nation's leaders."