Some six hundred members of the United Methodist Church have submitted a petition to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought under church discipline for his part in the on-going zero-tolerance immigration policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents. The group, made up of both clergy and lay persons, accuse Sessions of child abuse, among other things.
While “church discipline” varies greatly from denomination to denomination, the United Methodist has a complex system in which members of the denomination are subject to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, the Church’s primary governing document. (The Discipline is part statement of faith, part canon law.) In the UMC, such disciplinary actions start with pastoral conversations at a local level. Usually, they also end at the local level. However, on very rare occasions, they may result in a church trial and possibly expulsion from the denomination.In a quote to the United Methodist News Service, the pastor who started the petition says:
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….I would look upon his being taken out of the denomination or leaving as a tragedy. That’s not what I would want from this.
The Rev. William Lawrence, a Methodist historian, says that he has never heard of similar charges moving beyond the local level.
The bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, of which Session’s home parish is a part, has publicly criticized the policy forcibly separating immigrant families, saying in part:
I implore Congress and the current administration to do all in their power to reunite these families. 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.
I, for one, pray that the Attorney General hears the cries of the immigrants and the Church’s prophetic voice, that he feels his heart strangely warmed, and falls on his knees in repentance.