More than 600 members of Jeff Session’s own religious denomination, the United Methodist Church, denounced him in a letter released Monday for enforcing the Trump administration’s immigration policy. The letter was signed by clergy and church leadership as well as members around the world.
The letter charges Sessions with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church,” including the misuse of Romans 13—the Bible verse that Sessions quoted in a press conference last week in an attempt to justify the Trump administration’s immigration policy. (That same Bible verse was also used in the 19th century to defend slavery.)
It also points to Sessions’ “tremendous social/political power” as well as “his leading role as a Sunday school teacher,” and calls for a “reconciling process” to help Sessions “step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing.”
Sessions is a lay member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and an active participant in Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia, according to the letter.
The public outcry comes in response to President Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” on immigration. As attorney general, Sessions has been a key figure in enforcing the policy, announcing that the Department of Justice would pursue criminal prosecution for all adults attempting to illegally cross the border, which has resulted in border agents separating children from their parents.
It’s not the first time that the United Methodist Church has spoken out against the Trump administration policy of separating families at the border. The church’s Council of Bishops publicly denounced the policy on June 7, joining other faith organizations.
That statement said, “As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.”
The United Methodist Church has about 7 million lay members and 44,000 clergy members in the United States, according to its website.
Trump has deflected blame to Democrats and said that only Congress can resolve the issue—in spite of the fact that the separations are not mandated by law but rather by the Trump administration’s decision to prosecute as many immigrants as possible for illegally crossing the border. The policy has sparked a backlash from several members of Congress, including Republicans.
It’s not the first time that church and state have clashed in recent months. In April, House chaplain Father Patrick Conroy was asked to resign after delivering a prayer for the poor that criticized the GOP tax bill. (He was reinstated the following month, after retracting his resignation letter and gaining the support of House members.)