Earlier this week, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interrupted by a Methodist minister in a clerical collar who shouted verses from Matthew 25 during a religious liberty event in Boston.
“Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist, I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need, to remember that when you do not care for others, you are wounding the body of Christ,” said Will Green, pastor of of Ballard Vale United Church in Massachusetts.
Green’s remarks, followed by another outcry from a Baptist pastor, led both clergy to be escorted from the event. The Trump cabinet member briefly responded, “Thank you for those remarks and attack, but I would just tell you we do our best every day to fulfill my responsibility to enforce the laws of the United States.”
In a news clip gone viral, Green said to Sessions’s face what some members of the nation’s second-largest Protestant body have articulated in statements, tweets, and casual conversation: They’re unsettled to see a fellow member of the United Methodist Church (UMC) enforcing policies their tradition opposes, specifically, the White House directive to apprehend and separate families crossing the US border.
United Methodist leaders have adopted resolutions in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and declared Sessions’s own zero-tolerance stance as “unnecessarily cruel.” More than 600 clergy and laypeople filed an official complaint against him with the UMC, though it was ultimately dismissed by his district this summer.
“I don’t believe there’s anything in the Scripture or anything in my theology that says a secular nation state cannot have lawful laws to control immigration,” said the attorney general, the highest-ranking Methodist politician.
The denominational groundswell against Sessions—an Alabama Republican and a member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile— continues to raise questions over when and how the church should discipline one of its own.
“We deeply hope for a reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection [Sessions] step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families,” read a letter from UMC leaders filed July 18.
The complaint, which cited “chargeable offenses” of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church,” was quashed over the summer by the district superintendent of the Alabama-West Florida UMC Conference, which oversees Sessions’s home church. The justification for dismissing the complaint? Duty-bound politics is not personal.
Backlash upon Backlash
“A political action is not personal conduct when the political officer is carrying out official policy,” read the dismissal, offered in a statement from Bishop David W. Graves, resident bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, who concurred with the decision.
According to the dismissal notice, Sessions simply carried out the official program of the president and the Department of Justice, so his behavior didn’t constitute an “individual act” and therefore was not covered under the UMC’s Book of Discipline.
“While I could fully understand the informal complaints about Sessions, and though I didn’t expect much success for the formal complaint…I don’t understand the rationale for the dismissal of the complaint,” said Will Willimon, a Methodist theologian, UMC bishop, and Duke Divinity School professor, in a response to CT.
“‘Political actions are not personal conduct’? What’s that supposed to mean? What’s the basis in Scripture for that statement? I know nothing in our Book of Discipline that bifurcates personal behavior from public, politically motivated behavior. Whatever happened to, ‘We must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29)?”
William B. Lawrence, a former president of the UMC’s judicial council, called the reasoning behind the dismissal “problematic.” “I do not follow the logic that grants someone, even the president of the United States, the right to ‘superior orders’ with regard to church law,” he stated to the Religion News Service.
Still, such complaints are rare, and laity usually meet with their pastor or district superintendent to resolve, he said in a United Methodist News Service article.
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Source: Christianity Today