By Gina Martinez
June 19, 2018

Hundreds of members of the United Methodist Church have filed claims of child abuse and racism against Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the church’s “Book of Discipline” after he enacted a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has led to the separation of thousands of parents and children at the U.S. border.

Some 640 clergy members and laypersons in the church have written an open letter to the leaders of the two congregations where Sessions, a longtime Methodist, attends church. They are calling on church leaders to reach out to Sessions and help him “step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.”

The letter condemns Sessions, alleging he has misused his “tremendous social/political power” in his enforcement of the nation’s laws — especially the recent policy that has led U.S. Border Patrol agents to take more than 2,000 children from parents arrested at the border. The separations are the result of the Trump Administration’s policy of prosecuting everyone who is caught crossing the border illegally. They have caused an uproar, which have been fueled by the release of photos and videos of children in detention.

The letter also criticizes Sessions for citing Romans 13 to justify the policies and saying people are called by the Bible to “obey the laws of the government.” During a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed Sessions by saying, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

The United Methodist Church members are accusing Sessions of: child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church” – for his citation of Romans 13.

The letter claimed that while other federal government employees are also guilty of the charges against Sessions, the Attorney General is accountable to the church.

“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 letter read. “Several Bishops and other denominational leaders have spoken out about this matter, urging Methodists to contact Mr. Sessions and for these policies to change, but we believe that the severity of his actions and the harm he is causing to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylees calls for his church to step into a process to directly engage with him as a part of our community.”

This is not the first time religious leaders have sought to publicly shame politicians whom they view as wayward. In 2004, there was intensive debate over whether Sen. John Kerry, then the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, should be denied communion by the Catholic Church because of his support for abortion rights.

Read is the full text of the letter below:

Write to Gina Martinez at gina.martinez@time.com.

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