Church Discipline Against the Attorney General

Church Discipline Against the Attorney General June 21, 2018

Who says liberal churches don’t exercise church discipline?  United Methodists have filed formal charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his role in separating the children of illegal immigrants from their families.  And for saying that the practice is “Biblical” by citing Romans 13.  (UPDATE:  Pres. Trump has signed an executive order stopping that separation.)

Sessions is an active Methodist, but he could be expelled from the denomination.  Such charges are almost never leveled at laypeople, but they are possible under the Methodist Book of Discipline.

From Tara Isabella Burton:

More than 600 Methodist clergy and church members are bringing formal church charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, invoking a rarely used church procedure to condemn the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their families at the US-Mexico border.

In a June 18 statement, 640 signatories invoked paragraph 2702.3 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline to charge Sessions with child abuse, immorality (including “the use of violence against children to deter immigration”), racial discrimination, and the dissemination of false doctrine counter to Methodist teaching — including Sessions’s controversial public use of the Bible verse Romans 13 to legitimize the Trump administration’s migrant policies.

Sessions is a member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and of Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia. The statement, addressed to Sessions’s Alabama and Virginia pastors, Sterling Boykin and Tracy Wines respectively, urged them to “dig deeply into Mr. Sessions’ advocacy and actions that have led to harm against thousands of vulnerable humans.”

The statement continued: “As members of the United Methodist Church, we deeply hope 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.”

Sessions is an active member of the United Methodist Church and has served both as a Sunday school teacher and as a church delegate to the annual Methodist General Conference. He has frequently invoked his Christian faith in support of the Trump administration and its policies. . . .

Technically, anyone within the Methodist Church can bring charges against any other member, and charges can theoretically lead to expulsion from the church community following an ecclesiastical trial. In practice, however, charges are extremely rare, especially against laypeople, and almost never move beyond the level of individual mediation at a local church level.

Perhaps this might encourage conservative denominations to exercise church discipline on politicians who support abortion.  Or on ordinary members who support abortion and euthanasia.

How far should we take this?  What about a member who advocates gay marriage?  I suppose liberal churches, inspired by the Methodists, might discipline disbelievers in global warming and members who voted for Donald Trump.

Do you think taking such action against officials for their policy positions is an appropriate application of church discipline?  Or does it involve churches getting too mixed up with politics?

Or is it a way for churches to cleanse their membership rolls so that only individuals who believe what the church believes can be members, thus enhancing the unity of the church and increasing the integrity of its witness?  This would involve liberal churches expelling conservatives, conservatives expelling liberals, Catholics and Baptists expelling anti-lifers, etc.

Of course, there are other reasons to impose church discipline, such as flagrant immorality and rejecting the church’s theology.  That doesn’t happen much either.  Should it?

What issues would you consider worthy of excommunication?


Illustration:  Oliver Postgate, “Thomas Becket angrily threatening excommunication and interdict against the king and bishops of France” via Ben Sutherland, Flickr, Creative Commons License


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