MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - According to the United Methodist News Service, more than 600 United Methodist Church clergy and laity say they are bringing church law charges against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions related to the "zero tolerance" policy and resulting separation of families along the Mexico border.
In a complaint Monday, the group from the UMC accused Sessions of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church.
"However, an authority on church history and polity said he's unaware of a complaint against a lay person ever moving past the district level," the United Methodist News Service stated.
According to the Associated Press, nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents since Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy, which directs Homeland Security officials to refer all cases of illegal entry into the United States for prosecution.
The church complaint says Sessions, who is a member of Ashland Methodist Church in Mobile and active participant at Clarendon UMC in Arlington, VA, has a unique combination of social and political power that calls for "some degree of accountability."
"While other individuals and areas of the federal government are implicated in each of these examples, Mr. Sessions - as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position - is particularly accountable to us, his church. He is ours, and we are his," the complaint states. "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."
In a statement Monday, Bishop David Graves of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church said it's deeply troubling "that innocent immigrant children are being separated from their parents."
"It was difficult to celebrate Father's Day knowing these unjust acts were ongoing in this country," Graves said.
The United Methodist Board of Church & Society released a statement Friday, specifically taking issue with the use of scripture to justify the policy.
"To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel," the statement said.
According to CNN, Sessions said "Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order."
The church's statement points out the surrounding verses in the Bible.
"The ethical teachings of Romans 12-16 describe that consecrated Christian life requires the duties of love and hospitality. The commandment in Chapter 13 to 'be subject to the governing authorities' is bracketed by preceding and following passages containing the command to 'love,'" the UMC said in a statement.
The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church joined other religious organizations in calling the policy "unnecessarily cruel" and "detrimental" earlier this month. Leaders from 20 religious organizations met in Washington D.C., formulated a statement, urging the U.S. government to stop separating families.
"We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support the community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God," the statement said. "Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children."
The organizations have urged the current administration to change the policies.
WSFA 12 News has reached out to Sessions' office for a comment.