The charges filed against Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his United Methodist Church have been dropped, according to church officials, who said the church’s judicial system cannot be used to address “political actions.”
“A political action is not personal conduct when the political officer is carrying out official policy,” the Rev. Debora Bishop, superintendent for the church district that includes Sessions’ home congregation in Mobile, Alabama, wrote in a letter shared with CNN. “It was not an individual act.”
“I believe this type of conduct is not covered by the chargeable offense provisions of ‘The Book of Discipline’ of The United Methodist Church,” Bishop wrote, referring to the church’s book of rules and social principles.
Bishop David W. Graves, the resident bishop of the church’s Alabama-West Florida Conference, said he concurs with the decision.
In June, more than 600 members of the United Methodist Church issued a formal complaint against Sessions, arguing that the US government’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, which was separating migrant parents from their children at the US-Mexico border, violates church rules and may constitute child abuse.
President Donald Trump has since rescinded the policy.
The complaint against Sessions was spearheaded by the Rev. David Wright, a chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, who said his goal was to urge Sessions to have a conversation with his pastor and “bring his position in line with church doctrine.”
On Wednesday, Wright said the decision to drop the charges against Sessions “avoids the most basic level of accountability” and “fails both Mr. Sessions and the denomination.”
“As a tradition that has persistently challenged United Methodists to live our faith in all aspects of life and society, this abdication of both pastoral and social responsibility is deeply disappointing,” Wright said in a statement.
Wright said he will continue to urge United Methodists to “speak up with prayer, voice, and action in our many ministries and communities to stand against the discrimination, the child abuse, and the wounding ways the Bible is used too often to prop up bigotry in our world.”
Sessions had cited Romans 13 from the New Testament, which counsels Christians to obey secular laws, when responding to religious leaders’ criticism of the “zero tolerance” policy.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice, who provided Bishop’s letter to CNN, said that Sessions will not comment on the matter.
Founded 50 years ago, the United Methodist Church has about 7 million members in the United States and is one of the country’s most ideologically diverse Protestant denominations. Hillary Clinton and former President George W. Bush are both members.