Austin Methodist pastors charge A.G. Sessions with 'church law' violations

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "Zero tolerance policy" -- saying 100% of illegal southwest border crossings will be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.  

"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law," Sessions said.

"As a mom, it was a gut-punch to see these kids being taken from their relatives," said Rev. Kelly Shoenfelt with Servant Church in Austin.

"What really tipped me was when last week Attorney General Sessions used scripture as a reason to justify what they were doing," Shoenfelt said.

Both Shoenfelt and Rev. John Elford, Senior Pastor at University United Methodist Church in Austin feel Sessions misinterprets the Bible when it comes to immigration.

"Jesus said 'suffer the little children to come unto me' and it seems to me that the border policy that we have right now is just the exact opposite of that," Elford said.

The two Austin pastors are among more than 600 Methodists across the country who signed on to a letter asking for Sessions to be held accountable by "church law."  

"This letter is actually a formal complaint.  And it's written to the pastors of Jeff Sessions' church where he is a member and where he attends," Elford said.  

"People might think 'what in the world is a church letter, you know the 'church law' it's not the government it's not something that can be held to put somebody in court or in prison.  For me it's a symbolic stance," Shoenfelt said.

The letter points out Sessions is a member of a Methodist church in Alabama and he's active at a church in Virginia.  

Citing the "Book of Discipline," the letter charges the Attorney General with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.

"It's an unusual letter too okay and I should point that out, we don't make charges against lay people lightly and it just doesn't happen very often," Elford said.

Speaking of non-partisan politics, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, a Republican, sent President Trump a letter on Tuesday urging him to rescind the Zero Tolerance Policy.

"You have publicly suggested that your administration may end these policies if Congressional Democrats agree to some of your other border security objectives and positions.  But it is wrong to use these scared, vulnerable children as a negotiating tool.  Their suffering should also not be used to deter illegal immigration," Straus said.

As for the letter from the Methodists, the next step would be for Sessions' pastors to meet with him and discuss the charges.

"We're making this as a statement to say 'we really want you to take a second look at what you're doing and how does that line up with what you know to be true about your faith and God and following Jesus?" Shoenfelt said. 

"And I think that's kind of Methodist teaching too, the idea that we can change, that our hearts can be changed," Elford said.