640 United Methodist clergy, members file complaint against Jeff Sessions

A group of more than 600 United Methodist clergy and members are bringing church law charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration crackdown — chiefly the policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The group accuses Sessions, a fellow United Methodist, of violating Paragraph 270.3 of the denomination's Book of Discipline. He is charged under charge law with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and "dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church."

In a letter addressed to Session's pastors, 640 clergy and laity urge "some degree of accountability" for the top law enforcement official in the country, who they say is affiliated with United Methodist churches in Alabama and the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

"We write to you ... in the hopes that you will, as members of our connectional system, dig deeply into Mr. Sessions' advocacy and actions that have led to harm against thousands of vulnerable humans," the signees wrote in the letter.

"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."

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Migrants detained near US-Mexico border
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Migrants detained near US-Mexico border
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol agent takes a group of Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks for groups of asylum seekers crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take a group of Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A Honduran mother holds her two-year-old as U.S. Border Patrol as agents review their papers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran stands with her mother after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a Border Patrol processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol spotlight shines on a terrified mother and son from Honduras as they are found in the dark near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and had become lost in the woods. They were then detained by Border Patrol agents and then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents detain a group of Central American asylum seekers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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A spokeswoman for the attorney general did not immediately return requests for comment.

And the two churches to which Sessions purportedly belongs — Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and the Clarendon United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia — did not immediately respond to phone calls from NBC News.

The signees of the letter also criticized Sessions for invoking Romans 13, a Bible verse, to justify the Trump administration policy of breaking up children and parents at the border. They said the "misuse" of that line from Scripture was in "stark contrast to Disciplinary commitments to supporting freedom of conscience and resistance to unjust laws."

The contents of the letter were first reported by the United Methodist News Service.

The Rev. William Lawrence, an authority on Methodist history and practices, saidthat anyone in the church can bring a charge against anyone else, whether clergy or lay person — but a formal complaint outlining specific charges is rare.

Lawrence said the church's Book of Discipline allows, "in the most extreme circumstances," for a church-led trial and even the expulsion of a lay member. But the first step, he said, would be for the respondent to resolve the issue through "pastoral conversations" with their pastor and district superintendent.

"In the 50 years of the United Methodist Church as a denomination, I am not aware of any case that moved beyond those initial stages," Lawrence said.

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Protests against family separations at US border
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Protests against family separations at US border
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 14: Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents when they arrive at the U.S. border without authorization on June 14, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 14: Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents when they arrive at the U.S. border without authorization on June 14, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: Young children alongside adults protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People shine cell phones and call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People shine cell phones and call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People call 'you are not alone' to immigrant detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center during a protest of the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The detainees responded by shines lights back and banging on their cells. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: People protest the Trump administration policy of removing children from parents arrested for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators marched through the city and culminated the march at a detention center where ICE (U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees are held. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 162 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Sharon Chajon whose husband is a detained immigrant cries while people participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
New Jersey and New York Congressmen hold a news conference during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) speaks during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Maria Inga whose husband is a detained immigrant cries while people participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) speaks during a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy that separates children from their families when entering the United States as undocumented immigrants in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S., June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
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