UPDATE: On July 30, the United Methodist Church said it dismissed the complaint. "In this matter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was carrying out the official policy of the President and/or the United States Department of Justice. 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, 2016 for laypersons. Therefore, your complaint is dismissed."
More than 600 Methodist ministers and lay members have issued a formal complaint accusing denomination member Jeff Sessions of "immorality" and other sins related to the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents after illegal border crossings.
The complaint, which comes amid massive news coverage of separations and detentions of migrant children, also accuses the attorney general of child abuse, racial discrimination and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.
It says Session's "advocacy and actions ... have led to harm against thousands of vulnerable humans."
The complaint, addressed to Session's pastors at Methodist churches he attends in Mobile, Alabama, and Arlington, Virginia, says its signers were "reticent to bring a formal complaint against a layperson" such as Sessions.
But it goes on to note that his "unique combination of tremendous social/political power, his leading role as a Sunday School teacher and former delegate to General Conference, and the severe and ongoing impact of several of his public, professional actions demand that we, as his siblings in the United Methodist denomination, call for some degree of accountability."
The complaint also says "we deeply hope for a reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connections step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families."
Sessions last week used biblical scripture to justify the Trump administration's policy relating to separating migrant children from their parents.
"Let me take an aside to discuss concerns raised by our church friends about separating families. Many of the criticisms raised in recent days are not fair or logical and some are contrary to law," Sessions had said in a speech in Indiana on Thursday.
"First, illegal entry into the United States is a crime — as it should be," 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."
"Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful."
A Justice Department declined to comment on the Methodists' complaint, which was issued Monday.
An article about the complaint on the official website of the United Methodist Church quotes the Rev. William Lawrence, a professor emeritus at Perkins School of Theology and an authority on Methodist history, as noting that any Methodist can bring a charge against another Methodist, but that a formal complaint containing charges is very rare.
Lawrence also said in that article that he was unaware of any case in the 50-year history of the church when a complaint against a lay member went beyond being resolved but either that person's pastor or by a district superintendent via "pastoral steps."