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Religion & Public Policy in the Land of Liberty

Reverend Dr. Monica Corsaro

This week we celebrate the founding of our sweet land of liberty, and in thinking about this experiment that was supposed to fail, I more-than-ever appreciate that which we are.  A country not based on Christian liberty, but a country based on religious freedom, where all can practice openly and one religion does not get to be the official "American religion."

Sorry folks we are NOT a Christian nation and the founders themselves, many of them were not Christian.  They were Deists, Unitarians and or humanists. (I invite you to look up Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others to learn more).  And while other founders, including John Adams and George Washington did hold church memberships they never said one had to, to be a patriot or that public policy of our country should be based on Christian Scripture. Yes, they all knew scripture and it’s quoted often but never in a prosecutorial  way. 

On Thursday, June 14, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible to argue for faith-based obedience to the government.  This brings chills to me – in one sentence, our beloved country shifted towards becoming a theocracy.  As a United Methodist clergyperson in the same global denomination that Sessions participates in I could not be silent. If so then I would be complicit in his shameful use of scripture to justify his racist and abusive public policy. This policy rips apart children from their parents.  All because they cross our border?

Mr. Sessions’ historic and recent actions and statements are entirely out of step with United Methodist theology and social values.  Our early movement in America was itself in part an act of civil disobedience –Through the course of American history, many Methodists have resisted some of the worst legacies of this nation.   At our best, we have fought against slavery, argued for women’s rights, been at the cornerstone of the labor rights movement, and more.  As individuals and as a denomination, we often fall far short of these ideals; but we try to live into this rule – “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

This is a common Methodist saying that Mr. Sessions probably learned as a child, and because he did, I know he knows better.  If you are the Attorney General of the United States and you are telling we Americans your public policy that is one thing; but to tie it to your Christian Identity is another. (words chosen specifically).  And if you are, then we your Christian Community are going to remind you of who you are a part of.

This intersection of identity, power, and a high level of widespread harm combined incited I and  639 United Methodists to invoke that rarely-used process: a formal complaint against a United Methodist layperson, for one of the first times in the denomination’s history. 

Mr. Sessions, we are calling you into accountability.

This is not an attempt to punish Mr. Sessions.  The United Methodist Church has no process or equivalent for “excommunication” or any form of shunning.  But we do have what is called the complaint process and our Book of Discipline has throughout what are called “chargeable offenses.” Actions or policies that do harm to the planet, animals, children, women, and men.  

The complaint at its most for Mr. Sessions is punitive. The worst outcome is that his local church leaders might remove him from “full membership” in the church – meaning that he could no longer vote at church meetings or be elected to offices in his congregation or the denomination.  Even in that scenario he could still fully participate in the life and ministries of his congregations.  

But that was not our goal in filing the complaint.  Our goal was to be heard by Mr. Sessions and our country.  And for we not to be silent, after all, who will speak for the children?

Those of us who filed the Church complaint know that Mr. Sessions is our sibling in Christ, and the very form of the complaint process itself (spelled out carefully in The Book of Discipline, the guide for United Methodist structures and practices) is explicitly geared towards an invitation to reconciliation.   We are grateful for his Pastors Reverends Wines and Boykin as they walk with him in this process.  

Intersectionality is good thing in most contexts but not in this one, Mr. Sessions.  This is a country where you get to study your Bible, your neighbors get to study their Koran, your colleagues get to study their Torah, and still others you know practice humanism. But those texts should not be the basis and/or justification for public policy in our republic.

We as a country are great now because we are rich in many cultures because of immigrants. So listen to the many voices of those who marched and rallied Saturday in the name of democracy. Change the zero tolerance policy.

Reverend Dr. Monica Corsaro is a United Methodist clergyperson from Galesburg. 

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.