You may have read last week that after Attorney General Jeff Sessions misused the 13th chapter of the New Testament book of Romans to justify the Trump administration policy of separating children from their families at the U.S. southern border, leaders of the United Methodist Church threatened to discipline Sessions, a Methodist.
As this Religion News Service piece argues, disciplining Sessions could set a bad precedent. Author Jacob Lupfer writes: ". . .the liberals’ new-fashioned commitment to church discipline is shortsighted and likely to backfire. The hammer you rediscover as powerful today could be in someone else’s hands tomorrow.
"Sessions must face on his own the question of why has he prostrated himself before Trump in ways that jeopardize his commitments to Christian teaching and human decency. I doubt that the introspection Sessions needs will come from liberals or any religious denomination.
"Acquiescence to Trumpism is not yet a heresy in American Christianity. If it were, the churches would be even emptier than they already are."
Still, it raises the question of what faith communities should do if their members behave in public ways that contradict church teaching or in some way bring disrepute to the group.
There's no easy answer. My temptation in the case of a person with as high a profile as Sessions -- and in the case of someone known to be a member of my own faith community -- would be to publicly denounce whatever action or policy I believe conflicts with church teaching but to continue to welcome the person as part of the group on the theory that almost everyone has particular differences with church teaching and that all of us, as the Apostle Paul says, are sinners.
Heavy-handed church discipline, it seems to me, should be reserved for clergy and officers who have taken vows promising various levels of action and commitment to church theology. Sometimes people break the rules on purpose as a kind of civil disobedience to make a point to their faith community. An example would be the Methodist pastors who have conducted same-sex weddings even though at the moment the church doesn't allow them to do that. And there should be consequences in such cases because civil disobedience without consequences sort of takes away the power of the action.
But disciplining a regular member for a public political action makes the faith community look unnecessarily rigid and unwilling to allow internal dissent.
Sessions was wrong about Romans 13, as I noted in this post last week, and he's wrong about a lot, I think, but using church discipline to whip him into line is the wrong approach.
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CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED WORLDWIDE
A new report from the Pew Research Center says Christians are the most persecuted people of faith in the world. There's no doubt that many face terrible problems in various countries. But let's differentiate between that and the phony claims of persecution in the U.S. over things like the alleged "War on Christmas" and similar made-up crises.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about the uselessness of anti-Sharia laws -- now is online here.