Faithfully yours - Rarely a wise move


By Neil Strohschein

Neepawa Banner & Press

It is one thing for a politician to be criticized by his or her political opponents. That goes with the territory and is something that all politicians expect. But in the case of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the critics are members of his own church—over 600 of them, in fact.

At issue is the way in which US Customs and Immigration officials are dealing with families who enter the United States illegally. President Trump has implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for illegals—meaning that, if you are caught entering the USA without being able to produce proper documentation, you will be placed under arrest, charged with an offence and be held in a detention center until your case can be heard by a judge.

But that policy only applies to “illegal” adults. If they are accompanied by children, the families will be separated at the border. The parents will be detained. Their children will be cared for by social service agencies until their parents’ cases are resolved.

The 600+ who lodged the formal complaint against AG Sessions consider the above policy to be a form of Child Abuse. This violates the policy of their church—the United Methodist Church. They are asking the church to investigate Sessions’ actions and demand that he appear before a committee of pastors and other church leaders to answer for his alleged support of this practice.

Now I will be the first to admit that I do not understand the complex problems associated with US immigration policies. Nor am I all that acquainted with the doctrines of the United Methodist Church and the restrictions its policies impose on its members. I respect their right to determine how they will be governed, what standards of conduct they expect of their members and how they deal with those who violate those standards.

But I wonder if the action taken against AG Sessions will do anything to change the “zero tolerance” policy on illegals entering the US. In my view it won’t. The issue of separating children of illegals from their parents at the border is being addressed. I hope and pray that a just solution will be found. But the overall issue of immigration will be a “hot topic” for many years to come—both in the United States and in Canada.

A second question raised by the UMC members’ action is the extent to which a religious organization should censure one of its members who, in the process of carrying out his duties under the law, runs afoul of church policy. This is an issue that all religious organizations need to address; as it is fundamental to our ability to serve society with dignity and integrity.

There is nothing wrong with religious organizations or other charitable societies making public comments on social, economic or political issues. Their views, even though they are often controversial and contradictory, need to be heard. But the best thing they can do is to facilitate discussions that will help their adherents develop and clearly communicate their personal views on the issues of the day. Every person who speaks out on an issue is a citizen whose voice and vote can help shape public policy. That’s where the real power lies.

Publicly calling out one of your own, as the 600+ UMC members have done with AG Sessions, is rarely a wise move. It raises the question of the extent to which a religious organization can use its authority to force its will on government officials. I will address that topic next week.