Attorney General Jeff Sessions was heckled by religious leaders for his approach to the migrant crisis at a religious freedom event Monday morning.
While Sessions spoke about religious freedom at the Boston Lawyers chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, two religious leaders interrupted his speech, according to video footage from ABC News. The first man, since identified as United Methodist Pastor Will Green of the Ballard Vale United Church in Andover, quoted lines attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. I was naked and you did not clothe me.” The verses are frequently read as Jesus’s exhortation to care for the poor, sick, and marginalized.
He then told Sessions, “Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist, I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need, to remember that when you do not care for others you are wounding the body of Christ.”
While Green did not explicitly state what he was criticizing Sessions for, the attorney general has frequently come under fire from some religious groups for his hardline stance on immigration, including his role in helping enact the Trump administration’s migrant family separation policy. Sessions is currently advocating for the narrowing of grounds for applying for asylum in the United States, even as a 4,000-strong caravan of migrants from Honduras is currently making its way to the United States-Mexico border.
Religious leaders interrupt Attorney General Jeff Sessions' speech: "Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need."— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 29, 2018
Sessions: "Well, thank you for those remarks and attack but I would just tell you we do our best everyday" pic.twitter.com/NUq5HSZZMg
His companion, Pastor Darrell Hamilton of the First Baptist Church in Boston, rose to give a second speech, but was drowned out by boos and cries of “go home” from the audience. As he was escorted out, Hamilton accused his audience of being “hypocrites” for advocating for religious liberty politically, only to deny him the opportunity to express his religious faith by quoting the gospel at the event.
Sessions appeared to laugh off the interruption, telling his audience, “I don’t believe there’s anything in the Scripture ... [or my] theology that says a secular nation state cannot have lawful laws to control immigration ... not immoral, not indecent, and not unkind to state what your laws are and then set about to enforce them.” His listeners responded with raucous applause.
This is not the first time Jeff Sessions has come under fire from religious leaders for his role in the migrant crisis. In June during the migrant family separation crisis, 600 clergy and members of the United Methodist Church brought formal church charges against Sessions, who is himself a Methodist, over his role in the crisis.
Sessions was charged with racism, child abuse, immoral behavior, and the dissemination of heretical Biblical teaching — a reference to his use of the Bible verse Romans 13 to justify Christians’ submission to government policy on the issue of migration. The charges were dropped two months later, with the district superintendent in charge of Sessions’s church, Barbara Bishop, arguing in a statement that “a political action is not personal conduct when the political officer is carrying out official policy.”
The protests of the two clergymen at the event exemplify the increasingly visible role that the religious left, including both mainline Protestants and some evangelicals, are playing under the Trump administration.
From presiding Episcopal bishop Michael Curry’s fiery liberation theology-tinged sermon last spring at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Royal Wedding to retired Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson’s openly political advocacy for LGBTQ rights at last week’s interring of Matthew Shepard, more and more religious leaders are using their platform to spread a message of political resistance.
Or, in the case of these two men, simply sharing the gospel.
Update: this article has been updated to reflect the fact that the pastors have now been identified