Editor's Note: Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions' Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general begins this week. On Monday, Jan. 9, faith leaders marched to the Capitol to pray and protest his confirmation in light of the senator's stances on the Voting Rights Act, immigration, and other issues.
Faith leaders delivered a petition written by Christian theologians opposing Sessions' nomination, which had received more than 4,000 signatures by the afternoon of Jan. 9. Here, some of those theologians offer alternate testimony for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee as they interrogate Sessions' record.
As a Christian historian, my choice to oppose Sen. Jeff Sessions as the nominee for U.S. attorney general is anchored in the long struggle to forge a more just and equitable society on American soil. It has been a hard-fought campaign that reaches back centuries. To those principled, historic figures who no longer can speak on behalf of this worthy endeavor, we add our voices to defend the dignity of all those who call the USA home.
Many victories along the way have secured precious rights for the nation’s people of color, religious minorities, women, the working poor, the differently abled, as well as the members of the LGBTQ community. We must not give up ground. This nomination feels like we are making steps back toward a dark past.
Working for justice necessitates that the country’s many constituencies come together to solve the complicated challenges facing our nation. However, due to Sen. Session’s insensitive racial remarks and his “get tough” policies aimed at immigrants, many in this country doubt that he will have their interest at heart when he reaches the Justice Department.
Given the long history of racial strife in this country, it seems provocative and counter-productive to nominate an individual who has already been denied a federal judgeship due to his suspect track record. Our president-elect said that he was interested in bringing Americans together. In the name of “justice for all,” with all due respect intended, we can do better than Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Associate Professor of Church History
Anderson School of Theology
On April 16, 1963, in the state of Alabama, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” while incarcerated for his active solidarity on behalf of human rights. Although directed toward fellow Christian clergy critical of his role in creative resistance, the letter’s reach was much broader and for good reason: King was challenging the neutrality of both the church and society in the face of brutal injustice faced by African-American citizens, brought to public attention in that state but reflective of the reality across the nation.
Now, some 54 years later, we are confronted with an eerily similar moment where our attention is refocused on Alabama. As senator and former Alabama attorney general, Jeff Sessions is being considered for the position of U.S. attorney general, the most senior law enforcement official in the land, we face a critical moment of decision: Are we, as Christians, going to serve as neutral bystanders while a half century of progress to ensure to human rights and dignity of ALL citizens is undermined? Make no mistake, his record as attorney general of Alabama tells us everything we need to know about how he will proceed within a Trump administration. We can expect the same, as these past 50 years have witnessed no reversal: He will make it more difficult for all citizens to participate in the vote; he will not fully recognize equality under the law for LGBTQ and women; he will obstruct immigration reform that attends to human dignity; he will not press law enforcement to develop more just policing practices in spite of increased tensions and violence within minority communities. What more do we need to know when past is prologue?
Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his letter, “So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent — and often even vocal —sanction of things as they are.”
As Christian leaders and believers, we are called at this moment to break our silence. Otherwise, our neutrality is nothing more than complicity with injustice toward “the least of these.” And we will be judged accordingly.
Teresa Delgado, PhD
Director, Peace and Justice Studies
Associate Professor and Chair, Religious Studies Department
The basic principle and foundation of this country – “with liberty and justice for all” – is something that is shared with the deepest convictions of my Christian faith and human flourishing. That’s the allegiance I pledge to the United States of America, and it is consistent with the allegiance I pledge to the Christian tradition.
But Sen. Jeff Sessions has not pursued “liberty and justice for all” in his racial insensitivity, disparaging of Voting Rights Act, and actions that have compromised access to voting for all. He has not pursued “liberty and justice for all” in his resistance to the equal rights of women, LGBTQ persons, and Americans with disabilities. His rhetoric and his policies have not defended “liberty and justice for all” in a willingness to apply religious discriminations in immigration policy. He has not pursued “liberty and justice for all” in his opposition to the Hate Crimes Act and efforts to reform our criminal justice system.
As an American and as a Christian, I am convinced that justice has not, and will not flourish under Jeff Sessions. I cannot trust him to protect the common good that is valued in our faith and in our democracy.
Jeannine Hill Fletcher
Professor of Theology
We are proud to join Christian theologians across the country who are united in our opposition to the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as the new attorney general. Justice is central to the role of attorney general, a value that cannot be left in the hands of a man once rejected as a federal judge over allegations he called a black attorney "boy," suggested a white lawyer working for black clients was a race traitor, joked that the only issue he had with the Ku Klux Klan was their drug use. Sen. Sessions' racist track record and failure to uphold the Voting Rights Act erodes the trust of many of the members of our faith communities and is inconsistent with Jesus Christ’s vision and values.
As made clear in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we are called to "seek first the Kingdom" as the righteous reign of God "on earth, as it is in heaven." In his teachings, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and work for restorative justice. The Sermon on the Mount directs our care to the flourishing of all people, and is consistent with the values of justice and human flourishing that are central to our American democracy.
While Jesus stood in embodied solidarity with the vulnerable, it is through the law that our country offers protections for its most vulnerable members. Sen. Sessions' racist remarks and unjust policies make it morally unacceptable for him to be America's top law-enforcement officer.
Our country is a land of immigrants. Through the genocide of Native Americans, America became a land of immigrants who came from different parts of the world. As America continues to welcome immigrants and refugees, we need an attorney general who will side with those who have been marginalized, racialized, and oppressed. As we reflect on the message of Jesus, we see that he welcomed the poor, clothed the naked, and sided with women and foreigners. We, too, need to follow Jesus and need to engage in embracing the other if we are to be able to work towards building peace, love and justice.
Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, PhD
Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Micah Institute
New York Theological Seminary
Rev. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, PhD
Associate Professor of Theology
Earlham School of Religion
Confirming Jeff Sessions as attorney general would bring new disgrace to an already disgraced Justice Department. This is the department that paved the way for U.S. torture under George W. Bush, and that allowed the crimes of the powerful — corrupt bankers, plundering oil spill corporations, and stealthy CIA torturers with their high-level accomplices — to slip by with impunity under Barack Obama. Now under Donald Trump, the department seems headed, if possible, to reach a new low.
Jeff Sessions is the man who was deemed too racist to be appointed as a federal judge in 1986. He is soft on the KKK. He has smeared the ACLU and the NAACP as "communist-inspired." He is no better on environmental issues. He wants to exempt fracking from drinking water rules. Again, he is one of the most extreme anti-immigration politicians in the country. Not least, he foments vicious anti-Islamic prejudices. It is time for conscientious religious people to speak out loud and clear, especially in support of our harassed Muslim neighbors, many of whom have lived peaceably in our country for generations. Forget about making America "great" again. Let's make America good for once — and begin by rejecting Sessions.
Rev. Dr. George Hunsinger
Princeton Theological Seminary
It is a privilege to join this group of theologians and Christian leaders voicing our objections to the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. As a teacher of Christianity, a United Methodist, and a citizen of the United States, I do not expect our nation to be perfect. We pledge “with justice and liberty for all” and we fall short.
The greatness of the United States lies in our ability to seek “a more perfect union” — to realize injustices and deal with them democratically — and legally. The attorney general is the nation’s chief legal advisor to the government. How could it come to this appointment of Jeff Sessions? Already 30 years ago, a Senate committee refused Sessions a federal judgeship when he was U.S. attorney in Alabama. His own colleagues testified to his racism. He does not just oppose illegal but also legal immigration — the background of all of us. And in a 2015 hearing on the EPA, he pronounced carbon dioxide “not a pollutant" but “a plant food.” What Proverbs 11:19 says about individuals applies also to our democracy: “The one who is steadfast in righteousness will live, but who pursues evil will die."
Dr. Catherine Keller
The Theological School and Graduate Division of Religion
Sen. Jeff Sessions has repeatedly stated his opposition to increasing the number of refugees and legal immigrants entering our country. He maintains such increases violate the principle that a government exists to serve its own people. While I agree that governments should serve their people, I insist that they are similarly obliged to serve all people and the focus must be on those who are in need of our immediate care and concern.
As a grandmother and believer in the hope expressed in Christ’s life and teachings, I want my grandchildren to understand that their well-being does not require them to close their doors or borders to people seeking a refuge from violence or poverty. In fact, the Bible stories they hear and the liturgies they enact tell them just the opposite: offer up your small number of loaves and there will be plenty to share; take the light of Christ outside the church door and witness the adventure of God’s all-embracing, miraculous love. The reason I cannot support Sen. Session’s nomination is because his conception of justice and political service is simply too limited to inspire my grandchildren to live the lives that I hope for them.
Professor of Philosophy
Azusa Pacific University
Jesus’ disciples were not powerful. The powerful and wealthy were indebted to the imperial system of domination that Jesus rejected. In Matthew 4 and 5, Jesus called his followers to join in a radical, alternative vision: the reversal of the status quo. When Mary announced the coming of Jesus into the world, she sang about this vision: The rich will be sent away empty, the poor lifted up, and the powerful knocked down. (Luke 1:50-53)
This is the kind of society that Christians are called to bring into history – one structured by love, justice, and solidarity, not fear, structural inequality and self-interest. This is not what Sen. Jeff Sessions values or has fought for. This is why, as a Christian, I cannot support his nomination to the office of attorney general. I do not believe that, as attorney general, he will advocate for the powerless, protect the disenfranchised, or seek restorative justice. Sen. Sessions’ racist comments, his opposition to voting rights, and his advocacy for policies that damage the well-being of women, queer folk, and people with disabilities show that he does not believe, as Jesus did, in an upside-down world of equality, liberation, and resistance against oppression in all its forms.
Dr. Silas Morgan
I oppose the nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to be attorney general of the United States for a simple reason: his history of antagonism to government protection of the rights of African Americans, specifically, and minority citizens, more generally. His opposition to the Voting Rights Act and his support of its dismantling mark Sen. Sessions as someone who will not seek the interest or welfare of every citizen.
The Department of Justice, at its best, takes as its work ensuring that every citizen is treated fairly and that justice is wrung from the systems of oppression, which have taken shape during the long and tortured history of racial, gender, and ethnic oppression in the Unites States. Given that this work is a significant part of the portfolio of the attorney general, Sessions’ well-demonstrated antagonism to these ideals disqualifies him from being a defender of all Americans. For me, this is a theological matter because systems of racial, gender, and ethnic oppression are evil. They seek to diminish the humanity of God’s children. Cooperation with them is sin. Correlatively, resistance to, and a dedication to their reformation are the duty of faithful Christians. There is little in Sen. Sessions’ background that suggests he is interested in this work.
Stephen G. Ray Jr.
Neal A. and Ila F. Fisher Professor of Theology
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
As a professor of Biblical and Religious Studies in a conservative Christian university, I strongly oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. The task of the AG is to protect the most vulnerable in our societies — whether they be victims of crime or victims of a culture that is prone to implicit bias toward their social group. It is not sufficient for him to claim that he is not a racist. The issue is his support of systems that are racialized and that encourage discrimination. He has not evidenced the ability to make that distinction, and, for this reason, is not qualified for this crucial role.
Our society must be one that supports the most vulnerable. This is what we have always claimed makes us great — our ideals are to provide opportunities for all, regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, ability, or sexuality, as well as to support those most vulnerable. Mr. Sessions will lead us away from, not toward, achieving these ideals. I call on our representatives to reject his nomination for attorney general.
Kay Higuera Smith, PhD
Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies
Azusa Pacific University
I signed the petition to oppose Jeff Sessions’ nomination for United States attorney general because I can do no other than resist the appointment of a career politician whose record evidences a consistent downward glance toward vulnerable people in our society. Sessions has a history of hateful and hostile behavior toward African Americans. As attorney general he could systematically gut very civil right that citizens with ascribed difference is warranted.
Moral duplicity joined with power yields an ironclad arm in the hands of someone who will harm defenseless people and effectively move us back to the lynching era. The next generation of descendants of people of color, along with Muslims and LGBTQ people is not likely to survive if the Department of Justice is headed by a white supremacist.
Sessions’ consistent conservatism and opposition to illegal immigrants will lead to a death-dealing approach to people whose labor produces the very food that we eat. He could seek to amend same-sex marriage act, work to provide tax cuts for the wealthy, and oppose all measures to support people unable to earn a living wage.
It is for these reasons that I oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions to the office of attorney general.
Linda E. Thomas, PhD
Professor of Theology and Anthropology
Lutheran School of Theology
With the nomination of Jeff Sessions to the office of attorney general of the United States, it is apparent that this important position is being staffed for reasons other than the wellbeing of the country. This nomination sends another painful message to whole communities about the value this administration places on them, as citizens of the country, and as human beings.
Will this administration further amplify the already deafening alarms within communities who continue to be terrified by our nation’s unequal distribution of justice? Will this administration engage practices of hostility and aggression towards significant numbers of U.S. citizens, from day one? Has the rhetoric of the campaign come to fruition in an active call to arms against historically marginalized people in the United States, from within the top office in the United States Department of Justice?
The nomination of Jeff Sessions represents a resounding "Yes" to those questions. Therefore, I am joining my voice with those of other U.S. citizens who believe in freedom, who love justice, and are concerned for democracy and the common good, to appeal to those in leadership of this country to oppose the appointment of Jeff Sessions to the office of the attorney general of the United States of America.
Reggie L. Williams, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics
McCormick Theological Seminary
I oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general of the United States. Throughout his career in public service he has shown that he is not committed to one of the most basic and fundamental aspirations of the United States, that there should be "liberty and justice for all." His actions to undermine or even suppress voting rights, and especially his attempt to question the legitimacy of the Voting Rights Act; his ongoing racially insensitive, even flippant, comments; his slowness to embrace and pursue equal rights for women, LGBTQ+ persons, and peoples with disabilities — all of these are examples of a person whose policy commitments do not represent all Americans, which the office of attorney general is charged to uphold.
Justice is a central concept in the Christian tradition. Jesus lived a life committed to God's peaceable justice. He called his followers to seek God's justice, especially for those on the margins — the vulnerable, the disinherited, the oppressed, and the dispossessed. Sen. Sessions has shown that he is either unaware or indifferent to those on the margins of our society. As the late David Bowie once forcefully sung, "Love dares you to care for the people who live on the edge of night." My own hope is that the incoming administration will nominate someone committed to precisely this kind of daring, this kind of love, and this kind of justice.
Dr. Christian T. Collins Winn
Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology