Methodists Back Bush Library at SMU; Faculty Opposition Continues
July 24, 2008 - 7:14 PMSouthern Methodist University, it appears, will be the site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Policy Institute.
Last week, the South Central jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, in an undisclosed vote, approved construction of the library.
Valerie A. Karras, assistant professor of church history for the Perkins School of Theology at SMU, said opponents have no problem with the proposed library itself – it is the policy institute and the president’s policies themselves that concern her.
“As an academician, I welcome the library and museum,” Karras told CNSNews.com.
“The large-scale controversy within the faculty began only when we were informed ... that part of the library complex would include a policy institute independent of the university and therefore not subject to the university’s standards and practices regarding important areas such as hiring and publication.
“Because of the Bush Institute’s autonomy from SMU, the university has no way of guaranteeing that the institute – even though it will be located on SMU’s campus – will follow non-ideological academic standards in its hiring practices and in the publications it produces,” Karras said.
In May, the church’s governing body voted 844 to 20 to refer a petition to reject the Bush project for the South Central jurisdiction to consider.
Another opponent, Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D., is circulating an online petition that has the names of several bishops and professors, as well as hundreds of SMU alumni and thousands of others. Weaver did not return phone calls from CNSNews.com but was candid in comments about Bush he made to an online SMU publication.
“It is heartbreaking that Bush has acted in profoundly immoral and destructive ways in office while claiming to be a devout Christian,” Weaver said. “To choose to launch a ‘shock-and-awe’ war of aggression against the people of Iraq, based upon a series of manufactured falsehoods, is not following Christ.
“It is unacceptable that a United Methodist university associates itself with a Bush Institute built to polish his legacy,” Weaver added.
Supporters of the library, which include the Board of Trustees of SMU, say the effort to halt it is a cause supported almost exclusively by the denomination’s left wing.
Mark Tooley, executive director of UMAction, a conservative organization within the Methodist Church, told CNSNews.com he thinks the effort to halt the library’s establishment is based on “an almost irrational contempt for President Bush.”
“Most of the elites of the United Methodist Church are politically and theologically left-wing,” Tooley said. “They perceive that President Bush belongs to the religious right, which especially irritates them, because Bush is United Methodist.”
“Opponents of the Bush Library are somewhat hypocritical, in that they object to any theological standards for our church schools and seminaries, preferring endless openness. But in the case of politics, they find the very presence of a Bush Library deeply unacceptable,” said Tooley.
Tooley pointed out that Atlanta’s Emory University, which is also affiliated with the United Methodist Church, “maintains an association with Jimmy Carter’s library and institute.”
In 2006, SMU became the sole finalist for the honor of hosting the George W. Bush Presidential Library. In February 2008, the university’s Board of Trustees unanimously supported its establishment.
Southern Methodist University was founded by what became the United Methodist Church in 1911 in Dallas, Texas, and currently enrolls approximately 11,000 students.
Other universities, including Baylor in Waco, Texas, had sought the Bush Library.