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Ecumenical Reformers Highlight Irony Behind Methodist Opposition to Bush Library

The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has highlighted the irony behind the opposition from some Methodist bishops to host the George W. Bush Library at Southern Methodist University.
( [email protected] ) Jan 24, 2007 05:00 PM EST

The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has highlighted the irony behind the opposition from some Methodist bishops to host the George W. Bush Library at Southern Methodist University.

“Is affiliation with the Bush Administration the only ‘heresy’ at a church-related school that is unacceptable to liberal United Methodist bishops and clerics?” asked Mark Tooley, IRD UMAction Director, in a statement released Tuesday.

Two active and eight retired bishops have signed a petition urging SMU not to host the proposed library, along with 4,000 signatories. With the University of Dallas’ bid withdrawal for the Bush presidential library earlier this week, the final decision leans heavily toward SMU. The other finalist for the library is Baylor University in Waco.

Supporters of the library at SMU, including the pastor of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas where President Bush is a member, have cited the academic opportunities that such a library will provide.

United Methodist opponents of the Bush library at SMU have cited that the Bush Administration’s views on national security, war, global warming, and same-sex marriages are reasons that make the library unacceptable.

The online petition launched last week says church members believe that linking George W. Bush’s presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name “is utterly inappropriate.” Among the petition’s 18 organizers are 10 Methodist bishops, an SMU graduate and a retired professor.

Tooley noted that for decades United Methodist bishops have declined to publicly question ” the growing secularization and radicalization of the church's schools.” Over 120 colleges and universities are affiliated with the 8-million membered United Methodist Church.

Jimmy Carter’s think tank for human rights advocacy, The Carter Center in Atlanta, for example, is associated with United Methodist’s Emory University. United Methodist bishops have never questioned that affiliation, the IRD pointed out. Recently, however, two dozen members of a Carter Center advisory board resigned to protest the former president’s latest book which compares Israel’s policy towards Palestinians to Apartheid in South Africa.

“Typically, bishops have defended ‘academic freedom’ on the school’s campuses,” stated Tooley. “But academic freedom, at least for these petition-signing bishops, apparently does not include SMU’s desire to host a Bush presidential library.”

According to its mission statement, IRD is an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings. IRD committees include UM Action, Presbyterian Action, and Anglican Action.

Southern Methodist University, whose board of trustees includes first lady Laura Bush, has been working on its bid for the Bush library for six years. A final decision is expected in a few months.