US Methodists seek to block University bid for President Bush library

By staff writers
January 20, 2007

A group of US clergy and lay people have launched an online petition drive to urge the Southern Methodist University to drop its current bid to house the George W. Bush Presidential Library, which they say will link the respected institutional too closely with the profile of a politician whose policies have been actively opposed by many mainstream American Christians - and who has consciously rebuffed UMC leaders.

The university was named the finalist for the presidential library on 21 December 2006, but a final decision about the location will not be made for several more months. Southern Methodist University is one of 123 educational institutions related to the United Methodist Church. First lady Laura Bush is an SMU graduate.

"Because SMU is owned by The United Methodist Church, the imposition of a George W. Bush library, museum and think tank at SMU will irreparably connect the denomination with this presidency," said the Rev Andrew J. Weaver, one of the organizers of the "Protect SMU" petition drive and a graduate of SMU's Perkins School of Theology.

"Members of the UMC, therefore, should be able to express their opinion on this matter before a final decision is reached."

As of 19 January 2007, ten United Methodist Church bishops, including Joe A. Wilson, Hope Morgan Ward and Alfred W. Gwinn Jr, are among those who have signed the petition, alongiside clergy and church members.

Southern Methodist University released a statement saying: "The opportunity for a group of United Methodist ministers to circulate a petition reflects the tradition and values of the church for open dialogue on important issues. Embracing those same values, we at SMU respect their right to express their views."

It continued: "As we have indicated, the presence of the Bush Library and Institute at SMU would support education, research and discussion on the important issues of this era - all activities that reflect the United Methodist heritage in higher education. The South Central Jurisdiction of the church organized SMU as a Texas nonprofit organization under the management and control of a board of trustees. Fifty percent of the board's membership is United Methodist, including three bishops and two ordained clergy."

But objectors say that President Bush, introduced to the denomination through his wife, has consistently refused to consider its counsels - particularly over the Iraq war. The White House incumbent has declined even to meet with Methodist Bishops on several occasions.

This, they suggest, makes the matter a bipartisan issue of concern, not a one-sided political issue. Others in the denomination disagree, pointing out that SMY also has links with former President Clinton - though he never shunned UMC leaders.

The petition is being circulated online with a goal to make the petition available to all members of The United Methodist Church, Andrew J. Weaver declared this week.

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