Methodist minister says Bush link would associate church with torture

By staff writers
January 21, 2007

A California-Nevada clergyman who is a key organizer behind the campaign to prevent President George W. Bush from getting a half billion dollar presidential library at Southern Methodist University (SMU) has explained the motivation behind his campaign - which includes a condemnation of Bush's endorsement of torture.

The Rev Dr Andrew Weaver told Ekklesia this weekend that he hopes British Methodists and their ecumenical partners will join the protest, which includes an online petition.

He and other United Methodist Church (UMC) members in the USA, including five bishops so far, consider the recent proposal to place the library and think tank at the Texas university bearing the Methodist name "nothing short of a disgrace."

The Perkins School of Theology graduate has been widely interviewed by radio, TV and newspapers since his 'Protect SMU' campaign started gathering steam. He says that in the first day the petition was online, the number of signatures reached nearly 2,000.

In an interview with Instant Connection, Dr Weaver explained why he is so vigorously seeking to prevent the library from landing at SMU - as previously reported on Ekklesia.

"Methodists have a long history of social conscience, so questions about the conduct of this president are very concerning," said Weaver. “We as United Methodists object to an endless war based on lies and torture. Our church needs to stand up and say No. Just as our ancestors stood against slavery we must now make a stand."

Weaver, an expert on post traumatic stress, says reports of US torture of Iraqis as part of the war and occupation has helped drive the anti-library sentiment.

He declared: "The torture being done in the name of the Iraqi war is no different than the injustice of slavery. There's highly documented research there has been extensive torture at the industrial level. Torture is the moral equivalent of slavery. Unless the president of U.S. is contrite and asks for forgiveness we cannot allow his actions to stand anymore than we accepted bishops that owned slaves in the 19th century. We didn't become a powerful church with a sense of morality without standing for causes that were uncomfortable and unpopular. We should refuse to lose that now without a fight."

The President of Southern Methodist University, R. Gerald Turner, calls criticism of the project unfounded and says the proposed library, which would include an institute to further goals of the Bush administration, would increase the school's visibility nationwide.

According to Associated Press, during a spring meeting with 175 of the 600 member faculty Turner told staff. "Over time, the political components of the library complex will fade and the historical aspects will ascend."

Southern Methodist University emerged as the apparent winner in the library competition last month when the site selection committee said it was entering into further discussions with just SMU, which is first lady Laura Bush's alma mater. The project will be financed with a private fund drive aimed at raising at least 200 million US dollars. The other finalists for the library site are Baylor University in Waco and the University of Dallas.

Dr Weaver says even with the president of SMU and others behind the plan, ultimately the decision to build will belong to United Methodists. "Members of South Central jurisdiction have a right to vote this down. They own it. They own the land on which the University is built. They are the ultimate arbiters."

The petition to stop the presidential library reads, "As United Methodists, we believe that the linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate. We urge the Board of Trustees of Southern Methodist University and the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church to reject this project."

Dr Weaver is hoping to get between 50-100,000 signatures to present to the South Central Jurisdiction at its next meeting.

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