Opponents of a library, museum and policy institute dedicated to President George W. Bush at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas have pledged to continue their struggle after the school's trustees voted to endorse it.
Christians who are outraged that a historic Methodist institution should be involved in sanctioning the ideology of a partisan political figure whose policies on war and wealth are seen by many as anti-Christian, quickly responded to the vote. They are vowing to contest the school's lease agreement in court.
"This fight is not over," said the Rev Andrew J. Weaver, a United Methodist pastor and SMU alumnus who has led a petition against the library plan. "SMU has signed something that is totally out of bounds, and it's only a matter of going to court with them. It will be David versus Goliath, but David won the first time."
Critics have denounced as "wholly inappropriate" linking the Bush presidency with the private, 11,000-student school founded in 1911 by what is now The United Methodist Church. They point out that many policies of the Bush administration, not least the the war in Iraq, are directly contrary to United Methodist teaching.
Weaver and a range of church leaders have questioned the process through which the school has obtained approval from the church's South Central Jurisdiction for the 99-year lease on the library property.
In a closed executive session in March 2007, the jurisdiction's Mission Council voted 10-4, with one abstention, to allow SMU to lease to the foundation up to 36 acres on the southeast side of campus. The Mission Council is the executive committee of the jurisdictional conference, which meets once every four years and is scheduled to meet in July 2008 in Dallas.
Weaver argues that only the full jurisdictional conference can give final approval for the lease.
He explained: "SMU is owned lock, stock and barrel by the church's South Central Jurisdiction. No one can sign a lease without their permission," Weaver told United Methodist News Service. "Cutting the delegates out of the vote over their own property is not going to stand in the church law and, more important, the lawyers tell us it will never stand in civil law."
Weaver said the decision by school administrators to sign the lease five months before the jurisdictional conference meeting indicates "they are really concerned by the outcome of the vote."
Bishop Scott Jones, president of the jurisdiction's College of Bishops, claimed the Mission Council was the proper body to vote on the matter in between jurisdictional meetings.
But critics of the move are angry at a decision expressed in terms which "sound like the cringe-worthy rhetoric of craven apologists", one ex-student told Ekklesia.
"It's a great honour for SMU to be chosen as the site of this tremendous resource for historical research, dialogue and public programmes," declared SMU President R. Gerald Turner. "... We thank President Bush for entrusting this important long-term resource to our community, and for the opportunity for SMU to serve the nation in this special way."
In a letter to Turner, President Bush expressed his happiness with the SMU choice. "I look forward to the day when both the general public and scholars come and explore the important and challenging issues our nation has faced during my presidency - from economic and homeland security to fighting terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy," he wrote.
Also on Ekklesia Andrew J. Weaver, Healing the psychological wounds of war - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6805