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Bush Library for Southern Methodist University By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Leftist faculty and clergy have waged a long, sometimes nasty battle to keep Southern Methodist (SMU) University in Dallas from hosting the Bush Library. They have insisted that the library will tie SMU to the Bush Administration’s supposedly sinister policies of preemptive war, “torture,” uncontrolled Global Warming, and puritanical repression. But SMU’s board of trustees has finally voted unanimously in favor of the library.

Diehard opponents vow to fight on.

"This fight is not over," declared an angry Rev. Andrew Weaver to the United Methodist News Service. Weaver is an ordained United Methodist minister and New York City psychologist who has spearheaded the anti-library campaign. "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 vs. Goliath, but David won the first time."

But there is probably little that the perturbed opponents now can do. Although it largely functions autonomously, SMU is legally governed by the United Methodist Church’s South Central Jurisdiction. The Bushes are United Methodist, and Laura Bush is an SMU alumnus. The pastor of the Bushes’ Dallas church, Highland Park United Methodist, is an SMU trustee and prominent library advocate.


"It's a great honor for SMU to be chosen as the site of this tremendous resource for historical research, dialogue and public programs," rejoiced SMU President 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."

Over two dozen mostly retired United Methodist bishops had signed an anti-library petition along with dozens of seminary professors and hundreds of clergy and assorted activists. Nearly all the library critics were on the theological left and had no objection to the school teaching heterodox religious doctrines. But they deem the mere potential of conservative ideas on campus as a scandal.

“What moral justification supports SMU’s providing a haven for a legacy of environmental predation and denial of global warming, shameful exploitation of gay rights and the most critical erosion of habeas corpus in memory?” asked anti-library zealots William K. McElvaney and Susanne Johnson, who hail from SMU’s seminary. “What does it mean ethically for SMU to say a war violating international law makes no difference? That a pre-emptive war based on false premises, misleading the American public, and destined to cost more American lives in Iraq than the 9-11 terrorist attack, makes no difference? That the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis by our “shock and awe” bombing in the name of democracy, verified by international organizations and Iraqi doctors, is of no consequence?”

But the SMU trustees saw the library as a research opportunity for the school. President Bush expressed his own pleasure in a letter to the SMU trustees: "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."

The 11,000 student school is granting a 99-year lease to the Bush library for up to 36 acres on the campus. Library critics like the Rev. Weaver insist that SMU must gain further approval from the United Methodist Church, specifically the quadrennial convention of its South Central Jurisdiction in July. But Kansas United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones, who heads the church’s bishops for the region, insisted that SMU already had the church’s authorization, thanks to a 10-4 vote by a regional church committee last year. “SMU has the authority to enter this agreement regarding the lease, and they have executed that agreement,” Jones said.

Bishops Jones, who formerly taught at SMU’s seminary, has defended the library from the start. "For scholars who want to talk about the 20th century and conflict in the Middle East, hunger in Africa, and other important aspects of our country's history during this time, the Bush presidential library is a huge academic asset," he told United Methodist News Service.

But anti-library activist Rev. McElvaney complained to United Methodist News Service that the policy institute that will accompany the Bush Library "constitutes a major change of direction of SMU's previously nonpartisan educational history and practice." He also claimed: "There was a lack of transparency characterizing the university's process from the inception of seeking the Bush legacy to be on our campus." But the negotiations, conversation and controversy over the Bush Library at SMU have ensued for nearly 2 years.

Grumpy critics want still more time, of course. “The placement of the George W. Bush library and the establishment of an institute to promote the policies of this president at SMU would be a tragedy," lamented retired Bishop William Boyd Grove of West Virginia. "The policies of the Bush administration are in direct conflict with the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church on issues of war and peace, civil liberties and human rights, care for the environment, and health care."

While left-wing clerics argued that the Bush Administration’s policies contravene the church’s teachings, SMU faculty asserted that somehow the library’s mere presence would violate their academic freedom. But their real fear is more likely based on the potential challenge of ideas on campus that compete with the bromides and conventional assumptions of the academic and religious left.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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