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Regional bishops back SMU process on Bush library

A UMNS Report by Linda Green*
Feb. 7, 2007

Bishops representing United Methodists in eight south central U.S. states affirmed the process by which Southern Methodist University is seeking to host the George W. Bush presidential library and policy center.


 Gerald Turner

Ten of the 11 active bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction voted Feb. 5 in favor of a resolution to affirm the board of trustees of the United Methodist-related university for its process aimed at bringing the library to the Dallas campus. Bishop William Hutchinson of the Louisiana Annual Conference was not present for the vote.

"We believe Southern Methodist University's trustees and administration are acting responsibly and in good faith," the College of Bishops said in the resolution. The body praised SMU President Gerald Turner's "careful stewardship and advocacy of the historic relationship between the university and the church" throughout the process.

A presidential library site selection committee announced Dec. 21 it would negotiate exclusively with SMU for the Bush library, prompting some faculty members, alumni and United Methodists to raise sharp questions about identifying SMU with the Bush presidency. Much of the opposition centers on Bush's foreign policy, mainly the war in Iraq. Other critics say a presidential library belongs at a public university - not a private, church-related one.


Bishop Charles Crutchfield 

"We understand the controversy involved in this proposal," the bishops' resolution stated. "Our action today is focused on the process in which SMU has been engaged. SMU has been forthcoming and transparent in its dealings and communication with us."

Arkansas Bishop Charles Crutchfield proposed the resolution "because I thought we needed to affirm the process and procedures of the board of trustees" in the wake of much debate and discussion. "The resolution is not about the library coming to campus. It is about affirming the process of the board of trustees," he said.

SMU trustees passed a resolution in 2001 fully endorsing the school's quest for the library. Fifty percent of the trustees' membership is United Methodist, including three bishops and two pastors of large church congregations and the former dean of Yale Divinity School.

Kansas Bishop Scott Jones, also a trustee for SMU, called the bishops' resolution "an important affirmation of the integrity of SMU's trustees and administration in pursuing the Bush Library.

"This is not a partisan issue," Jones said. "It is an issue focused on how SMU can best accomplish its mission as a top-ranked Christian university. Our college strongly supports SMU's mission and recognizes SMU's leadership for their pursuit of excellence."


Bishop Ann Sherer 

Another university trustee, Nebraska Bishop Ann Sherer, said the College of Bishops wanted to affirm "Dr. Gerald Turner … and the cooperative spirit he displays in relationship to The United Methodist Church."
First lady Laura Bush is a graduate of SMU and serves as a trustee, but has not been part of the board's library discussions, according to school officials. The Bushes are members of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, near to the SMU campus.

One petition being circulated, which has drawn approximately 10,000 online entries including the signatures of 600 United Methodist clergy, says linking the Bush presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is "utterly inappropriate."

Crutchfield said much of the current debate is not about the proposed library, but about the policy institute that would be connected to the library. "I personally feel that in the marketplace of ideas, SMU is strong and it has a wonderful faculty and the library will be an important addition to the campus," he said.


Bishop Robert Hayes 

Oklahoma Bishop Robert Hayes says SMU and The United Methodist Church have had a "unique" relationship since the church founded the school in 1911. The university's bylaws occasionally require approval by the South Central Jurisdiction on actions involving the sale or lease of property.

Hayes said the regional bishops sought to "leave the arena of politics outside" its action because the body is responsible for maintaining the bylaws and the church's relationship with SMU. "This is the discipline and order of the church working at its finest," he said.

The South Central Jurisdiction represents 1.8 million United Methodists in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas and includes approximately 6,400 local churches.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.  The article was adapted from a news release by Stephen Drachler, press officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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