|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
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.
"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."
Bishop Charles Crutchfield
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."
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."
Bishop Ann Sherer
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.
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
Bishop Robert Hayes
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
*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
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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Commentary: Library could help even Bush foes
Southern Methodist University
South Central Jurisdiction