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Church council blesses Bush library with land


A United Methodist council has voted to allow Southern Methodist University to make campus land available for the George W. Bush presidential library and museum. A UMNS photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University.

A UMNS Report
By Marta W. Aldrich*

March 15, 2007


Gerald Turner

Dismissing warnings that the soul of Southern Methodist University is at stake, a United Methodist council has voted to make land on the campus available for the proposed George W. Bush presidential library.

In a closed executive session March 14 in Dallas, the South Central Jurisdiction Mission Council voted 10-4, with one abstention, to allow the United Methodist-related university to lease up to 36 acres on the southeast side of campus to the Bush Foundation for the Bush library, museum and policy institute. The school’s bylaws require the church jurisdiction to approve the sale or lease of campus land.

The vote followed a presentation in favor of the plan by SMU President Gerald Turner and statements read by several critics questioning the appropriateness of linking the Bush presidency with SMU, an 11,000-student school founded in 1911 by what is now The United Methodist Church.

Reactions to the vote ranged from expressions of gratitude to sadness.

“It’s a significant approval,” said Brad Cheves, vice president for external affairs and development for SMU. “… While the precise location of the library complex has not been finalized, it gives the sanction of the South Central Jurisdiction and authorizes SMU and its trustees to work with the presidential site selection committee” to move forward with their negotiations.


The Rev. Andrew Weaver

“It’s a sad day for The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist pastor and SMU alumnus who started a petition against the proposed library. “This is a partisan institute to promote the values of George W. Bush’s presidency, and it’s going to sit on one of our campuses … and use the good name of The United Methodist Church. John Wesley would be ashamed.”

SMU is a finalist for the complex, and the library’s site selection committee is expected to make a final recommendation this spring to President Bush. “We hope this process will conclude in a matter of weeks rather than months,” said Cheves.

The project is to be financed with a private fund drive conducted by the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. Cost estimates have ranged from $200 million to $500 million.

SMU is frontrunner

The university’s board of trustees passed a resolution in 2001 endorsing the school’s quest to land the library. SMU emerged as a frontrunner in December, when the site selection committee announced it would enter into discussions with the school, where first lady Laura Bush graduated and sits on the board of trustees. The president and Mrs. Bush are United Methodists.

Another petition drive – this one supporting a Bush library at SMU – was launched by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a group that describes itself as working for Scripture-based reform in the mainline denominations.

Much of the opposition centers on Bush’s foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq. In recent weeks, critics have stressed concerns that SMU would have no control over the Bush institute, a partisan think tank that would further his administration’s views.

“The policy institute would report to the Bush Foundation and not to SMU,” said the Rev. William McElvaney, a professor emeritus at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. “It would be unprecedented in American higher education.”


The Rev. William McElvaney

Speaking earlier to the council, McElvaney said the core question remains unanswered: “Why would SMU accept a policy institute at odds with so much Methodist social theory and practice? Is it one more step toward weakening our Wesleyan and Methodist heritage? … In short, what does SMU stand for?”

McElvaney concluded: “The future soul of SMU is at stake.”

‘The land is available’

The Rev. William Lawrence, dean of the theology school, spoke in favor of the library. “This is an opportunity for a historic treasure at our university to be the repository for materials for scholarly research," he told the council.

Stephen Drachler, a council spokesman, said the meeting allowed perspectives to be aired and “questions and concerns to be dealt with reasonably” before the council deliberated privately for 40 minutes and voted.

“This was part of the necessary steps toward the foundation making a final decision,” Drachler said. “It signifies that the land needed for the library, museum and institute is available. … Now the ball is in the court of SMU and the Bush Foundation.”

*Aldrich is news editor for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Southern Methodist University

South Central Jurisdiction


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