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Lease of property issue heads to United Methodist 'supreme court'

The United Methodist Judicial Council will be asked to rule whether or not Southern Methodist University can lease land for a presidential center for less than fair market value. A UMNS photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

July 18, 2008 | DALLAS

A faculty member of Southern Methodist University wants The United Methodist Church's highest court to rule on whether the leasing of property to The President George W. Bush Foundation violates the university's articles of incorporation and subsidizes a political view point.

The Rev. Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie, director of the Mexican-American program at Perkins School of Theology at United Methodist-related SMU and a delegate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference from the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference, asked for a decision of law that will go to the United Methodist Judicial Council this fall.

"The main thing I am most concerned about is that by leasing property to the Bush Foundation, at less than fair market value, we are in effect subsidizing a policy institute that has a specific political ideology and ideological point of view," she said, adding the denomination's law book, the Book of Discipline, allows church property "to be used for the work of the church and not to subsidize a political point of view."

In February, SMU officials approved giving the Bush Foundation a 99-year lease to build a presidential library, museum and policy institute on university property. The lease is $1,000 for 99 years--renewable for up to 250 years.

Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie
A UMNS photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University.

Trevino-Teddlie asked Bishop Robert Hayes of Oklahoma, who was presiding over that session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, for the ruling of law. Hayes said he will determine if it "was within the bounds of SMU to lease this land for the amount of money that they wanted."

"I have to examine her petition and determine whether I feel that the conference has violated the terms of the Book of Discipline," Hayes explained. "I will write and respond to her seeking a declaration of law and submit it to the Judicial Council."

The council will then examine the question and Hayes' decision and "make a ruling on whether I am correct or she is correct" when it meets in October. The council reviews all bishops' decisions of law during annual and jurisdictional conference sessions.

The delegates to the South Central Jurisdiction, owners of the Southern Methodist University, on July 17 affirmed the leasing of the land to the Bush Foundation. Along with that approval, the delegates asked that the university's integrity be protected.

Trevino-Teddlie said allowing the institute on the campus of SMU is "contrary to what the United Methodist Book of Discipline allows, and I would like to get a ruling on that."

Her question for a ruling of law asks: "Is the approval of the lease of property of Southern Methodist University by the South Central Jurisdiction and Southern Methodist University, at less than market value, to the Bush Foundation for the purpose of establishing a policy institute, in conflict with the articles of incorporation of Southern Methodist University, the rules of the South Central Jurisdiction and/or The Book of Discipline, specifically Para. 2503.4, which requires all United Methodist property to be 'kept, maintained . . . for the benefit of The United Methodist Church and subject to the usages and the Discipline of The United Methodist Church'" and said lease would subsidize a specific political and ideological point of view?"

While the library and museum have been welcomed by many United Methodists, others have opposed the institute fearing it will be a partisan think-tank.

"The issue is the policy institute," Trevino-Teddlie said. "The United Methodist Church should not be in the business of endorsing any political point of view--whether that is democrat, republican, green party--that is not what The United Methodist Church has stated the use of Methodist property is for. I think there is a violation there."

Acknowledging that seeking the question of law makes her walk a fine line with the university that employs her, she emphasized, "I am a Christian first. I am speaking out of my faith and to me that is all that is important."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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