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Controversy intensifies over proposed Bush library at SMU



Southern Methodist University has been named a finalist for the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University. 









A UMNS Report by Kathy L. Gilbert*
Jan. 19, 2007

A group of United Methodist clergy and lay people have launched an online petition drive to pressure Southern Methodist University to drop its bid for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

But others in the denomination do not agree with that position. "What is now political controversy will, in a short time, become historical study," said one United Methodist bishop in response to the petition drive.



 Bishop Scott Jones

In a letter, Scott Jones, bishop of the Kansas Area and a former SMU faculty member, said, "The proposed relationship between the Bush library and SMU is an important step forward for the university."

Opponents have said that Bush, a United Methodist, does not uphold United Methodist principles in his policies and that the university should not host his library.

Jones conceded that the president's church membership "has been controversial for some in our church who disagree with his policies," but he lauded the "wide spectrum of political views" within the denomination.

"I am grateful that the UMC includes both Senator Hillary Clinton and President Bush as active, faithful members. At times I disagree with both, and at times I agree with both. But they are my sister and brother in Christ, and I claim them as part of my United Methodist family," the bishop said.

The university was named the finalist for the presidential library Dec. 21, but a final decision about the location will not be made for a few more months. Southern Methodist University is one of 123 educational institutions related to the United Methodist Church. First lady Laura Bush is an SMU graduate.



George W. Bush

"Because SMU is owned by The United Methodist Church, the imposition of a George W. Bush library, museum and think tank at SMU will irreparably connect the denomination with this presidency," said the Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, one of the organizers of the "Protect SMU" petition drive and a graduate of SMU's Perkins School of Theology. "Members of the UMC, therefore, should be able to express their opinion on this matter before a final decision is reached."

As of Jan. 19, 10 bishops, including Joe A. Wilson, Hope Morgan Ward and Alfred W. Gwinn Jr., have signed the petition, as well as five clergy and three church members.

Southern Methodist University released a statement saying, "The opportunity for a group of United Methodist ministers to circulate a petition reflects the tradition and values of the church for open dialogue on important issues. Embracing those same values, we at SMU respect their right to express their views.

"As we have indicated, the presence of the Bush Library and Institute at SMU would support education, research and discussion on the important issues of this era - all activities that reflect the United Methodist heritage in higher education. The South Central Jurisdiction of the church organized SMU as a Texas nonprofit organization under the management and control of a board of trustees. Fifty percent of the board's membership is United Methodist, including three bishops and two ordained clergy."

The petition - www.protectSMU.org - is being circulated online with a goal to make the petition available to all members of The United Methodist Church, Weaver said.

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

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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