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Opposition to Bush library at SMU called ‘double standard’

DALLAS (BP)–More than 10,000 Methodist ministers and church members have signed a petition urging Southern Methodist University in Dallas to withdraw its bid to host the George W. Bush Presidential Library and its associated museum and think tank, claiming that “the linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate.”

The Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative public policy advocacy group in Washington, in turn has issued its own petition to counter the one opposing the Bush library at SMU. In a statement on its website, the IRD said it is “saddened that this small group of clerics, because of their own political biases, want to deny SMU’s vast new opportunities for research and scholarship.”

“Over 120 colleges and universities are affiliated with the 8 million member [in the U.S.] United Methodist Church,” the IRD noted. “Emory University, another United Methodist school, is associated with Jimmy Carter’s think tank, the Carter Center, in Atlanta. Unlike Carter, President and Mrs. Bush are members of a United Methodist congregation, and the First Lady sits on SMU’s board of trustees.” SMU also is Laura Bush’s alma mater.

The IRD noted that Carter’s “sometimes controversial” presidential center still receives the support of the same ministers who want to deny SMU its presidential library and related entities. Carter recently blamed Israel for the crisis between Israelis and Palestinians and also said that the Jews control the American political system and media. His recent book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” also implied that Palestinians and Arabs should denounce suicide bombings only after Israel agrees to a roadmap for peace — a portion of the book Carter since has distanced himself from and has said was poorly worded.

“Certainly there is a double standard,” Mark Tooley, an IRD staffer and Methodist minister, told Baptist Press. “Carter is at least as controversial as Bush.”

“This petition is indicative of the larger agenda of the religious left who are concerned primarily with politics and political power, and not theology and the betterment of the church,” Tooley said.

The Methodist petition organizers, who oppose the president’s policies on national security, global warming and “same-sex marriage,” launched the petition drive Jan. 18 on a new website, www.protectsmu.org. The site claims no affiliation with the leadership of the United Methodist Church, but the petition includes the signatures of several bishops.

The petition is the latest in a string of objections to the proposed Bush library at SMU. Earlier this month, 175 of SMU’s 600 faculty members called on the university’s president to halt talks with the presidential library committee about the proposed think tank that would accompany the library.

The 175 faculty members cited Bush’s Iraq policies as a primary reason for their protest and said the think tank would advance the Bush administration’s policies long after his tenure in office has ended. Objecting faculty also said the think tank could damage the school’s reputation since it will not be governed by the school. The think tank will be overseen by the Bush Foundation.

The larger faculty senate rejected a full vote on the think tank Feb. 7, with SMU President Gerald Turner indicating that the library, museum and think tank are a “package deal.”

Brad Cheves, the school’s vice president for external affairs and development, told Baptist Press responses to the Bush Library have been diverse, with many of them being positive. More than 500 of the school’s 11,000 students, representing SMU’s Young Conservatives of Texas, for example, signed on to a petition encouraging the university to pursue and host the Bush Library.

Cheves also said the petition from the Methodist ministers reflects the diverse spectrum of political opinion among 8.6 million Methodists in the United States, among them George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.

“It’s not surprising that there would be these sentiments or political expressions of different kinds,” Cheves said. “Methodists have a long tradition of discussing diverse ideas. SMU also has a 100-year tradition of celebrating the value of open inquiry. So it isn’t surprising that many of the same ideas are being expressed on and off the campus.”

SMU has been in exclusive negotiations with the presidential library committee since December, but other potential sites at the University of Dallas and Baylor University in Waco have not yet been ruled out. Administrators at Baylor, affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, had hoped that the university’s central location between Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, its proximity to the president’s ranch in Crawford and a large tract of open land near the campus would entice the committee to plant the library and presidential center in Waco.

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  • Gregory Tomlin