A group of Methodist ministers has begun a national petition drive asking Southern Methodist University to remove itself from negotiations to get the George W. Bush presidential library.
“As United Methodists, we believe that the linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate,” reads the petition, which is posted online at ProtectSMU.org.
“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 Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, a petition organizer in Brooklyn, N.Y. and 1978 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.”
Campus officials said that the petition organizers have a right to express their opinions, but they don’t believe the sentiment is widespread.
“It’s not the least bit surprising there would be views from some segment of the movement, as large as it is, that would not want to see the library, museum and institute come to SMU,” said Brad Cheves, a university vice president. “However, we continue to believe that a vast majority of the Methodist and the university community support SMU’s efforts.”
The Methodist church owns SMU and grants operating authority to the university’s board of trustees. Half of the 40 board members are Methodist, and three of them are bishops. Every four years, the church approves board members, Mr. Cheves said. He noted that SMU started planning for the library six years ago.
Organizers are asking any United Methodist to sign the petition. The petition’s Web site lists signatures of 10 bishops and five ministers. As of Thursday afternoon, there were more than 1,300 signatures. Many people identified themselves and said they are Methodist, though some people signed anonymously and some said they were not Methodist.
One person wrote, “I am Lutheran, but I will become a Methodist if you can stop the Bush library from being built at SMU.”
Not everyone signed in support, however. One person using the name “Stay Out of Politics” wrote, “As a lifelong Methodist your lack of respect of the presidency, ignorance of Bush’s altruistic objective, and lack of foresight embarrass me.”
SMU is the lone finalist to host the Bush library, a library selection committee decided last month. Laura Bush is an SMU graduate and trustee, and both Bushes belong to Highland Park United Methodist Church.
Several faculty members are raising sharp questions about the library, and in particular a public policy institute that has been likened to the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Even though the institute would report to a separate Bush foundation, some faculty worry that its partisan nature would harm SMU’s reputation and academic independence.
At a faculty meeting Wednesday, SMU President Gerald Turner said those fears were unfounded. He said any agreement to put the library and other facilities at SMU would preserve the university’s academic values and ethics.
Rev. Weaver said the petition organizers are deeply troubled by Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, detain prisoners and allow torture.
“I think that George Bush has been in his presidency so inconsistent with fundamental Christianity that he should not be associated with a Methodist university,” Rev. Weaver said. “Methodist means decency and this man has not been decent.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.