Friday, May 02, 2008

Methodists to Bush Library Foundation: Not In My Backyard.

It is truly a sign of the times when a presidential library is having trouble finding a place to build itself. With an 81% disapproval rating (or, let’s say, a 19% approval rating), George W. Bush’s legacy, his presidential library, may find itself homeless.

And this time it’s all the fault of the Methodists.

The Methodists held their annual General Conference this past week. It adjourned just at about this writing. This conference is where they all get together annually and decide on policy. What hymnals to purchase, which countries to condemn and which to support, adoption of a new mission statement, the list goes on and on.

And one item on the agenda was a petition to The United Methodist Church’s conference to prevent the establishment of the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. This particular agenda item was voted out of committee to be presented to the entire conference where it received 844 Aye votes, and 20 No. That, by the way, amounts to a 97.7% disapproval rating.

The petition, written by one Diane Smock of Greenville, South Carolina, reads like this:

“I hereby petition the UMC General Conference to prevent leasing, selling, or otherwise participating in or supporting the presidential library for George W. Bush at Southern Methodist University. We should support separation of church and state, and if the Bush library goes on the SMU campus or property it will appear to the country and the world as an endorsement of that president by the United Methodist Church. Texas is a big state, surely there are other venues.”
Did you like that? Here is another petition signed by Methodist Church bishops and college professors.

Smock’s petition got overwhelming approval and was also approved by a huge majority to be referred to the South Central Jurisdictional conference, the group with immediate oversight of SMU.

Local rule and local policy and all that.

But when you get a message like this from the national conference it is going to look a little odd when you ignore it. South Central is going to have a problem explaining to the rest of the church why they went ahead and built a presidential library to commemorate the presidency that will make that of James Buchanan, long-regarded as the worst president in US history, seem absolutely brilliant by comparison.

Quite frankly, I am a little disappointed. I was looking forward to having the Bush Foundation spend half a billion dollars building this monument to stupidity. I was especially looking forward to the Bush Library “Think Tank” that was supposed to be included in the package. A George W. Bush “Think Tank”. Truly the mother of all oxymorons.

I am also disappointed that some of the library designs submitted to “The Chronicle of Higher Education” will all be for naught. There were some real doozeys. The most important rule in the competition was that the submissions must all be drawn on the backs of envelopes. They received over a hundred designs, and put up their favorites on their website to be voted upon. My favorite one, shown at right, was the winner.

My favorite part was the reflecting pool, where visitors to this library, which actually has no public access, can stare down at their reflections in the water, to “see in the reflection below who is to blame: themselves the voters.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The United Methodist Church, Torture and President Bush
On April 11, three days after Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner sent a letter to all the delegates to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) extolling the supposed financial advantages and other virtues of the Bush library and partisan think-tank, George W. Bush announced to the media that he has been deeply involved from the beginning in the details of the use of torture that he authorized.
ABC News reported: “President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.” According to White House sources, the discussions about torture techniques were so detailed that some of the “interrogation sessions were almost choreographed” (1-2).
A month earlier, on March 8, Bush vetoed legislation banning waterboarding and other methods of torture used by government employees. The legislation would have limited CIA agents to 19 less-aggressive tactics outlined in the U.S. Army field manual. The president stated that the government “needs to use tougher methods than the U.S. military to wrest information from terrorism suspects” (3). It has been highly documented that at least 19 prisoners have been tortured to death by the U.S. military (4).
Waterboarding has a long and sickening history. It was used as a means of torture and coerced baptism during the Protestant Reformation and Spanish Inquisition to convert Jews, Mennonites, witches, and other suspected heretics. It consists of immobilizing an individual on his or her back with the head inclined downward and pouring water over the face to force the inhalation of water into the lungs. As the victim gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive.
Torture is a crime against humanity and a violation of every human rights treaty in existence. It represents a betrayal of the deepest values of the UMC that founded and built SMU. In the supposedly “less enlightened” 18th century, John Wesley explicitly preached against the torture of prisoners of war:

War itself is justifiable only on principles of self-preservation: Therefore it gives us no right over prisoners, but to hinder their hurting us by confining them. Much less can it give a right to torture, or kill, or even to enslave an enemy when the war is over (5).

Bush, who claims to be a “proud Methodist,” shows no sign of contrition or regret or repentance for his unchristian behavior. To the contrary, he continues to try to justify himself and protect those in our government who have used and continue to use torture. Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany rightly called the cowardliness of Christians to make evil-doers accountable for their wicked deeds “cheap grace.” Building a monument to this torturer-in-chief on a UMC campus to “celebrate this great president, celebrate his accomplishments” (6) is a defilement of our church that will permanently damage our credibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ.




(4) Oath Betrayed: Military Medicine and the War on Terror by Steven H. Miles


(6) Statement by Don Evans, the Chair and a chief fundraiser for the George W. Bush foundation on Feb. 22, 2008, New York Times

Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D., is a United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York City. He is a graduate of The Perkins School of Theology, SMU. He has co-authored 14 books including: Counseling Survivors of Traumatic Events (Abingdon, 2003) and Reflections on Grief and the Spiritual Journey (Abingdon, 2005).