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God's Politics

Tim Kumfer: Think Twice, SMU

posted by gp_intern

By now you’ve probably heard about the debate in Dallas. Southern Methodist University is the proposed site for the George W. Bush Presidential Library. The site would host a museum, the administration’s archives, and a public policy institute. The initial announcement in the fall garnered protest from faculty members, students, alumni, and United Methodist clergy and church members. The university is moving forward with its negotiations with the president’s site selection committee, and it is expected to formally accept soon. The question raised here is, should SMU accept, and why?

The university has offered several reasons for their decision to pursue hosting the George W. Bush Presidential Library, including the following:

“The major motivation of some competitors was economic development, as has been seen with the Clinton Library and the revitalization of Little Rock. In fact, developers near SMU are already investing in projects and using the proposed Library in their marketing.”

“Any marketing expert will tell you that the publicity surrounding our receiving the Presidential Library will significantly elevate the national and international visibility of the University.”

“Hosting the Library is in the best interests of SMU. It builds and continues our institutional momentum…”

“From the standpoint of a research university, the most important benefit is the enhancement of academic resources and professional interactions that a Library, Museum and Institute can bring.”

Broadly, the university’s supporting arguments for hosting the Presidential Library fit into four categories: money, fame, power, and academic pursuit. Regarding the danger of pursuing the first three, I refer you to Jesus in the gospels. Start with Matthew 4-7.

On academic pursuit, I think it is important to note Bush’s stance towards freedom of inquiry, pointed out by Dorothy Samuels in The New York Times, particularly:

Executive Order 13233, his 2001 directive that reverses — illegally in the view of many leading historians, journalists and legal thinkers — the strong presumption of a public right of access to presidential papers embedded in the 1978 Presidential Records Act. Under this early exertion of presidential power, both sitting presidents and former presidents (and even their heirs) can indefinitely postpone public release of sensitive material past the law’s usual 12-year waiting period by simply denying a request for access. No explanation is required, and there is no provision for appealing the denial to a trained professional archivist.

In other words, researchers likely won’t have access to the golden nuggets they are searching for in the presidential archives. Realistically, do we expect the administration’s general habits of shrouding itself in secrecy and refusing to offer explanation to change once it leaves office?

Ultimately though, whether or not a university should welcome a presidential library is not a question of liberal/conservative politics. SMU should consider its institutional identity, particularly in relation to its religious roots. If it does, it should think twice before associating itself with a president whose policies have often been in direct opposition to the social principles of the United Methodist Church. The Bush administration’s legacy is marked by unjustifiable wars, growing economic disparity, and environmental degradation. How could this relationship possibly enhance the public face of this university, United Methodism, and by extension Christianity?

Tim Kumfer is an executive assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

Comments read comments(23)
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kevin s.

posted January 31, 2007 at 4:18 pm

I think it’s silly that a University wants to move forward with a plan that is derided by their faculty and studentry simply because it will be good for business. But such is the silliness of an industry that is brimming with cash. Keeping up with the Jones’s on a grand scale, I guess.

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posted January 31, 2007 at 5:56 pm

Broadly, the University’s supporting arguments for hosting the Presidential Library fit into four categories: money, fame, power, and academic pursuit. –I believe these arguments for having the presidential library would be used by every university who wishes to host one.Since the United Methodist’s positions on social and economic issues are today indistinguishable from the Democratic party’s, it would be difficult to see how any Republican president would be suitable. That says more about the Methodists’ politics, which are far more liberal than their members, than it does about Bush or the Republicans.

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posted January 31, 2007 at 8:24 pm

Don’t Presidential Libraries usually end up becoming rather independently-minded institutions? It seems to me that the secretive Nixon administration has not been reflected in the operations of the Nixon Presidential Library. As a liberal United Methodist pastor, this is a fight I can’t get particularly riled up about.

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posted January 31, 2007 at 8:24 pm

We must respect the office, even if we lack respect for the person in it. A university is a good place for such an archive. While it is true that some papers might be off-limits for a time, countless others will be open for examination. A presidential library, however, is more than papers. It also embodies the culture of the time. I live near the Reagan Library, and although I was never a fan of his, the library gives me an appreciation for history and our country.

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Matt Channing

posted January 31, 2007 at 8:36 pm

The really burning question is: Will the library include a copy of “My Pet Goat”…?

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David S

posted February 1, 2007 at 1:07 am

SMU is the school that cheated so much at football it received the “death penalty” from the NCAA, so I hardly think ethics is a factor in its thinking. Also, if the previous president who had so many un-Godly mistakes in his tenure can have a library, then Bush should as well. Finally, if a college wants to regain its Christian roots, then I would suggest we start with Harvard, Dartmouth or Yale in requesting they dismiss the un-Godly professors they hire and return to their conservative roots.

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posted February 1, 2007 at 3:35 am

Don’t Presidential Libraries usually end up becoming rather independently-minded institutions? In a word…no. I believe GWB has alreay indicated he will withhold any papers he deems embarrassing to him. Oh, and isn’t $500 million the planned price tag for The Worst President Ever’s “library”? C’mon folks, GWB is trying to buy his own history, purchase the legacy he so desperately wants people to believe. If SMU is looking to attract kids whose ‘rents are far right wingnuts, AND earn laughingstock status from the rest of us, then hey, “Mission Accomplished!”

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posted February 1, 2007 at 3:43 am

SMU, like most religious universities, is first an academic institution, then a Christian one. Universities exist based on the four reasons you mentioned. You can’t do much academic pursuit without money; you can’t raise much money without fame; and your research won’t do much good without the power to make it heard.I also agree with David S. The “Clinton School of Public Service?” Come on. This site has a growing tendency to ignore the misdeeds of liberals and Democrats because they have a little political similarity.

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posted February 1, 2007 at 4:06 am

It appears that Tim and a few other commentors have not spent much time on the SMU campus. SMU may have Christian roots, but they are buried so deep you can’t see them. It is a conservative privilege campus. It would be stupid for them not to take the building. Harvard and Texas have been able to create great public affairs schools around their libraries. Should they have turned down the libraries because of the Vietnam War? It cost a lot to build a build of this magnitude, and funding for education is at an all time low. Schools have to consider the financial implications, because it is getting harder and harder to find. Of course a college wants fame. That is why students go there, and that is how they are able to raise funds. I do not really understand how striving for a first-class academic institution is power so I cannot really speak to that. I will stop now since my comment is almost as long as the article

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kevin s.

posted February 1, 2007 at 5:18 am

Funding for education is at an all time low? Not sure I buy that. SMU has plenty of money. I find the whole “fame and fortune” game nauseating as it relates to colleges, but that is probably a different topic.

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Monte Asbury

posted February 1, 2007 at 5:54 am

How ironic! Neither John Wesley (Methodism’s founder) nor Francis Asbury (America’s first Methodist bishop) felt they could ethically support the American Revolution, and it cost Methodists much. Now a president creates preemptive war, extraordinary rendition, and selective torture and a Methodist university angles for a cut of the action!

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David S

posted February 1, 2007 at 10:04 am

We fired first on the British at Lexington, and all they wanted to do was take our guns. Lincoln invaded Virginia before exhausting diplomacy. We took on Spain because of Yellow Journalism and a faulty boiler on an old ship. Wilson declared war on the Central Powers when they never attacked us. FDR took us into Europe before exhausting deplomacy, and wasn’t it Japan that attacked us? Do I even need to bring up Korea or Viet Nam? Or how we are still stuck in the Balkins? And now Bush gets credit for creating “preemptive” war???? Either people on here have very selective memories, the conditions for a “just” war are selectivly applied, or they regard American history with bitter contempt.

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Karen G.

posted February 1, 2007 at 2:23 pm

I agree completely with Tim’s thoughts; I am a member of the United Methodist Church; I realize it is not as conservative as it once was; however, for SMU to consider hosting the Bush Presidential (??!!) Library is patently RIDICULOUS!! The man was never presidential material and has ultimately proven this while occupying the highest elected office in this land! I hope common sense will prevail at SMU–I don’t think there should be a presidential library for our present Commander-in-Chief ANYWHERE in this country!! I wish I did not feel that way. Thanks for allowing me to express my thoughts.

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posted February 1, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Since criticism of Bush from the left generally centers on the Iraq war, I would be curious to know whether any left-leaning people would consider Pres. Johnson to be unworthy of a presidential library because of the Vietnam war.If you claim that Bush shouldn’t be given a library for his domestic policies, I would have to remind you that Bush’s spending on “those in need” surely rivals any Democratic president’s. It exceeds Clinton’s spending, actually.

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posted February 1, 2007 at 8:33 pm

I’m still struggling with the novel idea of mentioning “George W Bush” and “library” in the same sentence.

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posted February 1, 2007 at 8:37 pm

David said: We fired first on the British at Lexington, and all they wanted to do was take our guns. Lincoln invaded Virginia before exhausting diplomacy. We took on Spain because of Yellow Journalism and a faulty boiler on an old ship. Wilson declared war on the Central Powers when they never attacked us. FDR took us into Europe before exhausting deplomacy, and wasn’t it Japan that attacked us? Do I even need to bring up Korea or Viet Nam? Or how we are still stuck in the Balkins? And now Bush gets credit for creating “preemptive” war???? Either people on here have very selective memories, the conditions for a “just” war are selectivly applied, or they regard American history with bitter contempt. If that’s the way the leaders of your country have consistently behaved, bitter contempt is just what is deserved. Certainly puts in question your country’s moral right to label others as terrorists. Mark (citizen of one of your vassal states, living in another of your vassal states)

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David S

posted February 1, 2007 at 8:56 pm

Mark, My take on most of the American wars was being viewed through the horribly flawed liberal “just” war criteria. Those views do not, in any way, reflect my opinions. Any military actions throughout history can be disected and found to come up short with the “just” war criteria, even causes as noble as the Civil War or WWII.

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Jason Connolly

posted February 1, 2007 at 11:03 pm

Perhaps a Presidential Library for the current President might allow researchers to study the impact of the current President’s policies without regard to the partisan din that surrounds his policies. Perhaps the President’s detractor’s might wish to fund a medical research facility to study why certain people react to the President and his policies in a manner that borders on irrationality.

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Carl Copas

posted February 2, 2007 at 1:14 am

I have conducted research at several presidential libraries. I despise George W. Bush, but think it’s a good idea to have a GWB presidential library. Otherwise, millions of documents will get swallowed up as an already overworked National Archives staff in DC and College Park, MD, falls ever farther behind trying to process new collections.

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posted February 2, 2007 at 3:20 am

It’s good to see the love from the left. Don’t let your hatred of GW get in the way of your Christianity. Carry on with the vitriol. BTW do you have any love left over for the followers of Muhammed that chop heads off of those that do not believe like they do? http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411366/975815

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Ellen Broadwell

posted February 2, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Regardless of how one feels about George W. Bush, SMU should accept the presidential library. Future generations will be researching like crazy his manipulations and obfuscations, and this generation does not have the final say on how his administration will be viewed. Having said that, the Bush dynasty should have nothing to say about who does the research or what materials are available to them.

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posted February 3, 2007 at 3:45 am

To those who think The Worst President Ever (oh, sorry fasternu426 if that bit-o-truth hurt your feelings) is going to allow unlimited, unfettered, unbiased access to his Presidential documents through his library… …can I please sell you a bridge?

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posted February 13, 2007 at 6:52 pm

Methodism, Torture and the Presidential Library Anyone who thinks that the name Methodism or Southern Methodist University should be associated with George W. Bush needs to read the book, Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror by Dr. Steven Miles, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.Professor Miles has based this volume on painstaking research and highly-credible sources, including eyewitness accounts, army criminal investigations, FBI debriefings of prisoners, autopsy reports, and prisoners medical records. These documents tell a story strikingly different from the Bush administration version presented to the American people, revealing involvement at every level of government, from the Presbyterian Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to prison health-care personnel. The book also shows how the highest officials of government are complicit in this pattern of torture, including Episcopal Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, United Methodist Vice President Dick Cheney and United Methodist President George W. Bush. While much of the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency and Special Forces troops remains concealed, Dr. Miles documents how nineteen prisoners have been tortured to death by American military personnel. The book tells of an Afghan prisoner named Dilawar, an innocent 22-year-old, who drove his taxi to the wrong place at the wrong time. At the U.S. detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, in December 2002, Dilawar was smothered, shackled and then suspended by his arms. When he was beaten with a baton, he cried out Allah, Allah, which amused the soldiers and triggered more merciless blows. The official report reads that he was beaten over a five day period until his legs were, in the words of the coroner, “pulpified.” He was then chained to the ceiling of his cell, where he died. Although an autopsy stated that Dilawar’s death was a homicide, General Daniel McNeil told reporters that Dilawar had died of natural causes on the grounds that one of his coronary arteries was partly occluded. The words “coronary artery disease” were typed in a different font on the prisoner’s death certificate.Up to 90 percent of the prisoners detained in the Bush war on terror have been found to be unjustifiably imprisoned and without intelligence value. In addition, much of the hideous work of torture is out-sourced by the Bush administration to countries like Uzbekistan, Syria and Egypt, where torture is a long-standing and common practice. In July 2004, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who grew up in a devout Methodist home, protested the Uzbek intelligence service’s interrogation practices: “Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and U.K. to believe. . . . This material is useless — we are selling our souls for dross.” Torture is a crime against humanity and a violation of every human rights treaty in existence, including the Geneva Conventions which prohibit cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. Torture is as profound a moral issue in our day as was slavery in the 19th century. It represents a betrayal of our deepest human and religious values as a civilized society. David Hackett Fischer describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Washington’s Crossing, how thousands of American prisoners of war were treated with extreme cruelty by British captors, during the Revolutionary War. There are numerous accounts of injured soldiers who surrendered being murdered and Americans dying in prison ships in New York harbor of starvation and torture.After crossing the Delaware River and winning his first battle at Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas Day, 1776, George Washington ordered his troops to give refuge to hundreds of surrendering foreign mercenaries. “Treat them with humanity,” Washington instructed his troops. “Let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army.”Contrast this with the September 15, 2006, Washington Post lead editorial titled The president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture. President Bush rarely visits Congress. So it was a measure of his painfully skewed priorities that Mr. Bush made the unaccustomed trip yesterday to seek legislative permission for the CIA to make people disappear into secret prisons and have information extracted from them by means he dare not describe publicly.If the Bush Library and think tank are placed at SMU, The United Methodist Church should withdraw its association from the University and demand that the good name of Methodism be removed from the name of the school. If The United Methodist Church cannot take a stand against the use of torture and those who employ it, including President Bush, what does it stand for? 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 12 books including: Counseling Survivors of Traumatic Events (Abingdon, 2003) and Reflections on Grief and the Spiritual Journey (Abingdon, 2005). Fred W. Kandeler M.Div. is a retired United Methodist pastor living in New Braunfels, Texas. He was the founding pastor of Christ UMC in Plano, Texas and a United Methodist District Superintendent. He is a graduate of the Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

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