Two weeks after a Cal-Nevada minister started an online petition against locating the George W. Bush presidential library at Southern Methodist University, the drive has garnered almost 10,000 signatures, including 14 bishops and more than 600 United Methodist clergy.
"We've had an outpouring of support so far," said the Rev. Andrew Weaver, an alumnus of the private, United Methodist-related school in Dallas. Among other signers are the past president of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, two superintendents in the British Methodist Church and more than 9,000 United Methodists from across the United States and Canada.
University officials, however, say the showing is modest "in the larger context of The United Methodist Church," which has 8 million members and 45,000 clergy in the United States.
"To reach the conclusion that this petition represents an overwhelming expression of concern would not be accurate," said Patti LaSalle, associate vice president for public affairs at SMU. "We've also received many letters from United Methodist members and leaders expressing favor for the presidential library."
The university's board of trustees passed a resolution in 2001 fully endorsing the school's quest to land the library. Other finalists are Baylor University and the University of Dallas, also in Texas. However, SMU emerged as the frontrunner in December when the library's site selection committee, headed by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald P. Evans, announced it would enter discussions with administrators of the 11,000-student SMU, where first lady Laura Bush graduated in 1968 and now serves on the board of trustees. (School officials say Mrs. Bush has not participated in the board's library deliberations.)
A final site decision is expected in several months after President Bush receives a recommendation from the site selection committee. The project is to be financed with a private fund drive conducted by the Bush Foundation.
Objections to proposal
The petition objects to locating a Bush library, museum and policy institute at SMU, stating that linking the Bush presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is "utterly inappropriate."
Weaver, a pastor from Brooklyn, N.Y., who graduated from SMU's Perkins School of Theology, started the petition drive Jan. 18 at http://www.ProtectSMU.org. He said the response serves as a "modern epistle" from "those who don't wish to have their beloved church associated with a man who has authorized torture and a lie-based war of aggression against the people of Iraq."
While much of the opposition centers on Bush's foreign policy – mainly the war in Iraq – Bishop Al Gwinn of Raleigh, N.C., said he signed the petition for other reasons. Noting that the Lyndon B. Johnson Library is located at the University of Texas and the John F. Kennedy Library at the University of Massachusetts, Gwinn said presidential libraries belong on campuses of public universities – not at a church-affiliated university.
"Presidents of our United States are just that – presidents of our secular government, not presidents of the church," said Gwinn. "… It has nothing to do with President George Bush. I would feel the same way if a Baptist or Catholic president of the United States wanted to put his/her library on a Baptist or Catholic campus. I do not think such a move is healthy for our religious unity."