Bush Demands Methodist Bishops Overturn Church Law

Rev Andrew Weaver, one of the Methodist leaders of the movement to prevent the Bush Library and Propaganda Training Center from being placed at Southern Methodist University, writes that the latest sleezy move from the Bush forces is an attempt to by-pass a vote on the siting. From the emailed press release (ignored by the media, as far as I can tell):

In a conference call held on January 9, 2008, the eleven active United Methodist bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction were asked to issue an interpretation of United Methodist church law that would circumvent a vote by lay and clergy delegates and permit the immediate establishment of a partisan Bush institute at Southern Methodist University (SMU) along with the planned Bush presidential library. The request to the bishops came from the George W. Bush Foundation.

The controversial institute, dedicated to promoting the domestic and international views of George W. Bush, would not be under the supervision of SMU and would hire without regard to university policy. No other university with a presidential library has permitted such an institute on its campus.

Bishop Kenneth W. Hicks of Little Rock, Arkansas, said, “My reason, conscience, and experience tell me that the bishops do not have authority to circumvent the right of the 290 delegates to the Jurisdictional Conference to vote on a 99-year proposal for land use of this nature. I encourage my fellow bishops to honor the voting rights of the Jurisdictional delegates.”

It’s nothing new for George W Bush to demand that exceptions be made to any rule he finds inconvenient. He has pioneered the use of unilateral signing statements to ignore any laws passed by Congress that he doesn’t care for and has willfully, deliberately and repeatedly broken laws expressly forbidding certain acts (torture, wiretapping) that he endorses, telling both Congress and the Supreme Court that he is, in effect, above and beyond any law he doesn’t like and there’s nothing they can do about it. (Read John Dean’s Worse than Watergate for specifics of just how arrogant a lawbreaker Bush is.)

So the news that he is demanding that Methodist church law be “interpreted” contrary to that law’s clear and unambiguous meaning is no particular surprise. In fact, it’s pretty much par for the Bush course. It’s What He Does. In this case, what he wants is to avoid allowing the almost 300 delegates to vote – as Methodist Church Law says they have the right to do – at the next Jurisdictional Conference.

In the conference call, the eleven active bishops were asked to interpret church law to declare that the decision of the Mission Council, a 21-member interim body which approved the use of SMU land for the institute after heavy lobbying in March, 2007, is final. This would permit the Bush Foundation to avoid submitting the matter to the 290 Jurisdictional Conference delegates meeting in Dallas in July, 2008, where the outcome of such a vote is in doubt.

“In doubt.” Bush doesn’t want to chance losing his choice of a site just because a few hundred delegates are appalled that a torturer and imperialist authoritarian wants to use the imprimatur of the Methodist Church for the “institute” that will defend torture and advocate perpetual war, the abandonment of social responsibilities to the poor, and an anti-democratic state – all of which are contrary to Methodist thinking and beliefs.

Reverend David Severe, Director of Mission and Administration for the South Central Jurisdiction, wrote to an SMU professor on October 6, 2007, that “All actions taken by the Mission Council interim the Jurisdictional Conference must be ratified by the next Jurisdictional Conference session.”


“To not protect their right to vote on the use of land by the George W. Bush Foundation is a violation of the democratic and open processes of our church,” said Bishop Hicks. “I am worried that the disenfranchisement of Jurisdictional Conference delegates will undermine our ministry together as a church.”

It should worry those Methodist delegates that the president who will be represented by this institute at a university that used to pride itself on its law school, has so little respect for Church Law that he wants it overturned for something as minor as his convenience.

“I can understand why the George W. Bush Foundation does not want the Jurisdictional Conference to vote on this issue,” said Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist pastor and graduate of SMU. “In recent months, colleagues and I have spoken to dozens of delegates who are increasingly questioning the wisdom of placing a partisan think tank on the grounds of a United Methodist institution. The George W. Bush Foundation wants to prevent the vote because it fears the outcome. It appears that the Bush Foundation has no respect for the laws and procedures of the president’s own denomination.”

Well, it has no respect for laws passed by Congress or for the Constitution. Why would Methodist Church Law be treated any differently? The law to George W Bush is an irritating nuisance to be ignored whenever it gets in his way.

It would be nice if, just this once, he learned that wasn’t true.

9 responses to “Bush Demands Methodist Bishops Overturn Church Law

  1. MARK



  2. Hi, Andrew. Who’s “Mark”?

  3. Pingback: Stop the Bush Library - Anywhere « Mick Arran


    Opponents of a Partisan Bush Institute at Southern Methodist U. Press New Campaign – Chronicle.com

    Friday, February 1, 2008

    Opponents of a Partisan Bush Institute at Southern Methodist U. Press New Campaign

    Liberal religious activists who oppose Southern Methodist University’s plan to become host to a conservative policy institute alongside the George W. Bush Presidential Library will mount a final attempt to reject the institute when a governing body of the United Methodist Church meets in July.

    The activists admit that their effort is unlikely to succeed, but their new campaign has reopened conflicts that appeared to have died down after a series of faculty debates at the university last year.

    “George Bush absolutely demands that if you get his library, you’re going to get his partisan think tank,” one of the institute’s most prominent critics, the Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, said in an interview on Wednesday. “They don’t want any oversight from the university. They just want a disinformation center so they can rewrite history.”

    Mr. Weaver, who earned a doctorate at Southern Methodist’s Perkins School of Theology, is not a practicing minister; he is a research psychologist in New York City and a consulting editor at Haworth Press. He and other critics are concerned about plans that call for the policy institute to be self-governing and not answerable to Southern Methodist’s leadership. That arrangement is unlike those held by similar policy centers associated with presidential libraries at Texas A&M University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Arkansas (The Chronicle, March 9, 2007).

    Proponents of the Bush library and policy institute at Southern Methodist say that Mr. Weaver and his allies are pressing arguments that they already lost last year.

    “SMU has handled this internally in an excellent way,” Bishop Scott J. Jones, a Southern Methodist trustee who is resident bishop of the Kansas Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, said in an interview on Thursday. “They’ve taken appropriate steps to guarantee academic freedom and the independence of the university. They’ve developed protocols to govern relationships between SMU and the institute,” added Bishop Jones, who taught at SMU’s Perkins School until 2004.

    The George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation named Southern Methodist as the sole finalist for the library in December 2006 and hired an architect for the project in August 2007. But after more than a year of negotiation, the final agreement between the university and the foundation has not yet been completely drafted.

    In an interview on Wednesday, Brad E. Cheves, the university’s vice president for development and external affairs, said that the delay was only a product of thoroughness.

    “Early on, there was a decision by all parties that this should be a completely comprehensive agreement,” Mr. Cheves said. “There’s been a high level of due diligence, and you can imagine the variety of topics that we’ve had to consider.” He added that he expected that a final agreement would be presented to SMU’s trustees within a few weeks.

    Short-Term and Long-Term Authorities
    The next terrain of battle is a July meeting known as the Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church’s South Central Jurisdiction, a regional body that encompasses eight states. Jurisdictional conferences, which take place every four years, are among the highest decision-making bodies in the church.

    Southern Methodist and the Bush Foundation require the church’s blessing because the university is owned and maintained by the church’s South Central Jurisdiction—a much tighter relationship than exists between most Methodist-affiliated colleges and the church. The university’s articles of incorporation require that all real-estate transactions be approved by the jurisdiction.

    At the July meeting, Mr. Weaver’s allies intend to introduce a resolution that would withdraw the church’s approval of the Bush policy institute, given in 2007 through a smaller body that conducts church business during periods between the Jurisdictional Conference’s meeting years.

    Mr. Weaver conceded that winning support for the resolution would be an uphill battle. By his estimate, only 35 percent of the Jurisdictional Conference’s 290 delegates now oppose the institute, so at least an additional 16 percent would need to be persuaded during the next five months.

    Bishop Jones, meanwhile, said that he believed the 35-percent figure was much too high. Even among Methodists who strongly oppose the Bush administration’s policies, he asserted, most have come to recognize that the library and institute would “help push SMU to the next level.”

    In comments that have generated controversy this week, Bishop Jones and other library proponents have said that, even in the unlikely event that the opponents’ resolution passes in July, it would probably have no bearing on the university’s plans. They insist that the university and the Bush Foundation received full and final approval for the library and institute at a March 2007 meeting of the smaller body, the Mission Council of the South Central Jurisdiction.

    When the Mission Council met publicly last March, several critics urged it to reject plans for the policy institute. William K. McElvaney, an emeritus professor of theology at Southern Methodist, warned then that the institute would be a “permanent partisan platform by which SMU will forever be known and perceived.” But other speakers argued that the institute would be a healthy neighbor for the university, and said that SMU risked losing the library if it rejected the institute. The council approved the university’s plans by a vote of 10 to 4.

    The question now is whether the Jurisdictional Conference has the power to overrule the Mission Council’s vote. On the face of it, the answer appears to be yes: The South Central Jurisdiction’s “structure and rules” document says that the Mission Council’s “policy decisions … shall not extend beyond the next regular session of the Conference unless approved by the Conference.”

    But Mr. Cheves and Bishop Jones both said this week that to their knowledge, no Jurisdictional Conference had ever overruled a major contract and real-estate transaction like the one in question here. The church would be unable to conduct routine business, they said, if real decisions could be made only once every four years. “The prospect of the Jurisdictional Conference reversing a legally signed contract has just never come up,” Bishop Jones said.

    Contracts and ‘Good Faith’ Understandings
    So what would happen if the university and the Bush Foundation signed a contract in March and started digging in May, and the Jurisdictional Conference then withdrew the church’s approval in July?

    “This could get interesting,” said Thomas Edward Frank, a professor of religious administration and leadership at Emory University, in an e-mail message to The Chronicle on Thursday. Mr. Frank is the author of Polity, Practice, and the Mission of the United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press), a widely used textbook, and he has had no involvement in the SMU controversies.

    “In terms of church law, I would expect this conundrum to go to the church’s Judicial Council for a constitutional ruling,” Mr. Frank said. “In terms of civil law, I don’t know if SMU could break contracts if the school had entered into them with a good-faith understanding that the school was authorized to do so.”

    Mr. Cheves and Bishop Jones both said they believed SMU did have a good-faith understanding that it could proceed to sign a contract with the Bush Foundation, based on the Mission Council’s vote last March. Three weeks ago, the South Central Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops, of which Bishop Jones is a member, met by conference call and agreed to send the Bush Foundation a letter reiterating that point.

    But Mr. Weaver and other critics said that even if those points are legally correct, it is bad faith on the bishops’ part not to let such a controversial decision be weighed by the Jurisdictional Conference—especially since the conference will convene only a few months after the final agreement appears likely to be signed. After all this delay, Mr. Weaver said, why not a few more months?

    Bishop Jones said on Thursday that shortly after SMU was named as the library finalist, he and his fellow bishops considered calling for a special off-year Jurisdictional Conference to discuss the matter. “It would have cost tens or a hundred thousand dollars,” he said. “We looked and said, You know, this is a normal administrative decision, so it should be handled normally”—that is, by the Mission Council.

    Not everyone agrees. Valerie A. Karras, an assistant professor of church history at Southern Methodist, said in an e-mail message to The Chronicle on Thursday that “the purpose of the Mission Council is to carry on the regular business of the conference in the interim, but it is explicitly not its purpose to make major permanent decisions in lieu of the full conference.” (Ms. Karras noted that she was not a member of the church but has studied its policies extensively.)

    Ms. Karras also pointed out that Southern Methodist’s articles of incorporation require that all institutions on land owned by the South Central Jurisdiction must be “under the immediate discipline and control of the university authorities.”

    The trustees apparently had fraternities and sororities in mind when that language was drafted, but Ms. Karras suggested that the Bush policy institute, which would answer to the Bush Foundation but not to the university leadership, might violate that clause.

    Bishop Jones replied that he was confident that the university’s general counsel had reviewed the matter.

    Mr. Frank, of Emory, warned that whatever happens later this year, the church should strive to maintain goodwill among the various parties. “A covenant requires a healthy level of trust and consensus,” he said. “If SMU proceeded with the library contracts against the wishes of the [Jurisdictional] Conference voting in session, that trust would be severely strained.”

  5. Mark, you’re back! Didja see how the Dems fucked us all over again? You called it. It’s very sad but I should have expected it I guess.

    You should know that I will never call you anything but “Mark” from now on.


  6. Rhonda! How wonderful to hear from you again!

    Yes, I’m back. For a while. Have access to a library with a long enough time limit that I can actually whip something off occasionally.

    And yes, I called it, not that I’m particularly happy about it. The Dems have become thoroughly and pathetically predictable.

    D’s: “No! We’ll NEVER do that!”
    R’s and Beltway Pundits: “You better or President Bush will get mad at you and the voters will hate you.”
    D’s (especially BD-D’s): “Ulp. Uh, OK. What do you want us to do? Bend over? Here yah go.”

    It’s a shame but that’s how sorry-ass they are.



  7. Ah, but it’s looking like there was a turnaround – for seniors and vets anyway. We need to make those calls right now to get help for people who can’t afford million dollar lobbyists.

    Glad to hear that you’re doing well. Stay safe.

  8. Pingback: The Bush Library: A Done Deal According to…Rev Moon « Mick Arran

  9. Pingback: The Bush Library: Control of History to Save a Sorry Image « Mick Arran

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