The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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The Bush presidency’s disconnect with the UMC

My opposition to the placement of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, Museum and Institute at SMU centers on the disconnect between the Bush presidency and the United Methodist Church created by the president’s connection with the theologically conservative Catholic Father Richard John Neuhaus.

In his book “The Theocons,” Damon Linker discusses how Neuhaus’ connection with President Bush developed. Neuhaus and “theocons” Michael Novak and George Weigel have spent three decades implementing their radical religious ideas in our nation’s politics. In 1994, they successfully built a working theological and political coalition with evangelical Protestants. Today, Neuhaus exerts a powerful influence on the president, as this coalition ties him to a crucial political base.

Neuhaus was named by President George W. Bush in a 2005 Time magazine article as his theological adviser who helps form and articulate the religious and ethical positions underlying presidential policies. Linker identifies a significant example, namely Neuhaus’ revision of Catholic “just war theory” to justify the Iraq War. Neuhaus’ influence outweighed that of Pope John Paul II, who opposed the war. His influence outweighed the social principles and resolutions of the United Methodist Church (UMC), of which the president is a member.

Neuhaus co-founded the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) in 1981. For 25 years, he has supported attacks by IRD on the witness and integrity of UMC social justice teachings, initiatives and leaders. Today, the IRD’s Methodist Action Committee, led by Mark Tooley and funded with $400,000 annually, continues the attacks. Indeed, IRD wages similar campaigns against all mainstream Protestant churches and their leaders. IRD’s attacks are the most serious breach of Roman Catholic-Protestant ecumenical relations since the Vatican II Council’s ecumenical advancements in the 1960s.

In 2005, IRD attacked United Methodist bishops who had signed a declaration disapproving of the Iraq War and reaffirming that war is not a tool to solve international conflicts. IRD’s Mark Tooley questioned their integrity and patriotism when he stated in a Nov. 17, 2005, press release: “No doubt, these bishops, if transported back in history, would have impartially ‘lamented’ the ‘continued warfare’ between Allied and German forces in Normandy in 1944, while blaming the plight of millions of victims of fascist aggression on the United States. . . .” Personal attacks like this are relentless. The “theocon” ideology of Neuhaus that undergirds many presidential policies is the basis for IRD’s attacks against the UMC social teachings, including those on war, poverty, environmental protection, stem-cell research, the death penalty and the rights of homosexuals.

SMU’s mission statement values “academic freedom” and “open inquiry.” Some think these values translate to SMU securing the Bush Presidential Library and Museum for historical research and academic inquiry, even if not the institute, given its task of supporting presidential policies. Another value affirmed in SMU’s mission statement is a “United Methodist heritage.” This third value is the heart of the matter. The Bush presidency has created a “disconnect” with the UMC (i.e. Methodist heritage) by being connected to Neuhaus.

To place the Bush Presidential Library and Museum at SMU will give away SMU’s prestige to honor a president’s legacy that has not been accountable to our Methodist heritage of social justice teachings. I understand that giving priority to “academic freedom” and “open inquiry” makes the Bush Library and Museum without the institute acceptable to some; however, I think this choice would dismiss the value of “Methodist heritage.” To place the Bush Library and Museum at SMU is inappropriate.

The Bush Institute will be dedicated to sustaining partisan presidential policies, many of which, because of Neuhaus’ influence, are antithetical to the UMC’s social justice commitment. Methodist heritage maintains founder John Wesley’s teaching that the pursuit of social justice is essential. The least that can be done is to refuse to allow the Bush Institute on SMU property, which should only be used for educational and religious purposes.

I affirm joining the more than 10,000 United Methodist clergy and laity who have signed the Protect SMU Petition of opposition and have said no because of the Bush presidency’s disconnect with the UMC.

About the writer:

Reverend Fred Kandeler, D.D. is a 1967 Graduate of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology and a retired United Methodist clergy member.

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