The brouhaha over whether Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas will host a George W. Bush presidential library continues. A regional panel for the United Methodist Church, which technically owns the school, voted by a margin of 10-4 on March 14 to support the school's desire to host the library.
Fifteen Methodist bishops and over 10,000 liberal Methodist clergy and activists have signed a petition denouncing any connection between SMU and Bush. Several bishops even demanded that SMU board members who had been donors to Bush election campaigns recuse themselves from the decision process. They even insisted that the pastor of Bush's home church in Dallas, Highland Park United Methodist, likewise avoid voting as an SMU board member because of the perceived conflict of interest. Neither the pastor nor the others acquiesced to the protesters' demands.
Apparently any association, however tangential, with the Texas devil in the White House, is profoundly unacceptable to these clergy, who are very distressed by the Bush Administration's policies on the wars, Global Warming, and same-sex nuptials. (The United Methodist Church prohibits same-sex unions, but the same clergy do not like that either.) Bush has been a Methodist ever since he married Laura Bush at her Methodist church in Midland, Texas.
Meanwhile, the longtime association between another United Methodist school and Jimmy Carter has remained uncontroversial within the denomination, though the ex-president certainly is not.
Since 1982 Carter has been a professor at Emory University, which is owned by The United Methodist Church. Carter has called his decision to join Emory's faculty was "one of the best decisions I have made in my life." The Jimmy Carter Center, from which 14 advisory board members have resigned over Carter's anti-Israel book, is affiliated with Emory University.
Hostile bishops and clergy who oppose the Bush library and an affiliated Bush think tank have protested that Bush institutions will propagate nefarious "neoconservative" causes about spreading American power and democracy around the world.
But so far, no bishops and prominent clergy have questioned the church's ties to Jimmy Carter's think tank, with its own unique perspective on U.S. foreign policy. Not even the think tank's millions of dollars in donations from repressive Arab monarchies have raised any public eyebrows within the church, though surely those same dollars for a Bush library would be widely condemned.
Carter himself defended his latest controversial comparison of Israel with Apartheid South Africa while speaking at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta late last February. He received three standing ovations.
"This is the first time I have ever been called a liar or a plagiarist or an anti-Semite...or stupid," he dryly told a laughing audience of the furor surrounding his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter explained that he had only started "primarily blaming Israel" after it fell under "conservative leaders," whose "covetousness or avarice was to take back from the Palestinians the West Bank."
Carter denied any bias against Israel, insisting that "our nation's overwhelming support of Jews comes from Christians, like me, who have been taught since childhood to honor and protect God's chosen people, from among whom came our own Savior." But in fact, Carter's sharp critiques of Israel, and uncritical eye towards Arab human rights abuses, mirror the perspective of the Religious Left, including United Methodist officials, rather than the Southern Baptist Convention to which he belonged until recent years.
Having resigned from the Southern Baptists over its conservative policies, which include strong support for Israel, perhaps Carter should become a United Methodist, whose bishops and other elites share Carter's political biases. Carter has been a frequent speaker to seminary students at Emory's Candler School of Theology and to religion-related conferences at the Carter Center. In 1985, he received the World Methodist Peace Award in the Cannon Chapel at Emory. No doubt, Carter would not be as comfortable hanging out in most of today's Southern Baptist schools, which are not attuned to Carter's brand of Social Gospel.
Retired United Methodist Bishop Kenneth Hicks, one of the prelates who demanded that Bush campaign donors on the SMU recuse themselves from the Bush Library decision, explained to Conservative News Service that he has "no problem" with the Carter Center, unlike the one he has with a Bush Library. "For one thing, I think the premise and the values of the Carter administration were of a higher order than this administration," he opined.
Social Gospel clergy, who emphasize left-wing political action over Christian doctrine, frequently admire the administration of Jimmy Carter, especially its infamous foreign policy. Often like the former president, they imagine that America (and Israel) has no enemies, only provoked victims, whose good will can be aroused by appeasement and apologies.
How appropriate for this sort of unreal foreign policy to receive approbation and praise on a church school campus, where abstract theories and good intentions are frequently prized more than reality. And how predictable that United Methodist bishops and clergy should object to any association with George W. Bush, despite his own 25 year membership in the denomination.
Mark Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.