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Commentary: SMU Protests

By Dawn McMullan, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

I must admit I don't connect much with my alma mater. The only things Baptist about me are some old friends and the diploma in my office. But I hated to see Baylor University theoretically knocked out of the running for the George W. Bush Presidential Library especially when the fit seems as perfect as tortilla chips and Velveeta.

Sadly for bears and Baptists alike, SMU is the only campus left in Bush's library search. In addition to Baylor, the University of Dallas and Texas Tech recently fell out of the running.

The idea of the Bush Library and, more importantly, the conservative think tank that comes with it being built at SMU offends me as a Baptist by diploma and a Methodist by choice.

You'll find me every Sunday at Greenland Hills United Methodist Church, drinking fair-trade coffee and sending packets of black coal to the governor. My kids were baptized last year at my small, liberal Methodist Church on Lower Greenville. I love my church. I fell into it, I must admit, because of its liberal beliefs, guitar-playing members, close proximity to my home, and adorable Austin stone exterior. The Methodist thing never did much for me.

That is, until Bush starting claiming it.

Now, I knew Bush was a Methodist. But where he goes to church whether he's in D.C. or Dallas was no concern of mine. Suddenly, though, I feel protective of my fairly new Methodist roots. And my Baptist ones.

The Methodist in me sides with the Methodist ministers and professors at SMU's Perkins School of Theology who are opposing the Bush Institute, a conservative think tank they say will pull the university down as fast as Bush's approval ratings. Interestingly, Perkins is the most liberal part of SMU. And those at Perkins certainly have reason to question the Bush/Methodist connection.

Listen to the United Methodist Church's official stance on some of today's most important issues. Hear any sign of Bush in this?

On war: "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as a usual instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them."

On embryonic stem-cell research: "We believe that it is morally tolerable to use existing embryos for stem cell research purposes. This position is a matter of weighing the danger of further eroding the respect due to potential life against the possible, therapeutic benefits that are hoped for from such research."

On abortion: "Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy."

Sure, Laura Bush graduated from SMU and sits on the school's board of trustees. Sure Dick Cheney was SMU's diplomat in residence and on the board of trustees. The Bushes plan to return to Highland Park when they pack up from the White House and are members of the Highland Park United Methodist Church. SMU's 75205 zip code was the top donating zip code to Bush's 2000 presidential campaign and the second highest contributing area in 2004.

I get that. But the Baptist in me wonders why not Baylor? It's 20 minutes from the Bush ranch in Crawford. My alma mater offered 150 acres of land, overlooking the Brazos River, not shoved in an urban area full of high rents and ticked off homeowners who sued last year, saying SMU was trying to improperly seize their land for the proposed library.

In a 2005 interview, Waco City Manager Larry Groth said it best: "People around here like Bush, and I think that's critical."

Forget the worries about traffic, terrorism, and ill-gotten land. Methodists should stand up for our beliefs. And this Methodist feels no kindred connection to George W. Bush. This Baylor grad, though, thinks we are soul mates.

Dawn McMullan is a freelance writer from Dallas.

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