The last time we tuned in the Southern Methodist University soap opera involving the George W. Bush presidential library, we were seeing lots of people claim that, for the faculty, this was an issue of academic freedom and, for a vocal chorus of Methodist clergy, it was a fight over W's sins against "Methodist values" in foreign policy and a hot cultural issue or two. The key quote came in a letter published by some professors at the Perkins School of Theology, who said:
"Do we want SMU to benefit financially from a legacy of massive violence, destruction, and death brought about by the Bush presidency in dismissal of broad international opinion? ... What moral justification supports SMU's providing a haven for a legacy of environmental predation and denial of global warming, shameful exploitation of gay rights, and the most critical erosion of habeas corpus in memory?"
That sounded like culture wars language to me, some of it, at least.
In response to that earlier post, GetReligion received this comment:
As a mid-90s Perkins alum, I can say that several of our faculty then excelled at mining the decades of (John) Wesley's writings to proof-text anything they cared to believe. His exclusivist views on salvation and other ideas that might be embarassing to our modern and all-open, all-affirming ears were overlooked or consigned to the classrooms of a few of those wingnut types who still believed such things.
The amusing thing is that there is suddenly a concern among Perkins faculty about SMU's Methodist image. That image is strong enough to survive a booze-drenched Greek system, a push to use the university's initials rather than its name (so as to not ruffle those who might be uncomfortable being associated with a church) and years of athletic department abuses that brought about the NCAA's only "death penalty" sanction. But it can't survive this, it seems. ...
Posted by Brett at 5:04 pm on January 27, 2007
So is this fight about the Iraq war? Yes.
Is this about other political issues? Yes.
Is this conflict also about the doctrinal and moral issues that are rocking the United Methodist Church, especially in a city where you have a liberal school of theology surrounded by, well, Texas?
In a word, yes. The best answer is "All of the above." So how do you capture that in simple language in a short daily news report? Impossible, right?
Well, take a look at this section of a Religion News Service story by reporter G. Jeffrey MacDonald that moved the other day. The wrinkle is that, this time around, it is the conservatives who are playing the "tolerance" card. Can't SMU allow some diversity? That leads to this:
What began as an internal flap at SMU became a national debate for Methodists after a library site-selection committee in December named SMU the sole finalist. Critics fear a privately funded policy institute, or think tank, will tie the Methodist name to a partisan public relations enterprise. Opponents are calling on the Methodist Church to forbid use of SMU property for such a purpose.
The Bush brouhaha brings out familiar fault lines between theological liberals and conservatives across the 8 million-member denomination. Methodists have battled for years over issues such as gay clergy and abortion.
The same people who have argued for pluralism within the denomination on matters of doctrine are insisting on a particular brand of ethical purity in the public square, supporters of the Bush library say.
It's easy to argue about that last statement. But the key is the "fault lines" material in the middle of that passage. That is part of the Bush library battle. That's a fact and that part of the story needs to be covered, in order to grasp the emotions stirred up by the conflict in Dallas pews, pulpits and classroom podiums. Can I get an amen?