Commentary: Even Bush opponents can gain from library
Feb. 5, 2007
NOTE: A photograph is available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. Rebekah Miles*
I am a Democrat, a United Methodist clergywoman, an ethicist, a Southern Methodist University faculty member at Perkins School of Theology and an enthusiastic supporter of efforts to bring the George W. Bush Presidential Library to SMU.
As a Democrat, I have not supported President Bush in any election, but I am delighted to support the Bush library. Every day I think of another way that the presidential library would help my work as a teacher and scholar.
In my ethics classes, when we talk about just-war theory, I could have students go to the presidential library to compare the Bush administration's rationale for the war in Iraq with various just-war arguments.
In my mind's eye, I am already sketching out a course in the School of Theology on "Religion and Public Life," in which I would ask students to draw on the presidential library's archives to explore how religious language was used in the internal deliberations and public statements of the Bush administration.
As a scholar, I have been thinking about writing on the same topic. The presidential library would be a wonderful resource for scholars, including those who end up writing about the missteps of the Bush administration.
As I have read news stories about opposition to having the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University, three things have surprised me.
First, I am puzzled that it is such big news that faculty members are arguing about the Bush library and institute. We argue about all kinds of things. Making arguments and engaging in lively discussion in the pursuit of truth is what we do for a living. That is our calling.
Second, some of the news stories have made it sound as if most faculty members oppose the Bush library. Frankly, I was surprised at how few faculty members signed the "Call to Dialogue" petition. Like many other faculty members, I was given multiple opportunities and chose not to sign.
Among faculty members who have voiced opposition, the heart of the debate has centered in recent days not around the presidential library itself but the Bush Institute, which would be separate from both the library and Southern Methodist University.
Third, I have been astonished by the recent argument that it would somehow go against Methodist tradition to have the Bush library at a United Methodist university. As a United Methodist clergyperson, I am proud of our long support of open inquiry and the free discussion of ideas, including ideas with which many disagree. Having the Bush library at SMU would not be a contradiction but an extension of our United Methodist legacy of open inquiry.
Certainly all the details will need to be worked out about the relationships between SMU, the library and the institute. I am glad these crucial details are being discussed, and that the voices of various groups at SMU are being heard.
I am grateful that faculty members, including colleagues with whom I disagree, have engaged with such passion in these recent discussions. This is what we do best. As SMU both embraces this heated debate and seeks to welcome the presidential library, it is being faithful to its stated mission of dedication to "open inquiry."
As an Arkansan both by birth and by affection, I am convinced that the Clinton Presidential Library has been good for Little Rock and the whole state, even though there are those in Arkansas who liked neither Clinton nor his policies.
Likewise, the George W. Bush Presidential Library would be good for SMU and ultimately the broader community - including even those who have opposed many of the policies of the Bush administration.
Hosting a presidential library is never an endorsement of a particular president; it is an endorsement of open academic inquiry and scholarship.
A hundred years from now, when we are all dead and gone, scholars from around the world will still be going to the George W. Bush Presidential Library to understand our shared history. The library is a gift to generations yet to be born.
*Miles is a member of the Arkansas Conference, a member of the University Senate and vice chairperson of the Commission on Theological Education. This commentary is reprinted with permission from the United Methodist Reporter and originally appeared on the Reporter's Web site at http://www.reporterinteractive.org.
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