Saturday, May 10, 2008

Torture is Not a Methodist Family Value

(Cross-posted with author’s permission from WallWritings Friday, May 9, 2008)

Guest Column by Andrew Weaver

Milo's Note: Andrew is one of the originators of the protest to locate the Bush library at Southern Methodist University and has been a primary source for several of my diaries on the subject. Andrew is a United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York City. He is a graduate of The Perkins School of Theology, SMU. Thanks for your good work, Andrew!

On April 8, Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner sent a letter to all the delegates of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference (SCJ) of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Turner wanted to persuade the delegates to support the proposed Bush library and partisan think-tank at the SMU Dallas campus.

Three days later, George W. Bush, who is to be honored by the Bush library, acknowledged that he has been deeply involved in the details of the torture he has authorized.

An ABC News report indicated: “President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.” According to White House sources, the discussions about torture techniques were so detailed that some of the “interrogation sessions were almost choreographed”.

Earlier, on March 8, Bush vetoed legislation that would have banned water boarding and other methods of torture by government employees. The legislation would have limited CIA agents to 19 less-aggressive tactics outlined in the U.S. Army field manual. The president stated that the government “needs to use tougher methods than the U.S. military to wrest information from terrorism suspects”.

Water boarding has a long and sickening history. It was used as a means of torture and coerced baptism during the Protestant Reformation. During the Spanish Inquisition the Catholic Church used the torture to convert Jews, Mennonites, witches, and other suspected heretics.

It is a brutal and horrifying method in which the torturer immobilizes the victim on his or her back. The head is tilted downward. Water is poured over the face forcing the inhalation of water into the lungs. As the victim gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive.

In the supposedly “less enlightened” 18th century, the Methodist Church founder, John Wesley, explicitly spoke strongly against any torture of prisoners of war.

For Wesley, war is justifiable only on the principle of self-preservation: Prisoners of war are confined for the purpose of preventing them from harming their captors. A war of self-preservation does not give a nation the right to torture, or kill, or to enslave an enemy when the war is over.

United Methodist Bishop Scott J. Jones of Kansas, a SMU trustee, describes Bush as a “faithful member” of the United Methodist Church. The Rev. Mark Craig, an SMU trustee and senior minister of the Highland Park Church in Dallas dismissed opponents of the library and think tank as a “fringe group, a marginal group without any standing other than the fact they happen to be one of 8 million United Methodists”. The Bush family are members of the Highland Park Church.

President Bush refers to himself a “proud Methodist”, but he has shown little sign of contrition, regret or repentance for his personal behavior which violates Methodist standards set long ago by John Wesley. Instead, Bush attempts to justify himself and place a shield of protection around government officials who use torture.

The half billion dollar partisan think-tank to honor President Bush on the SMU campus is essentially being planned (the Dallas Morning News calls it “advising”) by former Bush political guru Karl Rove. Neither SMU nor the United Methodist Church will have any control over the direction of the program or the people they hire. Consider the implications: Scooter Libby as distinguished Chair of political ethics?

This absence of university control was made clear in 2005 when, according to a New York Times story:
In outlining the project to prospective universities in 2005, two officers of the foundation, Marvin P. Bush, a brother of the president, and Donald J. Evans, said the institute would be answerable to the foundation, not the university. And they said: “Part of its mission will be to further the domestic and international goals of the Bush administration,” including “compassionate conservatism” and “defeating terrorism.”
The South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church will meet July 15-19, to debate and then vote on whether to approve the construction of the Bush Library and think tank. There will be 290 United Methodist clergy and laity delegates to that conference representing 1.83 million United Methodist church members from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Louisiana. These delegates are the ultimate authority over the use of the land where the new project is scheduled to be built.

A significant majority of these delegates are progressives and moderates who have the power to say no to the construction of the library and the think tank honoring Bush. To encourage delegates to consider a no vote, you may go to

UPDATE: The Legal Case Is In Place

Our legal team tells us that we need to go to court to give us the best chance to protect the property rights and voting rights of the 290 Jurisdictional Conference delegates who are the elected representatives of the property owners, i.e., the 1.83 million UMC members of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ). To do so we need at least one delegate who is willing to step forward and be the plaintiff in the case. We have not found such a delegate. Many fear the consequences to their future ministry if they appear to challenge their bishop, while others fear being countersued by the Bush Foundation.

The lawyers, including Judge Jim Parsons ( ), who it would be nice to send a thank you note to for his efforts, have worked hard for us. Parsons is a devout United Methodist and former head of the Texas Bar Association, who has given us free counsel and legal research for months. Our lawyers believe we have a solid legal case and that we have a very good chance to win. Through your wonderful generosity we have approximately $10,000 on hand. You have my deep appreciation for your faithfulness and generosity. Unfortunately, without a delegate we cannot go forward with the court case. We now must consider an alternative course of action.

An Alternative, Second Course of Action

The South Central Jurisdictional Conference will meet in Dallas at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, July 15-19, to vote on the use of UMC land by the Bush Foundation. The money we have on hand would give us the capacity to do a high-quality professional educational campaign opposing the Bush institute's presence at SMU. The campaign would raise public awareness during the next two months about plans to create a partisan institute having no oversight by the university.

We also would use some of the funds to expand the petition. We believe at least 50,000 folks would sign the petition if they knew of its existence and the opportunity it provides to voice their opposition. The petition will be presented to the SCJ College of Bishops, Bishop Palmer (the new president of the Council of Bishops), SMU President R. Gerald Turner, and the Chair of the SMU Trustees on July 15, 2008.

If you consent to your donation being used for an intensified educational campaign, you need do nothing. Beginning May 20, we will proceed with plans as described above and give you a regular accounting of the project. If you wish to have your money returned, we will do so with a note of appreciation. Simply write me at with your request no later than May 20, 2008, and state the amount of your donation. I will forward the information to our treasurer who has placed the funds in an escrow account.

If you wish to make a donation to the educational campaign fund please send it to Rev. Bob Weathers, 2420 Willington Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76110. Rev. Weathers is a highly regarded member of the Central Texas Conference and a former District Superintendent. Please make checks to “Protect SMU Fund.” I hope we can raise enough additional money to put advertisements in the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers.

Can We Win The Vote in July in Dallas? – Yes

Over the past several months we have systematically analyzed the 290 delegates of the SCJ with the help of delegates or clergy from each annual conference. I have personally spoken with over 40 delegates. We identified about 130 progressives, 100 conservatives and 60 moderates in the 11 annual conferences. We need 146 votes to win. If we can educate the delegates about the dangers of the Bush partisan think thank to the academic integrity of SMU and the good name of our church, we can win the vote. Most United Methodists, including most bishops, are people who seek to do what is right and good.

The majority of the delegates feel they can live with the library, even with its current limitation -- censorship by the president and his heirs in perpetuity through his Executive Order 13233, signed soon after 9/11. What many delegates are disturbed by and will vote against is the partisan think-tank to honor George Bush, which is being organized by Karl Rove. Neither SMU nor the United Methodist Church will have any control over the direction of the partisan institute, and that deeply troubles many. If given an opportunity by the SCJ bishops to vote, there is a good chance that the delegates will reject the partisan institute.

No comments: