Guest Column by Andrew Weaver
Editor’s Note: Andrew Weaver is a good friend of mine and a close observer of the United Methodist Church. I asked him to write the first guest column for this blog. 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.
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 here and sign a petition protesting the Bush library on SMU’s campus.