George W. Bush Presidential Center dedicated at SMU

Presidents and First Ladies on outdoor stage for Bush Center dedication. / PHOTO COURTESY SMU

The George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University was dedicated this morning in Dallas, with President Barack Obama and all living former presidents and First Ladies attending.

A large crowd, including Bush administration alumni, family members of former presidents and numerous foreign dignitaries, gathered outside in mild weather by the $250 million facility, a new anchor for the east side of the SMU campus

“Whatever challenges come before us, I will always believe our nation’s best days lie ahead,” a choked-up former President George W. Bush said at the conclusion of his eight-minute-long remarks.

The $250 million facility includes a library and museum, housing official records and artifacts of the 43rd president, as well as the George W. Bush Institute, a public policy center.

Today’s dedication was, to no small degree, a United Methodist event, given that former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura are active United Methodists; that they chose to put the facility at a United Methodist school (Mrs. Bush’s alma mater); and that their pastor, the Rev. Mark Craig of Highland Park UMC (right by the campus) gave the invocation.

“We have gathered today, O God, to give thanks for the life and legacy of President and Mrs. George Bush,” Mr. Craig prayed. “We are thankful for their distinguished leadership to our nation.

Earlier this week, Mr. Craig said in an interview: “The Bushes are very strong church members. Every Sunday I look over to my left, and they’re sitting there … They love their church and they love the Methodist Church.”

SMU President Gerald Turner said the Bush Center will raise the school’s profile and strengthen it academically, through collaborations involving students and professors.

“The most obvious thing is it’ll bring 400,000 to 500,000 people a year here, and many of them wouldn’t have been on campus otherwise,” he said. “But the (academic) programs are what we’re most interested in.”

In his remarks today, Mr. Bush said: “President Gerald Turner runs a fantastic university.” He added that SMU has “a student body that is awesome,” prompting a roar from students gathered for the event.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both lauded Mr. Bush for his work on global health, particularly providing drugs to Africans battling HIV/AIDS. Mr. Carter said Mr. Bush, more than anyone, deserved credit for ending civil war in Sudan.

President Obama too praised Mr. Bush for his work in Africa, as well as for backing immigration reform.

“Mr President, for your service, for your courage, for your sense of humor and most of all for your love of country, thank you very much,” President Obama said.

Mr. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, merely thanked the crowd, but moved many by rising from his wheelchair briefly.

***** *****

George W. Bush’s presidency was, as he acknowledged today, controversial, including his decision to go to war in Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, and his handling of Hurricane Katrina and the economy, which went into crisis late in his second term.

Though the Bushes made clear they would return to Dallas after his presidency, SMU had to compete to become home to the Bush Center. SMU also had to win approval from the UMC’s South Central Jurisdiction.

Some within the SMU community and the denomination lamented the school’s aggressive bid, particularly since the arrangement required a public policy center that they predicted would reflexively defend Bush’s legacy and promote his philosophy of government.

Critics remain, including the Rev. Bill McElvaney, a retired United Methodist pastor and professor emeritus of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology.  He joined in an interfaith service of lamentation earlier this week, one of a number of protest events timed to the Bush Center dedication.

“My view has not shifted about the war in Iraq,” Dr. McElvaney said. “This was an illegal war. It was unnecessary. It was taken on false premises. Our president lived above the law on that.”

But Dr. McElvaney volunteered that the Bush Institute, already in operation, has had some worthy initiatives, including building leadership skills among women in the Middle East – a Laura Bush priority.

“Those are things we can be grateful for, as far as we know,” he said. “We’ll see how this plays out.”

UM Bishop Scott Jones, an SMU board member, said it’s understandable that there would be opposition to the Bush Center within the UMC, given the size and “big tent” character of the denomination.

But he praised the Center, including the Institute, as a strong new resource for SMU.

“The predictions of great harm and polarized political activity raised by critics in 2007 and 2008 have not come true,” Bishop Jones said. “The Institute has conducted itself with academic integrity and been a strong contributor to the university’s mission.”

The Rev. Stephen Rankin, a UM elder and chaplain of SMU, also called the Bush Center an asset for the school and said the Institute can be a place for rigorous, fair-minded policy debate.

“I’m not suggesting some mushy middle-of-the-road default,” he said. “We United Methodists go there almost unthinkingly. I long for honest, pointed discussions with charitable judgments about each other’s motives, rather than the political tit-for-tat that happens too often.”

The center opens to the public May 1, and visitors will encounter a 226,000 sq.-ft. structure whose exterior complements SMU’s Georgian architecture, while including modern touches. The interior walls integrate Texas pecan paneling with Texas limestone.

The solar panel-equipped building earned LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and the 15-acre urban park that surrounds it, which Mrs. Bush consulted on closely, features native, drought-tolerant plants landscaped to maximize water conservation.

Freedom Hall provides the “wow” of the Center, with its elevated ceiling and a 360-degree video screen of amazingly high-definition.

The Museum begins with exhibits depicting Bush’s early policy initiatives, such as tax cuts, the No Child Left Behind education program and faith-based initiatives.

But around the corner, the unexpected events dominate, namely the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and the recession.

“You can see the way our lives changed, and the way the lives of everyone in our country changed,” said Mrs. Bush at a Wednesday media preview.

The Museum includes a twisted beam from the World Trade Towers, flanked by panels offering the names of those killed in the 9/11 attacks. Visitors can use interactive technology to hear the recorded advice Bush was given about whether to go to war in Iraq, and can register their own calls on what should have been done.

“You get to decide how you would handle the crisis, and you’re invited to disagree with him,” said Mark Langdale, president of the Bush Center.

There are many lighter touches, including gowns worn by Mrs. Bush, displays of gifts given to the Bushes by foreign countries and bronze statues of the Bush’s pet dogs. The Museum offers a replica of the Oval Office, decorated as it was in Bush’s time.

There’s even a Rose Garden, albeit it with Texas plants, and a view of the Dallas skyline.

The Bush Library, formally handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration on Wednesday, offers scholars 70 million pages of paper records, 200 million emails and four million digital photographs.

The building also houses the Bush Institute, whose policy areas include economic growth, global health, education reform and human rights. Mrs. Bush noted the Institute’s work on improving treatment for cervical cancer in Africa.

She also praised the Center’s collaboration with SMU.

“It’s fun to be here,” she said Wednesday. “I went to college here. I’m back on my old campus.”

At the dedication, the former presidents and First Ladies – Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter – sat together on the raised platform. Many dignitaries sat in front rows of the crowd, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served with George W. Bush.

The crowds and strict security measures accompanying the dedication prompted Highland Park UMC to shut down for much of this week.

But Mr. Craig said the church will see visitors and other benefits from the Bush Center. He plans to spend time there in his retirement.

“I wouldn’t mind being a docent,” he said.

shodges@umr.org

 

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Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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12 Comments on "George W. Bush Presidential Center dedicated at SMU"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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[…] The dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in April was — to no small degree — a United Methodist event. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are active United Methodists. They chose to put the facility at Southern Methodist University, a United Methodist school and Laura Bush’s alma mater. And their pastor at the time, the Rev. Mark Craig of Highland Park United Methodist Church, delivered a prayer. Bush later in 2013 credited his presidential run in part to a sermon by Craig, who is now retired. […]

coltsfan254
Guest
ajain, there certainly were major failures while Bush was president, although I would suspect there were major failures by all presidents. We can all play 'what if' games with every president. I will go through an answer (which is NOT an attempt on my part to defend) each of your enumerated statements. There is PLENTY which I disagree with president Bush on. I am from Texas and have never cast a ballot for him. So I am not really a defender of the guy, but I also find many criticisms of him unfair and unwarranted. I would say the same… Read more »
ajain31
Guest
History is here and now and it does not bode well for George W Bush the 43rd President of USA. 1) GEORGE W. BUSH oversaw the suffering of millions in New Orleans in KATRINA disaster and did little in a timely fashion! 2) GEORGE W. BUSH increased our deficit by fighting TWO wars on the credit card, implementing the Medicare DRUG Plan on the credit card and two BIG TAX CUTS on the credit card. 3) GEORGE W. BUSH presided over the greatest economic meltdown of the American economy since the Great Depression. 4) GEORGE W. BUSH presided over the… Read more »
jim
Guest

"W" was not afraid to lead from the front. When his heart and his conviction(s) told him to move, he did. Some things that he did were hard on this failing country. But he is not the individual who has put this country in a hole so deep that it is all but impossible to climb out of. God help–and bless–America………………………

Keep looking up——-signs and wonders are happening every day. Come, Lord Jesus, come!!!

coltsfan254
Guest
Congratulations to SMU in this very prestigious endeavor! I am so glad to see that from all accounts the library will be a centre for deep thought and deeply bipartisan as was President Bush himself. I am also glad to see the greatest controversies of his presidency are far from hidden or brushed aside, but are highlighted for further examination. I am thankful for the work Mr. Bush did with regard to saving literally millions of lives in Africa with HIV drugs, his forgiveness of African debt, and his tireless work on immigration which was actually opposed by those on… Read more »
jim
Guest
George W. Bush will be known as one of this former great country's finest Presidents. As the nation continues its downward spiral at the hands of liberal progressives so will the united methodsit church. Our grandchildren–when they visit the Bush Library–will likely turn to their parents and ask why the United States has declined. The firm and right answer is that the watchman at the gate has flung it open and no longer stands guard. The clock is ticking–and we pay no heed. Thank you "W" for your firm stand to lead when many would rather go belly up.
cbastle
Guest
It's too bad that no one from the Reporter crossed Central Expressway to report also on the People's Response to the GW Bush Center. There you would have found United Methodists from congregations such as St. Stephen UMC in Mesquite, and Greenland Hills UMC in Dallas, who were standing up for the real legacy of the Bush Administration — death and destruction for hundreds of thousands of people. We dressed in black and lamented what this collusion between SMU and the Bush faction has done. The fear that the institute connected with the Bush Center will attempt to rewrite history… Read more »
coltsfan254
Guest
what exactly was illegal about military actions authourised by the US Congress? I am a bit confused by that. I fully understand your personal opposition to war. I would actually applaud it. I just don't understand your use of the term 'illegal'. Also, the South Central Jurisdiction (of which I am an elder in) voted to support the Bush library's presence on SMU's campus http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/2007/02/south-… for reference. Also, as far as every story I have read, the biggest controversies of the Bush administration are far from glossed over at the library, but actually highlighted, which I personally believe to be… Read more »
1agingsage
Guest

It is most unfortunate that the Bush Library Dedication is seen by the UM Reporter as a "United Methodist event." George Bush, as a United Methodist layperson, should be tried as a war criminal. And, instead of being in Dallas, TX, he should along with Dick Cheney be telling his "tall tales" from The Hague. One thing is clear in what George Bush said at the dedication, now that Bush is no longer president, "our nation's best days do lie ahead."

wilsonb224
Guest
What is even more unfortunate is allowing political bias to blind oneself from being able to recognize and/or accept facts. It is a United Methodist event, not because President Bush is a member of our denomination, but because the Presidential Library and Archives are on the campus of Southern Methodist University, a UMC school of higher education and home to Perkins School of Theology. As an SMU student, I am proud to have an institute and presidential library on my campus, regardless of the president's political party. It is a great thing for the SMU community and therefore a great… Read more »
coltsfan254
Guest

War criminal for what exactly? Just want you to clarify why.
I for one give kudos for President Bush's work in Africa. He was a supporter in forgiving billions of dollars of debt from African nations to first world countries and his plan to bring HIV fighting drugs to Africa (which Obama has largely continued btw) has saved literally millions of lives.

cbastle
Guest

Well said!

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