The late Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver
My friend Andrew Weaver is probably weeping in heaven.
I thought of Andrew this morning when a little-noticed and quickly affirmed action gave the South Central Jurisdiction's Mission Council final authority to dispose of jurisdiction-owned property. The action marks the quiet end to a contentious effort six years ago to keep the George W. Bush Presidential Institute off the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
An SMU and Perkins School of Theology alumnus, Andrew was a United Methodist ordained elder and a clinical psychologist. Alone and with other writers, among them his wife the Rev. Carolyn Stapleton, Andrew produced dozens of books on counseling and pastoral issues dear to his heart. Full disclosure: My husband John and I are among Christian couples with longstanding marriages that contributed to one of Andrew's and Carolyn's books.
Like all of us humans, Andrew had his faults, chief among them his love of food and drink that contributed to his death. He also, at times, sought more publicity than I as a journalist felt comfortable in providing. But spending a few minutes with Andrew would convince most people that the reason he sought attention was more because a principle was at stake.
More than anything else, Andrew was one of God's prophets for justice and peace. Andrew agonized over the presidency of George W. Bush, whose policies threw the United States into war with Iraq under what are now widely considered false pretenses. As people of faith increasingly protested the war, I often saw Andrew whenever I reported on a church-related demonstration. Among these was Andrew's presence at Camp Casey, the demonstration outside President Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, TX, where Cindy Sheehan tried to get Bush to justify why her son Casey, a National Guardsman, died in the Iraq War.
The final straw for Andrew – and subsequently for another 20,000 SMU grads, United Methodists and others – was the news that SMU had negotiated a sweetheart deal to lease university land to the George W. Bush Presidential Institute. The prospect of a United Methodist-related institution of higher education such as SMU – technically owned by the South Central Jurisdiction – hosting a think tank and library that would continue to promote Bush-era warmongering and economic policies was scandalous to Andrew and others.
The issue was more than political. The moral crux of the matter, which SMU and South Central Jurisdiction leaders consistently refused to acknowledge, was the reality that opponents to the Bush Institute deemed its published goals as completely anathema to the United Methodist Church's doctrines of peace and economic justice.
Furthermore, a critical issue of ecclesiastical authority was involved: whether a designated agency had the legal power to sign contracts on the lease of property held by the jurisdiction, which meets only once every four years and is the owner of record on the university's deeds and covenants. The university is still tied to the South Central Jurisdiction; as this was written, President Gerald R. Turner sought the 2012 session's approval for SMU's board of trustees.
Andrew suffered greatly physically, mentally and emotionally throughout the two-year ordeal. He was vilified publicly and privately, often by people well connected to the university and the church. The drama played out in the press, and both SMU and the jurisdiction were successful in painting the anti-Bush Institute campaign as the effort of one "deranged" individual, namely the Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver.
I attest to these things because the publishing ministry for which I worked at the time, TPC Publishing Inc., helped with publicity for the group opposing the Bush Institute at SMU. I conducted media surveys and wrote press releases on the group's behalf, so I feel confident in saying that the campaign was never the work of one individual, however much Andrew may have become its public face. Thousands of people were opposed to the lack of moral conscience and academic integrity represented by the moneyed crowd supporting a memorial to the Bush presidency at Southern Methodist University.
The final effort of the campaign came during the 2008 South Central Jurisdictional Conference, where the Bush Institute deal was overwhelmingly approved. True to form, both President Turner and South Central bishops alleged the campaign was Andrew's personal vendetta. That allegation was then, and remains now, an incomplete characterization.
I confess now that at the press conference after the 2008 vote, I came about as close to punching out a church leader who repeated this spurious allegation as I have ever been. My violent reaction stemmed from the fact that Andrew fell seriously ill with heart disease shortly before the jurisdictional conference. The effort to stand up for his understanding of Jesus' call to peace and justice literally had taken the heart from him. He died Oct. 22, 2008.
From this historic perspective, there are two ways to look at the South Central Jurisdiction action confirming the authority of the Mission Council. In one respect, it makes the administrative work of the jurisdiction more efficient, since four years between sessions is undeniably a long time to wait for decisions on the disposal of real property.
However, the same action can be seen as another nail in the coffin of United Methodist Church democracy. A small group of elites, chosen by other elites, now has the power to decide unilaterally issues regarding jurisdictional property paid for with the offerings of thousands of United Methodists across nine states. Furthermore, those same faithful members and clergy who may find that the Mission Council's actions violate church doctrine and polity now have little recourse to seek redress. The true power in the South Central has shifted from its elected delegates to an oligarchy.
Few of us who share the late Andrew Weaver's principles can be happy about that.