Theodore “Ted” Weber died peacefully at home on February 25, 2023. He was 94, having served as a distinguished faculty member of Candler School of Theology for forty years between 1957 and 1997. His teaching, writing and commitment to the church forged a remarkable legacy for generations of students. His partnership with [his wife] Mudie for nearly 70 years remains a remarkable blessing for us all.
Born on June 6, 1928, in New Orleans, Ted grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana. By age 16 he was preaching, soon serving a circuit of rural Methodist churches. He attended LSU, and never lost his love for the Tigers, even after having lived in the land of the Bulldogs for so many years. His doctoral work in social ethics and theology at Yale left a profound imprint on his style of thinking. This is reflected in his books, lectures and sermons. His intellectual and moral energy in his role as one of the “young Turks” (including Ted Runyon, Manfred Hoffman, Bill Mallard, and Hendrikus Boers) dramatically transformed teaching and scholarship at Candler School of Theology, beginning in the years between 1957 and 1962. Ted was also instrumental in the appointment of Dean James T. Laney.
My image for Ted Weber: John Wesley meets the Niebuhrs, especially Reinhold. A lifetime engagement and dialogue resulted, manifest in his teaching and research. Ted loved the Methodism into which he was born and bred, but never uncritically. He knew how to carry Niebuhr’s sense of the “ironies of history” into contemporary issues, unafraid to critique naïve views of the Christian faith in its several forms. Clichés of individualistic and isolationist piety were subject to his theological scrutiny. “Cheap grace” was, for him, anathema. Yet Ted was deeply persuaded that the Christian Gospel and its focus on the Kingdom of God has continuing relevance and force in the social and political reality in our world.
The word that keeps echoing in my mind and heart as a key to Ted Weber’s life and theology is “reconciliation.” For him this word was not so much a noun as a command: “be reconciled.” For him this was a call to hard-headed analysis as well as a call to action. This characterized many of Ted’s “spontaneous lectures” on many occasions. I was always amazed at how well-formed his sentences were, and with the consistency of his thought patterns. Thus, it is no accident that he was instrumental in Emory University’s struggle with integration in the 1960s and with his continuing emphasis on responsibility in racial and justice matters in church, university, and in political life.
Some students and colleagues at times regarded Ted as severe in argument and dialogue—perhaps in more recent seasons, as curmudgeonly. He did not lack convictions. But any who came to know him found in him a compassionate heart and mind, with a well-honed sense of humor. I will always remember with affection his delight in the tales of old Boudreau when he told the Cajun “Night Before Christmas” at the Mallards’ Christmas parties. There we heard the Louisiana that never left him. He always insisted on singing “O Tannenbaum” in German. By the way, he had a strong singing voice.
He could seem gruff, even irascible I suppose, but with a deep understanding heart for students, for the church and university’s institutional struggles. In many ways he was “old school” as the popular phrase has it, but with a passion for social justice made visible and audible. Surely Ted Weber was one of God’s truth-tellers who knew about human fragility combined with a robust claim that we are made in the image of God. He lived this wisdom until the end.