C. Davis Weyerhaeuser (1909-1999) was the chair of the board of Fuller Theological Seminary during a period when the school faced a major theological disruption, elected a new president, and expanded its mission and its physical plant. Largely as a result of his leadership, both public and behind the scenes, Fuller addressed critical challenges and became one of America's leading theological schools.
Weyerhaeuser's work demonstrates the difference that a dedicated trustee can make to an institution's life and well-being. Through his term of service, he used skills acquired in business to further the institution. He used his wealth to advance a vision for Fuller that grew out of the effective partnership he shared with the president and board.
Weyerhaeuser was the heir to a considerable portion of the extensive timber empire assembled by his grandfather and father. The Weyerhaeusers kept control of the businesses within the family, with each of the cousins taking turns participating in the management of the property while also investing on their own. They were careful stewards of their finances, and by the time that Davis Weyerhaeuser retired as vice president in 1958, he had accumulated significant capital reserves.
The following decades were challenging economic times for theological schools. But Weyerhaeuser used his experience in business as a lodestar. In a 1970 article in Theological Education titled "What Price Conservatism?" Weyerhaeuser argued that the trustees of theological schools had misunderstood the "prudent man rule," which says that trustees must care for the resources of the institution in the way that wise people care for their own resources, balancing the probable income of capital with the safety of investment instruments.
Weyerhaeuser believed that many trustees had used the "prudent man rule" to support investments that were too conservative. He believed that trustees needed to use their knowledge of the American economy more creatively. And while we do not know who read his article, we do know that some institutions did begin to use capital markets more assertively.
His own mind
Perhaps the most important influence on C. Davis Weyerhaeuser was his evangelical faith. He learned philanthropy from his father, Frederick E. Weyerhaeuser, and like many religious conservatives, the Weyerhaeusers were dismayed by the number of religious institutions that had, over time, become secular.
The elder Weyerhaeuser's advice to his son was simple: Support operating expenses and avoid building endowments that make institutions independent of their publics. Other evangelicals had long thought in similar ways, and by supporting operating expenses with gifts large and small, conservative evangelicals had, by the 1930s and '40s, begun to create significant networks of schools, ministries, and missions that were unusually responsive to their constituencies. These organizations had interlocking directorates whose members knew one another and understood their friends' patterns of commitment. Weyerhaeuser became an active member of this network.
His early years as a philanthropist were on the more conservative side of this evangelical network. He was among the founding trustees of the U.S. branch of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a student organization founded in England. He was an early trustee of the Navigators, which promoted Bible study within the armed forces. And he was a trustee of the Moody Bible Institute, the self-proclaimed West Point of conservative Protestantism.
According to George M. Marsden's history of Fuller Seminary, Reforming Fundamentalism (Eerdmans, 1988), some of Fuller's founders (like Harold John Ockenga, pastor of Boston's Park Street Church), wondered whether Weyerhaeuser was too fundamentalist to serve on the seminary's board. But his worries were misplaced. In "A Layman Asks a Question," an article in the October 1945 issue of Moody Monthly, Weyerhaeuser had already expressed his preference for a conservatism centered more on the heart than on doctrine.
|From left, trustees Max O. De Pree and C. Davis Weyerhaeuser with David Allan Hubbard, Fuller president from 1963 to 1993.
In 1961, Fuller's board of trustees invited Weyerhaeuser to join the board during a period of strain. On the one hand, several younger scholars had adopted more liberal views of biblical authority, dropping the belief in biblical inerrancy. On the other hand, the old guard, including acting president Ockenga, dean and vice president Harold Lindsell, and many of the seminary's most fervent supporters, wanted to retain the original theology.
Not only was Weyerhaeuser eager to help Fuller's leadership collaborate, but he was willing to examine the arguments, form an opinion, and rely on his own best judgment. It was a skill honed in business, but Weyerhaeuser's trust in his own mind was his greatest strength as a board member. This strength was on full display as the board conducted a search for a president.
Weyerhaeuser's candidate, David Hubbard, was elected against the will of the supporters of the conservatives like Harold John Ockenga and Harold Lindsell, but the new president and the board chair showed that the school could prosper, even when many financial supporters had been on the other side of the controversy. When former dean Lindsell published The Battle for the Bible in 1976, a book that critiqued the theological changes at Fuller, the work had more influence on other institutions than it had on Fuller.
Under the leadership of Hubbard and Weyerhaeuser, Fuller expanded its mission. Two new graduate divisions were soon opened — the School of Missions and the School of Psychology. The psychology school was particularly close to Weyerhaeuser's heart, since he and his wife, Annette, had long supported the work of John Finch, a Christian psychologist and counselor who was invited to lecture in 1961. As the Weyerhaeusers had hoped, Finch's presentation started discussions that eventually led to a consensus around the new school, and the Weyerhaeusers donated $1 million to help fund it.
Weyerhaeuser's influence as a trustee extended beyond Fuller. With an understanding of boards rooted in corporate America, he believed that a good trustee had to be informed about the work of the institution and the board's role in it. As chair, he worked with the president to educate the board about the school and its place in the evangelical movement.
This emphasis on trustee education spoke to many outside Fuller's orb. In the early 1980s, Robert W. Lynn, then vice president for religion at Lilly Endowment Inc., paid a visit to Fuller where he met with Weyerhaeuser and Hubbard. He was deeply impressed with Weyerhaeuser and his interest in governance. This meeting was one of the events that sparked Lynn's interest in board education, encouraging him to make trusteeship one of Lilly's major emphases.
Weyerhaeuser's work as member of the Fuller board shows what a concerned trustee can accomplish. As a board member, he was a faithful and generous giver, but he was also a shaper and wise steward of the school's mission. He worked hard at one of the central tasks of any board — the selection and support of the president — and stood in the breach when the school faced a crisis. And he attended to board education and training, establishing a tradition of strong board leadership for one of North America's most influential theological schools.