To the Editor:
Your recent profile of J. Howard Pew, one of the four founders of the Pew Charitable Trusts, accurately portrayed him as the successful, principled, entrepreneurial, and creative man many knew him to be. Unfortunately, through a series of omissions and a narrow reading of history, your profile went off track in claiming that the institution he helped found does not live up to his ideals. Nothing could be further from the truth.
J. Howard Pew, his brother Joseph N. Pew Jr., and their sisters Mabel Pew Myrin and Mary Ethel Pew, created seven trusts over three decades, which today provide the majority of funding to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Our founders did far more than assure the financial health of our institution—they entrusted those who succeeded them with the values that guided their remarkable lives, values that we work hard every day to honor and uphold.
The four founders were optimists who believed in the power of science, research, and practical knowledge. Today, the Pew Charitable Trusts approaches society’s challenges with the same innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. We seek creative solutions that are based on independent, nonpartisan, sound data. We follow the facts where they lead us, never signing up to support a political party, ideology, or point of view.
It is therefore disappointing that by focusing on language applicable to just one of the seven trusts, your article insinuates that we are no longer living up to the goals of our founders. In fact they personally guided our work during their lifetimes, as did Joseph N. Pew III (son of one founder and nephew to the others), who served on our board for six decades until his passing in 2011. Through his intimate, decades-long conversation with his father, uncle, and aunts about their goals and aspirations, he inculcated their expectations into our work.
Based on his guidance, and under the leadership of other Pew family members on our board, we continue to invest in areas of interest to the founders, including health, religion, and civic life. Our work also honors the value of American industry and the power of innovation. This is clearly illustrated, for example, in our advocacy for a national clean energy policy. Our goal is to increase the competitiveness of U.S. businesses in this growing and lucrative sector of the world’s economy—to harness the power of the marketplace to “preserve in America an opportunity for coming generations.”
Pew also embraces the deepest ideals of American democracy, as witnessed in our work to improve the administration of the nation’s election system. Last November, 25 million U.S. voters received critical information about what was on their ballots, what identification they needed to bring to the polls, and where their voting sites were located. Those voters were served by a partnership between Pew and Google, working with other foundations and technology companies, to put this essential information online. We also supported legislation that has improved the ability of members of the armed forces serving overseas to vote, ensuring that brave Americans who put themselves in harm’s way for all of us have the opportunity to exercise one of our most fundamental rights as citizens.
Your article also highlighted J. Howard Pew’s longtime support for his alma mater Grove City College, a Christian liberal arts college in Western Pennsylvania. And it noted that he and his family were devout Presbyterians. These things are true, yet your article suggests that something has changed. The facts prove otherwise: Pew continues to provide financial support to both Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, the Pews’ longtime home place of worship, and to Grove City College.
Furthermore, the Trusts’ support for religious study continues—and has been strengthened over the decades. Our primary vehicle in recent years has been the highly respected Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which conducts groundbreaking global research on religious beliefs and practices—and on the role of faith in the public square. A portrait of J. Howard hangs on the wall of the Forum’s director, in fact, keeping a symbolic eye on the work there.
Like any institution in its seventh decade, of course, our day-to-day work has evolved. Pew was once a traditional grantmaking foundation. We are now a public charity, able to put our resources—and those of our partners—directly into projects we operate and which our research shows can inform the public, improve policy, and stimulate civic life.
Joseph N. Pew III, known affectionately as “Joe the Third,” always reminded us that our founders understood that they could not anticipate the challenges our nation and the world would face as time passed. That is why they so wisely designed the institution that bears their name to respond to changing circumstances with flexibility. But with that came the responsibility to hold true to their ideals and to exercise sound judgment. “They gave us the stewardship responsibility to lead this institution as the needs of society change,” he would say, “so let’s exercise it wisely.” We believe we do, ever mindful of those who came before us and those still to come.
Rebecca W. Rimel
Pew Charitable Trusts
Evan Sparks responds:
One must first point out that the Philanthropy Hall of Fame profile of J. Howard Pew offers no commentary on the Pew Charitable Trusts’ adherence to the donor intent of Pew’s siblings—only to his own clearly stated philanthropic purposes.
J. Howard Pew was not interested in “the deepest ideals of American democracy” in some generic sense. He explained exactly what he thought those ideals were. Moreover, he was very clear about his desire to fund educational organizations that embraced those specific ideals. Nor did he have an abstract interest in “support for religious study.” Rather, he wished to advance specific reforms within his own denomination and to promote particular doctrines in his and other denominations.
Let us begin with public policy. In Article III of the charter of the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust, J. Howard wrote: “Settlor is conscious that enemies of freedom employ sophistry, obfuscation, and semantics in order to destroy the true meaning of individual liberty and freedom. . . . Socialism, welfare-state-ism, Marxism, Fascism, and any other like forms of government intervention are but devices by which government seeks ownership of the tools of production.”
The Freedom Trust was formed precisely to battle back against these forces. And J. Howard made the goals of the trust crystal clear: “To acquaint the American people with the evils of bureaucracy . . . to maintain and preserve a limited form of government in the United States . . . to acquaint the American people with the values of a free market—the dangers of inflation—the need for a stable monetary standard—the paralyzing effects of government controls on the lives and activities of people—and the necessity of maintaining the rights as provided in the Bill of Rights.”
Since the trusts have restructured, it is difficult to say which of J. Howard’s funds now go toward various Pew activities. This much, however, seems clear. Most of Pew’s policy-related grants went to organizations—whether related to environmental, budgetary, or health care policy—that are in no meaningful way working to acquaint the American people with the evils of bureaucracy, to maintain and preserve a limited form of government, or to acquaint the American people with the values of a free market. It would be instructive to learn which contemporary Pew grants are working, for instance, to teach the public about the “paralyzing effects of government controls on the lives and activities of the people.”
On religion, J. Howard likewise had two specific goals. First, he sought to reverse theological liberalism and revisionism in the mainline UPCUSA denomination, the predecessor of today’s Presbyterian Church (USA). Second, he sought to build up institutions that would promote and protect evangelical theology and practice across denominations. J. Howard became increasingly pessimistic about the first project in the years prior to his death, and it is likely (though not certain) that he would have joined hundreds of thousands of conservative Presbyterians in leaving the PC(USA) for other denominations had he lived longer. It is not impossible that the Pew Trusts’ nominal support for Bryn Mawr Presbyterian is in keeping with J. Howard’s intent. But it is a stretch.
On the matter of protecting evangelical theology, confessionally evangelical organizations receive virtually no support from the Pew Trusts. This despite the fact that J. Howard made clear the support of evangelical religious organizations was the centerpiece of his philanthropy. “The Church is the great hope, if not the only hope, of the world,” he said in 1970. “If it proclaims the Bread of Life as it did in the past, it will so affect society that it will eliminate most of its ills.” Can anyone accurately claim that the current Pew Trusts’ negligible support for evangelical organizations aligns with J. Howard’s belief in their uttermost importance?
In his trust documents, speeches, and writings, J. Howard Pew detailed the principles that were to govern his philanthropic legacy. The invocation of his nephew’s opinion is not necessary to discern his philanthropic purposes. J. Howard himself expressed those purposes, repeatedly, and with great clarity.