Pew Builds the Evangelical Parachurch

  • Religion
  • 1956

Longtime Sun Oil president and Pennsylvania philanthropist Howard Pew had a multipronged approach to his religious philanthropy. He served as president of the board of trustees and chair of the National Lay Committee of the Presbyterian Church (of which he was a lifelong member), using both his time and his contributions to bolster its traditional theology. But Pew also funded the then-emerging “parachurch” institutions of the evangelical movement. He contributed $150,000 to launch Carl Henry’s Christianity Today magazine in 1956. He gave millions to merge two seminaries into Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which remains evangelical and is the largest facility training pastors in the northeast. He supported the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the International Congress on World Evangelization. Pew sought to keep left-wing politics out of Christian ministry, and encouraged church leaders to focus on mission and new disciples.

Pew helped to build Spiritual Mobilization, a group which involved business executives in church leadership. He later was instrumental in the Christian Freedom Foundation, which sent a “Christian Economics” newsletter twice a month to 180,000 ministers. Pew did not achieve to his own satisfaction his goal of saving his church from loss of relevance and public support. As it drifted to the left during the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, the Presbyterian Church (USA) shrunk from 3.1 million members to 1.9 million. In his other giving, however, Pew helped to create an evangelical infrastructure that now supports many fast-growing churches in the U.S.