Philanthropy is a byproduct of a life approach. I do not give because I am a philanthropist; I am a philanthropist because I am a giver. Being a giver is greater than simply being a "philanthropist." You can earn the latter title by simply writing a check; the former is a lifelong occupation. Every time you encourage a gift you are stimulating the emotion of caring; this builds heroes. It is this encouragement that reaches out a helping hand, a kindness that is unaffected and from the heart. A sincere conviction is formed, not a millisecond flash and teflon-slick contribution with no visceral substance.
I give through a variety of sources: a foundation, my company, and personally. The source is unimportant. I decide which based on the particular amount in each coffer at a particular time. I choose the recipient of my gifts based on a number of factors. I give first to the people around me, to those with whom I share my life -- my employees, my community, my friends. I give out of moral responsibility, out of social responsibility, civic responsibility, out of a response to my soul.
You've devised some interesting ways to donate money and give back to society. What are some of them?
A. I can always choose a charity and write a check, but I like to dream up original ideas that inspire other people to give; that stretches the dollar and makes it more valuable. In 1992 I sponsored a fundraiser at my alma mater, Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Oregon. As part of a $ 1 million dollar gift, I donated $25,000 in the name of each student who could match my 625 sit-ups in fifteen minutes, 116 continuous pushups, 24 continuous pull-ups, and a sixteen-foot rope climb. Only five students bested me in all categories. The event helped pay for a new library.
Then there was the Christmas two years ago when we put $100 bills into cans that would have contained nuts and berries. My chef dressed up as Santa and passed out the cans to strangers on the street. We have also built a 363-acre Civil War park in southern Virginia dedicated to the Civil War soldier. It includes a battlefield, a 19th century plantation home, and two high tech Civil War museums. We also run Pamplin Communications Corporation, which operates a Christian bookstore chain, a family entertainment video company, and a Christian music recording business and broadcasting stations. Pamplin Music is the fourth largest Christian music corporation in America and produces the highly popular Bible Man videos.
Tell us about the ministries of Christ Community Church, which you founded.
You had a brush with cancer early in your life. How did that affect you?
A. It was a turning point for me. My brush with skin cancer deepened my commitment to help others. I had a malignant melanoma, requiring surgery and five years follow-up. I realized that even though my business career had been successful, my life lacked greater meaning, and I needed to come up with new notions about what success really meant. I turned closer to God. I had always followed Christian principles, but the brush with death made me want to know more fully and exactly what my faith was all about. So I attended Western Seminary and obtained two degrees. There I learned why I should give -- because Christ wants me to. Before I had participated in a lot of fund raising campaigns, but I did it because it was just another activity I could chalk up on my resume.
Why is it important to live out your faith?
A. The central idea is to sow instead of reap. We want to share with everyone the tangible as well as the intangible. I believe you don't get anyone to pay attention unless you set a good example. Second Corinthians 9:6 says, "..who soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly, but he who soweth bountifully shall also reap bountifully." I don't believe that just relates to tangible gifts of money. It's also related to giving of yourself as an example, living out one's Christian faith. It's not done in hypocrisy -- one is a Christian only when it suits one to be -- but an acting out of one's faith. Taking care of our employees is very important; loving our neighbor as ourselves is the second commandment. If one sows bountifully to humankind he will reap bountifully.
We have always dedicated ten per cent of our corporation's pre-tax income to charity, including church and other Christian activities. We then give individually. Our motto is: Do good for your employees, do good for your community, and then live out your life in a godly way.
Our lives should be a meditation on sowing rather than throwing. I like the story of the farmer who exercises good faith every spring when he takes perfectly good corn, goes out in the field, and throws it out on the dirt, when he could take that corn and grind it up for meal to use for making his family's bread. But he's got faith that when he throws it out and covers it with dirt, at the end of the summer, he's going to harvest a crop. We always have great faith that if we do the right thing, we will always harvest a great crop. We've not only gained wealth but gained spiritually ourselves and cast some light in which others may walk.
What advice would you have for the person just beginning to live out his faith in the marketplace?
A. The most important thing to realize is that as you improve your status, you're going to be viewed by more and more people. Then they begin to emulate you. It would be a terrible shame to be emulated in the wrong way. If you are a Christian, live out your faith because people will be looking at you. The greatest pitfall is pride. As people become more powerful, they come to believe they are doing it and not God. The greatest encouragement I could give is to remain humble and try not to gain that extra foot of yacht. It's obvious that if you believe in the veracity and inerrancy of Scripture, then you must believe Romans 8:29, "All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, for those who are the called according to His purpose."
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2001