Though all of Acton’s efforts involve education in some capacity, no component of our work provides for a more challenging and engaging learning environment than our many educational conferences.
At the summit of our programming stands Acton University, our annual summer conference that provides a unique, four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. In 2013, the conference’s 800+ participants traveled from six continents and designed their own curricula by choosing from a diverse assortment of 100 courses, including:
Conference quality remained extremely high, with 99% of participants indicating that they would recommend the conference to friends and colleagues. See below for some of the unsolicited feedback we received after the conference.
“I had more fresh ideas, insights and challenges to my assumptions in these four days than I had in the previous four years of ‘conventional’ pastors’ conferences. This is not to disparage other conferences… But Acton University was for me a different type of experience.”
“My most cordial regards, it is my sincere hope that this message finds each and every one of you in good health and in good spirits. This letter is merely to thank you all for being a crucial part of one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, because that’s what Acton represents to me. As Father Sirico so gallantly expressed the [event] in words, it was ‘a reunion of kindred souls, of kindred spirits.’”
Toward the end of each conference, we administer surveys to learn more about our participants’ interests and influence. We were gratified to learn that the average participant at 2013 Acton University influences the thinking of nearly 3,800 individuals per year through teaching, preaching, advising, and writing. These leaders are now promoting individual liberty and personal responsibility to millions of churchgoers, students, and businesspeople around the world. We hope you will consider joining us for our next Acton University conference  this June.
Even if you cannot attend, you can still get your hands on a treasure trove of rich conference content. In December we released the Acton University Ultimate Bundle flash drive, which offers access to each and every Acton University lecture from 2010 to 2013 (a total of more than 180 lectures). Valued at $179 but available for $29.95 each, these flash drives contain lectures from a host of public figures and respected intellectuals, including Rev. Robert Sirico, award-winning author Eric Metaxas, and American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks. We already sold out of these drives once but are restocked and ready for more orders. Dubbed the “think tank on a flash drive,” this product makes for the perfect learning tool or gift  for those interested in faith and freedom.
We hold a host of other events, as well. Acton works with the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund to hold Liberty and Markets, a conference series that provides an intensive survey of truth, liberty, and economics . Limited to a small number of Acton alumni who are pursuing or have completed graduate studies, the conferences represent a logical next step for those who have attended Acton University and desire to learn more. More than 80 up-and-coming scholars and clergy have attended these conferences throughout 2013 and 2014, studying topics such as “Liberty and the Declaration of Independence,” “Evaluating the Idea of Social Justice,” and “Religion and Liberty: Acton and Tocqueville.” We were grateful to receive the following comments from recent participants.
“Thank you all so much for a terrific opportunity to seek a better understanding of the concepts of liberty and how the church limits the state. In my sphere of influence, I feel more prepared to engage the culture.”
“I was honored and pleased to have been a participant. I came away with new insights into these great men’s thinking about freedom and faith. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this special scholastic experience.”
Finally, last October we held our 23rd Annual Dinner in Grand Rapids, bringing together nearly 600 of our supporters from Michigan and beyond. Those in attendance enjoyed a keynote address from noted political satirist P.J. O’Rourke, who invoked the wisdom of Lord Acton to offer a thoughtful and entertaining commentary on current events . Afterward Rev. Robert Sirico offered special remarks , stressing the need for individual initiative in any free economy: “On a practical level…we see voluntary human interaction as far more efficient, far more intelligent, [and] far more productive than agencies of bureaucracies that inhibit creativity—and indeed knowledge and intelligence—throughout society.”
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Pope Francis made headlines with the issuance of Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation on the responsibilities and opportunities facing the Catholic Church, with particular emphasis on the plight of the poor. Amid questions and confusion from our supporters, we released a YouTube video featuring comments from Rev. Robert Sirico . Crediting the exhortation for its spiritual depth and emphasis on the joy of the Gospel, Rev. Sirico respectfully addresses Evangelii Gaudium’s questionable economic assertions, noting that it is difficult to find evidence for what Pope Francis calls “the absolute autonomy of markets.” Rev. Sirico notes that Acton has always agreed that “markets are necessary, but they are not sufficient.”
Since its upload, the video has garnered more than 14,000 views from around the world, and it is now the second video to appear on YouTube when once searches for “Evangelii
Gaudium.” Afterward, we received a flood of gratitude for the video, with one person even wishing that Rev. Sirico was Pope Francis’ spokesperson. One political science professor sent the video to his students, inviting them to write about Rev. Sirico’s comments for extra credit. After the video’s release, Acton embarked on a media blitz to promote our response on The Larry Kudlow Show , the Wall Street Journal , National Review , Bill Bennett’s Morning in America , The Chris Salcedo Show , National Catholic Register , Kresta in the Afternoon , and Crisis Magazine .
Last October, Acton Director of Research Dr. Samuel Gregg published Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. Endorsed by intellectual heavyweights such as Michael Novak, Cardinal George Pell, and Prof. Robert P. George, Tea Party Catholic draws upon Catholic teaching, natural law theory, and the thought of Charles Carroll (the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence) to develop a Catholic case for limited government and ordered liberty . The book has been featured in several religious and secular outlets, with so many copies purchased that Amazon has sold out of it twice. The book has been cited particularly often in reference to Evangelii Gaudium.
In service to a number of key Protestant communities, we recently wrapped up our first Vocation Infusion Learning Community. The Community is a coalition of 30 influential clergy and prominent lay leaders from approximately 15 of the largest and best-known evangelical churches. Recognizing the vast impact that these leaders have on their congregants and church programs, we assemble them for a year-long period of formation and instruction, teaching them to fuse the Christian faith with economic freedom and a high view of work. Members of this inaugural group created “vocation infusion plans,” detailing how they plan to infuse a biblical approach to work and economics in their churches’ small groups, teaching ministries, and educational activities. We are maintaining close contact with these individuals, offering our expertise and resources as needed. The group represented large churches in Houston, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Washington, DC.
As mentioned in an earlier Founders’ Report, Acton is releasing a series of short books (or primers) examining the relationship between faith, work, and economics. Although all primers address this central theme, each is written from the vantage point of a major evangelical tradition. We initially released primers for the Baptist , Pentecostal , and Wesleyan  traditions, and last November, we published our latest volume, Economic Shalom: A Reformed Primer on Faith, Work, and Human Flourishing. The book  touches on stewardship, property, capital, morality, and other important topics. It was penned by Dr. John Bolt, professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary.
In late 2013, our experts worked hard and traveled far to reach a number of unique groups through leveraged speaking engagements. Some of the organizations sponsoring these events include the Mont Pelerin Society, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jesse Helms Center, Cornerstone University, Bastiat Society, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oral Roberts University, Witherspoon Institute, Lithuanian Free Market Institute, and Sophia Institute.
We were especially encouraged by the aftermath of a recent conference in Germany. Last July, our own Dr. Samuel Gregg spoke at a conference held by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation on religious freedom. After sessions concluded, Gregg was approached by members of the cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who introduced themselves and expressed their appreciation for Acton’s work. It is both gratifying and humbling to learn that our work is impacting those at the highest echelons of power around the world.
Our scholars’ written work has been widely read and disseminated, appearing recently in American Spectator , RealClearReligion , and Intercollegiate Review  (in addition to the other outlets mentioned above). Dr. Jordan J. Ballor, Acton research fellow, was interviewed by the Washington Post  when it was revealed last November that Amazon would pay the Post Office to make Sunday deliveries. “Amazon’s announcement is another incremental development in the erosion of that restful space—Sunday—and another example of an erosion on the limits of market activity.” Ballor expounded on this opinion in a follow-up piece for The Gospel Coalition  titled, “Sabbath Rest and the Moral Limits of Consumption.”
Our six-session DVD series , PovertyCure, is increasingly recognized as a critical resource for its thoughtful, nonpartisan advocacy of free enterprise and personal initiative. To date, the curriculum has been screened on nearly 250 occasions in 20 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. One group, based in Cuba, has held several screenings for local businesspeople and clergy, but had to do so covertly for fear of retribution from the government.
Months ago we decided to promote PovertyCure with a film festival, allowing us to partner with and empower filmmakers around the world as they create visual content promoting free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and authentic human flourishing. We received more than 250 entries from 65 countries, all competing for a shot at $30,000 in awards. The film festival inspired a profound sense of shared purpose, with one attendee writing afterward:
“I recently attended the PovertyCure international short film festival in NYC. The quality of the films presented was outstanding. PovertyCure is one of the most innovative and inspirational initiatives I have seen in a long time. The team has done a remarkable job in helping to reshape the conversation and to accelerate a new global movement!”