The Acton Institute received extremely positive feedback from those who participated in the first Toward a Free And Virtuous Society Conference in Itaipava, Brazil. The joint Acton and the Inter-Disciplinary Center for Ethics and Economic Population (CIEEP) Colloquium took place on December 11-14, 2007. Alex Catharino, Bishop Antonio Augusto Dias Duarte, Antonio Paulo Carvalho Pierotti, Claudio Tellez, Marcia Xavier de Brito, and Bishop Wilson Tadeu Jonck all served on the faculty for the conference.
Acton’s director of programs Michael Miller spoke of its significance saying, “This is important because Brazil was a center for liberation theology. To have Brazilian bishops working with us is critical because it’s for the people who need it more than anybody else.” Rev. Robert Sirico himself said in his recent Wall Street Journal column, “Today the church is coming to recognize the link between socialism and the loss of freedom, and a shift in thinking is taking place.” Sirico also declared, “A church that emphasizes liberty could play a role in Latin America similar to that which it played in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, as a counterweight in defense of freedom during a time of rising despotism.”
Some of the lectures given by the faculty were titled “Building a Free and Virtuous Society,” “Local Markets and International Trade,” “The Christian Defense of Life and Liberty,“ “The Entrepreneurial Vocation,” and “Economical Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society.” Participant Bruno Giumaraes de Miranda added, “The lecturers showed themselves experts in their fields of knowledge and were very competent in delivering the message. These moments of study are really important because the search for a free and virtuous society is a real challenge.”
In 2001, Fr. Kęstutis Kėvalas, a newly-ordained Catholic priest from Lithuania, attended an Acton Free and Virtuous Society conference in Prague, Czech Republic. The event was life-changing. As Fr. Kėvalas recently wrote to Acton president, Fr. Robert Sirico
I was so thrilled by what I heard from you and from other speakers during that conference, that my perception of Catholic Social Teaching and the ways it can be presented was changed. I understood that what links Christian theology, the free market and the free and virtuous society is the truth about man, and that it is an area requiring enormous exploration.
Fr. Kėvalas credits Acton with leading him towards doctoral work on Catholic ethics and free market ideas. Fr. Kėvalas contacted Elly Barnette (now Acton’s development director) to ask her if she thought Acton’s research director, Dr. Samuel Gregg, would be willing to act as Fr. Kėvalas’ doctoral supervisor. The doctorate was to be undertaken at Vytautas Magnus University, one of Lithuania’s oldest universities. To cite Dr. Gregg: “I had met Fr. Kėvalas at the Prague conference and subsequent events. I knew that Fr. Kėvalas was a very promising priest with scholarly talent. It took me about 5 seconds to agree to supervise him.”
Over the next three years, Fr. Kėvalas worked under Dr. Gregg’s guidance, and defended his doctoral thesis on January 18, 2008. The room in which Fr. Kėvalas’ examination occurred was packed with clergy and businessmen. As Fr. Kėvalas said, “I understood that people are very interested in this theme of the free economy” and its relationship to Christian ethics. During the examination, one examiner – an economist – commented that he “found no contradiction with the logic of economic science.”
Reflecting on Fr. Kėvalas being awarded his doctorate, Dr. Gregg commented: “This is an example of the long term impact of Acton’s work. Fr. Kėvalas lives in a country that maintained its religious identity despite 51 years of enslavement to atheistic-Communism. He’s now equipped to teach the principles of the free and virtuous society, showing young Lithuanians the importance of economic liberty in sustaining human dignity. It’s a beautiful story that Acton’s generous supporters should know about.”
Responding to the film What Would Jesus Buy? from filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, Rev. Sirico appeared on Fox Business News. Sirico called the film a “mockumentary.” Bill Talen, also known as “Reverend” Billy, heads the self-styled Church of Stop Shopping, which replaces more traditional Christian beliefs with a pseudo gospel that declares consumerism is destroying the American spirit. Sirico challenged the producer and Mr. Talen on the show. “I’m not saying people should buy blindly and I’m not saying people should be overly obsessed with the material world…but if you’re concerned about losing the meaning of Christmas, where is Christ in your message?” Sirco declared. The film’s director and Mr. Talen did not offer a plausible answer to this challenge. Sirico does not disagree that Christmas has been overly commercialized, but rather stressed the importance of giving, and the significance of the incarnation. The film unfairly attacks corporations and a free-market economy.
The month of December included over forty radio and television appearances by Acton staff members. In addition, many of the appearances discussed the current presidential campaign as it relates to faith and politics in the public square.
The February 14 Acton Lecture series will feature Dr. Glenn Sunshine in an address titled, “Wealth, Work, and the Church.” Dr. Sunshine is chair of the history department at Central Connecticut State University. He holds his Ph.D. in renaissance and reformation history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.A. in church history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also received his B.A. in linguistics with high honors from Michigan State University in 1980. Sunshine has written several books including the very popular The Reformation for Armchair Theologians (2005).
Dr. Sunshine’s teaching interests encompass the renaissance and reformation in Europe, as well as the history of plagues, economic history, and military history. His current research is on the development of worldviews from the Roman Empire to the postmodern era, supported by a 2006 grant from the Acton Institute.
Sunshine’s lecture will explore the biblical foundations of work and wealth in creation in light of the history of the church to find the proper balance between the competing ideas of earthly riches in Christianity and the explosion of prosperity gospel. Prosperity gospel incorrectly claims poverty is a curse, and that God wants all of his people to be financially prosperous. The lecture will be an extremely beneficial analysis for studying contemporary theological fads compared to a more historical Christian and biblical foundation.
Rev. Robert Sirico will address the follow up Acton Lecture Series in March on “The Rise (and Eventual Downfall) of the New Religious Left.” The 2008 Acton Lecture Series has a new location. All lectures will now be held at St. Cecilia Music Center, 24 Ransom Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All lectures are held on Thursdays from 12 - 1:30pm.
There are still open positions for Acton University, which takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from June 10-13. Acton University is not only for students, donors and friends of the Acton Institute are also invited to attend. If you would like to attend, or you are interested in sponsoring a student please email Acton’s program officer Kara Eagle at firstname.lastname@example.org. The conference website is located at www.acton.org/actonu. Participants will have the unique opportunity to delve into the framework and foundations that makes the free and virtuous highly valuable.