Acton Institute Powerblog

Reflections on Acton’s Twentieth Anniversary

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I remember my first Acton event in 2002, a “Toward a Free and Virtuous Society” conference that I attended as a graduate student.

There are a number of things I remember quite clearly, but perhaps most striking was an occasion when someone said something to the effect that those with wealth are able to do more for the Kingdom of God than the poor. This is basically the same view that was once articulated in John Stossel’s special TV program on greed, that Michael Milkin had done more for the poor than Mother Theresa. To this I responded with the example of the widow’s mite (Mark 12; Luke 21). Fr. Sirico then proceeded to correct the mistaken view in a quite, shall we say, pointed fashion.

The lesson: God doesn’t need your money as such. He wants your obedience. He can turn two minas into millions if he so desires, just as he fed thousands with two loaves and some fish. Don’t let your concern about effectiveness and quantitative analysis distract you from the reality that we are called to be obedient and faithful, sine qua non.

Tonight the Acton Institute is hosting its twentieth anniversary Annual Dinnner. Share your favorite Acton memory from the first twenty years below.

Update: It was a great night all the way around. David Bahnsen passes along his reflections on the dinner: “The Liberty to do what we ought.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Roger McKinney

    Let’s not get things confused. The widow’s mite is an illustration of how God views giving. God considers the proportion of wealth given, not the absolute amount. So Jesus was teaching the people how God views and rewards giving.

    That is not the same thing as actually helping the poor. The widow’s mite would have provided very little help to the poor. Any wealthy person giving a small amount of his money would have helped the poor more than the widow in absolute terms, but God would still reward the widow more.

    It is true that the wealthy help the poor more by investing in new businesses, creating jobs and improving productivity than all of the world’s charity. That is an economic fact. No amount of charity has ever lifted the number of people from absolute poverty as has China over the past 30 years.

    So let’s keep two things separate: if you want to help the poor, the best way is to create jobs for them and that requires investment which only the wealthy can do; but if you want to please God, then give a high percentage of your wealth to the poor whether you are rich or poor.

    Charity is not the only way to help the poor, just as anointing with oil and prayer are not the only ways to care for the sick. God gave us medical science to improve on care for the sick. He gave us economic science to improve on our help for the poor.

  • Roger, I agree, let’s make the distinctions that need to be made. Material poverty isn’t the only concern…that’s in part what’s wrong with liberation theology and the progressive social gospel.

    I don’t think we ought to be opposing entrepreneurship and charity as so many have been doing in recent days. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

    Earn all you can and give all you can are not mutually exclusive. There is good charity just as there is bad work.

  • Jordon asks for a favorite memory. That’s too hard so I’ll offer this:

    It is especially instructive to be in the presence of Acton’s Fr. Sirico because he is a masterly illustration of grace. And he is always making the case for Acton’s work and need for its continuation through a precise telling of the Gospel stories and a consistent reminder that we are co-creators with God — his actors on the stage.

    At the 20th anniversary dinner, Father was saying and punctuating that same message, just like in 1990. Fundementals. What all good coaches stress.