Category: Politics

John C. Kennedy III

John C. Kennedy III

In late September, the Wall Street Journal asked Catholic business leaders for their reaction to Pope Francis’ economic views in an article titled, “For Business, a Papal Pushback.” It ran with the teaser line: “Corporate leaders see merit in pope’s message, if not his broad-brush attack on capitalism.” Journal writer Scott Calvert interviewed Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg for his story. Gregg observed that Pope Francis had characterized market economies as generally exploitative. “He doesn’t seem to want to concede the sheer number of people who have escaped from poverty as a consequence of the opening up of global markets and the activities of business,” he said. “I know a lot of Catholic businessmen who are quite demoralized when they hear the pope talk about the daily reality in which they live.”

I recently had a chance to talk to John C. Kennedy III, a Roman Catholic Grand Rapids, Michigan, businessman and a board member of the Acton Institute, for his read of the Francis visit. Kennedy is president and CEO of Autocam Medical. Before that, he was president and CEO of Autocam Corporation, which he founded in 1988 and sold in 2014 (for PowerBlog coverage of Autocam’s legal pushback against the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide contraceptives and abortifacients go here). Beyond his business commitments, Kennedy devotes time to a number of organizations. He is a member of the Boards of NN, Inc., the parent company of Autocam Corporation, Grand Valley State University, Lacks Enterprises, Shape Corporation, the Van Andel Institute, and Advisory Board Member of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. Kennedy received his BA from the University of Detroit Mercy and his MBA from the University of Michigan.

Our exchange follows:

What was your reaction to the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States?

Pope Francis’s visit was absolutely phenomenal. It really spoke to his leadership qualities. As a Catholic, I was proud of the leader of our church. The stamina of a 78-year-old man who went from morning to night every day, with beginning to end mass coverage, four or five times, was incredible. It’s just absolutely amazing to me. He did a great job. (more…)

RS cover from 2014

RS cover from 2014

On Sept. 10, Rolling Stone magazine published a long article titled “Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics.” From the title alone you could tell where this was headed. Predictably, the magazine asserted that “deeply alarmed by the power of Francis’ message, an entire network of -right-wing Catholic organizations has been increasingly willing to push back against the Vatican.” In ticking off members of this “network” it said this about the Acton Institute and yours truly:

Then there’s the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is run by a Catholic priest named Robert Sirico — he’s the brother of actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos — and hosts forums with titles like “Government: Less Is More.” Sirico recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal attacking “Laudato Si'” for its “decided bias against the free market and suggestions that poverty is the result of a globalized economy,” though he failed to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Acton has received from extraction-industry giants such as Exxon Mobil and the Koch family.

I wrote a response to this article and sent it to Rolling Stone editors but they, not surprisingly, declined to publish it. Here it is in full:

To the Editor:

News Flash! Admitted pro-market think tank accepts donations from pro-market supporters. (“Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics,” Sept. 10).

Of course this revelation is presented in Mr. Mark Benelli’s – what was it, op-ed, news analysis, hit piece? – as something far more sinister, implying, but not saying, that somehow The Acton Institute is controlled by the dark financial interests of evil capitalists, instead of the reality that (1) we hold to a position and (2) we invite others who hold to the same or similar positions to support us.

The deeper journalistic problem with this piece is its sheer superficiality in understanding Catholicism or what the Acton Institute (which, incidentally, is an ecumenical organization that works with people ranging from like-minded Evangelicals to observant Jews) does. This is understandable given that Mr. Benelli relies to a great extent for his research on the hyperbole from the fainting couch of one M.S. Winters who writes a breathless blog for the Rolling Stone of Catholic journalism, the National Catholic Reporter. (more…)

lesmis4The media is buzzing with chatter about immigration and the heartbreaking refugee crisis in the Middle East. Yet even as we learn more about the types of suffering and oppression that these people are fleeing, the temptation to look inward remains.

All of these cases involve a range of complex considerations, to be sure. But in a nation as big and as prosperous as ours, we should find it easier than most to err on the side of welcoming the stranger. Further, as citizens of a country whose success is so deeply rooted in the entrepreneurial efforts and exploits of immigrants and escapees, we ought to understand the profound value and creative capacity of all humankind, regardless of degree or pedigree.

But even before and beyond all that, as Christians, we offer a type of justice that so clearly begins with love of God and neighbor. Ours is an approach that recognizes the importance of rightly ordered relationships, and as with all relationships, that means an embrace of vulnerability and struggle and imagination. Ours is an ethic that relishes in the risk of sacrifice and is willing to deny our man-made priorities of security and comfortability. All that but one might be saved.

This doesn’t mean that we ignore or bypass considerations of political prudence, the rule of law, and the various practical constraints of any free and orderly society. But it does mean that our hearts, hands, and words ought to reflect a basic motivation of love, mercy, and hospitality. For the Christian, building a wall might be the right and just policy outcome for a particular situation, but it ought not be our shining characteristic. (more…)

trade21Many conservatives exhibit a peculiar tendency to be pro-liberty when it comes to business, trade, and wages, but protectionist when it comes to the economic effects of immigration.

It’s an odd disconnect, and yet, as we’ve begun to see with figures like Donald Trump and Rick Santorum, one side is bound to eventually give way. They’ll gush about the glories of competition, but the second immigration gets brought up, they seem to defer to labor-union talking points from ages past.

When pressed on this in a recent podcast, immigration protectionist Mark Krikorian argued that the difference is that immigrants are people not products, and thus they make things a bit more problematic. It’s more complicated and disruptive, he argues, when you’re dealing with actual people who have diverse and ever-shifting dreams. (more…)

We’ve had our busiest Acton Lecture Series in institute history over the course of the first six months of 2015 – we’ve had more public events at the Acton Building in that period of time than we had all of last year, I believe; I’d venture to say that 2015 is already the busiest year in that regard in the 25-year history of the Acton Institute. We’ve had a bit of a pause in the events schedule over the summer, which means that now is a great time to catch up and highlight some events from earlier in the year that you may have missed.

On April 14th, Acton joined with our friends at the Mackinac Center to host Timothy P. Carney – author, senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute – who spoke on the topic “Is Big Business a Danger to Economic Liberty?” Carney’s talk and the Q and A session that followed are now available for your edification via the video player below.

Basic CMYKEarlier this summer a Gallup survey asked respondents to answer the following question:

Between now and the 2016 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates—their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be _______________, would you vote for that person?

The survey provided some interesting findings, such as 25 percent of Americans would not vote for an evangelical Christian. In contrast, fewer people said they would not for a Mormon (18 percent), Jewish (7 percent), or Catholic (6 percent) candidate.

But while that particular finding is disconcerting (at least to Evangelicals like me), there was another result that was even more troubling. The survey found that 46 percent said they would vote for a socialist while 50 percent said they would not.

If you’re a “glass half full” type of person you may find that result reassuring. After all, half of Americans would not vote for a socialist. But keep in mind that nearly half of Americans would also refuse to vote for a Democrat or a Republican.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996)

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996)

At The Catholic World Report, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines the use of the expression “a consistent ethic of life” — a phrase which has been used by Roman Catholic bishops as far back as a 1971 speech delivered by then-Archbishop Humberto Medeiros of Boston. More recently, Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich used the phrase in a Chicago Tribune article about the scandal of Planned Parenthood selling body-parts from aborted children. Elaborating, Cupich said “we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.”

The phrase “a consistent ethic of life” — also known as the “seamless garment” approach to ethics — won widespread currency during the episcopate of another Chicago archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Gregg observes that in approximately 15 addresses delivered between 1983 and 1986, Bernardin “called for the development of such an ethic and outlined how it might inform the way in which Catholics—lay and clerical—approached public policy issues.” Gregg goes on to outline the theological framework for this approach and how it has been applied, or misapplied, in recent decades: (more…)

In an interview with Reason TV, Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey answers a range of questions about why so many intellectuals are opposed to the free market, whether throughout history and to this today.

“Is it a misunderstanding of what business does?” asks Nick Gillespie. “Is it envy? Is it a lack of capacity to understand that what entrepreneurs do or what innovators do?”

Here’s a sample:

Intellectuals have always disdained commerce. That is something that tradesmen did; people that were in a lower class. And so you had minorities, oftentimes did it, like you had the Jews in the West. And when they became wealthy and successful and rose, then they were envied, then they were persecuted and their wealth confiscated, and many times they were run out of country after country. Same thing happened with the Chinese in the East. They were great businesspeople as well. So the intellectuals have always sided kind of with the aristocrats to maintain a society where the businesspeople were kind of kept down. You might say that capitalism was the first time that businesspeople kinda caught a break, because of Adam Smith and the philosophy that came along with that, and the industrial revolution began this huge upwards surge of prosperity.

Mackey does a nice job summarizing the historical and practical forces, but another dynamic worth noting is Thomas Sowell’s notion of the “unconstrained vision” (or the “vision of the anointed”), which one finds among many intellectuals. When Sowell talks about “visions” he’s speaking less to our particular position (vocationally or otherwise) and more to how we perceive the basic nature and destiny of man —“not simply his existing practices,” Sowell writes, “but his ultimate potential and ultimate limitations.” (more…)

Last week, I was pleased to attend the ERLC’s 2015 National Conference on Gospel and Politics, of which the Acton Institute was a proud co-sponsor. The speaker line-up was strikingly rich and diverse, ranging from pastors to writers to politicos to professors, but among them all, Russell Moore’s morning address was the clear stand-out.

Moore began by asking, “How do we as Christians engage in issues that sometimes are political without becoming co-opted by politics and losing the gospel and the mission at the same time?”

Starting from the story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16:25-40), and continuing with a rich perspective on Christian exile and a needed critique of American civil religion, Moore reminds us of how the Gospel has the power to cultivate a community that is equipped to “naturally and organically” bear witness to the outside world — through love, conscience, word, and action.

You can watch and listen here:

I encourage you to watch the whole thing, but for those without the time or in need of a teaser, I’ve highlighted some key excerpts below.

(Also, for those paying attention, Moore’s perspective serves as a fine complement to Acton’s latest film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, particularly the episodes on Exile and the Economy of Order. He also has a new book on cultural engagement that is quite good.) (more…)

We’ve seen lots of commentary on the lopsided outrage over the inhumane death of Cecil the Lion — how the incident has inspired far higher levels of fervor and indignation than the brutal systemic barbarism of the #PPSellsBabyParts controversy or the tragically unjust murder of Samuel Dubose.

At first, I was inclined to shrug off this claim, thinking, “You can feel pointed grief about one while still feeling empathy about the other.” Or, “the facts of the Cecil case are perhaps clearer to more people.” Or, “How can we be sure this imbalance actually exists?”


But alas, the social media rants and media (non-)developments of the past few days have only continued to confirm that the reaction we are witnessing is, indeed, stemming from some kind of distorted social, moral, and spiritual imagination. This isn’t just about what is or isn’t bubbling up in the news cycle. It’s about what’s brewing, and in some cases, festering deep inside our hearts. (more…)