In the Autumn 2012 issue of Response, Jeff Van Duzer, wrote an article entitled, “Does Business Matter To God,” on the issue of faith and work. He is a well-respected professor of business law and ethics at Seattle Pacific University who gives a unique look into the role faith plays in business. This entire issue of Response is dedicated to the topics of faith and work. I will write about a few other noteworthy articles over the coming weeks.
Van Duzer starts the article by recounting a conversation he had with his father on the purpose of business. In the middle of his attempt to explain his view on the matter, his dad interrupted him and said:
Jeff, everyone knows what the purpose of business is. The purpose of business is to make money.
The majority of businesses operate with this perspective driving their operations. The biblical worldview, however calls us to a different standard of business operation. Van Duzer captures the essence of this succinctly when he says:
We don’t teach profit as the end of a business. It is the means. The purpose of business is to serve. Profit is the means that enables the business to attract the capital it needs in order for it to pursue its first-order purpose.
In his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, John Paul II speaks to the role of profit and business:
The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied. But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm’s condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people—who make up the firm’s most valuable asset—to be humiliated and their dignity offended. Besides being morally inadmissible, this will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm’s economic efficiency.
In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society. Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.
Van Duzer concludes his article with an insightful illustration on profit:
Consider the analogy of blood in the body. Unless blood is circulating in my body, we don’t need to talk a lot about my purpose. I’m dead. And, unless profit is circulating inside a business, we don’t need to talk about the purpose of that business. It is bankrupt. But which of us gets up in the morning intending to live for the purpose of circulating blood? Blood and profit are absolutely necessary. They just aren’t the purpose.
Read the entire article by Dr. Van Duzer here.
For Further Reading:
Jeff Van Duzer’s book, Why Business Matters to God, explores this topic further. Additionally, Rev. Robert Sirico’s monograph, The Entrepreneurial Vocation depicts the vital role entrepreneurs play in society.