SERVICE IN THE ECONOMIC ORDER
A Sermon preached in St. Andrew’s Church
Detroit, Michigan January 23, 1966
At the Dedication of the Window
in memory of Joseph M. Dodge
Richard S. Emrich
Seventh Bishop of Michigan
Dear friends, we are gathered to dedicate a window to the glory of God and to honor the memory of Joseph M. Dodge. The names of great and talented men pass quickly from the memory of the world, and it is moving to reflect that millions of people in Japan, Austria, Germany, and here benefit by his work without knowing his name.
Just as children are strong and healthy who have never heard of Doctor Salk, so there are millions who build on a good economic foundation who never heard of Joseph Dodge.
It is right and fitting, therefore, that those of us who knew him best should honor him by an outer memorial. It is good that we should pause and express gratitude to a man on whose shoulders we stand, even though (since many of us are not economists) we could not explain exactly how we stand on his shoulders. But we know we do.
True humility is not simply being grateful to God; it is also being grateful to men – for the blessings of God, who is the ultimate Source of all things, are mediated to us by our fellowmen.
Since we honor a man, not simply by plaques and windows, but also by seeing the meaning of the work to which he gave himself, and then in some way carrying it on ourselves, let us think together about the meaning and importance of work in the economic order – that sphere of life which has the strongest natural interest for us, because it has to do with the roof over our heads, the food we eat, and our security for the morrow.
By the “economic order” I mean simply the complicated process by which the material goods, necessary for life, are produced, distributed, and consumed. It is a matter in which we are all involved, and all concerned; it involves the good earth, men, tools, and finance. It involves enormous technical skills, and yet – like all of life – it is an extension of the moral order.
Let us look at this sphere of life in which Joseph Dodge served so well.
First, the clear purpose of the economic order is to provide the individual and the community with the material basis necessary for life. If it does this, we may say it is a good economic system; if it does not, we may say it is a poor one. So – we point to the drabness of East Berlin, compared to the vitality of West Berlin; and others point a finger at the dark failure of our great depression.
Because the economic order provides the goods necessary for life, our spiritual tradition says it is part of the Divine Will for the world and a great sphere of life in which God and man can be served.
It is unfortunate this is not said more often today for, if the service of God and man is not stressed, the great meaning of the work is removed.
And, if it’s greatest meaning is removed, so is its dignity. The so-called “tough realists” of the economic order are it’s most serious enemies – for what man at his best really wants to enter a profession which is not motivated by service and the highest responsibility? So we serve God and man in Education, Medicine, Law, Church, but not in the economic order? What nonsense!
Let me put it this way. When men lift their glasses and toast one another, they say most often, “To your good health”, because physical health is the foundation of everything else – of sport, travel, study, the joys of family, even preaching! In exactly the same way we should toast the economic order for it, too, is the material foundation of all life – of family, university, church, and Nation.
We do not exist without the economic world, and, therefore, the meaning of work in it is obvious. Since we can not imagine human life without it, I repeat our spiritual heritage affirms the economic order is part of the Divine Plan. And so important is this base that St. Paul said bluntly, “If a man will not work, neither let him eat.” No man (rich or poor) should be a parasite.
Working in the economic order, then, is not “low” as compared with the “high” of work in other professions. Rightly understood, it is the service of God.
And Joseph Dodge, bringing order out of chaos, could offer his work as service as surely as Doctor Salk. And so, at the end of this first point, seeing the meaning of his work, I say a prayer, or give a toast, for a good economy! And I express a gratitude to all who serve responsibly in the economic order.
Second, we see the meaning of the economic order if we turn to the deepest meaning of private property, which is assumed in Scripture and Prayer Book, and taught by our spiritual heritage. Not only do Christ’s Parables assume a man owned sheep; a rich man, barns; a woman, coins; a father, a fatted calf; and a widow, a mite; but the Commandment against stealing assumes there is private property to steal.
It is not selfish property or harsh property that is taught, but property in community, property with responsibility, property held in stewardship. The principle of private property is assumed, because it under girds the highest things of the spirit. It is not simply a material matter. Property, of course, can be abused; but so can everything else.
To begin – it is the basis of family life. One can not imagine family life without it. It is the basis of freedom, my privacy as against that of other men; my privacy as against the intrusion of the State.
To have property means one is free for reading, for culture, for fun, for that vacation trip, free to drive to Church this morning. It means hope for one’s children, one of the strongest drives in any man’s life. It means the ability to be generous and hospitable. It means a decent pride in what one owns, for we always take better care of our own houses and cars than we do of those we rent.
It means love of Country, for we tend to love that which has blessed us and in which we have a stake. It means stability in the social order, for it is obviously the poor of the earth who do not care whether the boat is rocked. What have they to lose?
If private property means all this (and more), it should be our duty and desire to spread it, not confine it. It is like freedom – if it is confined to a few, or to a class, it is not safe. If it blesses life, the blessings should be spread.
How wrong it is, then, to look on the defense of private property as somehow materialistic or unspiritual! How wrong it is glibly to contrast property rights and human rights when it is evident property rights are human rights! If we forget the community has its rights, that we are social creatures with social duties, the defense of property can be low, mean, selfish, and materialistic.
But that is the abuse of the principle, not its truth. Anything can be abused, even a Bishop’s office. As we should, we are thinking about the principle at its best, remembering that all rights have parallel duties.
When Joseph Dodge, then, refounded – or helped to reconstitute – the economies of Nations, he was under girding the family life, the freedoms, the pride, the love of Country, and the hopes of millions. He was working to under gird the highest things of the human spirit, for man is not a disembodied spirit, an angel floating in the air. He is a mysterious combination of body and spirit who needs a material foundation as surely as he needs the things of the spirit. He does live by bread alone – that is true; but he doesn’t live without bread either.
Third, finally, some closing principles which have already been assumed.
Like all things, the economic order goes wrong when it becomes an end in itself. It is part of life, an important part, but only a part. And, as civilized people, we are not meant to engage in it for its own sake, but so all of us may live in a truly human way.
Money and property are never ends in themselves (except to the vulgar). They are a means to civilized and human living. As our economic system matures, we are recognizing this – for working conditions have been made more human, and a growing sense of civic responsibility is now part of the business world.
The economic order is made for man, and not man for the economic order. It is a means, not an end; a part, not the whole; an instrument, not an absolute. It exists to serve men.
Since we live in a world, which will always have its imperfections, and have therefore inherited an economic order, which is imperfect, we should never indulge in Utopian dreams or fantastic speculations about the perfect economic system. Joseph Dodge never did this.
We are to serve God and men here and now, in this real world, patching and improving rather than dreaming and destroying.
One of the reasons for our American prosperity is that we have refused to wreck our imperfect system for the sake of a perfect blueprint, to stop the existing machinery to reform the world on perfect lines.
We have patched, tinkered, and reformed where necessary, and kept the machinery running. Since the only materials are those we have been given, the first question we must ask is not, “How can I alter this system?” but rather, “How can I best serve in it:”
We will continue to work, and to change and adapt where necessary – for change is a law of life, and if we can not change, we can not preserve.
But it will be this order, the only one we have, that we will improve. It is wise to remember no economic or political order on this earth will ever be without its great and observable faults. Responsible men do the best they can with the material at hand; they do not destroy the only order they have for the sake of untried speculations.
Since the economic order must use the motives of men as they are, it is not wrong, but right, to employ special stimuli and rewards to secure economic vitality so the total activity may better provide us with the necessities of life.
Men have many motives in this world. They are acquisitive, but not simply acquisitive; they are concerned with money, but not simply money; they want profit, but not simply profit. They also want meaning, purpose, and fellowship in their work. There are many motives in life, and the important thing is to keep the motives in their proper order, not to destroy motives or to pretend they do not exist.
I thought of this the other day when one of my sons, who is a lawyer, called us to say he had received a raise in salary. I hope he will always have the highest conception of the law and that to live with honor will always be his highest motive. But also know getting a raise cheered him, rewarded him, encouraged him, and that he will hope for another.
That is the way men are and the way they will be. It is not wrong to desire profit; it is wrong to put profit ahead of honor. It is not wrong to desire a raise; is wrong to be dishonest in getting it.
It was with this wisdom that Joseph Dodge worked (not a dreamer, but a highly skilled and sagacious man; an enormous worker, who sometimes worked too hard) in the actual world in which God had placed him. That is the way Joseph Dodge worked, and that is the way every man ought to work.
Almighty God, we remember this day before Thee, Thy Faithful Servant, Joseph, and we pray Thee that, having opened to him the gates of larger life, Thou wilt receive him more and more into Thy joyful service; that he may win, with Thee and Thy servants everywhere, the eternal victory; though Jesus Christ our Lord.