As I address current social issues in a variety of venues, I'm often intrigued by the responses to my analyses. They are remarkably similar, regardless of whether they come from folks who self-identify as “liberal” or “conservative.”
On the other hand, I find it difficult to label my own social ideology. While I have agreements with both liberals and conservatives on several fronts, the intersections with my own philosophy aren’t significant enough to allow me to identify with either.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, my ultimate allegiance is to Him and a biblical worldview. A key teaching of Scripture is that human beings are in the “image of God.” Yet, because of sin, the divine image has been damaged, resulting in human nature and thinking being fundamentally flawed and given to depravity. Because of God’s grace, however, the damage is not absolute, making it possible for humans to do the right thing and achieve a stable society.
When it comes to social vision, both the liberal and conservative views affirm and deny this truth. The liberal perspective seems to affirm human depravity when it comes to the individual. In other words, because individual initiative often falls short, the individual cannot be trusted to do the right thing without external prompting. With this, I agree. However, this perspective seems to deny human depravity when it comes to government. In this view, and of course to varying degrees, it seems that government intervention is seen as the best means of the aforementioned ‘prompting.’ With this, I disagree. Witness the bloated and inefficient government bureaucracy we often encounter when trying to satisfy the very systems they’ve set up.
Conversely, the conservative view seems to affirm human depravity when it comes to the government. In this view, government power has a corrupting influence and cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Individual initiative flourishes best in an atmosphere of freedom. With this, I agree. However, this view, and again, to varying degrees, seems to deny human depravity when it comes to the individual and trusts that freedom will result in individuals doing right with little external prompting. With this, I disagree. Witness the recent post-deregulation chaos on Wall Street and the avarice that led to it.
From my perspective, both the liberal and conservative ideologies as classically understood have an inadequate understanding of human depravity. The liberal view doesn’t seem to take into account that government is run by flawed individuals they don't trust; the conservative view doesn’t seem to take into account that individuals are just as depraved as those who run the very government they resist.
Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. is a theological anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX. Follow Dr. Ellis on Twitter: @CarlEllisJr