[#] Dry County? In 2005?

The attached editorial was written by me. For those of you who don’t know, I live in a dry county in Northern Arkansas, and it has been dry since Prohibition was lifted, in spite of two or three referendums on the matter.

Well, there’s a long story attached to the current discussion, and before I get into it, let me say that I think the discussion is good. I don’t agree with those who want to make our county “wet” in the sense of selling beer in grocery stores and convenience marts, but that doesn’t mean that they should not bring it up.

The long story behind the current discussion is that the largest retailer in the world (Always) has, in the last 5 years, demanded that all vendors have an on-site presence at the home office® for the sake of … well, whatever. That mandate has created a massive influx of all kinds of people into a community that has traditionally been old-school American Gothic. It has created massive economic growth and a clash of cultures.

This is the first in a series of editorials I am writing for the local papers. Comments are, of course, welcome.

No matter what comes out of the current discussion over Benton County’s status as “dry”, we will probably not be selling alcohol at Kingdom Bound Books – not even sacramental wine for service use only. That’s not a moral or a doctrinal decision, but an understanding of what we do best – which is to sell Bibles, books and music. I wonder what it is that Benton County does best, and whether that should have a part in the decision to stay “dry” or go “wet”?

We should not be the kind of people who will do anything for a (tax) buck. The greatest argument that the “wet” advocates will present is that the Benton County tax registers are bleeding cash to the surrounding governments – and I’ll leave it up to them to formulate their guess at actual dollars. For the record, I’ll bet half the difference that if I moved my bookstore to Oklahoma – about a mile down 412, more or less – and opened a liquor store right next door, I could increase my net profits by 1000% in spite of any impact on book sales. But that’s not a reason to add liquor to our assortment: it’s an excuse.

Now what’s the difference between a reason to do something and an excuse to do something? When you have a reason, the logic or moral precept dictates the action. When you’re making an excuse, you’ve already decided on what you’re going to do and you’re just trying to find ways to get other people either to agree with or overlook your behavior.

In the case of Kingdom Bound Books moving to West Siloam to add a Spirits department (note to rumor mill: we are not doing that), the case for “excuse” is clear. While it is important for the bookstore to make money, the primary goal for the bookstore is really not money: it is the spiritual edification and growth of our customers. In exactly the same way, the primary goal of Benton County is not to collect tax revenue. Adding liquor would not edify anybody, and it would call into account the integrity of the alleged goal of the rest of the enterprise. I am sure no one would “blame” me for opening a liquor store, but at the same time nobody would shop at the relocated bookstore because my motives for having both would be clear.

Making something legal for the sake of the tax revenue it would generate demonstrates what kind of a community we are. If we are going to decide that tax revenue is grounds for the kinds of activity we are going to legalize, perhaps we know what kind of people we are already and we are only haggling over the price.

Let me be clear that while I do not drink alcohol, I do not begrudge any adult the choice to drink responsibly in any appropriate context. My concern in this letter is that we see ourselves and our motives without any slogans and choose the laws of our county with eyes wide open.