In a recent Our View by The Robesonian, Robeson County was called a “welfare county” and the writer credited that as the reason over two-thirds of the county’s voters are registered as Democrats. It was also noted that when it comes to other social issues, Robeson County as a whole tends more to the conservative side. It is a liberal-conservative combination that is not unusual in many parts of the American South.
Robeson is regularly rated as one of the poorest counties in North Carolina, and often leads in negative statistics such as poverty, unemployment and crime rates. The rate of drug and alcohol abuse is high, and the school system consistently underperforms compared with others in our state. Robeson County is also ranked among the top counties in North Carolina for sales of lottery tickets.
If a survey were taken about religious membership and church attendance, Robeson County might be among the leaders there as well. This area is rich with churches, and the people who attend them are faithful and devoted members. People here talk openly about their faith and are eager to share it with others. It makes sense that Robesonians would be more supportive of government programs that feed the poor, provide care for the sick, treat the addicted, and otherwise help those in need, because everyone either needs some help themselves or knows people who do.
Other social issues such as abortion and gay rights are quite different subjects. Any mention of those topics nearly always evokes a strong negative reaction brought about by deeply engrained beliefs that stem from strict religious teachings. Those are among the most divisive subjects in our nation and are usually used to identify whether a person is a “conservative” or a “liberal.”
Perhaps it is true that most Robesonians are fiscally liberal and socially conservative. I believe that a majority of Americans are also some unique combination of the two, and that is why stereotyping people to label them as one or the other is so troublesome. Few people fit perfectly into just one category.
Take me for example. The personal beliefs by which I live are actually quite conservative. I have been faithfully married to one man for over 40 years, don’t gamble, smoke, or do drugs, and rarely drink alcohol. I am a gun owner and support responsible gun ownership, and pray for the day that there is no reason for abortion ever again. As a Christian I believe that what the Bible defines as sin is to be avoided and am particularly reverent of the use of God’s holy name.
Yet with all those conservative values, I am still considered a liberal for one simple reason — because I believe that every individual has the right to make different choices than I make for myself. I don’t expect other people to live by my moral code, and I don’t want to be forced to live by another person’s moral standards either. Simply put, I choose to live a morally conservative life, but don’t support civil or criminal laws that would force others to live the same way.
I find it confusing that some people want unlimited rights for themselves to do as they please, but want to control the personal lives of others by criminalizing what they selectively define as morally wrong. If the Bible is cited to call for laws to ban gay marriage and abortion, it seems there should also be legal consequence for disobeying God’s laws about divorce, adultery, gambling, and lying. Fortunately the American justice system is not based on the biblical definition of sin, and we should all be thankful that it isn’t.
Too often these days people feel the need to judge each other and assign descriptions such as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, and right or left. Yet like Robeson County, every person is a unique combination of many different things. If we would agree to measure each other solely on the individual’s character and actions instead of some stereotypical labels, we might find the big difference in being conservative and liberal is really not how we morally live our own lives. It is whether or not we believe we should have control over the way other people choose to live their own.
Patsy Sheppard is a St. Pauls native and retired school teacher who is active in the Democratic Party.