Mayberry Morality (Jul-Aug 1998)

By Matt Dabbs

by Angie Gray
July – August, 1998

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Matthew 13:34)

33How long has it been since you’ve rolled your eyes at the antics of a clumsy and inept deputy sheriff or silently chuckled at the incomprehensible wailings of the town drunk as he rides an uncooperative dairy cow into town? How much time has passed since you’ve had an ongoing crush on Ms. Crump the grade school teacher or attended a revival at the All Souls Church? Can you remember the last time you sat in your own living room, nothing baking in the oven, but have almost been able to smell your Aunt Bee’s steamy fried chicken?

Andy, Opie and Aunt BeeFlip the cable channels of the television set long enough and you will probably smell Aunt Bee’s cooking as it still wafts from a tiny kitchen in the heart of a fictional town in North Carolina. But open the doors of a large classroom in the non-fictional Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville, Alabama and feast on more than her cornbread and baked potatoes. There you will find people who are present because something familiar and timeless has beckoned them, something inspirational and valuable, something that speaks to their own humanity … something Mayberry.

In June of 1998, the Twickenham church began a weekly Bible study based on episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Walk down the halls of their building after class and you may hear several members whistling the famous theme song, smiling thoughtfully … and holding their Bibles. They have just participated in meaningful discussion during a unique and insightful class that begins each week by watchinga 20-minute episode of the classic sitcom. The class is called “Finding the way Back to Mayberry.” The response to this unconventional method of teaching has been overwhelming, and its popularity has even touched the members of the community. In fact, the show has become a source of shared ground to bring in people from many different backgrounds and walks of life and has crossed denominational lines.

Many Americans agree that The Andy Griffith Show was a very unique series, but is it really appropriate to be the topic of a continuous Bible class discussion? Joey Fann, class co-coordinator, has asked himself that question and also marvels that this avenue for the gospel has gotten so much recent attention. Local Huntsville televisions stations, two local newspapers, the Washington Post, USA Today Weekend and a Nashville TV station have all done segments on the class. Fann believes this is strong evidence of how popular and special the show is to many people in the country but moreover that the show highlights man’s humanity to man, a theme that stands the test of time. He says, “Although there are few direct references to the Bible … the show is filled with basic morals and Christian principles taught by the Scriptures.”

Barney Fife“If you are familiar with the series,” continues Fann, “it is not hard to think of an episode that portrayed a specific moral value. For example, ‘Andy On Trial’ shows us the value of friendship and how easy it is to put our friendships at risk when we are concerned with exalting ourselves, and it also shows how just saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t automatically fix everything.”

As the class members view this particular episode they laugh at Barney’s mischief, but his costly decisions eventually hurt Andy’s reputation. And a few have been caught with watery eyes when they observed the value of close friendships during Barney’s touching scene, defending Andy on the witness stand, which draws the episode to a close. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Andy and Opie a-fishinAs the familiar theme song closes the show, hearts become more sensitive. A short outline is handed out to the attendees and class discussion ensues. The various comments are more open because each individual has related to a character in ways he or she may not have expected.

That sometimes we inadvertently put our friendships at risk is just one simple truth that is highlighted with Scripture during Twickenham class discussion. In 1 Samuel 20:4 we hear Jonathan say to David “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.” He even made a covenant with the house of David to reaffirm his oath out of love for him, “because he loved him as he loved himself” (v. 17). It was not Barney’s intention to hurt Andy’s reputation, and his promise of friendship proved true at a crucial moment. Even more important was Andy’s forgiving response to the whole situation. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger … forgiving one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Simple parables challenge our humanity and can even challenge our theology. For instance, in the Mr. McBeevee episode, Andy and Barney are challenged by Opie to believe in someone whose existence they question. But even when Andy made the decision to believe Opie’s story, he did not have all the answers. he simply made the decision. This is a Christian example, admit it. We are also asked to believe in Someone that we often thing doesn’t make sense (Hebrews 11:1, John 20:29).

Mayberry morality. What a concept. The Andy Griffith Show is a series of parables from a time for which many long. Not only was it a time when one could leave the front door or the car unlocked and knew all of the neighbors, but, as Fann relates, “It is a place where people genuinely cared about one another, and where basic morals and ideals were a way of life.”

In a world where situation ethics are the norm, people are still earching for absolutes, searching for examples of truth when society would ask that we only hold on to what is in our personal best interest. This is a welcome contrast to today’s Springer, Seinfeld, and South Park situations where one begins to be tempted to snicker and smile at questionable values. Mayberry situations can still translate into our faith today and it is often easier to learn lessons from the interactions of familiar characters. Although the show is not in itself biblical, the characters and story lines exhibit biblical principles. “And, even though there was never a real Mayberry,” Joey Fann says, “there was a time in our culture where the basic moral values of living were a way of life and not the exception.”

The members of Twickenham have been very supportive of this approach to values. “It has been a team effort, really,” says Fann. Brad Grasham and Lee Segrest, fans of Fife and members of this church, had actually used the show before as material for a teenage class. This idea evolved and with applause from the eldership “Finding the Way Back to Mayberry” was created. The class has had attendees from teenagers to the “Andy Griffith generation,” and all have responded positively, taking the timeless truths to heart. Emily Harless, a teenager, said, “The class is so uplifting, but convicting. Its morals are for all ages. Most of my friends were surprised at how much it actually challenged them and were even more surprised that they even liked the show!” Stan Evans, father of three, also made an important observation: “Even when the characters go about things the wrong way, it does show their hearts’ intention. That is so much like us. We’re only human. It is easier to laugh at ourselves when we laught at them. But then we find that our desire to change is greater, too.” Fann comments that this is the key to the class’s popularity.

Many visitors have driven in from outside of town just to see what the buzz is all about. Fann gets e-mail messages from people who love the idea, want to do the class at their church, or are just glad to hear about a program that promotes these values. One special thing about the response from the recent website posting has been the absence of the denominational boundaries. Fann has received messages from Catholics, Presbyterians, methodists, Baptists, and other churches interested in this concept. His response? “I wish we, as Christians, could find other areas of common ground besides Mayberry to gather strength from.”

The excitement that has been generated by this class is no surprise. Parents usually find themselves recounting morality tales to their children, tales they heard long ago from Aesop’s Fables or an old story-teller named Uncle Remus. Many a preacher will testify that waning attention is revived in the congregation when his sentence simply begins, “I heard a story about a man who….” Most notably it is known that Jesus himself usually did not tell his listeners anything without using a parable (Matthew 13:34). Simple narratives with loaded messages. John Harkin, Twickenham member, said in his prayer before the class, “God, thank you for this medium we all grew up with and help us to relate to it so that we can learn like you taught.” Jesus knows how we listen. We know it too.

At a surprising moment during the Mayberry class I visited, I began to understand an inner truth that I had been trying to articulate with difficulty for days. The class watched the first episode of The Andy Griffith Show when Andy’s Aunt Bee comes to live with them and raise Opie. However, she is not the tomboy the last housekeeper was, and Opie directly refuses her. In spite of the prompting from his father to accept Aunt Bee, Opie continuously uncovers reasons for her t leave. When the young sensitive boy sees how much she has been hurt by his actions, he finally trusts in what his father said and gives her a chance.

My flash of clarity came when I realized my prejudices have a serious influence on my expectations. It is difficult to trust that God is in control when I expect things to “turn out like they always do.” I have found that at times I become way too comfortable with the negative: “I know how it is going to be!” What kind of faith is that?

Sometimes unfortunate things happen, usually by surprise. But the changes of life do come. Sometimes they are so big we let them beat us down. A vital aspect of the pursuit of meaning in those changes is totally trusting in the Father, who has also “seen these things before” … way before. To find the answers, we must trust that he speaks to us through mediums we may not expect. Recently, he spoke to me through Opie. Through this fictional child, I recognized my own humanity, got to know a little bit about myself and consequently named my struggle. The challenge will be, as always, acting on the lesson.

Although the Bible class itself will, as most do, have a measurable duration, these lessons that The Andy Griffith Show teaches will never wear out. Our culture has made it increasingly more difficult to detect people who are predisposed to take responsibility for their own actions. It seems that people are eager to volunteer an excuse or appoint the blame to someone else, but how often will someone take unqualified responsibility? “God made us beings of choice,” says Fann to his class, “so by default we must deal with the consequences of our choices, both good and bad. We can’t listen to the lessons of society and pawn off the bad consequences if we try hard enough.” This show gives us a good example of how to take responsibility for our actions if we just adhere to the biblical values we have been taught.

As fortunate as the Twickenham members have been to have “found their way back to Mayberry,” this class is not God’s only tool to deliver the human race. It does not haul the directive of salvation through Christ, nor does it automatically fetch people into a relationship with God. But from these weekly meetings together, the members of this class have learned the biblical lessons these inspirational parables can provide. They have been renewed, challenged, and changed in surprising ways. Believe it or not, many of them hear sutble wisdom in the babbling of Barney Fife.

Many members have commented that through the avenue of this special class they have made amends with friends, learned from mistakes, or restored ther original promises to be godly people. They have been reminded of basic Christian values such as character, personal responsibility, honesty and integrity. And many have come home to a new smell wafting from the heart of their hms in Huntsville.

The steam from Aunt Bee’s cooking no longer makes their stomachs roar. Nor does the anticipation of popcorn and lemonade joey’s wife, Nicole, has prepared for the Mayberry class on a hot Sunday afternoon. It is, instead, the aroma of Christ that gives rise to their hunger for something more. Is it something Mayberry? Maybe. But I believe it is a scent of something heavenly.Wineskins Magazine

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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