During the 80s, I lived in a small country town for four years that reminded me of Mayberry, at least when we first arrived. I discerned one major difference during my time there. Recently, during my slow recuperation from surgery, as I rewatched the first three seasons of the Andy Griffith Show on Netflix, I noticed a second major difference.
- First, our little Mayberry had no Sheriff Taylor to help people see the light and change their behavior. Andy’s Mayberry was filled with nice folks who were gossips, petty, easily offended, xenophobic, and just plain ornery. But Andy would sweet-talk them, trick them, and find their better angels so that by the end of the episode it was group hugs and kumbaya. Our town saw the grudges continued, the gossip run wild, racism and xenophobia rule, and the sheriff, nice guy that he was, lacked Andy’s magic touch.
- During my recent recuperatory binge, I noticed something more disturbing. Our town had Black people and Mayberry had none. A small town in rural North Carolina with no minorities? Seems fishy, doesn’t it? I can’t remember seeing anybody but White folks so far in the episodes I’ve watched or in my memory of others. Clean, quiet, happy Mayberry has been completely sanitized not just of racial issues but of other races.
I understand that the Andy Griffith Show was a product of its time and wasn’t meant to be a cutting-edge social commentary. But if those of us in traditional SBC churches mention Mayberry this Sunday in our messages there will be heads nodding and a haze of contented joy on faces. We long for that quiet, calm life when you could sit on the porch and strum the guitar and everybody was nice to everybody else. But our nostalgia for that bucolic life, for the good old days of Mayberry, may be overlooking that there was a sizable segment of the population photoshopped out of the picture – that’s how it was back then. Minorities were supposed to “know their place and stay in it” – words I heard in one form or another more than once in my Mayberry.
While I lived in Mayberry, one of my deacons invited three Black teens to play basketball on the hoop in the church parking lot. The goal magically disappeared the next day and our business meeting the next Sunday became a time of great joy. People filed in I hadn’t seen in church in months – never a good sign! They adopted the budget but deleted my raise and my best friend in the church was up for election as a deacon and failed to get a majority. One man said, “We sent the pastor a message.”
If Andy Griffith were a real sheriff he’d have to deal with issues like that and I doubt he could have fixed it. Would he have even tried? I wonder if I should have fought harder in that church and gotten myself fired – I suppose I will find out at the judgment seat. We had bylaws that opened the doors to anyone but people knew who was welcome and who was not. Even Andy’s folksy charm would have failed against the deeply ingrained attitudes in my Mayberry.
(Note: This church had many fine and godly people and recently they welcomed their first Black members into the church. God is faithful to his church!)
Perhaps I should stop watching Andy, but I won’t. It’s still among the finest shows ever and there is no better TV than the first season’s Christmas episode. We do not benefit from sanitizing our past like Mayberry sanitized its streets. I nearly had “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” memorized as a boy. If I’d spent as much time reading the Bible my high school years would have been different. It does no good to pretend these eras didn’t exist. Mark Twain spun great stories, but he also reminds us of ugly times when people made in the image of God were treated like beasts. Andy Griffith shows that decent, good, kind folks can turn a blind eye to racism and live their lives pretending “those folks” don’t matter and don’t exist. Better that we remember than that we participate in metaphorical book burning and act as if these things never happened.
Revel in the rascally misadventures of Tom Sawyer (I may load the Kindle tonight), but let it remind you that once our forefathers dehumanized people because of the color of their skin and commit yourself to letting the love of Christ break down human walls. Laugh as Andy torments the strutting Barney, but let your mind’s eye wander behind the facade to needy and forgotten people who no one saw.
Isn’t that who we are supposed to be? One of my favorite passages is Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. He reminds the prideful Corinthians, so enamored of their knowledge and spirituality, that not many of them were rich or noble or important when God called them in Christ – that sound was the air escaping from their over-inflated egos. Paul encapsulated the way of God in verses 28-29.
God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence.
God chose those the good folks of Mayberry ignored, right? He seeks the insignificant and the despised, those the world says have no value, and he redeems them in Christ and infuses them with the eternal riches of his grace! That way, no one can boast except in the saving grace of Christ.
Now, if God seeks out “what is viewed as nothing” in this world, ought not we to do the same? Label it “social justice warrior” if you want, but it is the way of God. We look to love and serve the abused instead of protecting the abusers. We look to show the immigrant that many disdain that he is loved by God and by the people of God. We tear down every cultural barrier that White America has erected so that we can show our Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native, and people of any other race that we believe the words of the children’s song that “they are precious in HIS sight.” As Christ did, we choose what is insignificant in worldly terms, what is despised, what is nothing. And to that world, we shine the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The church needs the eyes of God to look past the facade and to see all the people of Mayberry.