Andy Griffith passed away in 2012, but many are afraid Mayberry had died long before him. The fictitious hometown of Andy's 1960s TV series was an idealized version of America, though it wasn't perfect. Only one episode ever featured an African-American in a speaking role, and painful subjects like alcoholism were occasionally used for comic relief.
However, the thing that touched us about Mayberry was the love shared by the crazy characters who lived there. It was an idea that I'm afraid we have all but lost — "community."
People in Mayberry seemed to really care about each other, in spite of their idiosyncrasies. Even the town drunk was a welcomed guest in Sheriff Andy's jail, and was always treated with the utmost of respect.
Ah, that word "respect." Aretha Franklin sang it, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." That's where I'd like to camp out for a while today.
Chicken Sandwich Wars
This past summer our nation was divided over a seemingly innocent item: a chicken sandwich. The head of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain said in an interview that he believed in a traditional idea of marriage, as defined as "one man and one woman." This was merely his opinion, and did not reflect any policies on hiring or service at the restaurant. If you've ever dined at a Chick-fil-a, you know you'd be lucky to find any company that treats all their customers with more respect. But in response to Dan Cathey's statement, some have called for a nationwide boycott of the restaurant.
So let me see if I understand this properly: in America today, to simply disagree with someone else's lifestyle or opinion is in effect discrimination, hatred and bigotry towards them personally, even if you treat those same people consistently with respect in daily life and business?
This whole debate has put me in a particularly uncomfortable position for two reasons. First, my wife works as a marketing director at a local Chik-fil-A restaurant. I know how honorably CFA has treated my wife, and in turn I know how honorably she has treated every customer, regardless of their lifestyle or beliefs. The second reason this has been tough is that there are people who protested CFA whom I consider my friends — people I love and care about dearly. And as a pastor, I've minister to people on both sides of this issue.
Please don't misunderstand: I am not suggesting that we should all act like a cultural Switzerland, trying to remain neutral for fear of hurting feelings. I actually have strong opinions — on politics and on standing up for what's right.
I believe Dan Cathey has a right to his opinion, and it is also the defintion of marriage to which I hold. It has been the position of many other cultures as well for centuries now. So to express shock and surprise when we show support for this very basic idea seems to me rather disingenuous.
Every one of us has the right to support causes in which we believe. But too often both sides have thought that "taking a stand" meant being rude and disrespectful to the other side. Remember Ephesians 6:12 tells Christians that our war is "not with flesh and blood," but is with spiritual forces working behind the scenes to wreak havoc. But by attacking people instead of ideas, we have arrived at the current cultural stalemate where no one can even express an opinion without being personally attacked and targeted. Unfortunately, through Facebook and the media, I have seen some Christian brothers occasionally doing this along with those on the other side of the issue as well.
Did you notice the election is over?
With the November election, the rhetoric on both sides got more and more extreme. Some conservatives referred to any liberal as a "communist" and some liberals were calling anyone expressing conservative views a "Nazi." So I'm wondering ... if we keep throwing out terms as polarizing as these, where do we have left to go from here?
So here is the most pivotal question: Is it impossible for us as neighbors to "agree to disagree"? Are we so completely intolerant of other's beliefs that we must make everyone who disagrees with us our enemy? If we keep pushing away those with whom we disagree, we will never see the likes of a Mayberry again. Because in Mayberry, people knew how to "disagree agreeably".
The "Thanksgiving Dinner Principle"
This social grace of "agreeing to disagree" is one we have all but lost. But for Christians, I believe showing respect toward those with whom we disagree is our duty. The Apostle Peter put it simply: "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King." (1 Peter 2:17)
I believe we need to invoke what I like to call the "Thanksgiving Dinner principle." Every year when your relatives came together for Thanksgiving, there were several family members who had a wide array of opposing opinions on various issues. But for the sake of the event, there were some subjects you just didn't discuss. You may think that suppressed our individuality, but for us the reason was clear–our relationships were more important than our personal views or political leanings.
Let me put it simply: people > opinions and politics < people.
We need to remember something that Mayberry tried to teach us — that all people have value. People don't always agree, but isn't that part of what makes America great — our "diversity" and "freedom of speech"? Or do we only support speech that agrees with ours? Are we only for cultural diversity as long as it's not too diverse from our own?
It's a Wonderful Life
When I think of how America could be, I go back to another classic about an idealized town: Frank Capra's film "It's A Wonderful Life."
That great scene at the end where everyone comes to George Bailey's rescue, that is what we are missing — "community." Those people were all of different religious backgrounds, nationalities, and probably different political parties as well. But they all respected each other, partly because George Bailey had shown them respect.
But George's nightmare vision of a Pottersville where he'd never been born is exactly where I think our country is quickly moving. We are becoming coarse and hardened toward our neighbors–most of us don't even know the people who live next door. We are hiding behind our house walls and often our church walls as well, trying to keep this frightening world from getting in. We are scared, suspicious and jaded toward those with whom we refuse to seek "common ground."
Perhaps we all need to take a step back from our political rhetoric. Maybe we should take our stand more in the voting booth and a little less on anonymous blogs. Perhaps we should focus more on where we agree than disagree. And maybe we should embrace people more strongly than we embrace our opinions.
If we would do these thing, our country might just start to look a lot more like Mayberry and Bedford Falls again ... and a lot less like Pottersville.
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