When Chris May decided to start a new Sunday-school class a few
weeks ago, he searched for a lesson book that wouldn't be
controversial or too heavy. He wanted something to unite the class
while stirring discussions about life.
He found it in the black- and-white reruns of "The Andy Griffith
Every Sunday morning, Mr. May and a small group of 30-somethings
gather in the preacher's office of Henderson Methodist Church here
to watch and learn from the TV program's timeless values.
"You realize that Andy is like God, and Barney's the rest of us,"
says May. "It's nonthreatening and gives you a different and new
way of thinking about life."
Mayberry, R.F.D., seems an odd place to look for religion and the
answers to life's secrets. Sheriff Andy Taylor, his son, Opie;
deputy Barney Fife; Aunt Bee; and town drunk Otis also seem like
the most unlikely of spiritual guides.
But from Georgia to New Mexico, Bible-study classes are turning
to the golden age of television for classic spiritual lessons,
while teaching scriptures through characters that almost everyone
can relate to on some deeper level. But what is gained in
accessibility may be offset by what critics see as a cheapening of
spirituality. Possibly, they point out, watching TV is not meant to
be a substitute for prayer.
"Many of the older shows offer brief lessons on a variety of
virtues, such as honesty, trust, courage, and hard work and the
importance of love and friendship and community," says Tom Hibbs, a
professor at Boston College. "They also subtly reinforce the
trustworthiness and reliability of authority figures like parents
Joey Fann, a long-time fan of "The Andy Griffith Show" and a
software engineer, began the class at Twickenham Church of Christ
in Huntsville, Ala., two years ago, along with a friend. Through
the Internet, the class swept the country and crossed
denominational lines as it offered moral guidance in a simple way -
by teaching to be good and do good.
Now, video tapes and a Bible study book that link related
Scriptures to 12 episodes are available for classes to use.
* Opie accidentally kills a mother bird with his slingshot, and
Andy makes him care for the orphaned babies. (Romans 8:28, ''And we
know that all things work together for good to them that love God,
to them who are the called according to his purpose.'')
* Andy tries selling his house, and Opie makes him tell
prospective buyers about the flaws. (Luke 8:15, ''But that on the
good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having
heard the word, keep it. …