Fred Rogers and the love of God

Fred Rogers, better known to most people (at least in my age group and older, anyway) as “Mister Rogers,” died in 2003. He was, without a doubt, probably the closest thing to a saint we’re likely to see walking this Earth for a very long time. His personality was, from all accounts, the same both onscreen and off, and was almost universally loved, even by those who took fond jabs at his measured, eternally calm way of speaking and doing things.

Yet even at that, he was not without controversy. In the years following his death, one bit of information that I have run across caught my eye and has made me ponder it; namely that during his years of being a public figure, he often caught a line of static from more fundamental and evangelical Christians because he refused to use his position to preach against homosexuals and homosexual behavior. When confronted by them, he would respond by instead telling the person he was supposed to condemn, “God loves you just the way you are.” 

When I first read that, I will admit I had mixed emotions, having come from a somewhat fundamental background, myself. On one hand, I could see where some would see that not only as a cop-out or a way to avoid taking a stand, so to speak, but as a potentially dangerous statement in and of itself. While the statement itself is true; God does love us, even while we have not come to Him for forgiveness (Scripture bears that out), many people use that as a way to either push the idea that in the end, everyone will be saved or that God is a cuddly Grandpa who will just wink at what we do wrong and let us into Heaven, anyway. Neither of those ideas are the meaning of that statement, nor does Scripture bear them out. God loving us and God accepting what any of us do that is sinful have nothing to do with one another, nor does one cancel the other out.

If I may digress for a moment, I would also remind anyone reading this that Scripture does call homosexual behavior a sin. Notice the term “a.” That’s “a” as in a list; part of a group. It’s not the sin, it’s not a worse sin, it’s a sin. Society and, unfortunately, a great many Christians have turned it into THE sin, but it’s not. Sin is what separates us all, myself included, from God, according to Christian beliefs; the sin itself, or which sin it is is unimportant. There are no pedestals or grades here. We’re all in the same boat. 

With all of that being said, when I sat back and looked more at the statement in the context of who Fred Rogers was and what he lived and believed, I believe that Mr. Rogers was illustrating the love of God in its truest sense; by remembering that it is his job to show the love and mercy of God to others, and not condemn them outright. When I read Scripture, I don’t see Jesus chasing people down to beat them over the head about their sins. I saw Him confront sin either (a) when people came to Him (think of the woman at the well) , (b) when dealing with the religious leaders of the time who were misusing their position and perverting the Word of God for their own ends instead of teaching and leading the people by example, or (c) when teaching the people en masse.  In my own life, poor example though I may be many times of the love of Christ, I have friends who are adulterers, friends who lie or cheat, friends who are homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, friends who take the Lord’s name in vain; yet I don’t constantly stop them, point my finger in their face and thunder about how what they’re doing is sinful. Why? First and foremost, because I am no better, no more righteous than they are, in God’s eyes. I’m a person just as sinful, who was (and is, at times) just as much in need of forgiveness and who still struggles with his sinful nature, even though he has sought the forgiveness of God through Christ. Secondly, I don’t do it because it’s not my job. I believe Fred Rogers knew, in the end, that it wasn’t his job, either.

I’m reminded of the movie The Keys of The Kingdom, starring Gregory Peck as a Catholic priest who travels to China. Toward the end of the movie a friend of his who has been a staunch atheist his entire life has been hurt and is dying, and Peck’s character, Francis, is at his bedside. Before he dies, his friend says to him that he never loved him more than he did at that moment, because even as he was dying, he didn’t try to “bully him into Heaven.” Francis illustrated that we are called upon to love others, even though we do not love what they are doing or agree with it and that, in the end, everyone must make a choice just as we do.

Far too few, today, remember that our job, as Christians, is to show the love and mercy of Christ to others. It’s to be ready, always, to give an account of the joy that lies within us and, when asked or called upon, to take a stand against the sin we see around us. Stand for what we believe? Absolutely. Hold to it and answer honestly, but with love and caring? Surely. Take it upon ourselves to confront people face to face and collar them about what they are doing wrong in their lives? No.

Specks of dust in the eyes of others, and beams in our own eyes, as I recall.

And you still can’t bully people into Heaven.

Thanks for reading this, and may God bless you today and always.