For many of us, the name Mister Rogers instantly floods us with feelings of love and acceptance. Fred Rogers, the friendly neighbor we all grew to know and love over the years, was the man behind the iconic television program - and was as much an inspiration to children on the screen as he was off the screen in the real world.
While you may be most familiar with Mister Rogers as your television neighbor, he was also proudly ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Although he never outwardly pushed his religious views on the show, his faith was far more fundamental to his legacy than you probably believe. Roger’s faith defined him, and his foundational views and beliefs shaped his show and the message it sent.
His mission was to create television that guided children. A lot of his lessons were based on Christian ethics and beliefs, and though he never pushed his religious views, they were an undercurrent in many of his most important lessons. While Mister Rogers had almost a religious following - capturing the attention and devotion of children from all walks of life - one thing about his message always stood out as special and different. Instead of the focus being on our outwards faith and spirituality, Rogers helped his viewers turn the focus inwards. He helped his viewers gain the tools they needed to tap into their own worth and value.
One of Fred Rogers most famous quotes about love and acceptance came at a 2001 commencement address at Middlebury College.
“When we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”
While these lessons may seem basic to us now, in 1968 when his show debuted this wasn’t necessarily the case. Months before Mister Rogers came into our neighborhoods, the world was in turmoil. Race riots rocked the country while the Vietnam War raged on. Americans were in a crisis and needed somewhere to turn, and that is when Fred Rogers began his incredible legacy.
His show was anything but mainstream when it debuted. His views were actually considered quite radical for his time, but he knew he had to get his message out. It was an era of televangelism, and Fred's message to his young viewers couldn't be more different. He repeated to his listeners over and over again:
“You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”
Unlike many television Christians of his time, Rogers goal was simple. He wanted to give children the tools to discover the world through God, even though he didn't push his faith directly.
Author Amy Hollingsworth, who had the honor to meet with Rogers to discuss his faith, told Beliefnet more about the host’s core message.
“He said, once you realize that everybody's your neighbor, you have a choice. You can either be an advocate or an accuser. . . An advocate is somebody who looks through the eyes of God at their neighbor and sees what's good about that person because they're created in God's likeness. That's a very simple, basic truth, but to live that out in our daily lives is tremendously difficult.”
Devoting the first week of his show to issues of war and peace, Mister Rogers brought comfort and faith into families who needed it the most. He didn’t let anybody stop him from spreading his message, and continued changing lives for decades to come.
Hear Mister Rogers give a rare talk about Jesus and his faith in the video below.