Choosing Between Two Pulpits

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)

Just before graduating from college, Fred Rogers turned on a television for the first time, and what he saw totally appalled him. “I saw people dressed in some kind of costumes, literally throwing pies in each other’s faces,” Rogers later recalled. “I was astounded at that.”

Rogers’s first impression of TV was that it was gimmicky and even demeaning—especially to children. But while Rogers “hated” what he saw in that first show, he was also intrigued by a vision he had for how the medium of television could be redeemed and used for good, particularly in demonstrating Christ-like character to children. Not only that, but in television, Rogers saw an opportunity to channel all of his varied gifts in a single direction. “And so I said to my parents, ‘You know, I don’t think I’ll go to seminary right away; I think maybe I’ll go into television,’” Rogers said.

Eventually, Rogers did both, attending seminary classes on his lunch breaks while producing his show. But upon graduation from Western Theological Seminary, Rogers knew he had to choose between TV and pastoral ministry. For Rogers, the decision to commit to a career in television was a relatively easy one, as he felt that’s where he could be of the utmost service to his “neighbors.” In the mind of Fred Rogers, there was no divide between the sacred and the secular. He understood that man’s first calling in the Garden was to emulate the Creator Father by creating new things (Genesis 1:28) and that the path to having the greatest cultural impact for the gospel is often found in embracing the call to create.

While Rogers didn’t want to pastor a church, he did desire to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church with an explicit call to ministry through television. But the Presbytery had its reservations. At a meeting in which the local Presbytery was debating the issue, Reverend Bill Barker addressed the elders on Rogers’s behalf, saying, “Here’s an individual who has his pulpit proudly in front of a TV camera. His congregation are little people from the ages of about two or three on up to about seven or eight …This is a man who has been authentically called by the Lord as much as any of you guys sitting out there.”

The Presbytery eventually did ordain Rogers, but this action only served to formalize what Rogers already knew to be true: that he was called to create as a means of influencing culture with the Christian values he held so dear. Later in his career, Rogers said, “No matter what our particular job, especially in our world today, we all are called to be ‘tikkun olam’—repairers of creation.” As we will see over the next two weeks, that deep sense of calling to “repair creation” with the gospel message impacted what Rogers produced on Neighborhood and how he produced the show, giving us a model to follow as we seek to influence culture for Christ.


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