- Genesis 15: 1-6
- Psalm 33: 12-22
- Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16
- Luke 12: 32-40
43 years ago, one of the first classes I took in seminary was on the varieties of ways houses of faith communicated their message. I chose to focus on the use of television by comparing and mostly contrasting two rising stars of religious television.
The first was Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia and host of The Old Time Gospel Hour. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Falwell had campaigned against desegregation of schools and started his own all-white private schools as a ministry of the church. When I studied him, he has recently co-founded Liberty University and was increasing his visibility in politics through the Moral Majority.
The other person I studied was a skinny Presbyterian minister whose low-budget local children’s puppet show had been picked up by National Educational Television. His name, of course, was Fred Rogers.
The focus of my paper was had nothing to do with politics. Instead it was contrasting the way each of them connected with their audience. The Old Time Gospel Hour seemed like the kind of tent revival meetings I remembered happening in the summers in the rural town where we lived. Falwell’s church was portrayed as a “pro-life, pro-traditional family values, pro-American” bastion, and his preaching regularly railed against “secular-humanists” and what he called fake Christians, including then President Jimmy Carter.
The consistent theme of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was acceptance and inclusion. While it was not outwardly a religious program, unconditional love was at the forefront of every broadcast, with Rogers reminding his viewers at the end of each show, “I like you just the way you are.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I did in that paper was describe the theological chasm that has been widening ever since. I have examined and attempted to describe exactly what the chasm is but it has so many dimensions that a concise description has thus far eluded me.
Have you ever had the experience of trying to recall something and then it comes to you when you quit thinking about it? That was what happened to me, and it was seeing a trailer for the new Tom Hanks film about Fred Rogers that reminded me that the answer has always been there: it is it scripture itself. “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Are we a community that sets boundaries for entrance and then points out the differences between us and them, or are we a community that removes boundaries and “Likes you just the way you are,” no matter how broken?
Just what is our treasure? More on this Sunday.
Here is a quote from “The World According to Mister Rogers.”
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one really is, that each of us has something no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”