Mr. Rogers is Not my Role Model
I never thought this to be such a controversial or so misunderstood addition to our line. However, the constant response to this shirt that we have received at festivals has completely validated my original vision for it. Everyday, without a doubt, people come up and say, "You know, Mr. Rogers was actually a Navy Seal.” They even go on to explain that he had tattoos all the way up his arms (hence, his need for sweaters). These folks claim that by putting up this shirt we are not only dishonoring a man called into ministry, but also a war hero. While it is true that Fred Rogers was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, the idea that Mr. Rogers ever served in the armed forces is a myth. Mr. Rogers was a good man who never had a break in his television career. There is no evidence whatsoever that he was anything but an entertainer for children. But here is what is important: where did this rumor come from!? I mean, why would anyone long for Mr. Rogers to be a trained killer so much that they would believe this myth and perpetuate it? Seriously, I want you to think about this myth as I unpack the vision of this peculiar shirt.
After being in Christian ministry for ten years I see that the number one mission of most Christian men is to become really, really nice guys. This is very unfortunate. Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating being a jerk. I’ve met some of the nicest church attending men. Most congregations hold nice men up as examples of holiness simply because they don't curse, drink, or smoke. The tragedy is is that most of them would never even consider risking their own personal reputation, let alone their life, for a cause. Boil it all down, was that the goal of Christianity, to create nice people? No! Do you have to even be a Christian to be nice? No! Can't you be an atheist and be really nice? Yes! What about Jesus? Was his mission to be nice and make everyone like Him? Here's a better question: Did the Pharisees and the Romans violently murder Jesus for being Mr. Nice? No! They killed him because of his message. The Jews killed him because he was at war with the Satanic forces that they ideologically aligned with. Why were most of the followers of Christ murdered? Was it for being the nicest guys? Nope. So why is being nice such an idol?
I'm NOT saying that Jesus wasn't kind. If you were a child, a leper, a blind man, or an accused woman Jesus was the kindest man you had ever met. However, if you were a hypocritical Pharisee, a money changer at the temple, or a demon Jesus brought down on you humiliation and destruction.
My mission in creating this shirt was not to bash Fred Rogers. I rather hope to demolish the ideology that is associated with the character he played on his show. The ideology that niceness equals holiness is what I want to challenge. Fred Rogers must be a great guy, but his TV show character is not a man that I would ever want as my role model.
Most Christian parents hope that their boys will grow up and someday be just like Mr. Rogers - sweet and nice. I honestly grew up thinking that Jesus was like Mr. Rogers with a beard. Every picture that I ever saw of Jesus made Him look frail and weak. And then as I got to know Him and read of Him in the Scriptures, I found Him very powerful and fiercely devoted to his mission. He is a lot of other things too, but somehow growing up on flannel graphs I missed the essence of Jesus' dangerous masculine side in Sunday school.
I admit Mr. Rogers is a great teacher to children; he teaches many important lessons encouraging kids to be more loving, but you never hear of Mr. Rogers saying, "Hey kids! Today we are going to learn about gun safety and why our founding fathers thought that it should be a right for citizens to bear arms." Or, "Hey kids! Today we are going to talk about when it's okay and not okay to fight." Or, "Today we are going to talk about the meaning of the word injustice. Can you say in-jus-tice?" As a boy I never deeply longed to grow up and be a nice guy with a button up sweater. I wanted to be a GI-Joe, Hulk Hogan, or Chuck Norris. No one ever told me that the things I love most about Chuck Norris is in the person of Jesus. It wasn't until I was 21 that I heard that the words "The Lord of Hosts" literally mean "The Commander of Angel Armies". So why was I presented with such a wimpy Jesus? And why are churches filled with so many passive nice guys? Could it be because we have idolized niceness and have given up the mission to change the world like Jesus did? Would you prefer nice guys in your church or men who stand for freedom, justice, honor, truth and the Word of God at every turn? Would you prefer men who never fight and always go with the flow or men who constantly want to grow and will never cower in the midst of adversity? The answers to those questions will determine whether or not you will present Jesus or Mr. Rogers as a role model to your kids.
At the same time, I'm not saying that every Christian man needs to be a Bible slinging, Rambo-like street preacher. The man that I want to be like is Jesus, but not our modern feminized version. I want to be like the Jesus who was both loved and hated. Jesus offensively offered His strength to the world and made them deal with it. He didn’t care what anyone thought, He was dead set on His mission and His message. Think of these historical role models: William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wallace, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King. Were any of them known for their niceness? No. None of them worried about being too controversial. They weren't honored for being loved by everyone. However, these men were known for their fierce devotion and love for freedom. Each are known for their absolute unwavering convictions; these role models really changed the world.
This shirt is for those folks who grew up being told that being nice was the mission of Christianity. May those who wear it bring its message with humility and grace. It is our prayer that this shirt begins to set forth a generation of Davids, Daniels, Peters, and Pauls.