Did you know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained pastor? Yep, that Mr. Rogers, the beloved never-met-a-sweater-he-didn’t-like children’s TV host. What would it have been like to attend a church service where “Pastor Rogers” preached?
Stop! Don’t watch the video yet—or no milk and cookies for you!
I was in the comedy act Mitch & Allen from 1982 to 1988. Which is why, to this day, people call me “Mitch.” Well, that and because my name is Mitch. Riffing on what Mr. Rogers would be like as a pastor, Allen once ad libbed a few lines during a performance, and the audience loved it! So we started wondering how we could turn it into a sketch. The answer came in the form of Mr. Deacon, a religious hypocrite who would be foil to Pastor Rogers’ laid-back zingers.
OK, you may watch the video now (from Mitch & Allen Live! 1983). But come straight back when you’re done. And don’t get lost!
“God loves you, but if you don’t get right, he’s gonna fry your face off!” A smidge condemning, perhaps. But it sets up the contrast between Pastor Rogers’ convicting words and milquetoast delivery. But first, a word from Mr. Deacon.
Mr. Deacon is the world’s most annoying person. You almost want God to send him to hell just so you won’t have to listen to his hideous groaners and grating laugh. Pastor Rogers speaks of “white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). But Mr. Deacon laughs it off. “We’re talking about ‘church,’” he says, “not our lives.”
Have you ever known a religious hypocrite? I guest-preached at a church in Chicago one Sunday. It was a great morning. Until a stiff-suited man came up and rebuked me for “cussing,” then turned and walked away.
What? (I do not “cuss” when I preach.)
“That was Elder Frank,” the Youth Pastor explained. “You said ‘gee,’ I think, and maybe ‘gosh.”
“And you consider that ‘cussing’?”
“No, but Elder Frank does. But only on Sunday. He cusses like crazy the rest of the week. Plus, I’m pretty sure he’s having an affair with his next door neighbor.”
“Uh…” I stammered.
“I don’t think he gets the whole Jesus thing,” the YP continued. “He’s just ‘religious,’ you know? Long story about how he got to be an elder. We’re trying to fix that. Or him. Or both.”
“It’s the real-life Mr. Deacon!” I brain-snorted.
Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance: the uncomfortable state of living at odds with what you believe.* To resolve it, you have to make one of two choices: either live what you believe, or believe what you live. The first takes effort. And humility. The latter is easy, but requires some mental twisting. E.g. Do you steal from the company you work for? Hey, don’t stop stealing, just tell yourself, “They underpay me and they know it! They expect this. It’s an unofficial fringe benefit.” Voila! You now officially believe what you live.
The problem with believing what you live is that it can be exposed at any time. And then, bang, you’re back to cognitive dissonance! Pastor Rogers’ biblical quips have this effect on Mr. Deacon. Stripped of his false armor, Deacon collapses into a fit of self-pity. Impatiently (“You’re getting my sneakers wet”), Rogers explains that there is a way out. Not simply an escape from some future hell, but from the hell of self-deception—right now. It’s a matter of giving up and letting God remake you into “a new creature.”
Jesus’ message really is that simple. He tells us we must “become like little children.” (Matthew 18:3) Before an infinite Creator, how could it be any other way?
There’s nothing we can give God—and nothing else he wants—but our love.
The real Mr. Rogers understood that. Come to think of it, he was a pretty first-class preacher!
Now, who’s up for milk and cookies?!
If you preach or teach, or would simply like to own a copy of this video, you can download it here!
*This is one of several ways in which the term cognitive dissonance may be applied.