Tom Hanks recently scored a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Fred Rogers (better known as Mister Rogers) in the biopic film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
While the film has been a commercial and critical success, there is one thing glaringly absent from Hollywood’s portrayal of the beloved Rogers: his devout Christian faith. As Rogers’ biographer points out, it was “a relentless sense of service to God [that] drove every moment of Fred Rogers’s life,” including his work as a telecommunicator.
Here are three faith-filled scenes that were common in Fred’s life that you won’t find in this film:
- Before Rogers left for work each morning, he committed himself to the reading of his Bible.
Without daily reminding himself of the truths of Scripture, Rogers would have been unable to effectively demonstrate the love of Christ on television. As one of Rogers’s former staffers once said, “I think [Fred] had very Christlike qualities, and that is part of what drew children. Children know a fraud more than anyone….He was one of the most authentic and Christlike people that I have ever known.”
- Once Rogers arrived at the studio each day, he would pray over his work and that of his team’s.
As Rogers once said, “I’m so convinced that the space between the television set and the viewer is holy ground. And what we put on the television can, by the Holy Spirit, be translated into what this person needs to hear and see, and without that translation it’s all dross as far as I’m concerned. When I walk in that studio door each day, I say, ‘Dear God, let some word that is heard be Yours.’” So, while Rogers worked hard at communicating the gospel through his work, he ultimately relied on the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of his audience.
- Rogers’s faith is precisely what drove him to work with an “iron insistence upon meeting the highest standards without qualification.”
But Fred Rogers’s definition of excellence was quite different from other children’s television producers at the time who focused on elaborate sets, flashy special effects, and the highest “production value.” None of these things were “essential” in Rogers’s eyes. As a quote on his desk constantly reminded him, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Fred Rogers’s exacting standards applied to how he and his staff loved people on and off-air and how well the show communicated difficult concepts to children. Rogers was known for scripting out every single word of Neighborhood and rewriting scripts in the middle of production to ensure they were speaking in the clearest and most loving terms to the show’s television neighbors.
Fred Rogers used to remind his audience that “everyone’s job is important.” This of course stemmed from a deeply religious belief that work is a good, God-ordained gift and one of the primary ways in which we serve the world. And if that’s true, we all ought to have the highest standards for excellence in our work. I pray that a better understanding of Rogers’s faith will lead us all to strive to do our most exceptional work in service of our neighbors.
This article was adapted from Jordan Raynor’s new book, Master of One: Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do (WaterBrook), in which he profiles more than 20 Christians who have been world class at their vocations, including TV legend Mister Rogers, Simplified CEO Emily Ley, NFL Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy and Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis.