Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joel L. Watts Headshot

Mr. Rogers Can Still Teach Us (About Biblical Context)

Posted: Updated:

Fred Rogers (1928-2003) is perhaps one of the most beloved characters from many of our childhoods. For those of you too young to remember, he was the guy with the soft, unassuming voice who brought us education and morality lessons disguised as puppet shows.

Currently, there is a gif circulating whereby we see another side of Mr. Rogers -- one who exhibits an adult gesture usually employed when a driver cuts you off rather rudely in traffic. That's right. Mr. Rogers gives the ole one finger salute, the real American bird. It is only a second or two gif used to make a statement on the Internet -- usually on reddit.

When I first saw this gif floating around, I immediately thought of former President George W. Bush who famously gave the same finger to a camera crew while governor, and presumably super evangelical, of Texas. Both men were Christians (Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian) and both were held to this high position of always presenting themselves with a certain amount of civility. I was disgusted. Crushed.

But, there is a larger reality to this terrible, childhood-ending gif. Rather than this gif representing an actual event of Mr. Rogers flipping people off, it represents something much more... innocuous. Simply, he was singing the childhood favorite Thumbkin. This song, for those of you with unfulfilled childhoods, is a short ditty recognizing each finger. It helps with finer motor skills among other things.  The gif is pulled from the segment focused on the digitus impudicus. Ordinarily, this is Mr. Rogers doing what he does best, teaching children something; however, taken completely out of context, it provides hours of immature behavior whereby internet trolls and others can use it to pull an 'Old Hoss Radbourn.'

Context is key, isn't it? By focusing on the minute gif, we are led to believe "Mr. Rogers" is nothing more than a front for a depraved individual who has a double life. On camera, Fred is that lovable childhood friend asking for neighbors. Off camera, he is one of us -- rude, crude and unapologetically so. I mean, he is laughing while doing it!

While Fred Rogers has long since left us, he can still teach us something. When reading Scripture, we are told to read it in sections. This is how yearly reading plans and other devotionals are scripted -- to highlight sections and paragraphs or maybe individual psalms or chapters. Some sermons are based on topics where the preacher selects verses to support his chosen theme. The verse, paragraph, and chapters are removed from their context and placed before us much like gifs. They are rendered meaningless and often used to give a false impression of the actual meaning.

I've written before about Romans 1.26-32 before and how it is sorely removed and thus abused to render homosexuality the gravest of all sins. This is why AIDs is seen as the "due recompense" for the "gay lifestyle" among other ignorant claims. When a verse or a passage is removed from its natural surrounding, it is left anchorless to its historical context. The author truly dies when we do this because we then become the re-author.

The same is said of 1 Corinthians 6.9-11. There are two words there -- usually translated to relate to homosexuality. The problem is that Paul is not yet ready to discuss personal sexual immorality. Here, he is discussing what we do to one another. We steal, lust with greed, and abuse others in a variety of ways. In the next section, Paul turns to sexual immorality that focuses on the individual. Here, he states 'all things are lawful for me' but swears off the inability to control the lawfulness. His goal is about self-control.

Notice the dichotomy presented in 6.17. There is a sin against others -- and that is a sin outside the body. However, there is a sin -- sexual immorality -- against one's self. But, what sort of sexual immorality is mentioned? It is the use of sacred prostitution. Note the clear language here. The words are well defined. So is the context. Paul is arguing against joining ourselves to other gods.

Let's step up for a moment. Hosea uses some really dicey language to describe Israel. God tells him to marry prostitutes to showcase what Israel is. This is what we might call spiritual adultery. When you (Israel or the Church) worship other gods, you are committing a sin against your husband (God or Christ). We know there were temple prostitutes where you could render your service to the god of your choice through sex acts with prostitutes. Nothing here would lead us to have to choose between the two interpretations.

One would think that if what we have labeled homosexuality was such a huge deal for Paul, he would spend more time with it rather than speaking on allegorical themes such as spiritual adultery.

But, this is the problem with taking "gifs" of the New Testament to make our point. We can take verses out of context if we want -- and then sit back and allow others to do the same -- but we are only cheating ourselves out of sincere theological discussions and cheating others out of a real relationship with Jesus Christ.

Fred Rogers is still teaching today. Context matters. Don't "gif" the New Testament.