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‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

Fred Rogers worried at the end of his life if he was a sheep.

That worry was grounded in Jesus’ telling of judgment in Matthew 25 where he speaks of the judgment as being the separation of the sheep from the goats. The sheep were the ones who would enter into the kingdom prepared for them.

Mr. Rogers is one who has no worries. Truly, he was a sheep of the master’s fold.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a documentary about the work that Rogers did in children’s television. The finest expression of that work was his show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

The documentary goes back to the beginning work that Rogers did in television. He began with a show called “Children’s Corner,” but that show did not provide him with what he felt children needed.

After going to seminary, Rogers was ordained by the Presbyterian Church to be an evangelist for children’s television. It was from this that “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was born.

The documentary is filled with interviews of people who were friends with Rogers as well as people who populated the show both in front of and behind the camera.

The universal thing they all said was that Rogers was the same off camera as he was on.

What made him Mr. Rogers was his deep sense of commitment to Christ and Christ’s teachings, and to children’s psychological and spiritual well-being.

His favorite quote was from the writer of “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

His work in television and with children was his ministry, but his ministry did not end there.

Consider the story of Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on the show.

Clemmons famously shared a kiddy pool with Rogers as they cooled their feet. Clemmons is African-American. At that time, blacks were not allowed to share pools with whites.

Rogers sent the message that there was nothing wrong with anyone, even a person of color, sharing anything.

But the story does not end there. Clemmons is gay. Rogers knew this but kept him on the show.

And two years into Clemmons’ time on the show, Rogers told Clemmons that he loved him as he was. This touched Clemmons deeply because he said that his own father never told him he was loved.

This is a wonderful look at someone who touched generations of children. It does not hold back in any way from showing us who Fred Rogers was.

But more important, it shows how a decent man of faith took seriously his call to be a minister to others.

Fred Rogers did the most Christian thing one can do: He loved without limits and without counting the cost.

One of the important questions asked in the film is, “What would Mr. Rogers make of what is going on today with a country divided wider than ever?”

The answer given was this: Mr. Rogers would wade right into the mess we have and use Christ’s love to bring about the healing needed now. That tells me he was truly on the right side of the master.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

Director: Morgan Neville.

The movie’s website is here.

Mike Parnell

Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.