This is a very long post, but the Lord has impressed on me that it is vitally important. My prayer and hope is that you will read all of it and consider what your next step will be to make it a reality within your local community of believers.
When I tell people I used to live in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, I am sometimes met with a pinched brow and a quick look for the exits. But, truthfully, Fred Rogers was a neighbor of mine when I attended Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s. We attended the same church and my dorm was right next to WQED, where Rogers taped his children’s show. I routinely ran into him as he walked to work and sometimes even encountered him playing tennis on the college courts. (He was no pushover, either, as many an unsuspecting challenger found out.)
I was very sad a couple years ago when he passed away at what seemed like the young age of 74. To me, Rogers modeled the perfect way with children. He engaged their curiosity, imagination, and innocence all while operating at a speed that the supposedly more enlightened saw as a throwback. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is to Sesame Street as a gentle afternoon spent swaying in a hammock is to a crystal meth high.
Oddly, I got an additional PBS station when I recently downsized my satellite TV to just the local stations. This new station carries Rogers’ show and for the first time I was able to watch it with my son. What a breath of fresh air! Your sense of safety and peace is reinforced in only a half hour. Childhood in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is still filled with wonder, respect, joy, hope, love, sharing, patience, and most of all, innocence.
Looking around, it is hard not to see the assault on Mister Rogers’ ideals. Everything in our culture is now geared to razing his neighborhood.
Childhood innocence, the very backbone of the neighborhood, is sustaining the worst of the demolition. Children know far too much of the adult world at far too early an age. Once exclusive to “adults,” porn use is rampant among young boys—and now even pre-teen girls. Jollyblogger recently posted on the extreme casualness with which most kids treat sex today. Startlingly, sexual activity among children still in elementary school is on the rise. “Hooking-up,” wherein teens engage in casual sex with no sense of relational connection, is proliferating outside of the college campuses where it started, rendering dating archaic even among junior high school students. Abstinence programs do not seem to be working, either, as the rates of STDs among children who took abstinence pledges are no better than their non-pledging counterparts. Part of this is that children are compartmentalizing sexual activity, too, substituting every known form of sexual behavior possible while avoiding strict vaginal sex in an attempt to stay a “virgin”—a misguided technicality that is useless to preserving innocence.
Governmental controls have failed as well. The Lawrence vs. Texas decision opened the floodgates of deviancy, with many organized groups seeking a lowering of consent laws across the country, hoping to have them branded unconstitutional. And while we Christians understand that governmental mandates cannot substitute for the guidance of the Holy Spirit illuminating our understanding of right and wrong, Christian young people are only a couple percentage points lower than their unbelieving counterparts in having sex outside of marriage.
Beyond sexual mores, we know that drug use is once again picking up, and that our public schools are unable to teach because they are spending most of their time either combating delinquency or contributing to it by succumbing to pressure groups seeking to introduce all manner of deviancy into the lives of unwitting children. It is hard to fault Christians who are abandoning public education.
The assault is coming on multiple fronts. The neighborhood is slowly being razed.
As I look at this, I have come to learn that the mantra that parents are responsible for their own children is too simplistic. We are ignorant if we hold this as our sole line of defense. The problem extends beyond the individual family home.
We Christians must come to understand that we have bought the lie of the safety of the family home. Too many Christian sources are holding the home as the vanguard, but Fred Rogers’ show was NOT called Mister Rogers’ Home for a reason. It is the neighborhood that matters, the community that surrounds the individual home that makes of the intricate web of support and protection we need.
This is not a call to enact Hillary Clinton’s secular village, but it is a wake-up call for us to see that even good parents who do everything right are watching their kids and household taken down because they have become to isolated from a truly caring community that can undergird them. We need to revise the saying “No man is an island,” to be “No family is an island.” The Enemy will take down one island at a time—and is very successfully doing so—because we are forgetting the strength of the neighborhood.
We Christians are a neighborhood, the Community of Faith. Within any church we have a responsibility to look out not only for our own family, but the rest of the families around us.
Christian men, do you understand that it is your responsibility to see that no young woman in your church goes astray? What are you doing to place a hedge of protection around not only your daughter, but the daughters of other people in your church? There are few things more precious than a young woman coming into her womanhood. What are you doing to ensure she makes it to her marriage bed undefiled? When young men in the church see how zealously the older men in the church guard the innocence of the young women in the church, will that not inform their ideas of what it means to be a man, and how they should treat all women? What young man would dare try anything with a young woman so protected?
One father cannot stand against the tide of wickedness, but a whole host of fathers can. Likewise, the women in the church should stand together to ensure that no young man lacks the tender love a mother can provide. Older women fail to understand what they can teach young men about themselves and about women as a whole. Their responsibility to young women is like that of the men, too. No woman should let any young woman fall into sexual sin, not only by training up their sons to respect the purity of their sisters in Christ, but by keeping watch over all the young women in the church, just as the men should.
This extends far beyond sexual purity, too. We as a community of believers need to do a better job of instructing our young people in the ways of the Lord AS A COMMUNITY. Foisting them off on Sunday School teachers and youth pastors is wrong. We need to be teaching our children within our own homes, but also teaching them as a unified community. The men must consider standing united to reach the young men in the church and the women must do the same with the young women. I strongly advocate sex-specific rites of passage within every church tied in with youth assuming adult responsibilities within the church. In my day, this was called catechism. We need to go even further than catechism, though, by addressing not simply the spiritual needs of the young men as a community of men (and young women as a community of women), but ALL aspects of life, working with young people to have a coherent Christian worldview that bridges the supernatural and natural worlds.
Failure is not an option. If we Christians persist in our island thinking, the Enemy will continue to plunder us one household at a time. It is not enough to ensure the success of our own household; we must break out of that selfish thinking to incorporate ensuring the success of every household within our immediate church. Community still means something, and we MUST come to grips with our fractured view of community (and our responsibilities within that community) if we are to surmount these vitally significant issues and raise the neighborhood instead of watching it razed.
Our children—and their innocence—are depending on us.