Published November 30, 2013
A bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah received mixed reaction when he disguised himself as a homeless man to teach his Mormon congregation a lesson about compassion.
David Musselman, the bishop of the Taylorsville Fourth Ward, said he decided to alter his appearance as a way to inspire people to show more kindness and acceptance of others, KUTV-TV reported.
"The main thing I was trying to get across was we don't need to be so quick to judge," Musselman told the station.
He received varied reactions to his appearance at church. At least five people asked him to leave the church property, some gave him money and most were indifferent.
"Many actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me, and they wouldn't even make eye contact," he told the Deseret News. "I'd approach them and say, 'Happy Thanksgiving.' Many of them I wouldn't ask for any food or any kind of money, and their inability to even acknowledge me being there was very surprising."
The reaction that touched Musselman the most was from children.
“They looked to their parents to determine whether or not that was safe, and that’s certainly something you would expect and it’s a good thing,” Musselman told the Deseret News. “Some parents completely embraced it with their children, other parents were very, very guarded and evasive.”
Musselman, who told only his second counselor that he would be disguised as a homeless man, walked to the pulpit during the service. He finally revealed his true identity and took off his wig, fake beard and glasses.
"It had a shock value that I did not anticipate," he said. "I really did not have any idea that the members of my ward would gasp as big as they did."
Ward member Jaimi Larsen was among those surprised it was her bishop. "I started feeling ashamed because I didn't say hello to this man ... He was dirty. He was crippled. He was old. He was mumbling to himself," she said.
To make his appearance more convincing, he contacted a Salt Lake City makeup artist to transform his familiar face to that of a stranger not even his family recognized.
Musselman told the Deseret News that his takeaway from his experience is not one about human faults, but about the desire of people to improve themselves.
“I learned that more people want to be better than I had originally thought,” Musselman said. “I learned that we don’t know what happened to an individual, and so we can’t and never should try to judge.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.