The holiday season is upon us, and, while we'd like to think of it as a time for giving, in all reality it can often end up being a food-filled-retail-therapy greedfest where we don't really make time to think about the people who have little to be thankful for — a fact that was made abundantly clear by a bishop who recently disguised himself and went to church as a homeless man, only to be ignored and actively antagonized by his congregation.
David Musselman, a bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, wanted to pull the stunt to teach his congregation a Thanksgiving lesson about charity, and clearly the lesson was well-needed. He was asked by no less than five people to leave church property, and was actively ignored by rest.
"Many actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me, and they wouldn't even make eye contact. 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," he said.
But he added: "I was impressed by the children. I could see in their eyes they wanted to do more."
Musselman — who donned the disguise using a beard, fake glasses and a wig — walked up to the pulpit during the middle of the service and slowly removed his costume, revealing himself and surprising everyone in the church. "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."
The point he was trying to make, he said, was that it's important to be kind to those less fortunate not only during the holidays. "The main thing I was trying to get across was we don't need to be so quick to judge," Musselman said. "To be Christ-like, just acknowledge them."
Although there's something relatively funny (and maybe a little creepy) about the idea of a bishop slowly peeling away layers of a disguise to reveal himself to a pious congregation, the subject matter is actually anything but: Homelessness is a severe and horrifying issue that often gets sidelined amid Black Friday shopping antics and drunken turkey day dinners. Statistics show that the number of Americans who live in a perpetual state of hunger or near-hunger is at a whopping 31,000,000 — in January of last year, 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness. That's roughly 20 homeless people for every 10,000 people in the general population. And in over fifty cities across the U.S., the number of homeless people greatly outnumbered the available transitional housing and emergency shelter spaces, meaning many homeless individuals have nowhere to go but the street. Let's keep that in mind as we wrestle with each other for that last bargain buy.