An American bishop has taken on the prejudices of his church congregation by dressing up as a homeless man.
Bishop David Musselman found himself “surprised at my own inability to have compassion” and wanted to challenge those who were critical of others.
“Sometimes the best way to do that is through experiences that go beyond just a talk in church,” the Mormon bishop told Deseret News .
He wanted to see how people would react to him if were dressed as an entirely different person.
So he contacted makeup artist Tara Starling, who with makeup, facial hair, glasses and a beanie, transformed him into a ragged old man.
Last Sunday Bishop Musselman attended his weekly church service in Taylorsville, Utah, not as a preacher, but as a member of the congregation.
He received mixed reactions. At least five people asked him to leave the building, some gave him money, but most were indifferent.
“Many actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me, and they wouldn’t even make eye contact,” he said. “Their inability to even acknowledge me being there was very surprising”.
Some children, however, wanted to offer him money.
“They [the children] 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,” Bishop Musselman said.
“Some parents completely embraced it with their children, other parents were very, very guarded and evasive.”
Halfway through the service, Musselman asked to say a few words before the congregation. As he received a few odd stares, he stood before the people and thanked those for the kindness they has showed him. He asked where the bishop was so that he could return some of the money given to him as a token of his appreciation.
When no one spoke, Bishop Musselman took off his wig and glasses to reveal his true identity.
“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 experiment seems to have had a profound effect on many people. Ms Starling said it has ignited real change in some people’s minds.
“People are sharing that it has really touched them, and it has caused them to think again and look at things in a different way and maybe change their mind about the way that they treat people and to endeavour to look beyond the face, into the heart.”
Ms Starling says being a part of the project has been a rewarding experience.
“I used to dream … (that) the pinnacle of my career would be to work on a film and the film would get nominated for an Academy Award of makeup.”
But people contacting her saying, “Thank you for sharing this. It’s changed my mind. It’s changed my heart, and it’s changed the way that I’m living,” is worth more than all the awards in the world, she said.
Bishop Musselman says the experience has showed him that people have a desire to improve themselves and change their prejudices.
“I learned that more people want to be better than I had originally thought,” he said. “I learned that we don’t know what happened to an individual, and so we can’t and never should try to judge.”