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2:55 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

Costumed As Homeless, Mormon Bishop Teaches A Lesson In Compassion

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 6:49 pm


ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Finally, this hour, a Mormon bishop in Taylorsville, Utah, went to great lengths last Sunday to teach his congregation a lesson. David Musselman disguised himself as a homeless person with the help of a professional makeup artist friend. After getting mutton-chops, a ski hat and thick glasses, the bishop waited outside his church and wished congregants a happy Thanksgiving. To describe what happened next, I'm joined by Bishop Musselman, welcome to the program.

BISHOP DAVID MUSSELMAN: Glad to be here. Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Describe the response you got.

MUSSELMAN: Well, I got several types of responses. I had some people that went out of their way to let me know that this was not a place to ask for charity and that I was not welcome and that I needed to leave the property. I should also state that I had a number of people come and were very kind to me. But I was most impressed with the children. The children definitely were very eager to want to reach out and try to help me in some way.

SHAPIRO: What did you look like? We said mutton-chops and a ski cap and big glasses. Describe how you came across.

MUSSELMAN: Well, I employed the services of a makeup artist here in Salt Lake. She put these big huge white sideburns on me and got a grayed wig and ratted it up. She put a big scar across my cheek and then, of course, with her makeup put stuff on my teeth that made them look broken and dirty. I looked pretty authentic, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I'm imagining the scene from "Mrs. Doubtfire" with Robin Williams and Harvey Firestein where he gets made up.

MUSSELMAN: You know what? I was worried that maybe my wife and children would at least recognize me and the shock value on their face when I exposed who I was was worth it. I mean, she did an amazing job.

SHAPIRO: How did you eventually reveal your identity and what was the reaction?

MUSSELMAN: After walking around the church for an hour before the service, I made my way into the church after the service had started, about 10 minutes after. So I made my way around to the pulpit, came up and at that moment, I pulled the wig off and the glasses off and I can't even begin to describe the audible gasp that came over the congregation when they saw it was their bishop.

SHAPIRO: How did people respond once they realized that they had reacted coldly and in some sense maybe hostilely to their church bishop, thinking he was a homeless man?

MUSSELMAN: I anticipated there would be some people that might feel bad. I had no idea that it would cause the shame and guilt on certain individuals that it did and that made me feel bad. But as I gazed across the congregation there were so many eyes that were just filled with tears. There were some people that were weeping and, you know, I made a point in my remarks over the pulpit to let them know that I, in no way, cast any judgment on any of them because had I been the one that maybe was on the other side, I could've been one of the individuals that maybe even would've asked them to leave the premises.

SHAPIRO: Do you think this lesson in compassion that you've tried to impart will stick with the congregants who were there that day?

MUSSELMAN: You know, I could've easily given a sermon or a talk on the subject and I did it this way because I wanted all the people, especially the children, to look back when they become older and say, I remember when I was at church. My bishop dressed up like a homeless man and I have to think that it did a lot more good than bad.

SHAPIRO: Bishop David Musselman of Taylorsville, Utah, thanks for sharing your story with us.

MUSSELMAN: Thank you.


SHAPIRO: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.