Bishop disguised as homeless man teaches congregation a lesson in compassion

David Musselman, center, transformed into a homeless man as part of an object lesson for the LDS Church ward he presides over as bishop, Taylorsville, Utah, November 2013 | Photo courtesy of David Musselman, St. George News

WASHINGTON CITY – Nearly a week ago, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bishop from Taylorsville made national headlines for going to church disguised as a homeless man. He was received with a mixed reception; some people were friendly while most were indifferent. Some asked him to leave.

Thus far David Musselman has shared his story with the state’s major media outlets, as well as CNN, NPR, Good Morning America, The Today Show, and a host of smaller outlets. St. George News is easily his 20th interview so far, he said.

Musselman is visiting family in Washington City over the holiday and allowed St. George News to share his experience with our readers.

Bishop in disguise

That Sunday, Musselman appeared in church in worn clothes and make-up done by a professional make-up artist. The only person who know the bishop was in disguise was one of his counselors. Not even his family knew, Musselman said.

While posing as the homeless man, he said many people were indifferent and avoided him. They didn’t make eye contact or acknowledge his saying “Happy Thanksgiving.” Others, though, were more accepting.

“I had a few people who gave, and gave generously, specifically the children,” Musselman said.

After a few people asked him to leave, Musselman did so, only to return soon after and reveal to the congregation who the man under the dirty clothes and make-up truly was.

“It was very surprising,” Musselman said. “The shock value was more than I expected.”

Lessons learned

While the experience was aimed at teaching the congregation a lesson in compassion, Musselman said he ended up learning some things too.

He said he was amazed at how genuinely good people want to be. When his identity was revealed he said he witnessed from the pulpit the shame some congregants were feeling after the way they had treated him while in disguise.

“It made me feel horrible,” Musselman said. “I never wanted to make anyone feel as bad as some people felt.”

He mentioned a man who had asked him to leave the church earlier. The man’s granddaughter called Musselman to defend her grandfather’s actions. She told the bishop that a year earlier, a man in the parking lot of the church was lying about having car trouble. When she went to help him, the man stole her purse and drove away. She was worried that the disguised Musselman may be trouble and asked her grandfather to get him to leave.

After the revelation of who the homeless man was, Musselman was told the grandfather was feeling horrible about the incident.

Musselman said the grandfather is a former bishop himself who was just looking out for the congregation.

“His heart was in the right place,” Musselman said. “I assured him later he shouldn’t feel bad.”

“We don’t always know where people have been,” he said. “We don’t always get the luxury of knowing what’s happened in someone else’s life.”

As for the indifference he experienced, Musselman said he feels that’s how the world in general tends to be. If you don’t have to acknowledge or deal with something unpleasant or unseemly, then maybe it will just go away if you ignore it long enough.

Sometimes a simple acknowledgment and a smile can go a long way in comforting people who society may otherwise ignore outright, he said.

“You don’t have to open your wallets or open your homes,” Musselman said. “Sometimes you just need to open your heart. Just acknowledge their presence and say, ‘You have a Happy Thanksgiving too and I hope things go better for you.’”

Origin of the lesson-in-disguise

Musselman said the idea to disguise himself as a homeless man came about from a combination of experiences. Specifically, he noted a friend and business partner who makes a habit of stopping at overpasses and other places the homeless may congregate and provides a helping hand where possible.

During one particular incident, Musselman’s friend had them stop at an intersection where homeless individuals had gathered. He must have come off as offended or incensed by the idea, Musselman said, because his friend said that, as an LDS bishop, he should be more compassionate.

“If I need to have a lesson learned, then maybe while I’m leaning it, I’ll have an opportunity to share it with someone else,” he said.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the photo gallery.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

David Musselman, center, transformed into a homeless man as part of an object lesson for the LDS Church ward he presides over as bishop, Taylorsville, Utah, November 2014 | Photo courtesy of David Musselman, St. George News
David Musselman, center, transformed into a homeless man as part of an object lesson for the LDS Church ward he presides over as bishop, Taylorsville, Utah, November 2013 | Photo courtesy of David Musselman, St. George News

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  • anonymous November 29, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    As usually were getting the LDS crap shoved down our throats. Is this all you people can or know how to right about?

    • Kerry November 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      To the contrary, this story shows that LDS people need a lesson in compassion. if it had been a catholic minister would you be here bashing anonymously or would you think nothing of it. I am not a church going LDS person. I believe all people need to try to be more compassionate and help one another. Starting with you posting negativity rather than looking at way to better yourself.

      It starts within each person and how we treat others, Every race and religion has room for improvement. I believe people of all faiths strive to do better but sometimes fall short however that does not give anyone the right to judge that entity or peoples.

      Take a minute and look at where your life needs improvement and go out in the world and make something of yourself and help uplift your fellow man. You need not join any church to become a better person but by becoming a better person you can actually improve you own outlook of others.

      • Mikki November 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm

        Couldn’t have said it better myself Kerry.

  • Melissa November 29, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    You have the option of moving.

  • Anonymous November 29, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    This is not LDS crap, it’s a test of compassion and it’s not the first time it’s been done! The last time I read about this it was a pastor who disguised himself!

  • Nonbeliever November 29, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Over the last two decades I have learned a lot about the LDS people.
    For much of this time I was a member.
    There is an enormous difference between what they teach and how they really behave.
    Not everyone but too many to ignore or discount.
    Something is very wrong, there is an elitist attitude, varying degrees of racism and outright hatred for “others”.
    This story only emphasizes the rot permeating in this group.
    Life can be great if you’re white, connected and familiar.
    Anyone or thing that isn’t in their narrow little scope is ignored, avoided and looked down upon.
    Sad. Shameful. And not Christlike at all.

    • Melissa November 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      This behavior is prevalent in all social and religious classes. The finger pointing is due to this being a large LDS community. I agree with you on the elitist attitude, and, perhaps, this is a start to change..

  • Jack November 30, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Truth is, it was just a lesson in catching people in the state they were in. I look at it this way:

    Every day I see someone on the road driving badly. Turning from the wrong lane, turning without their blinker on, speeding, cutting people off, etc. But when I think about it, I have committed all of those errors at some time myself so how can I judge?

    Almost all people are good almost all of the time… but we all have our moments. He just happened to catch certain people in certain states. The fact that the people are showing up for service says a lot… so they shouldn’t feel bad… but use it as a lesson to try to keep things in perspective.

  • Karen November 30, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Shaming people is not the way to teach a life lesson. The bishop made a very poor decision. It appears by the photos that he enjoyed his theatrics more than his professed lesson about compassion.

  • Fran November 30, 2013 at 11:16 am

    I love this story. And I am Catholic. The moral of the story is “finding compassion to those less fortunate”, not religion.

    • Melissa November 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      Fran, you rock. Thank you for spinning this in a positive way.

  • Dana November 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    If he wanted to teach compassion, why didn’t he take the entire congregation to the soup kitchen to help, instead of playing “little davey dress-up.” This was nothing more than a game of “Gotcha.”

  • Mary Snow November 30, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I am so bugged as I read the comments left by some very negative people. I am truly sorry for them as they must be so miserable. We all need a lesson in compassion at times. None of us are without fault nor do any of us have room to judge others. Religion should not determine how we relate to circumstance. LDS teachings give us an example of how we should live but how we follow that example is up to us. Anonymous should consider trying to live those teachings and he just might be a little happier!

  • JamesB November 30, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    This guy is going to be in hot water with the brethren for making a spectacle of himself.

  • Monica November 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    To Dana I know this Bishop personally and I cannot even tell you how wrong you are. He does often gather his congregation, 6 kids, wife and family to give service at welfare square a soup kitchen and so much more. My son’s have moved many people out of service at this Bishops request. to Karen this was not a lesson is shame but a lesson in compassion and do not just be indifferent to others. This bishop is a very good friend in fact i am the “Family” he was here to visit. If you knew the heart of this man you would suck your statement back quickly. This is a man who is humble, loving, giving, kind, compassionate, and one of the best people I know. I know a lot of people, not many are of this caliber. As Jack said we all have bad times, bad days. The congregation that this Bishop oversees does not in any way think this was in poor form, nor do his counselors or the Stake Presidency who were all there. The ward members know this mans heart, his motives and that he loves and knows each and every one of them personally and they see what he does for his ward daily. I have one question. How many of you have served in the soup kitchen lately that look at this with a critical stance? How many of you have done good in the world or your community or even your neighborhood today. I can tell you this man did over the last 3 days and does consistently as does his wife and children and extended family as he calls on us to do so.

    • Karen December 1, 2013 at 6:57 am

      Quoting from the article, “When his identity was revealed he said he witnessed from the pulpit the shame some congregants were feeling after the way they had treated him while in disguise.”

      “It made me feel horrible,” Musselman said. “I never wanted to make anyone feel as bad as some people felt.”

      My comment stands. Shaming someone is an poor way to teach a life lesson.

    • JamesB December 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      I applaud this Bishop’s intentions to teach his congregation a lesson in compassion. I doubt that the Stake Presidency was on board with this. If so, they all need to brush up on what the Church Handbook of Instructions says about proper instruction and reverence during Sacrament meeting. They will find that something like this is to be done in another setting. I bet I know what the topic of the next Bishop’s training meeting will be in that Stake.

  • Tim November 30, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    The phrase WWJD is always on my mind. I hear excuses and reasons why but in all reality I give this Bishop credit. It is a lesson for everyone to try and show pure love and remember why or find out what our purpose is on earth. SERVICE is the answer and you feel better after. Suck it up and change for the better, cause if we aren’t bettering our lives then we’re being idle and nothing good comes from that. Remember vengeance is mine saith The Lord. Just serve one another and this country would be a better place. Just saying.

  • ... November 30, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I am lds and I think it was in poor taste with what he did. It was more for show. But, he got what he wanted, praise and attention.

  • Lyndsey December 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Just teaches people on how everyone should be treated. Some homeless people have nothing and came from a big family. Others may be on the borders of being homeless. Doesn’t hurt to help a little. Every little thing helps.

  • Linda December 2, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I believe the bishop truly meant no harm; “If I need to have a lesson learned, then maybe while I’m leaning it, I’ll have an opportunity to share it with someone else.” Anything good comes from Christ.

    The first thought that came to me while reading this article comes from the New testament Matthew 25:40 ” Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. President Monson recently taught: “See others as they may become.”

    We are all practicing to become more like our savior and we can do so by lifting and encouraging good. I know I am a better person because of the good people who have seen me as I may become.

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