ON Kilter: What if Jesus came back like that?

OPINION – A Mormon bishop recently, with the help of some talented individuals, disguised himself as a homeless person and plopped down in front of his church on a Sunday to see if any of his flock would demonstrate the Christlike virtue their faith requires of them. This is not the first time such an experiment has been done. Churches of other denominations have had pastors and leaders use this very effective charade to, in effect, test the faithful.

To my knowledge, the faithful have failed the test over and over again. Why is this? Perhaps the makeup artists and the actors were too good at their jobs and people were genuinely convinced of the danger posed in approaching someone of not necessarily ill-repute but a generally daunting appearance. Or perhaps the faithful are not quite as genuine as they would have us believe in their piety demonstrated by their magnificent buildings and fine clothing. These and other such statements are repetitive in the comments about the church’s attempt, noble attempt mind you, to teach its flock a lesson about self examination and authenticity.

The critics of course lambast the people of faith for their apparent hypocrisy but I lay you odds if the same experiment were to be conducted in the general public, outside of a presumed Christian setting, the outcome might not be much different. Here in St. George for example, it is rumored that homeless transients are addressed “compassionately” by concerned citizens buying them a bus ticket to Vegas and sending them on their way.

Word to the non-churchgoer who would chastise the faithful for their hypocrisy: Just because you do not claim a tenet of faith and Christlike behavior does not mean you are not still somehow compelled to show compassion to less fortunate people.

When I was in college years ago, I was having some beers with friends at a local pub and a homeless fellow approached me and asked for a couple of bucks. I told him I thought that since he was probably going to spend the money on beer anyway, he should just join me and my friends and we would buy him a few rounds. I spent the better part of a few hours hanging out with this guy; and the more I talked to him, the more I got the feeling that he and I were not really so different at all. He knew things I knew. He had friends like I had. He loved like I did. He hurt like I did.

At some point later in our time together, he said: “You know what life is, Dallas?” I said, “Tell me.” He said: “Life is the s… that happens when you are making other plans.”

And staring at this guy looking somewhat downtrodden, I thought what he said was as profound as it was simple.

I am not advocating here that choices are not our own to make and that decisions do not lead to outcomes we are largely responsible for. I am saying that life happens and sometimes it does not work out well for people. And sometimes that means people end up like my friend there, who clearly did not want to be in the position he was in and likely was not sure how he was going to get out of it.

Back to the question of why people avoid the homeless, I think it is something more visceral than dispassionate. I think that somewhere within us all there is a fear of something like that happening to us and a knowledge of just how close we all really are to being there. Alone. Broke. Unable to care for ourselves and perhaps having no one who is near or willing to help. Maybe we brought the circumstances upon ourselves but this hardly negates the reality of it.I think we tend to avoid these people because they represent something we fear happening to ourselves.

So the Bishop or the Pastor who lays this demonstration on his flock is in fact not at all trying to make people feel badly by pointing to hypocrisy but rather is engaging in the painful process of exposing the fears within them. Within us all.

Hopefully, some are better for it.

Not at all to wax preachy here; most know I lean towards a world view of agnosticism, but a line from an old country song by Collin Raye seems apropos:

What if Jesus comes back like that
On an old freight train in a hobo hat
Will we let him in or turn our back
What if Jesus came back like that

One of the core tenants of faith is the notion that how you treat the least of those in the world, you have treated Christ. And somehow, this is a message that transcends faith and applies to us all.

See you out there.

Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @dallashyland

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


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  • Bev Lowe December 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks for a great eye opener. Hit the nail on the head ~

  • Liesa Swejkoski December 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    If this was in front of my ward building, I’d never get a chance to intervene. I’d have several families in front of me already coming to that person’s aide. We have a great bunch of people.

  • Liesa Swejkoski December 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    PS A very enlightening book on the subject of homelessness is “Same kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.

  • Sheila Greenwalt December 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I’m was struck by the disclaimer at the bottom that Dallas opinions are not that of St George News when in reality they should be, that we all should stand for and Championship of the down trodden. Isn’t that what Jesus would do if he stood here today in what ever form. I stand behind Dallas’ comments and maybe if the media did too more people would remember what it meant to care for our brother.

  • Mike Hobson December 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    I am surprised the Mormons did not ask him to leave the second he walked in. Maybe they needed some baptism numbers for the local ward.

    • JamesB December 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Mike, you really need to learn more about what the Mormons do for the homeless and downtrodden. Ever heard of Fast Offerings or a Transient Bishop? Sounds like you have some sort of chip on your shoulder.

      • Mike Hobson December 9, 2013 at 1:40 pm

        I have no chip on my shoulder. I just know more about your church and it’s belief’s than you do.

    • Johnathan Facer December 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Mike, what an ignorant comment.
      I may not be a part of the LDS Church but that does not stop me from researching it, and in so doing, having a great respect for them. First, you completely missed the entire point of the article (I’m beginning to think you didn’t read through all of it). Second, Mormons are known (obviously not by you) for being a humanitarian driven group. From 1985 – 2009, $327.6 million in cash and $884.6 million in commodities of aid was given throughout 178 countries by LDS church officials. In addition to this, the LDS Church also has over 300 job development and placement centers around the world. The LDS Church is renowned for its ability to organize its members in various regions of the world to respond to an emergency and facilitate distributing goods immediately after a crisis, often before aid programs such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army come to assist. In 2008, the LDS Church responded to 124 disasters in 48 countries, among so many other services.
      Do a little more research, Mike, next time you want to belittle an organization giant in the humanitarian world.

  • Shayla December 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    This was a very well written article. It really hit the nail on the head, and I think it’s a great way at looking at it. I read about the pastor who did this, and I found the story fascinating. I find this post even MORE fascinating.

  • Al Kimball December 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Liked the article, but journalists and people should remember that Susan Smart’s father once gave a job to a supposedly homeless man… and the outcome was not good.

  • San December 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    So what was the outcome that day? I would have liked to have heard the whole story.

  • mary December 8, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Anyone remember the song by Joan Osborne “What If God Was One Of Us?”

  • McMurphy December 9, 2013 at 7:07 am

    What if Jesus came back like that ?
    Probably about the same as happened last time he was here

  • Craig December 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    “At some point later in our time together, he said: “You know what life is, Dallas?” I said, “Tell me.” He said: “Life is the s… that happens when you are making other plans.”
    And staring at this guy looking somewhat downtrodden, I thought what he said was as profound as it was simple.”

    He lifted a line from John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy” and you found that profound?
    The exact Lennon quote is “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
    Maybe you’ll like some Joe Biden light reading material. Lots of lifted lines too.

    • Dallas Hyland December 9, 2013 at 6:09 pm

      I take exception to even the implication of plagiarism. In point of fact, it is what the man said verbatim so sourcing the quote was irrelevant. I was aware of the Lennon inference but I do not know if he was nor did he intend to be. What made it profound was that he was clearly living the consequences of what happened while he was making other plans. I hope this cleared up any sophomoric notions of the point to this piece.

  • JOSH DALTON December 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    News flash!! Jesus was homeless and Jewish! Surprise! Oh and his hair was not blond or straight.

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