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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