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Bishop Tests Congregation’s Compassion

A Mormon bishop from Salt Lake City, David Musselman, recently transformed his appearance to that of a homeless person, attempting to better understand how people of difference were treated in his congregation. The UK Telegraph reported the story in a recent article.

The article states,

“The main thing I was trying to get across was we don’t need to be so quick to judge,” Mr Musselman told his local television news station.

“Many actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me, and they wouldn’t even make eye contact,” he said. “I’d approach them and say, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’.”

Musselman studied the culture of his congregation by direct observation. In this case, he changed his own appearance to effect a change in the responses by the congregants, and took note of those observations. He observed the degree to which the congregational culture of his church was open to people of different economic stages and hygiene standards. In the end, he was surprised at what he found, and the congregation responded with a sense of shame at how they reacted.

What are your thoughts about this technique to examine a congregation? Is it too manipulative or do the results outweigh potential dangers? What are the ethics of doing this sort of study?

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org