The unconditional love experiment

Years ago, a college buddy did an experiment for a psychology class at our Bible college to see just how unconditionally loving Christians might be in an upper middle class area of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

He stopped bathing and shaving one Monday, and wore the same set of clothes every day to class. All of the students nearby knew he was preparing himself for his experiment on that next Sunday, and with noses held firmly shut, prayed hard for him.

The next Sunday morning, he went to the early service of a church down the street from the college campus and walked in the front door just as the service had begun. He was asked to leave. So he went to another church whose early service was already under way and the preacher had just gone to the podium for the sermon. He slipped into the back row and went unnoticed until a family moved away because their kids wouldn't stop complaining about the dirty man sitting behind them. Just a few minutes later, an usher asked him to leave because of his body odor and unkempt appearance.

To get as many results as possible, he went to the second service of a third church, and arrived with lots of other people. An older man in a suit greeted him, said he knew most everyone at the church and was happy to meet a new person, and walked into the common area outside the sanctuary to visit more with my friend. He asked him if he lived in the area, and if he was hungry.

My buddy was a football player. He was always hungry. So he said, "You bet! Whatcha got to eat?"

The man took him downstairs to the basement where the kitchen was and rummaged through the church's large refrigerator and pantry. He opened a very large can of beans, found some leftover casserole a staff member must have left from the work week, and they both ate something and visited. My buddy did all the talking about how he was raised in a good Christian home and apologized for his appearance and his smell. Then he told the usher he was doing an experiment for school and he had been asked to leave two other area churches.

The man asked my buddy if they could stop and pray for both of those churches right there and then because God wouldn't want that at all.

What got me thinking about this story after 25 years was the fact that small groups grow comfortable and unwilling to love someone who doesn't look or smell the way they do. I've often thought about visiting a church's small group after a week off from bathing to see how well I'd be received.

The man at the third church my buddy went to was a man of prayer. He practiced seeing God's children through God's eyes, not his own eyes, or his own nose for that matter. If you think a stinky man would be run out of your small group(s), it might be valuable to create a guide for them to talk through one night about loving people that aren't like them at all and investing time in prayer and confession.

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