The man with the shopping cart in Chapel on Friday is not homeless. His name is Mark Hewitt, and he is the founder and executive director of Love and Care Ministries, a fact the university officials didn’t explain very well. This oversight, though unintentional, has created confusion and continues to trouble many students.
Apologies have been made for the awkwardness of the exchange between Hewitt and song leader Nino Elliott and for extending the service past 11:30 a.m., but Hewitt’s true identity was not mentioned anywhere in the apology Monday morning. Running seven minutes over is frustrating, but giving students false information, even accidentally, is wrong.
After Friday’s Chapel, students poured out of Moody Coliseum into the concourse, and one question was heard over and over again.
“Was that staged?”
The word “staged” says it all. It implies a lack of authenticity. People must understand and believe a message before they can apply it. In this case, there was neither understanding nor belief.
Mark Lewis, assistant dean of Spiritual Life, recalled a similar event that took place a few years ago. Hewitt, whose work keeps him very close to issues of homelessness, came to campus dressed as a homeless man and noted how people reacted to him. At Chapel that morning, he was introduced as a “special guest speaker.” He then began to speak from his seat in the crowd about his experiences that day. Lewis said it was a powerful moment.
This “teachable moment,” Lewis said, was intended to be a capstone to Mission Week. The point was to demonstrate that all followers of Christ are called to minister, regardless of their circumstances. Obviously, the message didn’t carry, but the university admitted that, and we’re all moving forward.
Except some students still think Hewitt is homeless.
They know the presentation was just that, but there is no reason the man taking part in the dialogue couldn’t really be homeless. Elliott even offered to take him to lunch before dismissing everyone, so surely, it couldn’t all be untrue.
Of course, no one is hiding Hewitt’s identity. The Spiritual Life Office will tell anyone that asks who he is and his purpose there. Lewis even said he is thankful for such a strong reaction, because it means “people are invested enough to care.” We should be thankful to have such loving and humble people in charge, and we shouldn’t doubt their good intentions. But it still doesn’t address the real issue: students shouldn’t have to ask.
The university, by failing to communicate clearly, inadvertently put genuineness at the bottom of their list of priorities. What was real was sacrificed for what was attention-grabbing. Churches, striving to remain culturally relevant, do things like that every day. The problem is we get enough of that from commercials.
The passage Hewitt read from John on Friday seems even more appropriate in this context:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
Jesus’ message of radical love is, or should be, the most authentic thing we will ever experience, and if anyone deliberately or accidentally throws doubt on it, we have a responsibility to speak out.