The original title of this lesson is “Living Righteously in a Wicked World.” It covers a story most of us are familiar with—the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We know that these cities were so wicked that God decided to destroy them. He counseled Lot and his un-named wife, to “Escape for thy life. Look not behind thee.” But of course, Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt.
There are lots of interesting parallels and lessons that can be drawn from the story and from Lot’s wife’s actions. The other parallel that many people draw is between Sodom and Gomorrah and our world now. This story and lessons with titles like this often lead to discussions about how the world is filled with evil, scary, dangerous, immoral things and people and how we, in contrast, alone must stand for integrity, honesty and godliness. So when the question comes about how we can live righteously in a wicked world, it seems natural that the answers would include solutions like turning our backs, shutting ourselves off—succeeding in our escape from evil where Lot’s wife failed.
I don’t think this is the right message.
The lesson suggests bringing in a newspaper and referencing all the terrible things that are happening in the world. There’s no doubt that terrible things are happening. In fact, as I am sitting down to write this, my mind is filled with the latest news on the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I can hardly think of anything more despicable, horrific, and just plain evil. For something like this to happen, surely we must be living in Sodom itself.
And yet look a little closer and you will find that Parkland, Florida bears little resemblance to Sodom. Even in the midst of this horrible event, the basic kindness of the great majority of our fellow sisters and brothers shines through—in the people who took great risks to assist others, the families expressing their love and an entire community drawing together to support one another.
In my work doing communications for nonprofits, I continuously see acts of Christlike service and deep, genuine compassion demonstrated by nonprofit employees, volunteers and donors. These people come from many different faiths—and sometimes even from no faith at all. In my work, I encounter those most in need in our community. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the tragedy of the world. But I am often overwhelmed by the beauty and kindness of that same world.
The lesson includes a quote by M. Russell Ballard responding to the saying: “Be in the world but not of the world.” He states: “Perhaps we should state the couplet previously mentioned as two separate admonitions. First, ‘Be in the world.’ Be involved; be informed. Try to be understanding and tolerant and to appreciate diversity. Make meaningful contributions to society through service and involvement. Second, ‘Be not of the world.’ Do not follow wrong paths or bend to accommodate or accept what is not right…Members of the Church need to influence more than we are influenced. We should work to stem the tide of sin and evil instead of passively being swept along by it. We each need to help solve the problem rather than avoid or ignore it.”
When I read this, I thought of President Nelson’s talk: “So today I plead with my sisters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God—more than you ever have before.” I also came across a General Conference talk from Sue Bergin where she says: “Both the scriptures and the latter-day prophets urge us not to limit our service to a close circle around us but to extend our efforts as far and as wide as possible.”
So, how do we as Mormon women live righteously in a world that may sometimes seem filled with wickedness? I don’t think we do it by hiding our light under bushels or by limiting our associations to within the walls of our home or even our own chapels. I see no place for that stereotypical meek, submissive Mormon woman whose entire sphere of influence is the small space right around her. We live righteously in our world by creating and magnifying good all around us, by being engaged in our communities, and by raising our voices and exerting our influence both in and out of church. We do it by joining together with others who reflect the light of Christ in their lives—whether or not they recognize it as such—to change the world for the better.