The setting was a familiar one to Church members: A young man was leaving on his mission, and his sister spoke to the congregation.
She quoted from a saying popular in the Church that members should "Be in the world, but not of the world," but added, "I think we should put the focus on the first part of the saying, that we should `be in the world.' We need to use the Church as a stimulant to life, not as a dugout where we hide and talk about how awful the world is. Rather, we should use our faith and our Church as a launching pad to energize us and send us into the world with power and strength."
She continued, "We need to use our opportunities in the Church to benefit our entire community and to let people know that Mormons care about all people and not just about other Mormons."
It was sound advice for all of us. The essence of the gospel is that we help each other. That means not simply in spiritual matters, but any way we can. Our obligation as Christians and members of the Church is twofold: to leave the world a better place than it was when we came and to bring back to our Father in Heaven the best possible version of the soul He sent here. Both ask us to make the most of our circumstances.
How can we fulfill either obligation if we adopt a "bunker mentality"? A bunker by definition is a defensive position where people hunker down and wait for the onslaughts of the enemy. It's great for standing still but not much use in moving forward.
We're given solid advice that we must be active – even aggressive – in trying to improve the situations we find ourselves in, whether it be our personal lives and families or the conditions of our towns, communities and country. The Lord, in a revelation to Joseph Smith, said: "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves." (D&C 58:27-28.)
The world will not improve of itself. Society reacts to the ministrations of those who live in it. The saying that people get the government they deserve mirrors the concept that we have an obligation to be in the world, influencing it with our faith.
And not only government needs our enthusiastic commitment. The list of areas where we can make a difference is as varied and exhaustive as all our individual interests, whether they be in the arts, charities, sports, education, families, business, or private organizations. Surely any area of human activity will benefit from the help of people who have the sound confidence and assurance that come from an abiding faith.Nor can we hold back our commitment because we think we have nothing to contribute, or that our gifts are small in relation to others. Christ's parable wherein a master leaves five talents with one servant, two with another and one talent with a third, is a strong warning to us. In the parable, the master returns to find the first two servants increased the money left with them, but the third, who had only one talent, buried it in fear. The judgment on him was harsh: from him was taken away "even that which he hath." (Matt.25:14-30.)
In all of this is the danger we'll make another false assumption that a "bunker mentality" reinforces: that we alone know what is good and bad and that our improvements are the only ones of value.
The truth is that the world is full of good people, not of our faith, who are also "anxiously engaged in a good cause" and who have never been taught the restored gospel. From them we have much to learn about caring, sharing and increasing our talents as we watch them improve our communities.
Moroni took note of this when he reported the teachings of his father, Mormon, a man who spent much of his lifetime reading and compiling the records of his people. The records, now abridged into the Book of Mormon, described periods of good and bad throughout their history, and observed:
"But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God." (Moroni 7:13.)
President Ezra Taft Benson, in a fireside address to young adults in Logan, Utah, quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith: "It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, page 674.)
In another address, he admonished the Church: "Let us seek to take an active part in our local, state and national affairs. We are commanded by the Lord to do so. It is as binding on us as any of the Lord's commandments." (Conference Report, October, 1954.)