In 2005, Lili Anderson gave an amazing devotional at BYU-Idaho titled “Three Realms of Law, Light and Life.”
One of the points she makes is this: “We live in an increasingly telestial world. I sometimes worry that, as members, we are still responding as though the world were still in a more terrestrial state, as it was in the 1950s or early 1960s.
“I think some members became used to only having to be ‘this much’ better than the rest of middle-class America. Prom dresses, movie or television choices, swimming suits needed to be ‘this much better.’ When the world began sinking rapidly into an increasingly telestial state, I’m afraid that some members – having become used to being ‘this much’ better, just maintained that distance.
“Now, in this new millennium, perhaps too often, our choices are still just ‘this much’ better than those of a telestial world. Consider that if such a trend continues, all it means is that we’ll get to hell about six months later.”
The point is clear, it is not enough to have standards that are a little bit above the standards of the world. The contrast between us and the world should be vast. As President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I do not know that things were worse in the times of Sodom and Gomorrah” (Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 10, 2004).
It is not unusual to hear comments about one's relative obedience as they refer to such things as their language, temper, habits, etc., as "not that bad" or the movie they watched only had a few bad scenes or was not as bad as some of the others or they’d explain that "at least they didn’t go all the way,” or at least they went to church before they engaged in other activities on the Sabbath.
If we compare our behavior to that of the world, or Sodom and Gomorrah, I think we all can feel a little smug. If we are living standards "this much better" than the world, perhaps we have a false sense of security, or are deceived, and may be very surprised at the lack of joy we experience in this life and the next.
On the flip side, I love seeing the contrast between the standards of the church and the world. I just attended a Junior Miss Pageant in Utah, and was amazed at the modesty of the girls’ outfits. They were not just "this much better" than the world; they were far from the standards of the world!
Recently our Mia Maid class chose to have a 24-hour fast as the mid-week activity, which we all concluded with a testimony meeting and a meal to break the fast together. The world would be hard-pressed to find a group of young women who would choose to fast in order to grow closer to their Heavenly Father as an activity. They are definitely not just "this much" better than the young women in the world.
Of course we have people all over this planet who are keeping themselves morally clean, avoiding pornography, living the word of wisdom, honoring the Sabbath day, and being honest in every aspect of their lives, all standards that are far from the ways of the world. I am encouraged and inspired by every one of them.
Recently light was shed on BYU, and the contrast between its standards and the world's literally turned heads. BYU maintained the integrity of its honor code after a member of the basketball team was suspended from the team after breaking it.
In a world of glamorizing athletes and when integrity, commitments and morals are minimized, it was interesting to watch how countless news organizations jumped on the story. The majority were fascinated and respectful of BYU’s stance. A few mocked them, as was to be expected in a time of "Sodom and Gomorrah," but most saw it as refreshing, inspiring and surprising. In speaking of BYU, L.A. Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke said, “if you don’t believe in its code, you have to love its honor.”
There will be many who will not believe in our standards, or value our covenants, but few will belittle us for our honor. We as members of the LDS Church have covenanted to follow the commandments, keep covenants and live standards according to the laws of our Heavenly Father.
The standards of the world should not be factored in to that equation. Our discipleship is not based on relativity or we will be deceived and perhaps surprised at how far we missed the mark. Thanks to Anderson’s devotional, I have been reminded that our integrity, character, work ethic, love, forgiveness, service and obedience need to be more than "this much" better than the world for us to enjoy the blessings and joy of the gospel in this life, and the next.