As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we often refer to “The world”, and rarely as a positive thing.
We are counseled to avoid the sins of the world, to be in the world but not of the world, and many other similar teachings. There is good reason for this: the world is full of unrighteous influences, and always has been.
To keep our eyes focused on the world keeps our focus away from that which is holy. In a recent Sunday School lesson, an excellent teacher in my ward used a lunar eclipse as an analogy: just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, we reflect the light of the Savior. And in both cases, sometimes the world gets in the way.
However, I am concerned that political ideology sometimes skews our perception of what “the world” means, and this sacred teaching is distorted to promote a xenophobic view that all places other than the United States of America are some sort of wicked communist den of iniquity. We should remember that “the world” does not refer to the world outside of America, it refers to that which is not of God. As Elder James E. Cullimore stated in October 1973 General Conference:
What do we mean by the “world”? President McKay refers to it as those “… alienated from the Saints of God. They are aliens to the Church, and it is the spirit of this alienation that we should keep ourselves free from.” (Conference Report, October 1911, p. 58.) Elder Bruce R. McConkie defines the “world” as “the social conditions created by such of the inhabitants of the earth as live carnal, sensuous, lustful lives, and who have not put off the natural man by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 847.)
Nowhere in his talk does Elder Cullimore make distinctions between nations or cultures. We are counseled to avoid being sinful or prideful, not European or Canadian. We are not exclusively an American church. The gospel and the church are shared by faithful members world wide, and preached to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. In fact, members in nations other than the U.S. are frequently counseled to remain in their home countries, rather than to immigrate to America, as their presence there is a blessing to others. Given our charge (In Isiah 41:10) to “stand in holy places”, would church leaders encourage members to stay in inherently unrighteous nations? Of course not.
While we can certainly love America and consider it a promised land (as I do), to take a negative and condescending attitude toward the rest of the nations of the Earth is not only unnecessary, it is unkind, uncharitable, and detrimental to the building up of the Kingdom of God on Earth. We can find good in all nations and cultures. And we can even support adopting some of their ideas into American government. Doing so in no way conflicts with the charge to avoid being “of the world”. It simply is our way of trying to make the world a better place.