Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Why I like the new Mormon #LighttheWorld campaign

I’m liking a number of things about the LDS Church’s new #LighttheWorld campaign, which officially kicks off today with a “Worldwide Day of Service” and runs through Christmas.

First, let me explain what it is: for the 25 days between now and Christmas, people (who may or may not be Mormon) are encouraged to do one act of service a day to bring Christ’s light into the world. That’s it. Just one small thing.

As Elder David Bednar explains it, the intent is not “to overwhelm people” by adding more to-do items to an already busy season. “These are very basic, simple things from the life of Christ.”

As you can see from the calendar, each day has a simple theme based on something Jesus did—Jesus healed the blind and so can you, Jesus forgave others and so can you—and a few options for service related to that theme. (Download the daily calendar as a PDF: english-25-days-calendar.)

I’m a fan of this for several reasons.

  1. This is pretty low-key.

Apart from today, the “Worldwide Day of Service” in which we’re all encouraged to get out in our communities and do something for charity, many of the suggestions are things you can implement in your life as it’s already constituted. The campaign just encourages you to be a little more aware of the specific needs of the people who are around you, and to follow through with some small act of kindness.

  1. It doesn’t have that smarmy “Look at the Mormons! We are so awesome!” flavor.

This doesn’t feel like missionary work dressed up as community service, which I think has too often been the case. Some of the church’s previous efforts seemed to me like thinly disguised attempts to get people in our pews and garner positive media attention for our activities. It was all about us.

Here, the LDS Church’s presence behind the campaign is more muted. Apart from a gentle suggestion on the first Sunday of the month to “attend a church service in your area—you’re always invited to one of ours,” there’s no mention of the campaign’s sponsoring religion except in its logo and listed website.

  1. It gets Mormons out of their silos.

While anyone can do this and I’m sure the Church hopes that lots of non-Mormons will participate, I’d guess that the vast majority of folks who take up this call will already be LDS.

Even so, the way the effort is worded and structured helps to get those Mormons out of their bubbles. This is not “Find someone in the ward who needs a visit,” but “Find someone in your wider community who needs a visit without necessarily imposing your beliefs.”

Mormons can be fairly insular people. The advantage of this is that we have tight-knit congregations, but the drawback is that we tend to expend most of our service efforts on our own ward family. Hopefully, Mormons will listen up that this is called #LighttheWorld and not #LighttheWard.

  1. It gets us back to basics and reminds us that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Christmas is supposed to be about Christ’s advent into the world, bringing light into the darkness. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that, either because of happy reasons (cookies! presents!) or dark ones (election!).

The #lighttheworld campaign helps me remember Christ by doing, which I find is the best way for me to learn. As Elder Bednar said, “What we hope people will do is not simply think about the Savior during this Christmas season, or even just learn more about him. What we hope is that they will come to know him by doing what he did.”

So, yeah. I will be part of this effort. Knowing me, I am not going to remember every day of December, but I can start today. I’m heading off to give blood this afternoon. And tomorrow (a day set aside for honoring parents) I’m going to go through a couple of my mom’s boxes in the basement, remember her intelligence and humor and love, and pray for her.

These are very small things, but in the aggregate—with thousands of people trying to #LighttheWorld—I have to believe they make a difference.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

9 Comments

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  • I asked a member of our Stake Presidency to help arrange a phone to my parents tomorrow. He balked when I told him they were in Paradise. I guess I will just have to write them a “letter” in my journal. Also, hoping I get a couple of phone calls tomorrow. 🙂

  • Here’s what i don’t like about it: my Facebook feed filling up with people taking about how excited they are to participate in “lighting the world.” What ever happened to serving without calling attention to the fact that you’re doing it? I’m in favor of less talk, more (real, sincere) action.

  • On the other hand, what a great medium we have in social media to get this message out there so the lighting effect can be compounded. I have promoted it, but have so far only given a little food and drink to a homeless gentleman. Granted, he performed service for me first. I turned down his request for change while I was pumping gas, but he saw fit to kindly clean leaf debris from my vehicle even though I had told him I had nothing for him. I remembered this initiative, realized that he was implementing it intuitively, and went into the store to get him something. I’m feeling I can do more, but I’m glad this is inspiring me to simply think and care more about others around me.

  • I can appreciate this point of view but with this campaign I think the Savior’s words in Matthew really apply, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” If people on social see people doing meaningful acts of service, maybe they will be inspired to to the same. Just a thought.

  • Rather than regurgitate the tired arguments against Mormons, how about you try to follow the Mormon’s lead and follow the example of Christ in your life?

  • Agreed. I have no problem with “acts of service” but the very term “lighting the world” is full of Mormon exceptionalism.

  • It sad that after 2000 years the application of the lessons learned from the story of the Good Samaritan require a detailed to do list. He that is commanded in all things ……. own free will ….

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