Although the term fell into disfavor at the end of the 20th century,
Latter-day Saints have a long tradition of championing "free agency,"
the idea that God teaches us wisdom but lets us govern ourselves (cf.
D&C 37:4). From the story of the council in heaven (Moses
4:1-3), we learn that God holds inviolable our freedom to live
as we choose. Lucifer's arguments against free agency are unwittingly
echoed today by moralists who fear that liberty will lead to license or
by managers who want to maximize efficiency by restricting independence
Being free to choose should "cheer up [our] hearts" (2
Ne. 10:23) and give us confidence to exercise our own initiative
(D&C 58:26-29). Yet the council in heaven
also teaches that agency is dangerous. We cannot expect to be shielded
from the consequences of choices, our own or others'. Human beings have
the power to inflict suffering on individuals, families, nations, or the
environment—and we will reap what we sow, for good or for evil (Gal.
6:7; D&C 6:33).
Historically, Latter-day Saints have been slower to recognize infringements
on free agency within the church than we have been to protest impositions
on our freedom from outside. If democracy and constitutional rights help
protect freedom in civil society (D&C 98:5),
it is not clear why similar structures would not be desirable safeguards
against the everpresent threat of compulsion or unrighteous dominion within
the church as well (D&C 121:34-44).
| Know This, That Every
Soul Is Free (Hymns 240)
|Joseph Smith: I teach
them correct principles and let them govern themselves.
|Quoted in LDS Church
News, February 24, 1990
Orson F. Whitney:
Force can never win in a controversy involving the conscience or
soul of man. "It may compel the body, but it cannot convince
the mind." Thought is forever unfettered
. . . Freedom to believe,
man cannot give; the right to act, where action injures no one,
he cannot in justice, take away.
|Life of Heber C. Kimball
(Salt Lake City: Junvenile Instructor Office, 1888), 133-134
John A. Widtsoe: Since
the law of free agency is ever uppermost in the plan of salvation,
the Lord who gave the law must respect it, even though He weep at
the errors of His children. It would be a violation of His own plan,
should He step in. . . . Mankind, however sorrowful the condition,
must fight its own battles, and win its own victories.
|Evidences and Reconciliations
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 217
|Richard L. Evans: In
the use of our free agency we have made a few and more than a few
mistakes. Some of them are costly, and we shouldn't repeat them, and
we should avoid making them in the first place, if possible. But the
contrary plan was the plan of Lucifer, the plan whereby [we] would
not have been permitted to have freedom to make mistakes.
April 1950, 104
Henry D. Moyle: God
is dependent in large measure upon his children in the exercise
of their own free agency to carry out his will and to accomplish
his purposes upon the earth.
April 1962, 101
Howard W. Hunter:
God's chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and long-suffering,
not by coercion and stark confrontation. He acts by gentle solicitation
and by sweet enticement. He always acts with unfailing respect for
the freedom and independence that we possess.
|That We Might Have Joy
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 78