Teachings Concering

Free Choice, Free Will, and Agency

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"The greatest right humans possess is the right of free choice, free will, free agency."

  Ezra Taft Benson
(Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.691)


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The Terms Free Agency and Moral Agency

Boyd K. Packer

The phrase "free agency" does not appear in scripture. The only agency spoken of there is moral agency, "which," the Lord said, "I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment." (D&C 101:78; italics added.) ["Our Moral Environment," Ensign, May 1992, p. 67]

Life is meant to be a test to see if we will keep the commandments of God. (See 2 Ne. 2:5.) We are free to obey or to ignore the spirit and the letter of the law. But the agency granted to man is a moral agency. (See D&C 101:78.) We are not free to break our covenants and escape the consequences. ("Covenants," Ensign, Nov. 1990, p. 84)


Spencer J. Condie

I am indebted to President Boyd K. Packer, who made us aware of the fact that the term free agency appears nowhere in holy writ. Instead, the scriptures generally speak of agency or free will, but when agency is modified, it is referred to as "moral agency" (D&C 101:78; emphasis added). Because the term free agency has been used by various modern prophets, I use the terms free agency and moral agency interchangeably, aware that the latter term is more correct. ("Agency: The Gift of Choices," Ensign, Sept. 1995, p. 18)



Note to the Reader: Following Elder Spencer J. Condie's lead, the quotes in this compilation use both moral agency and free agency but are meant to convey the same meaning.



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Free Choice


Free to Choose Good or Evil

2 Nephi 2

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom. (Emphasis added)

Brigham Young

Many are disposed through their own wickedness "to do as I damned please," and they are damned. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.65)


Purpose of Life is to Learn to Choose

Boyd K. Packer

We come into mortal life to receive a body and to be tested, to learn to choose. ("The Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 21)


We Can Never Make A Choice Independent of Good or Evil Influences

Henry B. Eyring

They may mock and deride, as did a man named Korihor, with these words recorded in the Book of Mormon: "And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges" (Alma 30:27).

Korihor was arguing, as men and women have falsely argued from the beginning of time, that to take counsel from the servants of God is to surrender God-given rights of independence. But the argument is false because it misrepresents reality. When we reject the counsel which comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. We reject the protection of a perfectly loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in Heaven, whose whole purpose, as that of His Beloved Son, is to give us eternal life, to give us all that He has, and to bring us home again in families to the arms of His love. In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred. We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose. ("Finding Safety in Counsel," Ensign, May 1997, p. 25)


The Choice Between Good and Evil is the Most Important We Will Ever Make

Marion G. Romney

Let us never forget ... That we are here subject to opposing influences--the influence of Satan and his followers on the one hand, and the influence of Christ and his followers on the other hand;

That as we are being acted upon by these two influences, we are free "to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil." (2 Ne. 2:27.)

It is important that we keep in mind that the choices we make as we decide what is good and what is evil are the most important decisions we will ever make. Upon them depends our happiness or misery throughout time and eternity. ("The Voice of the Spirit," Ensign, Aug. 1978, p. 4)


Blessings If We Choose Right Punishments If We Choose Wrong

Neal A. Maxwell

Moral agency in the face of difficult choices was not for Adam and Eve alone (Moses 7:32; D&C 101:78). There are blessings if we choose aright and penalties if we choose wrongly. Therefore, attempting to stand between friends and the consequences of their wrong choices is not realistic; it is not nearly as useful as being lovingly at their sides before and when choices are being made. Men and women really are "free to choose" (2 Nephi 2:27), and we cannot and should not try to have it otherwise. (But for a Small Moment, p.130)



We Are Free To Choose Our Responses

Neal A. Maxwell

While we are not always free to choose just when and how all of life's interactions will occur, we are nevertheless free to choose our responses to these moments. ("The Pathway of Discipleship," Ensign, Sept. 1998, p. 10)

Marvin J. Ashton

In God's plan we are usually free to choose the changes we make in our lives and we are always free to choose how we will respond to the changes that come. ("Progress through Change," Ensign, Nov. 1979, p.61)


Our Choices May Effect the Next Generation

Neal A. Maxwell

All are free to choose, of course, and we would not have it otherwise. Unfortunately, however, when some choose slackness, they are choosing not only for themselves, but for the next generation and the next. Small equivocations in parents can produce large deviations in their children! Earlier generations in a family may have reflected dedication, while some in the current generation evidence equivocation. Sadly, in the next, some may choose dissension as erosion takes its toll. ("Settle This in Your Hearts," Ensign, Nov. 1992, pp. 65-66)


Our Choices Show What We Value

Boyd K. Packer

Our lives are made up of thousands of everyday choices. Over the years these little choices will be bundled together and show clearly what we value. ("The Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 21)



Free Will

Free Will Defined

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11 ed

1.Voluntary choice or decision. 2. Freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.


God Created Man To Act According to Their Free Will

Mosiah 2

God "has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will" (verse 21; emphasis added)

The Free Independence of Mind

Joseph Smith

We deem it a just principle, and it is one of the force of which we believe ought to be duly considered by every individual, that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. Consequently, then, we are not disposed, had we the power, to deprive any one of exercising that free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts; but we take the liberty (and this we have a right to do) of looking at this order of things a few moments, and contrasting it with the order of God as we find it in the sacred Scriptures. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.49)


Free Will is a True Principle

John Taylor

We talk sometimes about free will. Is that a correct principle? Yes. And it is a principle that has always existed, and proceeded from God, our Heavenly Father. (The Gospel Kingdom, p.59)

Howard W. Hunter

Abraham Lincoln once asked, "What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence?" He then answered, "It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, our army and our navy. … Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us." (Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, 11 Sept. 1858, quoted in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1968, p. 636.)

There are, of course, those who, in bitterness and disbelief, have rejected the idea of an independent spirit in man that is capable of free will and choice and true liberty. ("The Golden Thread of Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1989, 17)



Each Person Has the Free Will to Obey or Disobey

Joseph Fielding Smith

The Lord does not delight in the punishment of men. He is kind enough to grant to each his freedom to merit blessings or punishment according to his free will or pleasure. It never was the intention of the Lord to destroy, in the sense of annihilation, any of the souls of his children. His great object is to save them all, if they will freely partake of the blessings of salvation. (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:227)


Good Works are Done Only By Free Will

Mosiah 18

28 And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.


D&C 58

27 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;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

Heber J. Grant

[Quotes D&C 58:27-28] We should have the ambition, we should have the desire, we should make up our minds that, so far as the Lord Almighty has given to us talent, we will do our full share in the battle of life. It should be a matter of pride that no man shall do more than you will do, in proportion to your ability, in forwarding the work of God here upon the earth. That has been my ambition all my life--to do my full share. (Gospel Standards, p. 39)

Spencer W. Kimball

[Quotes D&C 58:27] All men have been given special powers and within certain limitations should develop those powers, give vent to their own imaginations, and not become rubber stamps. They should develop their own talents and abilities and capacities to their limit and use them to build up the kingdom. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 257)

Gordon B. Hinckley

[Quotes D&C 58:27] The power is in us, in each of us--the power to do significant acts of service on our own initiative if we will become anxiously engaged. (Faith: The Essence of True Religion [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], p. 40).

George Q. Cannon

Our Heavenly Father requires something more of us than to be merely obedient to a commandment when he gives it to us. He desires us to strive to do good of ourselves without waiting to be commanded to do so. (Gospel Truth, p. 123)

We Must Exercise Our Free Will to Live God's Law

Lorenzo Snow

We cannot be forced into living a celestial law; we must do this ourselves, of our own free will. (Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p.166)

Sin Committed By Our Free Will

George Q. Cannon

Therefore, in the great day, when we stand up to be judged according to the deeds done in the body, we cannot plead that we could not help doing so and so, because if we commit sin we do so by our own free will. God has not predestined any of us to be damned. ("Foreknowledge of God," May 10th, 1891 in Collected Discourses, Vol 2)

We Cannot Blame Anyone Else For Misuse of Free Will

Heber J. Grant

We are trusted by the Lord. We are agents. We have our free will. And when the battle of life is over, we have had the ability and the power and the capacity to have done those things which the Lord required us to do and we cannot blame anybody else. (Gospel Standards, p.63)

Celestial Kingdom is Attained By Exercise of Free Will

Lorenzo Snow

We cannot be forced into living a celestial law; we must do this ourselves, of our own free will. And whatever we do in regard to the principles of the united order, we must do it because we desire to do it. Some of us are practicing in the spirit of the united order, doing more than the law of tithing requires. We are not confined to the law of tithing. We have advanced to that point that we feel to soar above this law. (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p. 166.)

Joseph Fielding Smith

This great gift of agency, that is the privilege given to man to make his own choice, has never been revoked, and it never will be. It is an eternal principle giving freedom of thought and action to every soul. No person, by any decree of the Father, has ever been compelled to do good; no person has ever been forced to do evil. Each may act for himself. It was Satan's plan to destroy this agency and force men to do his will. There could be no satisfactory existence without this great gift. Men must have the privilege to choose even to the extent that they may rebel against the divine decrees. Of course salvation and exaltation must come through the free will without coercion and by individual merit in order that righteous rewards may be given and proper punishment be meted out to the transgressor. Therefore, when the great day of the Lord shall come, the wicked who have merited banishment from a righteous government will be consumed, or the privilege of continuance on the earth will be denied. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:20; emphasis added)


Free Will-The Only Personal Thing We Can Give God

Neal A. Maxwell

In conclusion, the submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we "give," brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give! ("Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father," Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 24)




Agency and Choice


Agency-A Gift From God


Moses 4

3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him . . .

Moses 7

32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

D&C 101

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.



Agency, The Foundation Principle


Marion G. Romney

I purpose to make a few remarks about the foundation principle upon which the gospel of Jesus Christ is built, the principle of agency. (Conference Report, October 1968, p.64)


Agency Is an Eternal Principle

Brigham Young

The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that, he would cease to be God. He has placed life and death before his children, and it is for them to choose. If they choose life, they receive the blessing of life; if they choose death, they must abide the penalty. This is a law which has always existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come. Every intelligent being must have the power of choice, and God brings forth the results of the acts of his creatures to promote his Kingdom and subserve his purposes in the salvation and exaltation of his children. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.62)


Agency - The Power to Act

2 Nephi 2

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon. (emphasis added)

Dictionary Definitions of Agency

Oxford English Dictionary - The faculty of an agent or of acting; active working or operation; action, activity.

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary-Faculty or state of acting or of exercising power; action.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11 ed.-The capacity, condition, or state of action or of exerting power.

Dictionary of Sociology - The term agency is usually juxtaposed to structure and is often no more than a synonym for action, emphasizing implicitly the undetermined nature of human action, as opposed to the alleged determinism of structural theories.

Agency - the Power to Do According to Our Own Will

Mosiah 2

God "has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will" (verse 21; emphasis added)

Alma 12

31 Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good- (emphasis added)

Joseph Fielding Smith

This great gift of agency, that is the privilege given to man to make his own choice, has never been revoked, and it never will be. It is an eternal principle giving freedom of thought and action to every soul. No person, by any decree of the Father, has ever been compelled to do good; no person has ever been forced to do evil. Each may act for himself. It was Satan's plan to destroy this agency and force men to do his will. There could be no satisfactory existence without this great gift. Men must have the privilege to choose even to the extent that they may rebel against the divine decrees. Of course salvation and exaltation must come through the free will without coercion and by individual merit in order that righteous rewards may be given and proper punishment be meted out to the transgressor. Therefore, when the great day of the Lord shall come, the wicked who have merited banishment from a righteous government will be consumed, or the privilege of continuance on the earth will be denied. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:20; emphasis added)

Agency - The Power to Choose and Act

Marion G. Romney

Free agency means the freedom and power to choose and act. Next to life itself, it is man's most precious inheritance. ("Church Welfare Services' Basic Principles," Ensign, May 1976, p. 120)


Agency Given to Choose and ActOn Good or Evil Choices

Gordon B. Hinckley

Mankind has been given agency to choose between right and wrong. ("Reverence and Morality," Ensign, May 1987, 47)

Boyd K. Packer

We want our children and their children to know that the choice of life is not between fame and obscurity, nor is the choice between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil, and that is a very different matter indeed. ("The Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 21)

Joseph B. Wirthlin

The Father's plan gave us our agency to choose right or wrong, good or evil so we can learn, develop, and progress. ("Deep Roots," Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 75)

David B. Haight

We have our agency to choose right from wrong, good from evil. But just because evil exists does not mean that we must partake of it. You cannot do wrong and feel right. ("A Time for Preparation," Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 37)

Dallin H. Oaks

When I say free agency I refer to what the scripture calls agency, which means an exercise of the will, the power to choose. ("Free Agency and Freedom," in The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure [Eds. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. Religious Studies Center, BYU, Provo Utah, 1989] p. 1)

Howard W. Hunter

Today, I would like to address both groups, members of our church as well as others, about one of the most important tenets of our faith and one of the most precious of God's gifts to mankind. It is our freedom, our agency, our inalienable and divine right to choose what we will believe and what we will not believe, and to choose what we want to be and what we want to do. I wish to speak of our responsibility and our opportunity to choose God, and the good, and eternal life; or to select evil, the destructive, and that which leads to painful misery and despair. ("The Golden Thread of Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 17)

Neal A. Maxwell

The vital revelations about the agency of man-our freedom to choose-inevitably disclose the perfect generosity and justice of God. ("Free to Choose," in Moving in His Majesty& Power [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004], pp. 1-2)

Dallin H. Oaks

God has given us agency--the power to choose between good (the path of life) and evil (the path of spiritual death and destruction.("Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign, Oct. 1995, p. 8)


Good and Evil Is Determined By God
Not Man

Spencer W. Kimball

You probably think you have found a new freedom: to think wholly for yourself, to make wholly your own determinations, to criticize and decide for yourself what is right and wrong. That was decided eternities ago. Right and wrong are not to be determined by you or me. Those elements were decided for us before our birth. We have the free agency to do the right or do the wrong, but who are we to alter those changeless things? We can scoff at sacred things, express our own little opinions, but remember that millions of men and women with keener minds than ours, with more erudite training than yours and mine, have said things and done things more startling, more ugly, more skeptical than you or I could think of. Millions have gone down the path you are entering. They have all come to grief or will ultimately. Shall the violin say to Tony Stradivarius, "You did not make me"? Shall the created thing question the creator? ... (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.160)

Richard G. Scott

Please understand, no one has the privilege to choose what is right. God reserved that prerogative to Himself. ("Healing Your Damaged Life," Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 61)


Our Choices Can Never Be Independent of Good or Evil Influences

Henry B. Eyring

Korihor was arguing, as men and women have falsely argued from the beginning of time, that to take counsel from the servants of God is to surrender God-given rights of independence. But the argument is false because it misrepresents reality. When we reject the counsel which comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. We reject the protection of a perfectly loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in Heaven, whose whole purpose, as that of His Beloved Son, is to give us eternal life, to give us all that He has, and to bring us home again in families to the arms of His love. In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred. We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose. ("Finding Safety in Counsel," Ensign, May 1997, p. 25)

Choice Brings Consequences

Gordon B. Hinckley

I repeat, each of us has a choice between right and wrong. But with that choice there inevitably will follow consequences. ("Reverence and Morality," Ensign, May 1987, p. 47)

Boyd K. Packer

In mortality men are free to choose, and each choice begets a consequence. ("Atonement, Agency, Accountability," Ensign, May 1988, p.71)



God-Not Man-Determines Consequences of Actions

Brigham Young

Our Father controls the results of our acts at his own pleasure, and we cannot prevent it. Man can produce and control his own acts, but he has no control over their results. God causes even the wrath of man to praise him, to redound to his glory and the salvation of his children. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.63)

He has given them the privilege of choosing for themselves, whether it be good or evil; but the results of our choice is still in his hand. All his children have the right of making a path for themselves of walking to the right or to the left, or telling the truth or that which is not true. This right God has given to all people who dwell on the earth, and they can legislate and act as they please; but God holds them in his hands, and he will bring forth the results of his glory, and for the benefit of those who love and serve him, and he will make the wrath of men to praise him. All of us are in the hands of that God. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.62)

Joseph B. Wirthlin

The Lord has given you the gift of agency (see Moses 7:32) and instructed you sufficiently to know good from evil (see 2 Ne. 2:5). You are free to choose (see 2 Ne. 2:27) and are permitted to act (see 2 Ne. 10:23; Hel. 14:30), but you are not free to choose the consequences. With absolute certainty, choices of good and right lead to happiness and peace, while choices of sin and evil eventually lead to unhappiness, sorrow, and misery. ("Running Your Marathon," Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 75)

Richard G. Scott

Yes, moral agency allows you to choose what you will, but you cannot control the outcome of those choices. Unlike the false creations of man, our Father in Heaven determines the consequences of your choices. Obedience will yhield happiness, while ciolation of His commandments will not. ("How To Live Well Amid Increasing Evil," Ensign, May 2004, pp. 100-103)

The secret to solve problems in your life will be found in understanding and using the eternally beneficial interaction of your agency and [God's] truth.

The Master said: "He that keepeth [the] commandments receiveth truth and light. …

"Light and truth forsake that evil one, …

"And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men." (D&C 93:28, 37, 39; emphasis added.)

He also declared, "Every man may act in doctrine and principle, … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable … in the day of judgment" (D&C 101:78; italics added).

These scriptures teach how to overcome the effects of wrong choices, whether they be lying, stealing, gambling, addiction to alcohol or drugs, immorality, inflicting abuse, or anything like it. Simply stated, one must use his agency to obey truth.

When others give you advice, have you ever said, "I just don't believe the way you do. Those are your standards and your principles. I have my own"? Please understand that no one can change truth. Rationalization, overpowering self-interest, all of the arguments of men, anger, or self-will cannot change truth. Satan knows that, so he tries to create an atmosphere where one unwittingly begins to feel that he can not only choose what to do, but can determine what is right to do. Satan strives to persuade us to live outside truth by rationalizing our actions as the right of choice.

But our Eternal Father defined truth and established what is right and wrong before the creation of this earth. He also fixed the consequences of obedience and disobedience to those truths. He defended our right to choose our path in life so that we would grow, develop, and be happy, but we do not have the right to choose the consequences of our acts. Those who willfully, consistently disobey His commandments will inevitably learn that truth. Joseph Smith was inspired to record, "When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:21.)

Please understand, no one has the privilege to choose what is right. God reserved that prerogative to Himself. Our agency does allow us to choose among alternate paths, but then we are bound to the consequence God has decreed. Later, if we don't like where the path takes us, the only out is through repentance. ("Healing Your Damaged Life," Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 61)


Not Free To Alter Consequences

Ezra Taft Benson

We are free to choose, but we are not free to alter the consequences of those choices. (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.382)



Not Free to Escape Consequences of Exercised Agency

Spencer W. Kimball

Of course we can choose; the free agency is ours, but we cannot escape the consequences of our choice. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.195)

Men have free agency, as the Lord has made clear. They may do right or wrong but they cannot escape the responsibility of answering for their errors if they are normal individuals. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.159)

Russell M. Nelson

Often, however, agency is misunderstood. While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices, we are tied to the consequences of those choices. ("Addiction or Freedom," Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 7)

We are free to think. We are free to plan. And then we are free to do. But once an action has been taken, we are never free from its consequences. ... To clarify this concept, we can learn from the astronaut. Any time during the selection process, planning, and preparation, he is free to withdraw. But once the powerful rocket fuel is ignited, he is no longer free to choose. Now he is bound by the consequences of his choice. Even if difficulties develop and he might wish otherwise, the choice made was sealed by action. ("Reverence for Life," Ensign, May 1985, 13)

Boyd K. Packer

Life is meant to be a test to see if we will keep the commandments of God. (See 2 Ne. 2:5.) We are free to obey or to ignore the spirit and the letter of the law. But the agency granted to man is a moral agency. (See D&C 101:78.) We are not free to break our covenants and escape the consequences. ("Covenants," Ensign, Nov. 1990, p. 84)

Neal A. Maxwell

There is always at least one victim of iniquity. Yes, I am free to choose, but I can neither be immune from the consequences of my wrong choices nor avoid accountability. ("Free to Choose," in Moving in His Majesty& Power [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004], pp. 1-2)


Consequences to Agency Reach Even to Our Desires

Dallin H. Oaks

God's law can assign consequences solely on the basis of our innermost thoughts and desires. There is no uncertainty in the administration of this law. As Ammon taught King Lamoni, God "looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning." (Alma 18:32.)

Similarly, Paul warned the Hebrews that God "is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," and "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him." (Heb. 4:12-13.)

In other words, God judges us not only for our acts, but also for the desires of our hearts. He has said so again and again. This is a challenging reality, but it is not surprising. Agency and accountability are eternal principles. We exercise our free agency not only by what we do, but also by what we decide, or will, or desire. Restrictions on freedom can deprive us of the power to do, but no one can deprive us of the power to will or desire. Accountability must therefore reach and attach consequences to the desires of our hearts. ( "The Desires of Our Hearts," Ensign, June 1986, pp. 64-65)


Agency in Pre-mortality

Howard W. Hunter

There are, of course, those who, in bitterness and disbelief, have rejected the idea of an independent spirit in man that is capable of free will and choice and true liberty.

We declare a bright and glorious view of God and man to all who will hear, a view revealed in and illuminated by the restored light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We testify of God's loving goodness and of his eternal respect for each of us, for us as individual children of God and for what each of us may become.

As our prophet leader, President Ezra Taft Benson has declared, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that life is eternal, that it has purpose. … [God has a] plan … for the benefit and blessing of us, His children. …

"Basic to [that] all-important plan is our free agency. …

"The right of choice … runs like a golden thread throughout the gospel … for the blessing of His children." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, pp. 80-81.)

Part of our reassurance about the free, noble, and progressing spirit of man comes from the glorious realization that we all existed and had our identities, and our agency, long before we came to this world. To some that will be a new thought, but the Bible teaches clearly just such an eternal view of life, a life stretching back before this world was and stretching forward into the eternities ahead.

God said to Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." (Jer. 1:5.) At another time God reminded Job that "all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7) before there was yet any man or woman on the earth God was creating. The Apostle Paul taught that God the Father chose us "before the foundation of the world." (Eph. 1:4.)

Where and when did all of this happen? Well, it happened long before man's mortal birth. It happened in a great premortal existence where we developed our identities and increased our spiritual capabilities by exercising our agency and making important choices. We developed our intelligence and learned to love the truth, and we prepared to come to earth to continue our progress.

Our Father in Heaven wanted our growth to continue in mortality and to be enhanced by our freedom to choose and learn. He also wanted us to exercise our faith and our will, especially with a new physical body to master and control. But we know from both ancient and modern revelation that Satan wished to deny us our independence and agency in that now-forgotten moment long ago, even as he wishes to deny them this very hour. Indeed, Satan violently opposed the freedom of choice offered by the Father, so violently that John in the Revelation described "war in heaven" (Rev. 12:7) over the matter. Satan would have coerced us, and he would have robbed us of that most precious of gifts if he could: our freedom to choose a divine future and the exaltation we all hope to obtain.

Through Christ and his valiant defense of our Father's plan, the course of agency and eternal aspirations prevailed. In that crucial, premortal setting, a major milestone was passed, a monumental victory was won. As a result, we would be allowed to continue to pursue what President David O. McKay once described as the "eternal principle of progress." Later Christ himself would come to earth, President McKay noted, "to perfect society by perfecting the individual, and only by the exercising of Free Agency can the individual even approach perfection." (In Conference Report, Apr. 1940, p. 118). [Howard W. Hunter, "The Golden Thread of Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 18]



The Free Exercise of Agency -The Purpose of Mortality

Wilford Woodruff

The Lord Almighty never created a world like this and peopled it for six thousand years, as He has done, without having some motive in view. That motive was, that we might come here and exercise our agency. The probation we are called upon to pass through is intended to elevate us so that we can dwell in the presence of God our Father. And that eternal variety of character which existed in the heavens among the spirits -- from God upon his throne down to Lucifer the son of the morning - exists here upon the earth. That variety will remain upon the earth in the creations of God, and for what I know, throughout the endless ages of eternity. Men will occupy different glories and positions according to their lives -- according to the law they keep the flesh. (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p.8)


The Difference Between Agency and Liberty/Freedom

Marion G. Romney

While perhaps it is seldom, if ever, contended that either political independence or economic freedom alone brings perfect liberty, it is not, however, uncommon for free agency to be considered as synonymous with freedom of the soul. And it is true that the God-given right to choose one's course of action is an indispensable prerequisite to such freedom. Without it we can scarcely enjoy any type of liberty--political, economic, or personal. It is one of our greatest heritages. ...

Free agency, however, precious as it is, is not of itself the perfect liberty we seek, nor does it necessarily lead thereto. As a matter of fact, through the exercise of their agency more people have come to political, economic, and personal bondage than to liberty.

The Nephites, for example, at one time, by the exercise of their agency, brought themselves to such a state of affairs that their only course led to political bondage. This they did while living under a government providing for the freest exercise of agency. "Their laws and their governments," says the record, "were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good." Therefore, "they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction." (Hel. 5:2-3.) Under these circumstances, they chose as rulers wicked men, who would certainly destroy their political liberties, to replace righteous men who had in the past protected and preserved those liberties and would have continued to do so in the future. ...

With respect to the loss of personal liberty through the misuse of free agency, our daily lives are filled with tragic evidence. We see the alcoholic with his craving for drink, the dope fiend in his frenzy, and worse, the pervert with his irretrievable loss of manhood. Who will say that such persons enjoy liberty?

Notwithstanding the fact that through its misuse, political, economic, and personal liberty are lost, free agency will always endure because it is an eternal principle. However, the free agency possessed by any one person is increased or diminished by the use to which he puts it. Every wrong decision one makes restricts the area in which he can thereafter exercise his agency. The further one goes in the making of wrong decisions in the exercise of free agency, the more difficult it is for him to recover the lost ground. One can, by persisting long enough, reach the point of no return. He then becomes an abject slave. By the exercise of his free agency, he has decreased the area in which he can act, almost to the vanishing point. ...

These poor souls have placed themselves in the power of Lucifer and his followers, who, as you remember, became Perdition. (See D&C 76:26.) Their final fate is to be cast out into outer darkness, such punishment being the natural consequence of the alternatives they elected in the exercise of their agency. The fact that they were originally endowed by their Creator with free agency does not save them from the most awful bondage, the bondage of sin.

Just as following wrong alternatives restricts free agency and leads to slavery, so pursuing correct alternatives widens the scope of one's agency and leads to perfect liberty. As a matter of fact, one may, by this process, obtain freedom of the soul while at the same time being denied political, economic, and personal liberty. For example, consider the Prophet Joseph Smith. Here was a man enjoying freedom of the soul while suffering the deprivation of almost every other liberty. ("The Perfect Law of Liberty," Ensign, Nov. 1981, 43-45; emphasis added)

Dallin H. Oaks

First, because free agency is a God-given precondition to the purpose of mortal life, no person or organization can take away our free agency in mortality.

Second, what can be taken away or reduced by the conditions of mortality is our freedom, the power to act upon our choices. Free agency is absolute, but in circumstances of mortality freedom is always qualified.

Freedom may be qualified or taken away (1) by physical laws, including the physical limitations with which we are born, (2) by our own actions, and (3) by the actions of others, including governments.

Lehi taught his son Jacob that "men are free [have freedom] according to the flesh" (2 Nephi 2:27). For example, in the flesh we are subject to the physical law of gravity. If I should hang from the catwalk in the Marriott Center and release my grip, I would not be free to will myself into a soft landing. And I cannot choose to run through a brick wall.

A loss of freedom reduces the extent to which we can act upon our choices, but it does not deprive us of our God-given free agency. ...

Interferences with our freedom do not deprive us of our free agency. When Pharaoh put Joseph in prison, he restricted Joseph's freedom, but he did not take away his free agency. When Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, he interfered with their freedom to engage in a particular activity at a particular time in a particular place, but he did not take away their free agency. ("Free Agency and Freedom," in The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure [Eds. Monte S. Nyman
and Charles D. Tate, Jr. Religious Studies Center, BYU, Provo Utah, 1989] pp. 9-11.)


The Exercise of Agency Brings Greater or Lesser Freedom

Marion G. Romney

Every choice one makes either expands or contracts the area in which he can make and implement future decisions. When one makes a choice, he irrevocably binds himself to accept the consequences of that choice. (Conference Report, October 1968, p.65)

[T]he free agency possessed by any one person is increased or diminished by the use to which he puts it. Every wrong decision one makes restricts the area in which he can thereafter exercise his agency. The further one goes in the making of wrong decisions in the exercise of free agency, the more difficult it is for him to recover the lost ground. One can, by persisting long enough, reach the point of no return. He then becomes an abject slave. By the exercise of his free agency, he has decreased the area in which he can act, almost to the vanishing point. . . . Just as following wrong alternatives restricts free agency and leads to slavery, so pursuing correct alternatives widens the scope of one's agency and leads to perfect liberty. As a matter of fact, one may, by this process, obtain freedom of the soul while at the same time being denied political, economic, and personal liberty. ("The Perfect Law of Liberty," Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 45)

Spencer W. Kimball

Sin becomes a habit. Sin is intensely habit-forming and sometimes moves men to the tragic point of no return. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness, and without forgiveness all the blessings of eternity hang in jeopardy. As the transgressor moves deeper and deeper in his sin, and the error is entrenched more deeply and the will to change is weakened, it becomes increasingly nearer hopeless and he skids down and down until either he does not want to climb back up or he has lost the power to do so. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.83)

Neal A. Maxwell

Of course, as individuals, we are free to choose! But wrong choices will make us less free. Furthermore, erosive error gradually makes one less and less of an individual. God and His prophets would spare us that shrinkage. ("Answer Me," Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 32)



Teaching Correct Principles Necessary to Correct Use of Agency

John Taylor

What is it that will enable one man to govern his fellows aright? It is just as Joseph Smith said to a certain man who asked him,"How do you govern such a vast people as this?" "Oh," says Joseph, "it is very easy." "Why," says the man "but we find it very difficult." "But," said Joseph, "it is very easy, for I teach the people correct principles, and they govern themselves." (The Gospel Kingdom, p.323)

Erastus Snow

This is the explanation the Prophet Joseph Smith gave to a certain lawyer in his time who came to see him and his people and expressed astonishment and surprise at the ease with which he controlled the people, and said it was something that was not to be found among the learned men of the world. Said he: "We cannot do it. What is the secret of your success?" "Why," said the Prophet, "I do not govern the people. I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." (Journal of Discourses, 24:158-159)

Orson F. Whitney

I am convinced that of all governments the greatest and the best is that government in which the people govern themselves. The Prophet Joseph Smith was asked by a stranger visitor at Nauvoo, "How do you govern these people, these Americans, these Britons, these Scandinavians, these men from all parts of the world, all nationalities, speaking different languages, having different customs and traditions,--how do you govern them, that they live together in peace, with a common purpose, and in the spirit of unity?" The Prophet sagely answered--and he never said a wiser thing--"I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves." That government in which the people can and do govern themselves by obedience to correct principles, is manifestly superior to any government that depends upon one man's will. The word of God declares, "It is a slothful servant who waits to be commanded in all things." Even in a government where God might command and direct in everything, the condition would be inferior to what it would be in a community of enlightened freemen, enjoying the fullness of the Gospel, filled with the knowledge of the heavens, doing good of their own accord, governing themselves, loving their neighbors and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God. (Conference Report, April 1909, p.76)


Agency Is Not a Power Designed to Get What You Want

Richard G. Scott

Your agency, the right to make choices, is not given so that you can get what you want. This divine gift is provided so that you will choose what your Father in Heaven wants for you. That way He can lead you to become all that He intends you to be (see D&C 58:26-32). That path leads to glorious joy and happiness. ("Finding Joy in Life," Ensign, May 1996, p. 25)


All God's Children Have the "Right" of Agency

Dictionary Definitions of "Rights"

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11 ed. - Something to which one has just claim. Something that one may properly claim as due.

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary - That to which one has a just claim; any power or privilege vested in a person by the law, custom, etc.

Brigham Young

My independence is sacred to me - it is a portion of that same Diety that rules in the heavens. There is not a being upon the face of the earth who is made in the image of God, who stands erect and is organized as God is, that would be deprived of the free exercise of his agency so far as he does not infringe upon other's rights, save by good advice and a good example. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.62)

Wilford Woodruff

With regard to the rights of the human family, I wish to say that God has given unto all of his children of this dispensation, as he gave unto all of his children of previous dispensations, individual agency. This agency has always been the heritage of man under the rule and government of God. He possessed it in the heaven of heavens before the world was, and the Lord maintained and defended it there against the aggression of Lucifer and those that took sides with him, to the overthrow of Lucifer and one-third part of the heavenly hosts. By virtue of this agency you and I and all mankind are made responsible beings, responsible for the course we pursue, the lives we live, the deeds we do in the body. (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp.8-9)


Do Not Confuse Agency With the "Right" to Do Wrong

Joseph Fielding Smith

I have heard people say, and members of the Church too, "I have a right to do as I please." My answer is: No, you do not. You haven't any right at all to do just as you please. There is only one right that you have, and that is to do just what I read to you: keep the commandments of Jesus Christ. He has a perfect right to tell us so. We have no right to refuse. I do not care who the man is; I do not care where he lives, or what he is--when the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented to him, he has no right to refuse to receive it. He has the privilege. He is not compelled to receive it, because our Father in heaven has given to everyone of us in the Church and out, the gift of free agency. That free agency gives us the privilege to accept and be loyal to our Lord's commandments, but it has never given us the right to reject them. Every man who rejects the commandments of our Father in heaven is rebellious. (Conference Report, April 1967, pp.120-121)



God Will Not Tamper With Man's Agency

Boyd K. Packer

But the decision, the action, must begin with the individual. The Lord will not tamper with our agency. (The Holy Temple, p. 236.)

David O. McKay

Men may choose the right or they may choose the wrong; they may walk in darkness or they may walk in the light; and, mind you, God has not left his children without the light. He has given them in the various dispensations of the world the light of the gospel wherein they could walk and not stumble, wherein they could find that peace and happiness which he desires, as a loving Father, his children should enjoy, but the Lord does not take from them their free agency. (Gospel Ideals, p.301)


We Must Give God the One Thing He Will Not Take From Us - Our Agency

Boyd K. Packer

Now, my young friends, I would like to make reference to another experience, one I think of often but one I seldom talk about. I shall not mention it in detail; I only want to refer to it. It happened many years ago when I was perhaps not quite as young as you are now, and it had to do with my decision to follow that guide.

I knew what agency was and knew how important it was to be individual and to be independent, to be free. I somehow knew there was one thing the Lord would never take from me, and that was my free agency. I would not surrender my agency to any being but to Him! I determined that I would give Him the one thing that He would never take--my agency. I decided, by myself, that from that time on I would do things His way.

That was a great trial for me, for I thought I was giving away the most precious thing I possessed. I was not wise enough in my youth to know that because I exercised my agency and decided myself, I was not losing it. It was strengthened! ("Spiritual Crocodiles," Ensign, May 1976, p. 32)


Essential Conditions of Agency

Bruce R. McConkie

Four great principles must be in force if there is to be agency:

1. Laws must exist, laws ordained by an Omnipotent power, laws which can be obeyed or disobeyed;

2. Opposites must exist--good and evil, virtue and vice, right and wrong--that is, there must be an opposition, one force pulling one way and another pulling the other.

3. A knowledge of good and evil must be had by those who are to enjoy the agency, that is, they must know the difference between the opposites; and

4. An unfettered power of choice must prevail. (Mormon Doctrine, p. 26)

Harold B. Lee

But, you ask, why does God, if He truly loves his children, permit Satan to tempt us and thereby jeopardize our chances to gain the best experiences in mortality and return to enjoy eternal life in His presence? The answer is given by a great prophet-teacher: "Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one [which is evil] or the other [which is good]." (2 Nephi 2:16.) Think about that for a moment. If there were no opposition to good, would there be any chance to exercise your agency or right to choose? To deny you that privilege would be to deny you the opportunity to grow in knowledge, experience, and power. God has given laws with penalties affixed so that man might be made afraid of sin and be guided into paths of truth and duty. (See Alma 42:20.) [Stand Ye In Holy Places, p.219]

Next to life itself, free agency is God's greatest gift to mankind, providing thereby the greatest opportunity for the children of God to advance in this second estate of mortality. A prophet-leader on this continent explained this to his son as recorded in an ancient scripture: that to bring about these, the Lord's eternal purposes, there must be opposites, an enticement by the good on the one hand and by the evil on the other, or to say it in the language of the scriptures, "... the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other being bitter." This father further explained, "Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other." (2 Nephi 2:15-16.) [Stand Ye In Holy Places, p.235]


Preservation of Agency More Important Than Life

Marion G. Romney

The preservation of free agency is more important than the preservation of life itself. As a matter of fact, without it, there would be no existence. (Conference Report, October 1968, p.65)


Agency Essential for Growth and Development

Marion G. Romney

Latter-day Saints not only believe that freedom to make one's own choices is an inalienable divine right; they also know that the exercise of it is essential to man's growth and development. Deprived of it, men would be but puppets in the hands of fate. ( (Conference Report, October 1968, p.65)


No Enduring Improvement Without Agency

Richard G. Scott

No enduring improvement can occur without righteous exercise of agency. Do not attempt to override agency. The Lord himself would not do that. Forced obedience yields no blessings (see D&C 58:26-33). [ "To Help a Loved One in Need," Ensign, May 1988, p. 60]



Agency Necessary For Individual Spiritual Growth

Dean L. Larsen

When we understand what is right and what is wrong, we are in a position to exercise our freedom in making choices. In so doing, we must stand accountable for our decisions, and we cannot escape the inevitable consequences of these choices. Such freedom to exercise moral agency is essential in an environment where people have the highest prospects for progress and development.

By our very endowment as children of an Eternal Father, we have had implanted within our souls the urgency to be free. It is natural for us to want to be accountable for our own fates, because there is a whispering within us confirming that this accountability is absolutely essential to the attainment of our eternal destiny.

The existence of laws, regulations, and procedures has never been sufficient to compel men to obedience. Productive obedience comes through the exercise of free will. ...

... Today we are being encouraged to accept greater responsibility for the allocation of our time, for our spiritual development through personal and family study of the gospel, and for giving loving Christian service. We must be willing to respond to this new challenge. Our willingness to accept this added accountability will exert an influence that will reach far beyond our Sunday worship service and religious life.

Unless we retain a vibrant desire to be free, and unless we understand and practice the principles that give life to essential freedoms, we have little reason to hope they will endure. If we allow ourselves to accept dependency and regulation and to cease valuing independence and self-accountability, then we are vulnerable to the forces that destroy freedom. If righteousness is judged primarily by the degree to which one responds to programmed activity, then a condition develops within which opportunities for progress decline. The resulting tragedy affects the mortal potential of man and has a profound effect on his eternal possibilities as well.

Programmed behavior cannot produce the level of spiritual development required to qualify one for eternal life. A necessary range of freedom and self-determination is essential to one's spiritual development. With an understanding of correct principles and an intrinsic desire to apply them, one must be motivated within himself to do many good things of his own free will; for, as the revelation says, the power is in him wherein he is an agent unto himself (see D&C 58:27-28).

In preserving our freedom for self-determination, we cannot ignore the need for carefully ordered structure and procedure within government or any other organization. A careful balance must be maintained between that which is ordered for the welfare of the group and that which is reserved for the conscience and the incentive of the individual.

This necessary balance of freedom and restraint is essential to right relationships within families and communities, and it cannot be ignored in our assignments within the Church.

I have pondered the injunctions that have come to us in recent months from leaders of the Church to simplify and reduce the number of programmed activities prescribed for the members. There seems to be a sensitivity to the need for maintaining this essential balance. We have heard increased emphasis given to the need for individual initiative and accountability within families. In his concluding remarks at the April 1979 general conference, President Kimball said:

"The basic decisions needed for us to move forward, as a people, must be made by the individual members of the Church. The major strides which must be made by the Church will follow upon the major strides to be made by us as individuals. …

"… Our individual spiritual growth is the key to major numerical growth in the kingdom" (Ensign, May 1979, p. 82).

I rejoice in the spirit and intent of this instruction from a living prophet. I see in it the purposeful effort to preserve our individual accountability in the context of our Church membership and religious life.

When members of the Church exercise self-determination in their application of gospel principles they need not relax in their compliance with these principles. In fact, optimum progress can only occur when conditions are ideal for it, and these conditions must include the necessary degree of freedom and self-accountability. Anything less will guarantee stunted spiritual growth.

We must understand that as freedom for unrestricted development is enhanced, the possibilities for failure are also increased. The risk factor is great. The ideal cannot be achieved otherwise. Celestial attainment can be reached in no other environment. ("Self-Accountability and Human Progress," Ensign, May 1980, pp. 76-78)

Without Atonement Agency Would Be Fatal

Boyd K. Packer

Lucifer in clever ways manipulates our choices, deceiving us about sin and consequences. He, and his angels with him, tempt us to be unworthy, even wicked. But he cannot, in all eternity he cannot, with all his power he cannot completely destroy us; not without our own consent. Had agency come to man without the Atonement, it would have been a fatal gift. ("Atonement, Agency, Accountability," Ensign, May 1988, p. 71)


The Atonement and Agency

Howard W. Hunter

Given the freedom to choose, we may, in fact, make wrong choices, bad choices, hurtful choices. And sometimes we do just that, but that is where the mission and mercy of Jesus Christ comes into full force and glory. He has taken upon himself the burden of all the world's risk. He has provided a mediating atonement for the wrong choices we make. He is our advocate with the Father and has paid, in advance, for the faults and foolishness we often see in the exercise of our freedom. We must accept his gift, repent of those mistakes, and follow his commandments in order to take full advantage of this redemption. The offer is always there; the way is always open. We can always, even in our darkest hour and most disastrous errors, look to the Son of God and live. ("The Golden Thread of Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 19)

Richard G. Scott

I do not fully understand how it is done, but this divine current does not take away your moral agency. You can make the decisions you choose to make. Should your choices be wrong, there is a path back--repentance. When its conditions are fully met, the Atonement of the Savior provides a release from the demands of justice for the errors made. He said, "I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven" (D&C 1:31-32). ("He Lives," Ensign, Nov. 1999, p. 87)

Marion G. Romney

By yielding to the temptation of Satan we become unclean. To the extent to which we yield we become carnal, sensual, and devilish. As a consequence, we are banished from the presence of God. Without being cleansed from the stain of our transgressions we cannot be readmitted into the presence of God because "no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom." (3 Ne. 27:19.) Men, in the exercise of their own free agency, having disqualified themselves for a place in the kingdom of God, are banished therefrom and cannot by their own unaided efforts return. If they are ever to return, atonement for their sins must be made by someone not himself banished: Jesus was that one. ("Christ's Atonement: The Gift Supreme," Ensign, Dec. 1973, p.3)



Free Government Necessary For Exercise of Agency

Dallin H. Oaks

"That every man may act … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

"Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

"And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land." (D&C 101:78-80.)

In other words, the most desirable condition for the effective exercise of God-given moral agency is a condition of maximum freedom and responsibility. ( "The Divinely Inspired Constitution," Ensign, Feb. 1992, 72)


Agency and Laws

Wilford Woodruff

The God of heaven, who created this earth and placed his children upon it, gave unto them a law whereby they might be exalted and saved in a kingdom of glory. For there is a law given unto all kingdoms, and all things are governed by law throughout the whole universe, Whatever law anyone keeps, he is preserved by that law, and he receives whatever reward that law guarantee unto him. It is the will of God that all his children should obey the highest law, that they may receive the highest glory that is ordained for all immortal beings. But God has given all his children an agency, to choose what law they will keep. (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p.10)


One of the Mission's of the Church: To Perpetuate Agency of Man

John Taylor

Besides the preaching of the gospel, we have another mission, namely, the perpetuation of the free agency of man and the maintenance of liberty, freedom, and the rights of man. There are certain principles that belong to humanity outside of the Constitution, outside of the laws outside of all the enactments and plans of man, among which is the right to live. God gave us the right and no man: No government gave it to us, and no government has a right to take it away from us.

We have a right to liberty -- that was a right that God gave to all men; and if there has been oppression, fraud, or tyranny in the earth, it has been the result of the wickedness and corruptions of men and has always been opposed to God and the principles of truth righteousness, virtue, and all principles that are calculated to elevate mankind. (The Gospel Kingdom, p.222)


Word of Wisdom Helps Us Keep Our Agency

Boyd K. Packer

Narcotic addiction serves the design of the prince of darkness, for it disrupts the channel to the holy spirit of truth. At present, the adversary has an unfair advantage. Addiction has the capacity to disconnect the human will and nullify moral agency. It can rob one of the power to decide. Agency is too fundamental a doctrine to be left in such jeopardy. ("Revelation in a Changing World," Ensign, Nov. 1989, p.14)

Robert D. Hales

Warning lights of a personal nature are activated for many reasons. For example, the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or pornography would turn on warning lights, because when we choose to use these substances, we become slaves and our moral agency is limited. We must be prepared with preconditioned responses to reject these things when they are offered to us, or we will jeopardize our right to have the Spirit to guide us and direct us and our ability to return to our Heavenly Father with honor. ("Return with Honor," Ensign, June 1999, p. 10)



Must Make Certain Judgments to Exercise Agency

Dallin H. Oaks

In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call "intermediate judgments." These judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency. (" 'Judge Not' and Judging," Ensign, Aug. 1999, p. 9)

Agency Is Not the Ultimate Goal - It Is a Means to an End!

Dallin H. Oaks

My next example in this message on "weightier" matters is the role of choice, or agency.

Few concepts have more potential to mislead us than the idea that choice, or agency, is an ultimate goal. For Latter-day Saints, this potential confusion is partly a product of the fact that moral agency--the right to choose--is a fundamental condition of mortal life. Without this precious gift of God, the purpose of mortal life could not be realized. To secure our agency in mortality we fought a mighty contest the book of Revelation calls a "war in heaven." This premortal contest ended with the devil and his angels being cast out of heaven and being denied the opportunity of having a body in mortal life (see Rev. 12:7-9).

But our war to secure agency was won. The test in this postwar mortal estate is not to secure choice but to use it--to choose good instead of evil so that we can achieve our eternal goals. In mortality, choice is a method, not a goal.

Of course, mortals must still resolve many questions concerning what restrictions or consequences should be placed upon choices. But those questions come under the heading of freedom, not agency. Many do not understand that important fact. We are responsible to use our agency in a world of choices. It will not do to pretend that our agency has been taken away when we are not free to exercise it without unwelcome consequences.

Because choice is a method, choices can be exercised either way on any matter, and our choices can serve any goal. Therefore, those who consider freedom of choice as a goal can easily slip into the position of trying to justify any choice that is made. "Choice" can even become a slogan to justify one particular choice. For example, today one who says "I am pro-choice" is clearly understood as opposing any legal restrictions upon a woman''s choice to abort a fetus.

More than 30 years ago, as a young law professor, I published one of the earliest articles on the legal consequences of abortion. Since that time I have been a knowledgeable observer of the national debate and the unfortunate Supreme Court decisions on the so-called "right to abortion." I have been fascinated with how cleverly those who sought and now defend legalized abortion on demand have moved the issue away from a debate on the moral, ethical, and medical pros and cons of legal restrictions on abortion and focused the debate on the slogan or issue of choice. The slogan or sound bite "pro-choice" has had an almost magical effect in justifying abortion and in neutralizing opposition to it.

Pro-choice slogans have been particularly seductive to Latter-day Saints because we know that moral agency, which can be described as the power of choice, is a fundamental necessity in the gospel plan. All Latter-day Saints are pro-choice according to that theological definition. But being pro-choice on the need for moral agency does not end the matter for us. Choice is a method, not the ultimate goal. We are accountable for our choices, and only righteous choices will move us toward our eternal goals.

In this effort, Latter-day Saints follow the teachings of the prophets. On this subject our prophetic guidance is clear. The Lord commanded, "Thou shalt not … kill, nor do anything like unto it" (D&C 59:6). The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Our members are taught that, subject only to some very rare exceptions, they must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. That direction tells us what we need to do on the weightier matters of the law, the choices that will move us toward eternal life.

In today's world we are not true to our teachings if we are merely pro-choice. We must stand up for the right choice. Those who persist in refusing to think beyond slogans and sound bites like pro-choice wander from the goals they pretend to espouse and wind up giving their support to results they might not support if those results were presented without disguise.

For example, consider the uses some have made of the possible exceptions to our firm teachings against abortion. Our leaders have taught that the only possible exceptions are when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or when a competent physician has determined that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy or that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Because abortion is a most serious matter, we are counseled that it should be considered only after the persons responsible have consulted with their bishops and received divine confirmation through prayer.

Some Latter-day Saints say they deplore abortion, but they give these exceptional circumstances as a basis for their pro-choice position that the law should allow abortion on demand in all circumstances. Such persons should face the reality that the circumstances described in these three exceptions are extremely rare. For example, conception by incest or rape--the circumstance most commonly cited by those who use exceptions to argue for abortion on demand--is involved in only a tiny minority of abortions. More than 95 percent of the millions of abortions performed each year extinguish the life of a fetus conceived by consensual relations. Thus the effect in over 95 percent of abortions is not to vindicate choice but to avoid its consequences. Using arguments of "choice" to try to justify altering the consequences of choice is a classic case of omitting what the Savior called "the weightier matters of the law."

A prominent basis for the secular or philosophical arguments for abortion on demand is the argument that a woman should have control over her own body. Not long ago I received a letter from a thoughtful Latter-day Saint outside the United States who analyzed that argument in secular terms. Since his analysis reaches the same conclusion I have urged on religious grounds, I quote it here for the benefit of those most subject to persuasion on this basis:

"Every woman has, within the limits of nature, the right to choose what will or will not happen to her body. Every woman has, at the same time, the responsibility for the way she uses her body. If by her choice she behaves in such a way that a human fetus is conceived, she has not only the right to but also the responsibility for that fetus. If it is an unwanted pregnancy, she is not justified in ending it with the claim that it interferes with her right to choose. She herself chose what would happen to her body by risking pregnancy. She had her choice. If she has no better reason, her conscience should tell her that abortion would be a highly irresponsible choice.

"What constitutes a good reason? Since a human fetus has intrinsic and infinite human value, the only good reason for an abortion would be the violation or deprivation of or the threat to the woman's right to choose what will or will not happen to her body. Social, educational, financial, and personal considerations alone do not outweigh the value of the life that is in the fetus. These considerations by themselves may properly lead to the decision to place the baby for adoption after its birth, but not to end its existence in utero.

"The woman's right to choose what will or will not happen to her body is obviously violated by rape or incest. When conception results in such a case, the woman has the moral as well as the legal right to an abortion because the condition of pregnancy is the result of someone else's irresponsibility, not hers. She does not have to take responsibility for it. To force her by law to carry the fetus to term would be a further violation of her right. She also has the right to refuse an abortion. This would give her the right to the fetus and also the responsibility for it. She could later relinquish this right and this responsibility through the process of placing the baby for adoption after it is born. Whichever way is a responsible choice."

The man who wrote those words also applied the same reasoning to the other exceptions allowed by our doctrine--life of the mother and a baby that will not survive birth.

I conclude this discussion of choice with two more short points.

If we say we are anti-abortion in our personal life but pro-choice in public policy, we are saying that we will not use our influence to establish public policies that encourage righteous choices on matters God's servants have defined as serious sins. I urge Latter-day Saints who have taken that position to ask themselves which other grievous sins should be decriminalized or smiled on by the law due to this theory that persons should not be hampered in their choices. Should we decriminalize or lighten the legal consequences of child abuse? of cruelty to animals? of pollution? of fraud? of fathers who choose to abandon their families for greater freedom or convenience?

Similarly, some reach the pro-choice position by saying we should not legislate morality. Those who take this position should realize that the law of crimes legislates nothing but morality. Should we repeal all laws with a moral basis so that our government will not punish any choices some persons consider immoral? Such an action would wipe out virtually all of the laws against crimes. ("Weightier Matters," Ensign, Jan. 2001, pp. 13-15)


Our Use of Agency Fashions Our Future

Howard W. Hunter

When the children of Israel returned from Egypt and stood on the threshold of the promised land, they faced the clear choice of what was before them. Of the future that was about to be theirs, the Lord said to them:

"Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse;

"A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day:

"And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God." (Deut. 11:26-28.)

That is the choice the Lord puts before us as we face our own promised lands and our own bright futures. We are given the knowledge, the help, the enticement, and the freedom to choose the path of eternal safety and salvation. The choice to do so is ours. By divine decree before this world was, the actual choice is and always has been our own.

Let us be conscious of the fact that our future is being fashioned by the decisions we make. ("The Golden Thread of Choice," Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 19)


Agency Necessary to Inspiration

Boyd K. Packer

You have your agency, and inspiration does not--perhaps cannot--flow unless you ask for it, or someone asks for you. No message in scripture is repeated more often than the invitation, even the command, to pray--to ask. Prayer is so essential a part of revelation that without it the veil may remain closed to you. Learn to pray. Pray often. Pray in your mind, in your heart. Pray on your knees. ("Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 59)


Misuse of Agency Within the Church

Ezra Taft Benson

Because God has given men their agency, there will always be those who will misuse it. The gospel net draws in the good and the bad, the best and the worst. The worst because the devil, before the final cleansing, will put some of his followers within the kingdom in order to try and destroy it. We have some of them within the kingdom today, and in due course their number shall be known. Time has a way of taking care of all things, of elevating the good and bringing down the bad. If we see things going on within the kingdom that disturb us, we might first resolve, if the matter falls within our stewardship, to go to the person or people involved. If it is of such a nature that we think it should be called to the attention of higher authority, then we can, in a kindly and quiet manner, take the necessary steps at the proper level. (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.82)


We Have Agency to Believe But Not Teach What We Want

Boyd K. Packer

It is not the belief in a false notion that is the problem, it is the teaching of it to others. In the Church we have the agency to believe whatever we want to believe about whatever we want to believe. But we are not authorized to teach it to others as truth. ("From Such Turn Away," Ensign, May 1985, p. 35)


Things That Aid The Proper Use of Agency

Spencer J. Condie

Our loving Father in Heaven has given us many indispensable resources and means to guide us in the wise exercise of our agency.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost. In D&C 33:16, the Lord revealed that "the power of [his] Spirit quickeneth all things." I believe that "all things" means all things. He will not usurp or override our moral agency, but when given an invitation, his Spirit will augment and accelerate our agency. When the Spirit, the gift of the Holy Ghost, is given a chance to influence us, decisions become easier and despair dissipates as solutions to our challenges become clearly evident.

The Book of Mormon prophets make it very clear that the Holy Ghost is willing to exert a very powerful influence in our lives when we are responsive to his promptings. Nephi, Mormon, and Ether explained that the Spirit strives with us to guide our lives on righteous paths (see 2 Ne. 26:11; Morm. 5:16; Ether 2:15). Moroni proclaimed that the Spirit persuades us to do good (see Ether 4:11-12). Amulek taught that the Holy Ghost contends with us to do that which is right (see Alma 34:38), and King Benjamin explained that the Holy Ghost entices us to be righteous (see Mosiah 3:19).

The promptings of the Spirit were never intended to supplant our moral agency, but the Spirit will underscore preferable options in our behavior and clarify a certain course of action in our hearts and minds.

The Savior's Example. Jesus Christ set the perfect example for us. Without boasting, he acknowledged that "the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him" (John 8:29). He has extended to each of us the invitation to "learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me" (D&C 19:23).

Scripture. Another indispensable resource that assists us in using our agency wisely is holy scripture. The Apostle Paul explained, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Nephi gave the additional prophetic promise that when we "feast upon the words of Christ, … the words of Christ will tell [us] all things what [we] should do" (2 Ne. 32:3). In short, the scriptures are our life script, our instruction manual in mortality, if you will. But of course, if the universal teachings in holy writ are to benefit us, we must follow Nephi's additional counsel to "liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning" (1 Ne. 19:23).

Testimony. We learn in the book of Revelation that during the war in heaven, those who overcame Satan and his followers did so "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" (see Rev. 12:7-11). A testimony was an invaluable weapon in the war in heaven, and it is an indispensable weapon here on earth.

A testimony that is continually being nourished and is continually growing will help us at every crossroad when important decisions are made. Indeed, a testimony supplants the need to make certain decisions under fire, because we already know well in advance the course of action we will take.

Power of Prayer. The Apostle James eloquently observed that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). Alma the Elder would certainly be an ardent advocate of this statement by James, for when the angel appeared to Alma's wayward son, he explained to Alma the Younger that "the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee" (Mosiah 27:14).

All prayers are, indeed, answered, and it is well to remember that sometimes the answer is not in the affirmative. As the Son of God prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the bitter cup might pass, an affirmative reply would have thwarted the entire plan of salvation. But the Only Begotten Son demonstrated his meekness and humility and obedience as he added: "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). The divine answer was no, but "there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him" (Luke 22:43). This is certainly a prototype and a promise for each of us as we too are required to drink from bitter cups in our lives. We will not be left comfortless.

Fasting. There are great blessings promised to those who fast. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord posed an important question, followed by profound promises: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" (Isa. 58:6.)

When we subordinate our physical needs and desires to the dictates of the Spirit, we tap into a spiritual strength beyond our own. If we are in bondage to bad habits or unkind thoughts, we can break the bands of weakness or wickedness through fasting. Our hearts will be filled with love and forgiveness, and we can get on with our lives after having broken "every yoke."

Ordinances. Ordinances are outward manifestations of inner covenants, commitments, and promises. Ordinances are not optional on the pathway to perfection. These include baptism and confirmation (see John 3:5; 2 Ne. 31:5-12); ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood, for all males (see D&C 84:33-42); the temple endowment and the sealing ordinance (see D&C 132:15-24).

Participation in ordinances helps us use our agency wisely and well, and a constant commitment to covenants spares us the emotional energy required to decide and re-decide what we are going to do each time we face temptation. Each week, through the ordinance of the sacrament, we solemnly covenant to "always remember him" (Moro. 4:3; Moro. 5:2; emphasis added).

Living Prophets. A loving Heavenly Father has provided us with living prophets to receive and to help us understand his mind and will. In speaking of his servants, the Savior said: "And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation" (D&C 68:4). Elsewhere he declared that "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38).

We sustain the fifteen men serving today in the First Presidency and in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators. They are watchmen on the tower who point out the course of action we should take and who see beyond the bend in the road and beyond the horizon.

Patriarchal Blessings. President Ezra Taft Benson encouraged every youth to receive a patriarchal blessing and admonished, "Study it carefully and regard it as personal scripture for you--for that is what it is. A patriarchal blessing is the inspired and prophetic statement of your life's mission, together with blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give" (Ensign, May 1986, p. 43). ["Agency: The Gift of Choices," Ensign, Sept. 1995, pp. 21-22]


Enemies of Agency

Spencer J. Condie

Satan would have us waste our time in activities that impede our progress on the pathway to perfection. Following are some of the many enemies of agency.

Addiction. Many people lead empty lives completely devoid of purpose, meaning, and direction. Empty lives must be filled with something, anything, so some people fill their empty lives with endless hours of television, while others become addicted to pornography, alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Still others develop an unhealthy capacity for overeating. And ever so surely these individuals trade their moral agency for their addiction until they are no longer able to exercise their agency. All of their decisions are now on automatic pilot, with seemingly little hope of changing the direction of their lives. There is little advantage to living in a free country if we are in bondage to personal habits.

Debt. The accumulation of financial debt is another dangerous incursion upon our moral agency. A poignant description of the enslaving power of debt was provided by the late President J. Reuben Clark: "Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation … it has no love, no sympathy; it is as hard and soulless as a granite cliff. Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you" (in Conference Report, 6 April 1938, p. 103).

There are, of course, justifiable occasions when one incurs debt, such as for the purchase of a house or a major business investment. But even then, great wisdom should be used.

Discouragement. Discouragement and its fellow travelers of depression, despair, and hopelessness are much like the proverbial rocking chair: they keep us busily occupied, but they do not take us anywhere.

I have found through personal experience that whenever I am discouraged and start thinking only of myself and how hard hit I have been, when I kneel down and count my blessings, all of a sudden my personal problems do not seem large at all.

President Spencer W. Kimball provided us with excellent counsel in overcoming discouragement and finding meaning to our lives: "When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves. In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus, that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves (see Matt. 10:39). … The more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. … Indeed, it is easier to 'find' ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!" (Ensign, Dec. 1974, p. 2.)

Cultural Traditions. A recurrent theme throughout the Book of Mormon is the constraining influence of the false "tradition of their fathers" passed down from Laman and Lemuel through subsequent generations (see Mosiah 10:11-12; Alma 37:9; Alma 60:32; Hel. 5:51; Hel. 15:4; Hel. 16:18-20). Tradition can be a double-edged sword. When based upon the perpetuation of righteous principles, tradition can become a marvelous support system in helping us employ our moral agency wisely. On the other hand, many traditions find their origins in the false pride and foibles of mankind. In modern-day revelation, the Lord has taught: "Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning. … [But] that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers" (D&C 93:38-39; emphasis added).

Cultural customs and traditions often provide a useful map for the members of a given society, but if we are to become members of a celestial culture, we must overcome the natural man reflected in earthly cultures (see Mosiah 3:19; D&C 88:22). Indeed, some cultural enticements--such as following the crowd in matters of fashion and acceptance of worldly standards--are spiritually, and sometimes even physically, destructive. John the Revelator admonished us to "love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn. 2:15; emphasis added; see James 4:4). ["Agency: The Gift of Choices," Ensign, Sept. 1995, pp. 20-21]