The Principle of Agency

It’s a challenge to be a Christian in today’s world. Anytime we voice our opinions and beliefs, we are liable to be railed against by some portion of society. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with moderate beliefs, I often feel I am simultaneously being called “too Christian” by the far-left and “not Christian enough” by the far-right. It has become too easy to confuse religious beliefs with political beliefs, even though they aren’t always influenced by each other.

The loudest voices in our society tend to be the extreme conservatives and the extreme liberals. Both groups shout in an effort to change the minds of everyone around them. But in this world, it isn’t minds which need to change, but hearts. It’s not uncommon to see those with extreme views making assumptions about those who disagree with them, calling us names, discounting our beliefs and opinions, bullying us in an effort to change what we say and what we do. They accuse us of trying to impose our beliefs upon them while trying to impose their beliefs upon us. Yet, although the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ often conflict with the views of the world, many people fail to realize that we also believe in the principle of agency.

When it comes to many of the hot topics of today’s society, the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ don’t align with the opinions of the world. We hold the view that our beliefs are set forth by God Himself, not by society. We can’t change our standards on-demand because they are not ours to change. We believe that the Church is led by a living prophet and apostles of Jesus Christ, not simply the words of prophets who died long ago. The direction we receive is constant and specific to our time.

We believe that God set forth a plan before we were all born. When we keep His commandments, we are showing Him that we trust in this plan and will do all that we can to please Him, help Him, and return to Him. Our actions don’t only determine our success or failure in this life, but also in the world to come—a richer, brighter life which follows life on this earth.

Still, we believe that God has granted each of His children the gift of agency. Agency is an individual’s right to govern their own thoughts and actions. It is a gift to choose. All of God’s children have the right to choose for themselves what they will believe and how they will live their lives. God knows that if we are forced to keep His commandments, our obedience won’t come from our whole hearts. He doesn’t want reluctant, half-hearted obedience. He wants us to choose Him, to choose His way of life.

In the end, though, when this life is over, we can’t avoid God’s consequences for our actions if we don’t choose to repent and change.

I have a friend who once asked, “Why does the Church oppose gay marriage?” I’m sure there are those who ask similar questions about our positions on abortion and other divisive topics. First, I would encourage those who wonder to read the Church’s official opinions on these topics to see how they aren’t as strict as people might believe.

I will share with you my own opinion, though. This is not Church doctrine or the words of a prophet, but the personal words of a humble and fallible disciple of Christ.

Because we strive to look from an eternal perspective, latter-day saints will always try to encourage others to live by God’s law, no matter how unpopular that may be. The love of Christ teaches us that we must care for the eternal nature of the soul, not just the temporal nature of it. With our beliefs on life-after-death, we feel a responsibility to share what we know with those who are willing to listen. Following the Lord’s example, we won’t force anyone to listen to or comply with our beliefs. We may invite, but we will never force. Anyone who seeks to do that is not a true Christian. But we will not change our choices and beliefs to suit society’s current opinions. The principle of agency is for everyone.

We love all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their beliefs and choices. Members of the Church aren’t perfect and may not always show our respect for agency as we should, but it is an eternal principle and one that God would have us follow. Our goal is to protect all of God’s children, whether or not they agree with us. The love of God can’t be spread through hate or persecution.

It is not Jesus’ way. It is not God’s way. It cannot be our way.

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