Lessons on Freedom and Patriotism
Lesson No. Three

The Just and Holy Principles of Agency and Accountability

Two roads diverged and taking the correct one makes all the difference.

Moral agency is the freedom to choose between good and evil - God given commandments are the basis of good and evil, right and wrong.  We can choose to keep or brake commandments, but we cannot choose the consequences of our choice. Keeping commandments brings happiness, braking them brings misery. Sin is to knowingly choose to brake a commandment.    

The Constitution was established and is to be maintained on the principles of moral agency and accountability –  In D&C 101 the Lord said that he “established” the Constitution and that it “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all mankind according to the just and holy principles” (Vs 77).  Those just and holy principles are moral agency and accountability (Vs 78). Agency and accountability go together.  Agency makes us accountable for our choices.    

“Therefore, it is not right any man should be in bondage one to another.  And for this purpose I have established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (Vs 79-80).  Bondage of any kind reduces our agency and therefore our opportunity to grow.  The Lord established the Constitution and he will help us maintain it in order to preserve agency and avoid bondage.

"The founders who established this nation believe in God and in the existence of moral absolutes - right and wrong - established by this Ultimate Law-giver.  The Constitution they established assumed and relied on morality in the actions of its citizens" (Dallin H. Oaks, Preserving Religious Freedom, February 4, 2011, Chapman University School of Law).  John Adams, our second president, said: We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion...Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." 

In April 1966 General Conference, at the request of the First Presidency, Elder Marion G. Romney spoke about the Constitution and agency.  He explained D&C 101:77-80 and concluded:  “So when the Lord said:  ‘I the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law [that is, constitutional law] also maketh you free’ (D&C 98:8) he is saying laws that are constitutional make us free….The test of constitutionality in the words of the Lord is whether [the law in question] preserves man's agency."  

This is a profound insight.  The question we should ask ourselves when considering public policy, candidates, or legislation is whether our agency will be preserved.
The First Presidency teach the doctrine of moral agency and accountability in plainness – The word agency is not found in the Book of Mormon, but the doctrine of agency is taught frequently.  (See Index, "Agency," p. 7)  When Nephi quoted the teachings of Isaiah (see 2 Nephi 12-24) he then explained these teachings in plainness.  (See 2 Nephi 25:1-7)  Likewise, the First Presidency quotes from 2 Nephi 2, (this chapter is the most complete discussion in the scriptures on the doctrine of moral agency and accountability) then they explain this doctrine in plainness:   

“Your Heavenly Father has given you agency (Vs 16), the ability to choose right from wrong and to act for yourself (Vs 16, 26).  You have been given the Holy Ghost to help you know good from evil (Vs 5, 18, 26).  While you are here on earth, you are being proven to see if you will use your agency to show your love for God by keeping His commandments (Vs 21).

“While you are free to choose for yourself, you are not free to choose the consequences of you actions (Vs 26).  When you make a choice, you will receive the consequences of that choice (Vs 10).  The consequences may not be immediate, but they will always follow, for good or bad.  Wrong choices delay your progression and lead to heartache and misery.  Right choices lead to happiness and eternal life.  That is why it is so important for you to choose what is right throughout your life (27-29).

“You are responsible for the choices you make.  You should not blame your circumstances, your family, or your friends if you choose to disobey God’s commandments.  You are a child of God with great strength.  You have the ability to choose righteousness and happiness, no matter what you circumstances.

“You are also responsible for developing the abilities and talents Heavenly Father has given you.  You are accountable to Him for what you do with your abilities and how you spend your time.  Do not idle away your time.  Be willing to work hard.  Choose to do many good things of your own free will" (For the Strength of Youth, "Agency and Accountability").  This pamphlet is addressed to the youth abut it applies to everyone.  It could be called For the Strength of You.

Moral relativism is the opposite of moral agency and accountability and threatens our freedom - Moral relativism denies the existence of divine standards of right and wrong, and concludes there is no sin.  Korihor in the Book of Mormon was a great advocate this doctrine:  

"Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins.  But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.  

"And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement mad for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime" (Alma 30:16-17). 

Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the address referred to previously, spoke of moral relativism:         

"What has caused the current public and legal climate of mounting threats to religious freedom?  I believe the cause is not legal but cultural and religious.  I believe the diminished value being attached to religious freedom stems from the ascendency of moral relativism.

"More and more of our citizens support the idea that all authority and all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected as one chooses. Each person is free to decide for himself or herself what is right and wrong.  Our children face the challenge of living in an increasingly godless and amoral society."  We must warn our children of the false doctrine of moral relativism!

Testimony - I believe the Lord raised up Abraham Lincoln so the Constitution would be preserved during the Civil War.  Furthermore, I believe the words of President Ezra Taft Benson:

"We are fast approaching that moment prophesied by Joseph Smith when he said:  'Even this nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground, and when the Constitution is upon the brink of ruin, this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean, and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction.' (July 19, 1840, Church Historian's Office, Salt Lake City.)....

"I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith.  But it will not be saved in Washington.  It will be saved by the citizens of the nation who love and cherish freedom.  It will be saved by enlightened members of the Church - men and women who will subscribe to and abide by the principles of the Constitution" (Constitution - A Heavenly Banner).

May we be among those who understand agency, love freedom and preserve the Constitution.