“Does membership in the Church limit agency?” Ensign, Mar. 1988, 21
Earl J. Roueche, president of the McLean Virginia Stake. At a youth conference not long ago, a young sister shared with her peers her feelings about agency. Many of her nonmember friends had asked why she would join a church with, as they saw it, a restrictive life-style. Her reply was profound, yet simple. “It makes me feel better and freer when I do what God wants me to do. I still maintain my agency to make choices, but I know what choices will make me happiest.”
Our right to choose for ourselves is basic to our beliefs as Latter-day Saints, and the principle of agency is intrinsic to the plan of salvation. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “[Men and women] all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience. … 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.” (The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, p. 49.)
God will not deprive us of our agency. But, with our opportunity to make good and bad choices, we each become accountable for our thoughts and actions in mortality. As the scriptures say, “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.” (D&C 101:78.)
During his earthly ministry, the Lord also taught about agency and the freedom it gave mankind when he said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
His disciples replied: “We … were never in bondage to any man; how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
“And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31–36.)
When we exercise our agency to choose paths our Redeemer has warned us against, we do not choose the path to freedom, but the path to captivity in sin. Only by obedience to the Savior’s words do we become free to achieve our ultimate goal of becoming like him and inheriting eternal life.
The Church is the Lord’s mechanism by which we can learn his ways and learn to live as he would have us live, in order to become more like him. Through compassionate service and fellowship, missionary work, and temple and family history work, we learn to love God and our fellow beings. In doing these things, we follow the path of everlasting freedom promised by him who bought it for us at the price of his own life. For ultimately, our freedom to choose the right would mean nothing without the loving intercession of Christ to rescue us from the results of our unwise choices. (See 2 Ne. 25:23.)
As the young woman who had recently joined the Church said, membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not limit agency. Instead, it enhances that agency, permitting us to rise to a higher joy in mortality and, if we prove worthy of it, to a celestial realm in the eternities.