Category Archives: Agency

Moral Agency vs. Free Agency: Is there a difference?

On this snowy evening in Rexburg, I decided to record some thoughts about a topic many Latter-day Saints hear a lot about: agency. Before taking my Book of Mormon 121 class at BYU-Idaho, I suppose I interpreted the concept of agency as being synonymous with free agency. Besides, agency means the right to choose, correct? So wouldn’t free agency be the same as agency? The freedom and right to choose?

Well, first of all, you won’t see the phrase “free agency” anywhere in the scriptures. Nada. Zip. Except for one talk (maybe two?) given in 1975 by Elder Delbert L. Stapley, you won’t see the phrase “free agency” in General Conference or other Church publications either! So why do we use that phrase so much in LDS culture?

Perhaps we should do what my Book of Mormon teacher did, and dissect the two words. In the world of sports (which I know SO much about ;) ), if you’re a “free agent”, it could mean a couple things:

  1. Not under any specific contract
  2. No sponsor

Truly, being a free agent implies freedom from responsibility, contracts, and all ties to any one group or organization. In our pre-existent state living with our Father in Heaven, do you imagine this idea sounded particularly tantalizing to many people? Oh sure, it must have, or else 1/3 of our brothers and sisters wouldn’t have bought into such a scheme.

We think of the plan of Satan as being mainly one of selfish greed: Give me all your honor, let me be your son, etc (Moses 4:1-4). But the other side of Satan’s plan we don’t talk so much about was to offer up absolutely no responsibility, no contracts, no obligations. I believe it’s right to assume Satan was all for “free agency”, at least in the context that one should not have to accept consequences for actions, because there is no contract stating such consequences must be enforced.

Sure, there are others who also seemed to like the idea of being a “free agent”. Let’s look at a few:


1. Sherem– Sherem is the first anti-Christ we know of, and he does a good job at being one of the principal antagonists in the Book of Mormon. What was his main argument? In the case of Christ’s coming into the world, he responded “…for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come.” In other words: Seeing is believing.

Isn’t this essentially what Satan believes? “You don’t know what’s best for me! You can’t tell me of things to come when things are going so well right now!” Indeed, if you don’t hold a contract with Christ, then who’s contract did you sign?

2. Nehor– Aside from his less than intimidating name, Nehor had his own spiritually deadly agenda that would ultimately affect generations after him. What was his main argument? “…that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.” (Alma 1:4)

This is a little less obvious than the first misleading statements of Sherem. Sure, it sounds good that Christ saved us all, and therefore no matter what we do we will be saved, but if we take a moment and think about it…wasn’t that exactly Satan’s plan to begin with? “And not one soul should be lost”? No responsibility, no contract, do whatever you want with no consequences in the end. Hmmm…surely there’s a catch…

3. Zeezrom– It seems like these guys’ tactics get more and more refined as the scriptures go on. Zeezrom was especially dangerous because he “was a man who was expert in the devices of the devil” (Alma 11:21) and so, with his wealth, power, and fame, he prostitutes the idea that God shall save people in their sins (Alma 11:34-37).

This goes back to Satan’s original plan of not losing one soul and being saved in sin.

4. Korihor– And that leaves the last major anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon, being Korihor. We all know what his beef was in Alma 30: If you show me a sign, I will believe. And not just that, but he was a major proponent of living the “free life” (momentarily, of course! see 2 Nephi 28:19-22) with virtually no consequences.

Noticing a theme here?

So what is agency then? First of all, let’s refer to it as “moral agency”, the things we do and are responsible for. Let’s turn to D&C 93:30+31: “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man…” Didn’t Lehi also say that we are free to act “according to the commandments which God hath given”? (2 Nephi 2:26)

So yes, we are free up to a point. Like my mom said, it’s like being at a water park (pretend that’s the “sphere” spoken of in D&C  93). There are rules and laws one must abide by to stay in the park. If you rebel against the park rules, you’ll get kicked out “of that sphere”. Of course, in this analogy you would repent, and regain access to the water park. Luckily the manager of this water park is VERY forgiving and you can enter and reenter no matter how many times you break the rules! But one thing remains the same: if you want to stay, you must obey.

Folks, “[we] are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) We all signed a contract! And you know what? Come to think of it, maybe Satan’s plan really wasn’t free agency at all! (Again, see 2 Nephi 28:19-22! GREAT scripture on Satan’s evil devices!) The 1/3 of the hosts of heaven were dragged down by the chains of sin and basically forced to sign a contract anyway. There IS no free way out. Ever.

I believe moral agency is not free. Since when was Christ’s atonement some act accomplished with absolutely no effort on the part of the sinner after the fact? Sure, we can never pay Christ back for what He did for us, but surely His whole ministry wasn’t meant to free everyone from all responsibility or effort altogether! For He said, “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38). The atonement was instituted so that we could begin the process of repentance, followed by a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

So, to sum it all up:

  • Moral agency= the freedom to choose, in the sphere which God has placed us. We can choose our actions, but not our consequences.
  • Free agency= No specific contract or obligation. No strong ties to any one thing either way.

So that’s enough of that :) I’d like to hear your thoughts! What do you think about moral agency vs. free agency? Is there a difference?


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