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Freedom to Choose

Agency is Part of God’s Plan

Imagine going out to eat and ordering a salad, only to have the waiter tell you that you may not have it, that you must have the soup instead. How would you feel? The choice between soup and salad is a fairly benign one, but it demonstrates a characteristic of human nature: we don't like to be forced into decisions we're capable of making for ourselves. We resist compulsion. Even when we face more serious decisions, ones with moral implications, it is important that we choose for ourselves. God gave us our agency and will always respect our freedom to make choices. While we are "accountable" for our choices (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78) and there will always be consequences for those choices both good and bad, God has never approved of using force. In fact, God fosters the spirit of freedom and He knows that the human spirit requires freedom to effectively serve and believe in Him. He told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit, but He also said, "nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself." (Moses 3:17)

It’s important not to trample on other people’s freedoms in pursuit of our own. Even when we feel our way of thinking may be for someone else's "own good," it's important that everyone has the right to their own opinion and beliefs.

Making Hard Choices

Being tolerant and nonjudgmental can be good traits, which preserves the right for all to choose for themselves. But doing nothing is a choice in itself and not a very good one. Neither is letting other people, society or political institutions make decisions for you. For example, just because many films portray intimacy before marriage as perfectly acceptable, doesn’t mean it is. Our character will be developed and refined when we make choices based on what’s morally right. And despite prevailing wisdom, there really is a right and wrong in the world. Truth isn’t relative and sin isn’t just some unenlightened person’s "value judgment."

Not long ago, James E. Faust of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related a story from when he was a young soldier in World War II. A board of "hard-bitten career soldiers" were interviewing him for officer candidate school. They asked him if he didn't believe the moral code should be relaxed during wartime, due to the stress of combat. President Faust felt they were suggesting it should, and wondered if he would score points by going along with the idea. In the end, though, he simply said, "I do not believe there is a double standard of morality." He was ultimately accepted for officer candidate school, perhaps because of his determination to do what was right because it was right, even when it was hard.

Young single Mormons often get asked questions like, "How is it possible that you’ve never slept with anyone?! Don’t you want to?" Wanting to, says one young woman, is so utterly beside the point. "Mere wanting is hardly a proper guide for moral conduct." A parent with young children may want to sleep in past 6 a.m. and let the kids fend for themselves or quit his job in favor of doing something more fun. A responsible parent chooses to make all sorts of sacrifices. It requires discipline to choose the right. The ironic thing is the more disciplined we are and the more righteous our choices, the more freedom we have. Sin limits our future choices: drugs, alcohol, infidelity quickly become addictions that become very difficult to break free from. The addiction becomes the master and we its slave. Abuse of freedom tends to paralyze.

Taking a Stand

With the benefit of hindsight, history books can sometimes simplify issues that have divided people over the years. One side comes out looking forward-thinking and right, while the other seems like shortsighted "bad guys." Thinking about controversies that face us today, however, makes it easier to see how hard it can be in the present to tell who is "right" and who is "wrong." Taking a stand in an issue like this is difficult, especially if your stance is not a popular one.

Mormons are encouraged to stand up for what they believe, regardless of prevailing opinion. It may not be easy, popular, or fun. Sometimes taking a stand means subjecting yourself to ridicule, slander or even physical abuse. In this kind of situation, a person can rely on the Lord to help them maintain their beliefs. He expects us to do what we believe is right in any situation, and He will help us have the moral courage to do it. It isn't enough to look away or to keep quiet. Looking away can sometimes be a sin in itself. We are acting as Jesus acted when we stand up for what we believe and take action.

Political Neutrality

Although we believe in taking a stand on moral issues, as a Church we remain neutral in matters of party politics. Church leaders don’t dictate which candidate Mormons should vote for even if a candidate doesn’t agree with a publicly stated Church position. Neither does it dictate policy to elected officials who are Mormon. The Church may communicate its views to them just as it would to any other elected official, but it recognizes that these men and women must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies they were elected to represent. Mormons align themselves with whatever political party they believe best represents their individual views.