I strongly believe that agency, our right to choose for ourselves, is among the greatest gifts that God has given to us. In fact, I believe that it is agency that caused worlds to be created, a loving Heavenly Father to sacrifice His Son for all mankind, a boy to go into the woods to pray and for loving parents to bring most of us into this world.

Why then, does it seem that people, especially some Church members, are so willing to give it up?

Here’s what I mean. We are given a lot of counsel from Church Leaders, both general and local. Most of the counsel tends to be general in nature because they are usually talking to large groups of members who have very different circumstances. Some counsel, like daily scripture study, might apply to all those present. But, a topic like getting married might not.

Church Leaders also give counsel on moral issues, like gay marriage, for example, that might involve taking public action, such as in the case of Prop 8 in California. They may even couch their request in terms such as “The Prophet has asked” or “you are expected.” But, are you?

This is where agency plays a role. We have to decide for ourselves where the counsel given is applicable to us and, whether we think it is the right course of action for us or for our family. We are the sole “deciders” in all matters that require a decision. No matter how it is presented, as good advice, as “thus saith the Lord” or in any other way, it is still our job to make a determination.

Yet, I find that many members seem to abdicate this responsibility. They assume that if a Church leader has told them to do something that is it automatically the right thing to do. I am not saying it is not the right thing to do, but question the “automatic” obedience I see from some members.

In reality, there are very few “musts” in the Church. There are a lot of “shoulds,” or “good ideas” or “things to think about.” But, if we judge the “musts” by whether we qualify for a Temple Recommend, there are only a few. No one asks about Family Home Evening, Scripture Study, daily prayer, Sabbath day observance, how many earrings or tattoos one has, or a host of other things that we receive counsel on. 

I recently heard a former member say that the “Church taught her” not to have gay friends. I never heard that. Many things are given for the weakest of the members, so things like “do not get in a car with a member of the other gender” may be good advice for all of us, but may only be a problem for certain people. But it’s not a commandment.

The scriptures teach us “that you must “study it out in our mind” and we will be prompted by the Holy Ghost whether “it be right” and we will “feel it is right.”(D&C9:8).  So we are obligated to put things to the test to find out whether they are right for us. Because everyone’s circumstances are different.

Whether it has to do with how to do scripture study, women working outside the home, supporting a ballot measure, or anything else, we are required to decide for ourselves.

Again, why wouldn’t anyone want to use this incredible freedom that God has given us?

In many cases, you might get that witness that the thing is right, and then you are obligated to do it or suffer whatever consequences result from not doing it.

But, in other cases, you might find it is not good for you or your family and you don’t do it. Again, whatever legitimate consequences occur, you have to accept that.

I had a situation with seminary and two of my kids a few years ago. We tried to get them into home study because of a set of circumstances involving a long drive, a short time to get to school afterwards and a young baby at home. However, the Stake came back and said, “The Brethren asked that you send your kids to the seminary class already set up.” My wife and I discussed and thought about it and respectfully declined because we felt it was not a good situation for us. The Stake declined out request for home study, even though one son was in his fourth year and the other in his second. So, they didn’t graduate from seminary even though my wife taught them the seminary lessons each morning in our home before school. They probably learned more that year!

What I find also interesting is those who become disaffected or leave the Church seem to cling to the belief that in many cases, we don’t have our agency because they think our leaders demand things from us as members. And while, as I stated before, many members seem to give up their agency, leaders cannot demand us to do anything.

There is even a claim that Church Leaders can take away our eternal salvation if we don’t “obey.” Now, there are instances, where upon violation of certain commandments, one can get excommunicated from the Church, but, if this is done wrongly, our eternal salvation is really unaffected since it come from God and not from a certain Church leader. They can potentially keep us out of the Church, but they have no say on our status in the next life. However, just to be clear, one may do something which puts their eternal status in jeopardy and that might result in Church discipline, but again, that is a choice each of us makes and one suffers the consequences of our actions. I hope I’m clear on that. I realize not everyone will agree with this concept, but we can discuss this.

The bottom line is we are ultimately responsible to make choices which affect our lives here on this earth. We cannot give that away. And why should we?  This is one of the ultimate gifts God has given us after the gift of His Son. We do not honor Them but not exercising our agency.