Skip to content

Mormon Discussion: 369: The Death of Free Agency in Mormonism

In 2016 David A Bednar, Apostle in the LDS Church taught the doctrine of Moral or Representative Agency. This perspective seemed to be different than the type of Agency that Mormonism had taught up to that moment. “Free Agency” was officially gone and something less free was being created. On today’s episode we look at the new Doctrine and compare it with how Agency had been taught for two centuries leading up to that and then explore how this new approach is being used to get members of the Church to what the leaders need them to do.


Elder Packer removing “Free” from “Free Agency” –

David Bednar teaching Moral Agency or Representative Agency –

LDS General Conference Search Engine to see how “Free Agency” was taught over 2 centuries –

Elder Delbert Stapley (Q12) “Using Our Free Agency” –

Elder Bruce R. McConkie made this statement about free agency:“Four great principles must be in force if there is to be agency: 1. Laws must exist, laws ordained by an Omnipotent power, laws which can be obeyed or disobeyed; 2. Opposites must exist—good and evil, virtue and vice, right and wrong—that is, there must be an opposition, one force pulling … the other. 3. A knowledge of good and evil must be had by those who are to enjoy the agency, that is, they must know the difference between the opposites; and 4. An unfettered power of choice must prevail. Agency is given to man as an essential part of the great plan of redemption.” (Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, Inc., 1966 ed., p. 26.)

“Teachings of Joseph Smith” Study Manual –

“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” – Joseph Smith

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:37, 41) –

Principles of Leadership Teachers Manual Lesson 2 – Honoring the Agency of Those We Lead –

“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Nephi 10:23).

Neal A. Maxwell, who was later called to the Quorum of the Twelve, wrote that leaders basically follow one of three styles of leadership: manipulative, directive, and participative. In manipulative leadership, the leader manipulates people and circumstances to achieve group goals. In directive leadership, the leader makes decisions, with or without input from the group. In participative leadership, the group shares responsibility for making decisions. Read Brother Maxwell’s discussion of these principles in the teacher resources section below. Note that Brother Maxwell recommended a mix of directive and participative leadership styles. –

“If a leader uses guilt to motivate a person to do something, is the leader honoring that person’s agency? Explain your answer.” –

Agency = The ability and privilege God gives people to choose and to act for themselves. –

The Governing Ones By Elder William R. Bradford Of the First Quorum of the Seventy –
The most basic, fundamental principle of truth, that upon which the entire plan of God is founded, is free agency. As an individual you have the right to govern yourself. It is divinely given to you to think and act as you wish. It is your decision. It must be pointed out, however, that although you have the free agency to choose for yourself, you do not have the right to choose what will be the result of your decision.

Helaman 14:30  And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. –

D&C58:27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; 28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. –

Now, none of us are on the narrow path all of the time. All of us make mistakes. That is why Lehi, who understood the Savior’s role in preserving and reclaiming our agency, taught Jacob—and us: “The Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon.”21 That is the key—“to act for themselves and not to be acted upon.” –

In our premortal life we had moral agency. One purpose of earth life is to show what choices we will make (see 2 Nephi 2:15–16). If we were forced to choose the right, we would not be able to show what we would choose for ourselves. Also, we are happier doing things when we have made our own choices. Agency was one of the principal issues to arise in the premortal Council in Heaven. It was one of the main causes of the conflict between the followers of Christ and the followers of Satan. The Lord has said that all people are responsible for their own motives, attitudes, desires, and actions. Even though we are free to choose our course of action, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. The consequences, whether good or bad, follow as a natural result of any choice we make (see Galatians 6:7; Revelation 22:12).

God’s plan is the opposite of Satan’s plan of compulsion –

Church and Family Leaders Should Honor the Agency of Those They Lead – He never compelled them to obey Him. – Ask how leaders might be tempted not to respect the agency of others. – If a leader uses guilt to motivate a person to do something, is the leader honoring that person’s agency? –

One of our Articles of Faith says: We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. That is the expression of a great principle, a principle that has been operative among the children of God from the earliest period of which we have any record. It was pursuant to that principle, and in the exercise of the rights guaranteed thereby, that a third of the hosts of heaven revolted, in an effort to overcome the plan which God adopted. Personally, I would not in any way, and in the lightest or slightest degree, hamper anyone’s free agency. Literally, I feel and believe that men should worship how, where, or what they may. That is the spirit of the priesthood, the priesthood which we hold. The priesthood never compels. God himself does not compel the intellect, nor does he attempt to overthrow it. – J. Reuben Clark 1949

Free agency is an everlasting principle which has existed with God from all eternity. It is a gift from him given with the hope that we will apply it wisely in the conduct of our personal lives. Freedom of choice is a moral agency which we should keep uppermost in our minds in all our activities and decisions. “By virtue of this agency you and I and all mankind are made responsible beings, responsible for the course we pursue, the lives we live, the deeds we do in the body.” (Wilford Woodruff, Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, Bookcraft, Inc., 1969, pp. 8–9.)

Stake Leader perpetuating Bednars Representative Agency Doctrine to impose all Mormon males are obligated to serve missions. –


5 thoughts on “Mormon Discussion: 369: The Death of Free Agency in Mormonism”

  1. I have read through the Resources listed above, and from my point of view, it seems like there are some misunderstandings or misrepresentations as well as some inaccuracies that are a bit misleading. I don’t think these were done out of malice. I think they happen because each person sees things through a different set of lenses made up of the information they have held on to and the way they have come to interpret it.

    For instance, Elder Bednar says many things that you would disagree with, and I can understand why. He says some things that I think are said in a misleading fashion for an average member of the Church; I would have explained them differently. When I try to think about what He’s saying from his point of view, however, it begins to make more sense.

    I wrote a book called “THE AGENCY DISCUSSIONS” that resulted from my trying to determine what scriptural agency meant. It looks at the meaning of agency, the way it has been used historically, and where the traditional LDS definition comes from. It then looks at the scriptural concept of agency using a different perspective.

    I think there are many misunderstandings about “agency.” Some will never be resolved because we all think and believe differently, but we could understand each others’ point of view better if we recognized the many different ways that the term gets used in different situations.

    By the way, I’m now going to go listen to the podcast because I’m fascinated with the various ways the term “agency” gets used.

      1. There are probably a lot of interesting things we could talk about, but I prefer real conversations over typing things out. Having said that, I thought you presented and documented the material used in your podcast and on this page very well. You didn’t seem to manipulate things to your advantage or present information inaccurately or in a dishonest way. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens in discussions like this. You also didn’t try to belittle or bully others for their beliefs, so I appreciate that as well. Of course, you and I have different interpretations of some of that material, but that’s to be expected.

        I think I understand what Elder Bednar was trying to say. Some of those concepts are covered in the book I referred to earlier although in a different way (I hope in a better way). I tried to be very careful when writing the book to avoid misunderstandings, but I’m sure I was not always successful. I would not have framed things the way Elder Bednar did.

        I’ve written about how several “alternative” ideas about agency may contain some good points, but they can also easily lead to huge problems. These include using the analogy of “free agency” from the world of sports, misinterpreting the word “moral” in “moral agency,” using the sociological meaning of “agency,” and comparing agency to a stewardship. Several of those problematic alternative ways to describe agency can be found in Elder Bednar’s remarks. One thing we can definitely agree on is that what he said was very problematic in a number of ways.

  2. I can’t say agree with you entirely here Bill. I like it more when you Steelman the church’s position every step of the way. What Elder Bednar was trying to convey, that in a way we essentially give up our free agency to have it consumed in the will of the Lord. Not my will but thine be done. Surely you understand this, but if not you entirely missed the point… and you going off on the topic for over an hour just makes you look silly, which by the way you are not. I don’t think anyone walked away from Elder Bednar’s instructions in the same light. We are all entitled to our agency, but not necessarily to our faithfulness as we depart from obedience, but for such conditions there is repentance so we can be atonement with the Lord again. Again, these are spiritual concepts… with practical aspects to everyday living.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *