Doctrine: Learning to treat others as Moral Agents is critical to us becoming like God. Others certainly won’t become like God if we use any other lesser tactics. Just getting people to go through the motions of righteousness does not mean that they desire and want to become like God.
One of the biggest dilemmas all of the god-fearing have is how to love others without condoning sin. But, we often forget that we are also trying to be godly–we need to learn this not just for others, but for our own progression.
If you believe in a God of any kind and try to follow godly ways, then you have been taught that those ways are right and to go against them is wrong. So, how do you encourage others to live those godly ways, to “come unto Christ and be perfected in Him,” without forcing your beliefs on them?[i] How can you accept them for who they are and where they are in their own journey to God (because ultimately all journeys lead back to God, whether we believe in and acknowledge His laws or not)?
I’ve been working my way to this for years. But, I think I’ve finally come up with a digestible way to explain how to love others without condoning sin.
The answer is to treat them as Moral Agents. I’ve discussed the details and the whys behind Moral Agency in a previous blog Treating Others As Moral Agents. If you don’t understand the basics of moral agency, then this blog won’t be quite as helpful. This blog is more simplified and direct focusing specifically on how to do it.
In order to have Moral Agency we need several conditions in place. These conditions are the fundamental equation required to achieve the sum of Moral Agency. An equation would look like this:
The Conditions of Mortality = Moral Agency
The Conditions of Mortality must be in place to allow us to have Moral Agency. If even one is altered or changed, or removed, free will/agency ceases to exist. And, we need that Moral Agency to figure out if we want to become like God—the purpose of this life.
So, here are the Conditions of Morality, or the Conditions for Moral Agency/Free Will
- Law defining right and wrong choices that will lead us toward godhood or away from it; and the blessings and consequences that accompany those right and wrong choices
- Knowledge of good and evil (established by the law) communicated to us and taught to us
- Enticements to do good and enticements to do evil (marketing from God and Satan)
- Ability for our actions to have tangible impact, or in other words, the mortal conditions (of pain and joy) that make our choices matter (this is not a simulation or a video game)
- Sufficient autonomy to act without interference (this includes the environment/world and even God, Himself out of our immediate presence)
- Ability to learn from mistakes and sins without being condemned by those mistakes and sins when we learn to do otherwise
So, how do you treat others as Moral Agents? How do you love them without condoning sin? How do you lead them to God without using coercion, fear, or other unrighteous tactics?
Answer: establish and maintain the conditions for Moral Agency in all your interactions with others.
Remember, you don’t want people to simply DO what’s right. You want them to LOVE GOD and BECOME LIKE HIM. We can get people to “go through the motions” using all sorts of tactics that we may justify as OK, but they aren’t. So, the goal of maintaining the conditions for Moral Agency in all your interactions has nothing to do with creating or evoking a specific reaction. But, it has everything to do with creating an environment where individuals will be encouraged to:
- Be open to spiritual impressions
- Feel and share love
I refer to only one scriptural account of Christ interacting in such a way that all of the above were accomplished, as there are many. But, if you wish more, you’ll have to study the scriptures with the specific intent to notice how God treats others as Moral Agents and maintains the conditions of Mortality.
In John 8 we read the story of the woman taken in adultery. Please take note of the bolded and highlighted words which I will elaborate on further down:
Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
There is so much beautiful stuff going on in this story. First, note that Christ had been up in the Mount of Olives communing with God. Thus, we see that His own spiritual strength was firmly intact. He met the conditions to be in tune with God and the Spirit. He submitted to His Father’s will, despite the fact that He himself was a God.
Next, we note that though we was repeatedly taunted, He reacted in three very interesting ways. First, He didn’t respond to the question initially because it was a blatant act of contention. Though Christ had been teaching up to that point, He stopped responding because the negative intent was clear. Note also that physically He brought Himself low to the ground in a non-threatening body position. This is so interesting to me. Also, He drew in the sand. Did He really need that time to think? I don’t think so. But, He set an example for each of us because we do need to follow His example and take the time to think in similar circumstances.
After it was clear the Pharisees were not going to leave Him alone, Christ does rise up. And, notice He doesn’t say, “Well, I know the law says to stone adulterers, but we really should give this woman a second chance.” He doesn’t say, “I’m the Son of God and I choose to let this sin pass.” He doesn’t condemn the Pharisees by saying, “How dare you? Each of you is sinful and how could you think to condemn this woman?”
Christ’s response to their contentious question is nothing short of pure godly artistry. He says, “He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone,” indicating that they were right, the law did say to stone adulterers. So, He actually validated that the law was “the law,” and yet, His statement invites each one of them to self-evaluate and self-judge. Which of them—who probably actually thought they were nearly sinless—was going to publicly proclaim to be perfect? The result? Mercy for the woman and mercy for the Pharisees slowing taking their leave of guilt. Christ’s response to the Pharisees was also an act of love. He didn’t judge them publicly, they judged themselves publicly.
Next, Christ turns to the woman, “where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” (Note: condemnation is the act of final judgment) He invites her to recognize and ponder her current situation. She has escaped immediate judgment for her sins. An act of mercy. “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more,” He finishes indicating that though she has sinned, she has another chance to set herself right. She is not under “final condemnation,” IF she will repent and sin no more.
Not only was the woman publicly ridiculed, but because of Christ’s actions she was publicly acquitted and given mercy, the chance to repent and become better.
- Did Christ change the law defining right and wrong to make anyone feel better? NO.
- Did Christ ensure the woman (and the Pharisees) were aware of their sins in a loving way? YES.
- Did Christ interfere with their ability to choose? NO.
- Did Christ allow them to feel the tangible impact of their choices (good and bad)? YES.
- Did Christ allow them to ALL go and repent without being under final judgment or condemnation? YES.
I don’t know if it’s possible for each of us to let go of our desire to get others to do what’s right in the wrong ways. I don’t know if we can master loving them without condoning sin perfectly. I don’t know if we can treat others as moral agents as perfectly as God and Christ do. But, I do know that as I’ve understood this doctrine and tried to implement it that I’m learning to understand it better, and implement it better. The more I try the better I get. And, since my goal is to become like God, I’ve got to keep trying, because these conditions are why we have Moral Agency to begin with. These conditions are so important for our eternal progression that it’s why we’re here, on this earth, out of God’s presence. These conditions are how God treats each and every single one of us in every single interaction we have with Him. We must learn it too!
So, avoid unrighteous dominion. Avoid using fear tactics to get people to “go through the motions.” And embrace Treating Others as Moral Agents because that’s the only way they will ever actually BECOME like God. And, it’s the only way you will ever BECOME like God.
[i] Moroni 10:32