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

  1. 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
  2. Knowledge of good and evil (established by the law) communicated to us and taught to us
  3. Enticements to do good and enticements to do evil (marketing from God and Satan)
  4. 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)
  5. Sufficient autonomy to act without interference (this includes the environment/world and even God, Himself out of our immediate presence)
  6. 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:

  • Ponder
  • Self-evaluate
  • Self-judge
  • 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.

BT

[i] Moroni 10:32

Doctrine: Free will has one specific goal and purpose: God’s desire to help us become like Him and to have all that He has. It allows us to decide, and ultimately prove to ourselves (through experience), if we desire what God desires for us. To enable its purpose, free will (agency) has set conditions; which if we try to obscure or alter (superficially) results only in misery and suffering. Moral agency may be the highest law of heaven because it has sponsored the greatest applications of God’s love: His plan for us to gain access to His life and power, and the atonement performed by Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Agency, i.e. free will, is one of those doctrines that many people believe they understand. And yet, I find that they understand it very little. Some think free will means no law, no guidelines, no rules, no restrictions and no consequences. Others believe laws, commands, rules, and consequences are necessary but then they use unrighteous dominion and fear to enforce them.

These are extremes, but many of us struggle to find the middle ground and thereby fail to understand our own moral agency and how to treat others as moral agents. Because we don’t grasp the doctrines behind agency we end up frequently misapplying it. We adopt false doctrines that guide our behaviors and impact our relationships. But, there is a correct place to sit along the spectrum of communication and treatment of others. And, it all comes down to understanding Moral Agency.

Moral Agency is the product of one specific goal or purpose: God’s desire to help us become like Him and to have all that He has. Our agency is a gift from Him. Moral Agency is what allows us to decide, and ultimately prove to ourselves (through experience), if we desire what God desires for us. That’s its purpose.

In order to preserve the purpose of God’s gift or Moral Agency, we need several conditions in place These conditions allow us to have free will and exercise to figure out if we want to become like God:

  1. 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
  2. Knowledge of good and evil (established by the law) communicated to us and taught to us
  3. Enticements to do good and enticements to do evil (marketing from God and Satan)
  4. 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)
  5. Sufficient autonomy to act without interference (this includes the environment/world and even God, Himself out of our immediate presence)
  6. Ability to learn from mistakes and sins without being condemned by those mistakes and sins when we learn to do otherwise

I don’t have the luxury of going into great detail on these items without writing a book. But, suffice it to say, if God removed one of the above items, our agency would become null and void; of which the final consequence would be that our choices wouldn’t matter. And, if our choices don’t matter this life becomes pointless. If our choices don’t matter, they lose power to damn us or exalt us. No agency = an eternal limbo without sorrow but also without joy. No agency = the state of constant suspense with no hope of any fulfillment. Yuck.

God has established a world where we have true agency (Abraham 3:24-28). And, He never changes the above conditions. Agency has the power to help us become like God. Preserving agency is the truest form of love God can give us. And, it is the primary reason there was a need for an infinite atonement. The atonement allows us to exercise our agency in the godly learning process without being condemned by that process. Thus, moral agency may be the highest law of heaven because it has sponsored the greatest applications of God’s love: His plan for us to gain access to His life and power, and the atonement performed by Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

So, here we are. And, purposefully, life isn’t ever fair or idyllic. We have marriages suffering. We have parent-child relationships suffering. We have sibling relationships suffering. We have friendships suffering. We even have cultural and societal relationships suffering. And, they are all suffering because of the lack of understanding of God’s plan and the conditions of Moral Agency.

Neal A. Maxwell said (The Great Plan of the Eternal God, 1984):

So vital is this framework [of God’s plan] that if one stays or strays outside it, he risks provinciality and misery. In fact, most human misery represents ignorance of or noncompliance with the plan. A cessation of such mortal suffering will not come without compliance to it [the plan]. Hence, the Lord, who has freely shared this vital knowledge with us, has urged us to teach the fundamentals of this plan “freely.” (Moses 6:58)

So, let’s look at the issues that happen when we fail to teach the fundamentals of Moral Agency and its critical purpose in God’s plan. If we superficially change even one of the conditions, all sorts of extra misery and suffering results.volunteers with hands up

First, society keeps trying to change the law defining what is right and wrong in order to remove guilt and the idea of moral consequences. But, all removing such law does is prevent people from taking the time out to see if they want to become godly or not. Changing the societal law doesn’t actually change God’s law or the very real and inescapable moral consequences (both immediate and eternal). It only keeps people from understanding why they are here on earth and deciding if they want to be like their Heavenly Father or not.

Second, a lot of religious people do more than enough instructing and informing their children on godly laws and yet fail to also inform and instruct their children about the “other side,” accurately. They apply blind generalities that canvass the real experiences of sin thinking it will prevent their children from experimenting with evil. And, they do so because they are worried their children will be more curious if they are more informed. Yet, what they accomplish is removing the power their children need to make an educated and accurate choice.  It’s difficult to make a honest choice without honest information. They are too worried (and afraid) about what their children will do rather than trusting them with all the information so they can determine the true desires of their own hearts.

These parents give the knowledge of good (in detail) and then only the knowledge of bad (in generalities and statements/threats using fear) and believe that this will keep their children from choosing the evil. However, what this well-intentioned plan does is leave children blind to their own hearts and desires until they are truly confronted with the sin. Then, when actually confronted with sin’s enticements and realities they are unprepared to fight it properly. They don’t know their own hearts and so they are more likely to succumb to such sin. If not in their youth (while at home) then possibly later when out of their parents’ purviews.

Knowledge increases the power of agency. And, relationships that are managed by the withholding of knowledge are those in which one party does not have a true testimony of the atonement, its accompanying grace, or God’s actual plan. In Alma 12:32 we read:

Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God.

In this verse we can see that God didn’t give rules, guidelines, or commandments until AFTER expounding to Adam and Eve the fullness of the plan. I’m pretty sure God was thorough with His information. Yet, so often we give rules and commands without helping our children to understand the purpose of the rule and the full, detailed information of why breaking said rules will hinder their progress in God’s plan.

Third, Some of us are afraid of being too religiously pushy. Thus we err by eliminating proper and godly enticements and invitations to do good in order to not “impose” upon another’s free will. All the while Satan’s side has no qualms about imposing and inundating all of us with enticements and invitations to do evil. Thereby, our reluctance to invite and entice leaves our beloved ones overwhelmed by all the wrong propaganda. Now, granted, if we entice or invite in ways that stifle moral agency, such as: using fear tactics, coercion, manipulation, guilt trips, etc., then obviously we need to learn to entice and invite as God does. But then we should do it! By eliminating enticements to do good we decrease the power of an another’s agency because they have little chance of choosing the right because they are unaware of it or have forgotten it.

Fourth, some people, albeit understandably, would like to remove all the pain and suffering from the world. And, I don’t blame them. But, unfortunately (and fortunately) pain and suffering (all of it) is what makes this life and our choices matter.

Think about it. A tornado strikes. You can get mad at God for letting the tornado strike and deprive people of their homes (and possibly their lives), or you can gain peace in the fact that it generates an opportunity for Christlike service, gratitude, perseverance, sacrifice, long-suffering, etc…(all godly attributes). Take away the calamity and you take away the refining conditions it provides. As well, Christ has overcome death. Death is tragic, but it is not permanent. Such an event should arouse our relief and gratitude that God has already, in a past sense, reversed the calamity.

Or, a woman has an abusive husband. After years of verbal and physical abuse she finally gets out. Was the whole experience a total loss? No. First, because the atonement will eventually completely heal all of her mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds. Second, it’s not a loss because she will understand Christ’s suffering better than most—innocent suffering. And by understanding Christ she will feel greater love for Him and have a chance to draw closer to Him and become like Him. Third, she will be able to entice others to get out of their abusive situations sooner than she did. She will be able to counsel them, comfort them, and understand their struggles. Her own experience has granted her power to become a Savior of others.

There is deep doctrine attached to all suffering. Suffering makes wrong choices wrong and also means that justice has to be paid. And, though Christ paid for all wrong choices, for those who don’t repent, they will eventually have to suffer, even as Christ did, because the ability to be hurt and to hurt others makes the hurt they caused matter; and it’s what makes it necessary for them to pay for it if they do not repent. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19)

Fifth, and finally, people want God to step in and stop all suffering. They want Him to interfere and remove our necessary autonomy…especially in major crimes and catastrophic suffering. Little do they realize that removing the impact of choice removes the reality of choice. God can’t condemn those who sin if He stops them from sinning and removes the impact of their choices. And, if He steps in to stop a murder then He must also step in and stop you from gossiping, committing adultery, and other sins. There is no middle ground. Either we are allowed to condemn ourselves by our actions (and access grace by our actions) or we are not. And, if we are not allowed to choose and be impacted then there is no need for an atonement. (Alma 14:10-11; Alma 60:13; Helaman 14:29; 1 Nephi 18:11; Doctrine and Covenants 136:39)

Additionally, removing the negative also removes the positive. If the impact of choice is removed or preempted, then the good we do won’t matter either. If only the good matters and not the evil then there is no true free will (because we only have one choice) and there is zero power to become godly—which, do not forget, is the whole purpose of being here on this earth under these conditions and circumstances in the first place.

The atonement of Christ did not take place to remove all suffering. It took place to pay justice for the suffering we would all experience for all the various variables (conditions of morality) that cause suffering. It took place to bring us back into the presence of God, so that we don’t have to remain out of His presence forever—if we repent. It took place to resurrect us and get us out of these fragile and corrupted mortal bodies after using them to learn to become godly, or not. The atonement took place to give us the chance to learn to become godly (which requires agency) while also ultimately allowing us to change, repent, and improve. Without the atonement there is no agency and there is no plan and this life would never have happened.

As a last note, I have to mention that many Latter-day Saints take to heart the command found in Doctrine and Covenants 68:25-29. And yet, they subconsciously and inadvertently change the word “teach” to “coerce, threaten, manipulate, guilt, shame, or force.” God commands us to “teach” not to exercise unrighteous dominion. He commands us to “persuade,” not to threaten (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-46).

People who struggle with this tendency to change the meaning of the word “teach” to “coerce…” need to ask themselves, “What does a teacher do? How do they help their class master a topic? How does a teacher encourage application? How does a teacher determine the level of understanding students have and their ability to apply that information and understanding?” As parents, are we teachers or taskmasters? Just food for thought, here.

So, as we consider how to treat people with love, and as moral agents, we need to be certain we maintain the conditions of agency (i.e. God’s love) (as listed above). As well, a study of Christ’s ministry and His treatment of people in the scriptures will reveal many principles and applications for “how” to apply our knowledge of true Moral Agency. If we are prayerful about our scripture study and want to know how to treat others as moral agents and invite and entice them to come unto Christ, then we will find guidance in abundance.

BT

Doctrine: The Light of Christ is our basic conscience, but it can be dulled or altered. The Power of the Holy Ghost is a momentary burst or intense “glow of truth” that is temporary so that we can choose to act upon it, but not be compelled. However, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost is an endowment of POWER that makes our imperfect efforts and sincere righteous desires effective in actually changing us into a godly beings.

For many Christians, there is a clear deficit in understanding the role of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost. I think this is because there are so many ways in which the Holy Spirit functions that most of us fail to see the distinctions between His several functions AND how we are supposed to take advantage of those functions for our own journey back to God. In fact, most people don’t understand and can’t differentiate between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Light of Christ is something that comes with us when we are born into this world (Doctrine and Covenants 93:2; St. John 1:9). It is in our flesh, blood and spirit. In fact, it cannot be separated from us because it is tied directly to the power by which we were organized and made. Christ created the earth. Every particle of it is under His command and is given life and purpose by His divine influence. God, our Heavenly Father organized our spirits. Therefore, the innate goodness and godliness from which we originate has been preserved in our very nature. It is a part of who we are, eternally. Which, is why every person that comes into this world has a basic understanding of right and wrong and a sense of guilt. The Light of Christ is our basic conscience.

However, the Light of Christ is not sufficient to perfect us. It is an innate sense but not an active source for help. It can be warped or altered by our environment and life experiences as we actively choose to override it. Alone it is insufficient to help us become like God.

Unlike the Light of Christ, the Holy Spirit is an active source of guidance. The Holy Ghost is a member of the godhead. He is omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly loving, perfectly just, and so forth. He is exactly like God the Father and Jesus Christ. The only difference between Him and Them is that the Holy Ghost does not have a body of flesh and bone (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23). This bodily difference is necessary so that He can communicate directly with our spirits.

So, how is the Power of the Holy Ghost different from the Light of Christ?

Before we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost through confirmation (after the ordinance of baptism), the Power of the Holy Ghost can descend upon us and give us what I like to call an intense “glow of truth.” This glow may be an injection of pure reason or logic that connects some spiritual and intellectual dots for our life. It can be a feeling of comfort or peace that something we have been taught or that we have read is true. It can be an unmistakable feeling of love or assurance that God is with us. But, the key to all of these things is that they are significant moments. We know during this intense “glow of truth” that something is God’s will, or that something is true, or that we need to make a little, significant, or a big change in our life.

But, while the glow is intense and something we are infinitely sure of while we feel it, it doesn’t stay with us. Why not? We’d certainly like it to, wouldn’t we? Because often when the glow is gone we doubt or lose sight of what we felt. But, the glow can’t be permanent. This is because once we know something God isn’t going to attach strings to our arms and legs and make us act on that knowledge. And, having a permanent intense “glow of truth” is akin to doing just that. No matter how great it feels when we feel it, to make the glow remain with us at that intensity is an act of compulsion.

Once the Holy Ghost has given us a clear witness, He has to step back to allow us to use our free will to follow it. The glow was an obvious and blatant invite to recognize and follow God’s truth and will. But, after the invitation has been delivered, we have to be free to choose (2 Nephi 2:27). God will not act upon us (2 Nephi 2:14-16).

So, what about the Gift of the Holy Ghost? If the Power of the Holy Ghost teaches us truth with an intense glow, what does the Gift of the Holy Ghost do?

Both before and after confirmation by the laying on of hands (see 4th Article of Faith), we experience the Power of the Holy Ghost (the glow) which is like a shot of veritaserum for our mind and heart (pardon the Harry Potter reference). But, it doesn’t last. However, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a much more subtle experience. Rather than a sporadic shot it is a consistent, subtle flow of direction.

For those who want the “constant glow,” they can get something even better through the Gift of the Holy Ghost by accepting the covenant of baptism and being confirmed by the laying on of hands (see 4th Article of Faith). This is because they have exercised their agency/free will to enter into a covenant to serve God and keep His commandments. Covenants are how God protects and dispenses His power (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-36). Meaning, we can’t get access to certain aspects of His power without making a covenant with Him. Therefore, a condition of the baptismal covenant—wherein we agree to give our will to God and keep His commandments and take His name upon us—is that God provides us with the constant guidance (not compulsion) we want.

However, this constant guidance isn’t a gigantic glow. It is more like a trickle of constant truth that will aid us in our designs to become godly. It also doesn’t compel us to be godly. But, it puts forth subtle invitations that alter our path a little at a time toward a godly end. This trickle is meted out to us in greater or lesser degrees as we continue to exercise our agency in keeping commandments, seeking for more knowledge and understanding, becoming Christlike, and receiving and entering into more covenants. If we don’t keep our end of the covenants the trickle is slowed to an occasional drop and eventually will leave us if we fail to repent and keep trying. We don’t have to be perfect to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We only have to be sincerely trying.

So, what good is a constant trickle of truth? How do we use it? What does it do?

Now, I don’t wish to diminish the experiences of those who claim to have been preserved physically by the Holy Ghost’s promptings. And yet, the fact is that those inexperienced with the Gift of the Holy Ghost often seem to preach about such physical-saving experiences as if this is the most common and important purpose the Holy Ghost serves. It is not. In fact, if indeed the Holy Ghost prompts us to take an action that will preserve us physically (which He can and has done at times but certainly doesn’t do often), it is the least important function to hope for. And, if we are not preserved from physical accidents and calamities, it rarely has anything to do with our ability to listen to the Holy Ghost.

Consider this, Christ overcame death with His Atonement for all of us, regardless of how we choose to live in this life. Therefore, no matter what happens to our physical bodies, they are guaranteed to become perfected and resurrected. However, though Christ overcame sin for all of us with His Atonement, access to that portion of grace is guarded and protected by covenants and conditions, like all the rest of God’s power. We can’t be forgiven without sincere action on our part. To offer it otherwise would be a grand mockery of the sacrifice Christ gave. Therefore, in order to receive the spiritually perfecting power of the Atonement we have to use our agency to choose to repent, keep God’s commands, and follow the nudges we get from the Holy Ghost.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost differs from the Light of Christ and the Power of the Holy Ghost in that the Gift of the Holy Ghost has POWER to enact permanent changes in our very emotional, mental, spiritual, and psychological selves. This is what Christ was referring to when He said that we must be born, not only of water, but of the Spirit (St. John 3:5). Baptism is an ordinance and takes place in a moment. But, being slowly changed by the Holy Ghost over time is baptism by fire.

For example, if we have a temper problem but we desire to be better and exercise our agency to try to be slower to anger and more quick to listen and love; over time, the POWER of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost can take our sincere intent and make it powerful enough to actually change our innate nature. If we take any temptation or weakness and exercise our agency to change it or overcome it, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost has the POWER to help us to actually overcome and change.

It doesn’t matter if we have a very debilitating psychological or physical addiction. It doesn’t matter if we are encountered with something that isn’t very tempting to us at all. The amount of temptation or the level of the weakness doesn’t matter. In order to be released from that temptation or addiction we must exercise our agency to overcome it. That act, combined with the POWER of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost, is what gives us the power to change and overcome. It may take one time of saying no and steering away from a temptation. It may take thousands of attempts to say no and steer away from a temptation. Depending on who we are different struggles and temptations will be harder for us. But, a sincere effort, over time, combined with the Gift of the Holy Ghost is what actually purifies and SANCTIFIES us and helps us become more like our Father in Heaven.

This is the amazing role of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, combined with our basic conscience and occasional glowing bursts of the Power of the Holy Ghost, each of us is capable of using our agency to become like God. However, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, even the Power of the Holy Ghost testifying of truth cannot make us godly. We need the POWER of the GIFT to enact real spiritual change in our very beings.

Because of the sacredness and the power of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost, it is guarded by covenant. So, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is not a power to trifle with. He is a member of the godhead. We can’t take His companionship and help for granted.

So, the Light of Christ is basic and beneficial. But, it can’t change our very beings. The occasional bursts and intense glows of truth we get from the Power of the Holy Ghost can help us know God’s will for us and help us recognize His truths. But this burst of truth is an isolated experience that abates in time so that we can exercise our agency to accept or reject it. But, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost is a gift of POWER to become better, until someday we can become perfect. This GIFT is the power by which we become sanctified and holy. And, it is guarded by sacred covenant and only dispensed to those who try to keep that covenant.

BT

Doctrine: 1) We don’t have to be perfect to receive blessings from God and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Our righteous desires and intent validate our imperfect efforts. 2) Guidance from the Holy Spirit will always be recognizable.

So, life’s in general pretty good. But, perhaps today, or the last several days, weeks, or months, you feel as though you are in a spiritual limbo. Or, maybe you’re in the middle of a mentally and emotionally taxing trial, and now it’s getting to you spiritually. Or, maybe you feel like you’re spiritually okay, but you’ve been seeking an answer or guidance in something and it seems to be elusive. You’re not really wondering if there’s an end, but when. You’re not really wondering if God’s going to help you out, but when…and what your role is in getting there.

There are many kinds of spiritual dilemmas, and I can’t list them all here. But, for the anxiously engaged Latter-day Saint, I find there is a common dilemma.

So, what’s this dilemma? It’s placed firmly between the rock of agency and the hard place of God’s grace. It’s the constant struggle to be anxiously engaged in righteousness while still turning our entire life over the will of God. It’s trying to do your part to get blessings without forgetting to submit to God’s plan for you. It’s trying to figure out when to let go and just let God handle it, or when to take more responsibility in the exercise of your agency to arrive at the righteous desires of your heart. It’s the rock and the hard place many good Christians find themselves between when blessings and guidance seem prolonged or well beyond the horizon.

Between a rock and a hard place
A paperclip figure standing between paving stone and a marble stone

We who have slid down into this dilemma often start over-self-examining our lives, our prayers, our Christian service, our past sins, our current weaknesses. Often we ask ourselves ridiculous questions…but they don’t seem ridiculous to us.

  • Have I forgotten to pray for the right thing? Did I get the wording wrong?

  • Have I failed to look in the “right place” for the right job, the needed information, or the answer?

  • Did I stop being anxiously engaged and so the blessing is being withheld?

  • Has God said no, or wait, and I simply missed the signal?

  • Did I respond to my own feelings and not a real prompting, because I thought it was a prompting, but now I’m not seeing any effect?

The list could go on for eternity. I know, I’ve made several such lists.

The problem, however, with such over-zealous self-examination and question lists is that we are ignoring, unaware of, or have forgotten two clear doctrines when it comes to how God works in our lives.

#1: The first doctrine that is misunderstood or misapplied is of our ability to earn blessings and grace. Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 teaches us that there is an eternal law “upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” God has also said, “I the Lord and bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). Again, we also read, “But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned [or stopped in progress]” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:29).

The anxiously engaged Latter-day Saint often takes these scriptures to mean that if a blessing isn’t coming, then they must have failed to cross a “t” or dot an “I” somewhere in their commandment keeping; that somehow they have been “unknowingly” slothful; that their “unintentional” weaknesses are keeping them from God’s grace, answers, peace, comfort, and blessings.

The big deception here is that God expects us to be perfect commandment keepers before we can receive blessings and grace. This, is 100% untrue. We don’t have to be perfect. We only have to try to keep the commandments, and to do it with the right intent. “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (Doctrine and Covenants 137:9).

Note, that God does say that our works matter, but that they are given validity (despite our inability to do them perfect) by the intent and the desire behind it. Our intent is like a seal of approval on a University Diploma or a watermark on a check: it validates that our efforts are not counterfeit or fake. Intent and desire for good validate good actions offered imperfectly. Jeffrey R. Holland said in this year’s April (2016) conference:

“With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed…

I love that doctrine! It says again and again that we are going to be blessed for our desire to be good, even as we actually strive to be so…” (Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You).

In Moroni 7 we learn that if our intent and desire is righteous then we can only give a good gift. On the other hand, we also learn that we can go through motions of goodness, but that if our intent and desire aren’t righteous, then those pretend motions of goodness don’t count in our favor. They’re fake, or counterfeit.

So, here’s the deal. If you are trying God isn’t going to hide some mysterious phrase from you that if you only used in your prayer, He would bless you. God doesn’t have a big labyrinth full of actions that only if you find and complete each and every one, He would bless you. God, our Heavenly Father, “delights to own and bless us, as we strive to do what’s right” (LDS Hymns 96, Dearest Children, God Is Near You).

#2: The second doctrine we often either have not yet come to understand or study is that promptings and inspiration from the Holy Ghost, while still and small, are NOT wisps of smoke that we can easily ignore or miss. They will carry significant emotional, spiritual, and mental weight; for God will tell us in our mind AND our heart—both (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). Inspiration and promptings are not hidden under layers of odd images and symbols. God “doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men” (2 Nephi 2:26). (There are some more references to this “weight” further down.)

In other words, God doesn’t play games with any part of our life whether small or great. He doesn’t hide messages from us. He sets very basic conditions upon receiving such messages. If there is something important we need to know or do, the Holy Ghost will make sure we “feel” the weight of such a prompting if we are meeting the conditions for the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

Now, if you miss a day of scripture study due to sickness or sheer exhaustion; or if you by accident forget a morning prayer, or you were lax in your visiting or home teaching this month, you have not forfeited your right to guidance from the Spirit. Such thinking is rooted in issues mentioned in the first doctrine. You have to openly rebel against God, on purpose, and with evil intent to completely block your reception to the Holy Ghost.

However, if you want to get detailed, then let’s do so. The scriptures teach us that the mysteries of God are kept hidden and are only revealed unto us according to the heed and diligence we give unto that which is revealed to us (Alma 12:9). So, the more in tune our lives are to the Holy Ghost, then the more delicate promptings we can receive. So, there are differing levels of spiritual reception and guidance, but God has given very clearly such conditions: if we listen to and heed a prompting, we will receive more and more until our knowledge and righteous grow brighter and brighter, until the perfect day (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).

While there are differing levels of spiritual instruction (based upon our heed and diligence) we’ll never be uncertain whether something IS a prompting. It won’t be that elusive. Think about it. We have to know we’ve been prompted or we can’t be accountable for not following the prompting. If we aren’t sure, we can’t be held accountable. Therefore, if you’ve received guidance, you will know.

Now, I don’t know how everyone feels the Spirit. But, most of the scriptural descriptions of the feelings of the Holy Ghost imply a significant “weight of feeling” that is unmistakable. It’s not always a burning in the bosom. Enos said, “…and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, SUNK DEEP INTO MY HEART.” Joseph smith said of James 1:5, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more POWER TO THE HEART of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to ENTER WITH GREAT FORCE into every feeling of my heart.” Joseph F. Smith said of the first epistle of Peter, as he read prior to his vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138, “…and as I read I was GREATLY IMPRESSED, MORE THAN I HAD EVER BEEN BEFORE…”

Sometimes, our natural righteous inclinations lead us to do God’s will without Him having to reinforce it with a big feeling. An idea may just “sit right” with us. God doesn’t have to prompt us to do every good thing (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27).

Recently, of my own accord I felt the desire—based on my knowledge of her situation and struggles—to write a letter to a dear friend. I agonized over the letter for a few days, but worked hard to write it by the Spirit. Then, I put it in an envelope and put it in the mailbox. I certainly felt a little bit of trepidation about what was in the letter, but never at any time did I feel constrained not to send it. It “sat right” with me to send it, like the two opposing ends of magnets snapping together. I didn’t have to force the idea upon myself, or force myself to ignore any feelings of confusion or spiritual discomfort, like forcing the two same poles of two magnets together—without force they will push apart.

I didn’t feel remorse or guilt for writing the letter. And, I knew the testimony I had borne in the letter was true. Two days later, the very day this friend was receiving my letter, I received a letter from her asking the very questions I had answered in the letter I sent. It was then that I felt an immense weight of relief, joy, and confirmation that my righteous actions—taken without a big prompting—were inspired. Not because God had compelled me to send the letter, but because I had been anxiously engaged in doing something I desired which was right; and because I had sought to do it by the Spirit. As well, God didn’t have to compel me to write the letter, because if I hadn’t sent it, I would have received my friend’s letter eventually and been able to respond. So, it wasn’t a one-time-chance pass/fail thing either. God doesn’t work like that.

Consider, if it was so hard to know what God wanted or expected of us, then choice and accountability would be shot, as well as agency. What confidence could we have in the Holy Ghost if we believed He always spoke so small and still that we had to be perfect, and in perfect silence in the middle of a desert to hear him?

Do we need to live in a such a way to be open and receptive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and to receive the blessings we desire? Yes. But, if we’re making a consistent effort, not just token offerings, then we don’t have to destroy ourselves with guilt and misery that somehow we missed a light that flashed while we were accidentally blinking.

So, you don’t have to worry that God is playing games with your blessings, help, or answers. His promptings and guidance are clear and recognizable EVERY TIME. If you want deeper promptings and information, live a little closer to the Spirit and heed whatever guidance you receive. And, sometimes you just have to wait for your blessings and answers a little longer. Usually, when you are patient enough they end up being well worth the wait. At least, that has been my experience.

“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren [and sisters], let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power [with righteous desire and intent]; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

BT

Doctrine: Agency is sacred and we should not attempt to manipulate or control it. We must view others as moral agents and treat them as moral agents. Love should not be used to exercise unrighteous dominion. The Savior, Jesus Christ, is the best example of treating others as moral agents.

One of the hardest things any sincere Christian will ever have to do is learn how to love a sinner without condoning the sin. The sinners we face on a day to day basis include: spouses, children, extended family, close friends, acquaintances, and everyday people out in the world. Whether it’s a small sin or a large one, we all struggle with the balance of loving without condoning sin.

It seems to be this big issue facing us every moment we are interacting with others. We devote a major portion of our brain power, when we are with them, to thinking, “How can I get them to change? How can I get them to repent and want to get back on the right path?”

Whether you’re a Christian parent struggling with a willful teenager or a Christian commercial baker wondering what to do with a client who wants a cake for their same-sex marriage reception, your struggle is identical. The person, or persons, you encounter who are sinning in ways you feel hurt or offended by can be anyone—even yourself.

As I have pondered this topic, I have come to the conclusion that it would be unwise to provide detailed, generalized scenarios. It is not my role or responsibility to tell anyone how to interpret their personal situations. I can, however, present the doctrines that underlay this issue. Then, as each of you ponders these doctrines, I am absolutely certain—if your heart is open—you will be inspired to know what to do for your personal struggles on this issue.

This blog will be broken up into a few different headings. I suggest that as you read you ponder each section before proceeding to the next.

Who is a Moral Agent?

The answer to loving the sinner and not the sin is to view them and to treat them as a moral agent. To do this we must first understand what a moral agent is and the power of personal choice and external influence.

At a high level, moral agents:

  • are old enough to not only receive instruction but to understand it and realistically apply it

  • have been sufficiently instructed to know the basics of right and wrong

  • are capable of reading and/or hearing and understanding the written and spoken word of God

  • are within a range of minimally accepted mental functioning that allows them to be rational and capable of independent, reasonable thought and action

(Note: This is a generalized list. It is meant to illustrate a point, not to be comprehensive or detailed)

You Can’t Control a Moral Agent

One of the first struggles we all have is our desire to come up with the right words or actions that we can do to get others to change. This, is the wrong attitude and view to have. It is not our job to get people to change. Since Christians are commanded to spread God’s word, this may not make immediate sense. However, God has asked us to “invite” others to repent not to “make them” repent. This minor difference in meaning makes all the difference.

We cannot force people to make choices. God’s plan is set up in such a way that free will/moral agency is paramount. The atonement of Jesus Christ is what makes this agency possible. Christ overcame physical death, physical and psychological ailments, and of course sin and its effects. Therefore, Christ has power over life and salvation. If we mess up and then sincerely repent—which is the condition He has set—He can forgive, and fix (whether now or in the next life) anything we do wrong, or any damage we inflict upon others. He can even accept us back into His presence based upon this use of our agency to repent. If, and when, we die, He has—through the power of the resurrection—already ensured that at some future point our bodies will be perfected and restored to us and that we will never die again.

Therefore, because of the atonement of Christ, there isn’t any threat or violence anyone can subject us to that removes our ability to choose. This is because they can’t take anything from us that God can’t restore. However, though the atonement provides mercy to those who meet the conditions, it doesn’t remove Justice. So, for those who refuse to repent—who willingly use their agency to ignore the atonement of Christ—they do not reap the benefits of salvation. So Justice will be served upon them for their actions, whether in this life or the next. Justice has to be met. And it will—in God’s own time.

So, even if we, or our family, are threatened with death unless we do something for someone, it cannot remove our ability to choose otherwise, and be accountable for our choices. All that matters is that we choose what is right. We have no excuse. There is no caveat or fine print that overrides our ability to choose and to be accountable for our choices.

However, while we can’t truly force people to do what we want, or control them, we can exert significant influence. We can invite, entice, persuade, coerce, instruct, or even threaten. Yet, it is how we use our influence that determines whether we are loving the sinner and not the sin.

Love is an Incredible Influential Force

Love can be given or withheld. In both cases, it is a powerful influence. How it is offered, shown, or removed and denied, can impact those on the receiving end in deeply spiritual, emotional, and psychological ways. It is, in fact, likely the most powerful influencer of moral agency that exists.

It is how love is offered and shown that is key to understanding how to treat others as moral agents.

It is often common for pious Christians to define/label an individual by their most heinous sin(s). That sin somehow clouds out all other perspectives of the individual. Therefore, the individual is then treated from that perspective. Which is an incorrect perspective. It is focusing on the beam while we have a mote (Luke 6:42).

For example, Joan sees that her good friend Jesse is struggling with a nicotine addiction. Therefore, whenever she interacts with Jesse, she chooses to refrain from praising him for the other good things he is involved in; or if she does offer a compliment it’s clearly not sincere or has a hint of restraint. And she does so with the underlying intent that her disappointment and displeasure will be felt—even if only in a tiny way. She’s afraid that if she fails to show her disappointment and displeasure in some way that Jesse will somehow think it’s okay to smoke and won’t try to quit. She’s also afraid that if Jesse doesn’t feel her displeasure in some way every time they’re together that he will think she’s okay with him smoking; and she really doesn’t want that. Then, during a longer visit, when Jesse asks where to go to smoke in or around her house, Joan tells him that smoking isn’t allowed and that if he wants to smoke, he’ll have to leave.

Similar to this above example, it is the tendency of many good people to believe that 1) they are responsible to fix others who are sinning, and 2) that focusing on the sin and communicating ongoing displeasure with the sinner is the only way the sinner will somehow realize they need to change.

 Ponder these questions for yourself:

  • If you sin, do you know it? Yes, or No. If yes, how do you know you’ve sinned?

  • If you are struggling with a sin/weakness and others focus on it, or define you by it, how do you feel?

  • If God refused to bless you and pour out His love upon you for the commandments you did keep simply because you hadn’t yet mastered others, or had a few sins you were struggling with, how would you feel about Him?

  • Are you solely defined by your sins? Yes or No. If no, then what are you defined by? Who are you?

As Latter-day Saints we preach, rather ceremoniously, that we are all children of God. And yet, we often treat sinners as though their identity is in their sin, not in their divine parentage.

Good and evil come with their own side effects and consequences (Doctrine & Covenants 93:2). We do not need to remind people that they are sinning. We do not need to use every interaction we have with them to express (whether subtly or openly) our displeasure. They know they’re sinning, or on the wrong track. Whether they choose to acknowledge it, every man and woman born to this earth has the light of Christ. Latter-day Saints have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost. They can’t go against that light without experiencing certain effects. God has seen to that. It is in His hands. And yet, we act as though we have to take over the role of subjecting sinners to guilt, ridicule, and displeasure—just in case they aren’t feeling it strongly enough from God.

All the withholding of love and kindness does to sinners is make them feel that we, who claim to be Christians, are hypocrites. We preach love and spread guilt. We preach grace and dish out condemnation and judgment—which authority we do not have. As well, this misuse of love as an influencer is a form of unrighteous dominion. It does not have its source in Christ. So, why do we do it, either on purpose or accidentally?

Well, we love God. We love His truths and we honor His laws and commands. We have received personal witnesses of them. So, when those we love or respect willfully rebel against the God we love, or try to ignore His will for them, we are hurt. We are also hurt because it also feels like a purposeful jab at us and the bond we share with them through these beliefs. So, we react to the hurt instead of stepping back to look at this person (or people) as God sees them. We want them to feel the lack of love so that they will be coerced into changing by added misery. I say “added misery” because sin, in and of itself, always naturally brings about misery. So, we are trying to add to it, or to make the misery more acute, or to have the misery show up sooner just in case the misery from their sin has been delayed.

Sometimes we may also gloat or have a “told you so” attitude when the misery and consequences do come. This is a terrible breach in the command to love others. This is not love. This is pride.

So many good Christians misuse love, or withhold love in a negative way to influence the actions of others. They use it as a bargaining chip. They  do not respect other’s moral agency and they do not encourage them to act on their own free will. They try to manipulate and control it.

Another way people often misuse the influence of love upon a moral agent is using that love as a justification to deny others the ability to suffer the consequences for their choices. We use love to justify protecting them from consequences of poor choices, when what we are really doing is prolonging their ability to understand the weight of their choices and actions. We are prolonging their ability to find the power to change—which consequences grant. At some point the people we love will get beyond our protective reach; and when they do is when they finally learn. This is why kids grow up and leave home. This is why God sent us to this earth. For a moral agent to act we have to also allow them to reap the consequences of those actions.

Treating Others as Moral Agents

So, how do we treat others as moral agents? How do we use love, the greatest influencer, to invite them to repent and come unto Christ?

  1. We must respect their agency and power to choose (2 Nephi 2:27).

  2. We must never withhold love to manipulate other’s feelings in an attempt to coerce them into repentance (Doctrine & Covenants 121:36-37, 39, 41-45).

  3. We must create opportunities for others to feel our love and God’s love based on their divine identity (Matthew 25:40; Mark 2:16-17).

  4. We must not try to replace God in passing judgment (Romans 14:10).

  5. We must not try to assist, add to, or replace the natural order of guilt that follows all sin put in place by God (Lamentation 1:12-16).

  6. When opportunities come to teach those who need to repent, we must do so with pure doctrine, understanding, love, support, and by the guidance of the Spirit (for if receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach—Doctrine and Covenants 42:14).

  7. We must love others sincerely; because we see them as God sees them; because we want to develop charity; not because we want to make them change; and even if they do not change.

Treating others as moral agents is using our interactions with them as opportunities to get them to think for themselves, feel for themselves, and choose for themselves. It’s the proper use of love. This is rarely outright preaching and testimony. It is most often giving sincere genuine service in the hopes that these children of God will feel both our love and God’s love whether or not it leads them to change or repent. It is being a good example in a genuine and loving way—without ulterior motives. It is inviting these children of God to be a part of the events in our lives where we know the Spirit will be present so that they have the opportunity to be taught by Him, not us. Our job is to love and invite, not to manipulate, judge, or coerce.

How do I know if my actions are condoning their sins?

Consider the following questions (regarding the people with whom you struggle to love despite their sin):

  1. Do they know your beliefs? Yes or No.

    1. Yes – How?

      1. My life is an example of what I believe

      2. I am always preaching what I believe to them, so they should know

      3. Others have told them my beliefs

    2. No. – Why not?

      1. My life is not necessarily the perfect example of what I believe

      2. I haven’t really come out and stated my beliefs in a kind manner

      3. I’m waiting for others to tell them

  2. When people are kind to you, do nice things for you, compliment you, and serve you, how does it make you feel? (You may choose one, several, all, or none, of the following answers.)

    1. I feel loved and it eases some of the stress in my life

    2. It makes me want to be better

    3. It makes me want to do other things to please them

    4. I appreciate their goodness

    5. It makes me feel admiration for them

    6. It makes me trust them

    7. Other

  3. When people are unkind to you, bring up faults or problems whether past or present, insult you, refuse to be genuine with you, and refuse to serve you, how does it make you feel? (You may choose one, several, all, or none, of the following answers.)

    1. I feel hurt and it adds to the stress in my life

    2. It makes me feel terrible

    3. It makes me feel like I can’t do better or that even if I do no one will notice or care

    4. It angers me so that I sometimes want to do other things to annoy or hurt them

    5. I resent their judgment and unkindness

    6. It makes me not trust them

    7. Other

If the people you struggle to love know your beliefs, then acts of service are not going to lead them to believe you are condoning their sins. Your acts of service will serve to strengthen the love they feel from you despite your disparate views on a sin/commandment. They will be more inclined to trust you, watch you, learn from you, and will have more opportunities to be invited by the Spirit to repent. Yet, they still have the power to choose not to repent, and you must respect that.

Showing genuine, sincere love is never condoning sin. However, this does not mean that there are never conditions to be met in order to receive certain blessings. Christ loves and serves us all. He performed the atonement for all. Yet, access to the atonement for spiritual rebirth is conditional upon our faith, repentance, and efforts to be better. Christ will not forgive sins we do not repent of. He cannot. He will not. And, many of God’s blessings are conditionally based upon our good works (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21).

In summary, love is not a tool to manipulate the agency of others. Love is a trait we seek to create opportunities for divine influence no matter if a person chooses to repent or not.

BT

Doctrine: Politics has never been about picking the perfect leader. There is only one perfect leader, and that is Jesus Christ. Therefore, national and world politics has always been about our responsibility to seek to support good, honest, and wise candidates, and to uphold moral agency in the land that all may be accountable for their own sins in the day of judgment.

I have always loathed politics, and I’ll tell you why. Politics seem to breed contention, back-biting, slander, dissension—even among friends—and a long list of other negatives. In fact, I struggle so much with the political “environment” that I often check out completely. When it is time to vote, I seek out the least biased material I can find and research the issues and the candidates for myself. Then, I make my selections based on some very clear gospel doctrines—which will follow.

Politics, however, are not completely bad. In a very real way, government is a godly institution. God is our King. He is a perfect ruler, but He does expect us to be subject to His laws if we are to gain the glory of His divine leadership both now and in eternity. Learning to be subject to law is something we must to do learn to become like God, and to live with Him.

So, though earthly government is a poor substitute, it is indeed an actual substitute, therefore it is godly-instituted. God has said, “Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land. Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:22)

However, though government is a form or substitute of being subject to God, it is intended to be enacted and carried off in such a way that moral agency is preserved. Moral agency is our right to choose between opposing choices of all kinds and to be accountable, as an individual, for our choice. That accountability includes consequences, whether positive or negative.

God “raised up men” to design our current constitution and He has commanded that the constitution: “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; that every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment…And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land…” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80).

God has also said in Doctrine and Covenants 98:6-11:

Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land: and as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this [constitution], cometh of evil.

I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.

And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.

In the scriptures, God always tried to set up governments that preserved moral agency and allowed for as much individual choice and accountability as possible. That’s because, ultimately, in God’s plan, we do not approach Him as a nation, state, city, or town. We approach Him as individual children. Every choice we make is, in the end, individual.

So, in the scriptures, laws and consequence were dispensed from God through His prophets. God intended to have His people governed by prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers, etc. However, almost without fail God’s people always wanted to be “like everyone else.” They begged for kings and monarchs—absolute rulers. They wanted governments led by men. Not God.

In the Old Testament and Book of Mormon there are several accounts where the righteousness or wickedness of the ruling monarch often caused, by default, the subjected people to be righteous and or wicked. That’s because if a wicked king said something wicked in God’s eyes was okay, people could engage in it and avoid godly consequences (for the present), and the rest of the people had to bear with it. Therefore, as well, the king or ruler carried the majority of the accountability for the righteousness or wickedness of the people. There was still individual accountability, of course, but not quite full accountability.

In the Old Testament God tried to give the Israelites what they wanted through a compromise. He instituted judges. The judges were public intermediaries (similar to a democratic system) and unlike prophets were not always as righteous or as fair or as helpful as they could have been. And because of this they often failed in saving Israel and were often destroyed themselves. In the Book of Mormon, during a particularly righteous period the Nephites had a very righteous king, Benjamin. When he died his son Mosiah became king. He was also very righteous. The people enjoyed both righteousness, peace, and prosperity. Then, when Mosiah was dying there was contention about who should be the next king. To avoid the political turmoil, Mosiah encouraged the people to elect a system of judges instead.

“And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their king. And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land…but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike…that the burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part.

And now it came to pass, after king Mosiah had sent these things forth among the people they were convinced of the truth of his words. Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.”

So, politics and the type of government we choose are something God certainly cares about. However, He can counsel us on what to seek for and then the accountability for our choices is left up to us. He will allow nations to fall or rise based on the consequences of our political choices.

However, it seems in our country, that we long ago forgot about what was most important in choosing a candidate. We have gotten caught up in financial concerns, welfare concerns, and many other worthwhile and interesting issues. And these issues are critical and important. And yet, in the concern for these issues we have cast aside the importance of individual moral agency. We still talk about it and preach it, but we sidestep it when something else we want for our city, state, or nation takes precedence in our mind. We place some other objective in the line of importance over agency when agency is the one objective/right God will never breach.

C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, Book 1, Chapter 2 Some Objections, roughly paragraph 5:

“…The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.  There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.  You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not.  If you leave out Justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials ‘for the sake of humanity’, and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.”

In the place of “man” I might insert “nation.”

While our nation and its main political candidates preach equality and opportunity and the love of humanity, they absolutely and unequivocally leave out the need for honesty, justice, and personal moral agency and personal accountability. In fact, much of the legislation in the past years has been about protecting people from the power and the personal effects of moral agency.

Currently, we have a very strong two-party system—though it seems to be weakening a bit based on this most recent presidential election. People are afraid to step outside this two-party system. In fact, people limit themselves to two choices because any other choice, they argue, won’t matter. Why vote for someone I like who won’t actually have a chance to get elected? So, people justify voting for a candidate they really don’t like because they feel that their vote has to change the election outcome in order to matter. But, what people have forgotten is that the vote is about trying to elect a good and honest person to office—as God commanded. It’s about doing our part to support moral agency—as God has commanded—for “more or less than this cometh of evil.” In fact, we are to “forsake all evil.” We are not to support a lesser evil.

So, if there is no good or honest person to elect, do we simply pick the best of the worst? Do we vote for someone who is not good or honest and wise simply because that’s all there is to pick from? Do we vote for someone to keep someone else who is less terrible out of office? What motivation are we placing as the justification for our vote?

Each person must answer these questions for themselves. I can’t tell anyone how to vote and I would never dare. I can only state the doctrine. That God has commanded us to seek good, honest, and wise men (and or women). He has commanded that we forsake all evil, not just some of it. He has never suggested that we settle for evil simply because good can’t be found. He has asked us to uphold moral agency. He has said that if the majority uphold evil (even a small bit of it), then we will individually, and as a nation, mourn.

Finally, as a last note. Popular vote is not what elects our president. It is the electoral college. And even though those who sit in the electoral college are supposed to uphold the popular vote, they don’t have to. We have elected them to uphold our best interests and if they don’t agree with what we’ve chosen, they can choose differently. So, does our vote matter if it doesn’t actually contribute to or effect who gets elected?

Yes. And I’ll tell you why.

Each of us is accountable for our political choices to the same being for which we are accountable for everything else: God. God has given clear guidance on how His people are to act politically. Whether our vote contributes to the election of an official we like or dislike; whether our vote keeps the greater of two evils out of office, won’t matter in the eternal scheme of things. What will matter is our intent behind our votes. Did we seek to uphold good and honest candidates who would also maintain the doctrine of moral agency? Did we uphold God’s laws? This is what matters about our votes. This is a hard doctrine to swallow, but it is nonetheless true.

Our votes are about our souls. Our votes are about our willingness to follow God. We are commanded to make these votes. We are encouraged to choose honesty and goodness. When honesty and goodness cannot be found, our votes still are a part of our individual eternal makeup. If we make them so that we are in good conscience with our God, then we can have peace that He will manage the rest. Nations come and go under His all-seeing eye, and yet we know that the Kingdom of God will break down and absorb all the rest (Daniel 2:44). So, what are we so afraid of?

Though politics make me upset and frustrated and frankly, I can’t stand them. I know my role as a citizen of this country, and more importantly as a child of God. That is how I make peace with the current political environment. That is how I weigh what matters most in my individual political contribution. I do what I feel is right in my standing before God; and I don’t just hope He’ll take care of the rest. I know He will.

BT