Agency: Guns, Gays and Abortion
With all the tumult about same sex marriage, gun rights, and other passionate political issues I think it is worth our while to discuss agency. If we can understand true doctrine concerning our God-given ability to act and not be acted upon, it can result in more productive community conversations and possibly even more harmony and hope.
My oldest child is 18 years old, an adult in the eyes of the world, still a child in my eyes. It is my goal for her to become self-sufficient; much of my teaching throughout her life has been towards this end. Now we are getting close to the separation point and I know that she does not know all that she needs to know to be fully functional and completely successful on her own in the world. So I have a choice to make: Do I keep her with me and continue to instruct her until she gains every iota of knowledge under my tutelage, or do I let her go into a world that will show her what she does not know and by so doing facilitate her learning?
If I look to my Heavenly Father’s example it is clear that I should send her out before she is fully prepared, even though this will result in some failures and mistakes. When God sent us to Earth He knew we were not ready to do all things perfectly; He knew we would experience failure and make mistakes. Still He sent us.
What do I want my daughter to do when she gets out in the world on her own, knowing that mistakes and failures are bound to come? I want her to go into life boldly, seeking after the best life she can, owning her mistakes and learning from them. I want her to exercise her agency, even though I know that means the bitter of life will afflict her because she will inevitably choose wrong at times. The reason I can do that is because I know that very few choices in this life are permanent because of the atonement of Christ. Our agency is a gift purchased with the blood of God’s Only Begotten Son. That is how important it is to our Heavenly Father that we each be allowed to choose freely, without dominion or compulsion.
If our Heavenly Father respects our agency so much that His eternal plan is built around its free use (even to the point of rejecting the son of the morning, Lucifer, because he didn’t want to allow us agency), what does that tell us about how we should treat the agency of others?
President David O. McKay said, “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man.”
While political issues involve making choices about what kind of country we live in, and we are passionate about the world our children will grow up in, do we allow this to over ride our respect for another child of God’s agency?
Think back on a time that someone demanded something of you that you couldn’t give. You might remember a math class that was beyond your capabilities, a garden planted with great effort only to yield nothing, or employment that wasn’t a good fit for your skills. These situations stretch our souls as we try our best and fail. In my opinion it is not our ability to choose that is lacking in these types of situations, it is the knowledge on which we base our choice. The frustrating part is that we often don’t know what we don’t know.
In 4th grade I moved and changed schools. Back in the olden days we learned double digit multiplication in 4th grade. In my new school I failed horribly at math. For many weeks I continued failing, but still tried and did my homework. It wasn’t until my teacher watched over my shoulder as I wrote out every little step that she saw the problem. She found that I wasn’t moving the second row of results one place to the left before adding. Once she pointed out that little misunderstanding I suddenly got stellar marks in math.
This is how I try to view those who see major political issues differently than me. The information which they base their choices and opinions on is different than mine. The breakdown in this process which causes so many heated and ineffective discussions is that we assume others know what we know, or they should, or if they don’t they’re stupid or bull-headed. Neither is the case. Just like my work in math, it took time for me to practice math, to look at it long enough that I was ready for more information, at which time I was experienced enough to use it and get different results.
There is a chance that as you realize what I’m saying you might feel that I’m condescending because I think others have a lot to learn and then they’ll agree with me. That is not what I’m saying. It is not condescending to admit that we all have a lot to learn, me included. That is the reason we are here on earth. It could be that as time goes on and I have experiences that teach me I could change my stance on important issues. It could be that others will change their stance. At no point does the likelihood that I might change my mind in the future deter my decision-making now. Just as I want my daughter to go into life boldly making her own choices and learning from them, I must choose and learn for myself, and so must you. That is the beauty of this process of mortality, as we learn we can change.
Often when we have these discussions they get intense because all of our experiences and knowledge factor into our decision, so much so that it can be difficult to articulate exactly why we feel a certain way on an issue. When someone disagrees with our political stance we might subconsciously jump to the conclusion that they are disagreeing with our entire self and life. I often worry that those around me who choose a gay lifestyle think I am judging them in this way when I oppose same-sex marriage. I am not condemning the whole of who they are, nor am I negating their experiences or value as a human being.
Here’s another example in the political realm. I feel that my religious beliefs concerning abortion should translate directly to law, resulting in abortion being illegal. Others, even within the Church, don’t see that direct translation. They believe that other people’s agency on this matter is vital, and a law which impacts the agency of a woman’s use of her body is infringing upon that God-given right. It is not a view I agree with; I think the rights of the embryo from conception take precedence over the mother’s rights. BUT I can understand how another LDS person might feel differently from me and it’s not because they are dumb or ugly or are people-killers. It is simply an understanding, or view of the doctrines, that is different from mine.
I can love people and support them with healthy boundaries while at the same time voting to retain traditional marriage, outlaw abortion, and support the right to bear arms. I am expressing my opinion of what I think the consequences of those laws would be and whether I want those consequences for society. No man is an island and no marriage, birth, or shooting happens in a vacuum. All of those actions effect my community and so I have a right to speak and vote accordingly. And so do you. But, if I had a friend who had an abortion, the way I would treat her is similar to the same way I would treat a person who supports same-sex marriage, or the limiting of gun rights, or the proper way to eat spaghetti: with respect for their individual worth, which consists of their personal right to make choices and learn from the consequences.
This seems like the right time to talk about the trump card, which usually ends a discussion or makes it ugly: the authority of God’s living prophet.
On many of these passionate issues I turn to the prophet and have chosen to abide by what he has taught. There are some LDS people, faithful and righteous, who can’t quite align their will with the Lord’s by agreeing with the prophet. At times I have felt this way also. It is very important to me that people are allowed the space, intellectual freedom, and personal responsibility to resolve that on their own. It is not up to me to beat them with the trump card until they concede grudgingly or leave the fellowship.
There is a need for us to moderate our passion on these issues so that we can talk calmly and rationally with each other like the brothers and sisters we are. The media whips us up into a frenzy, tying our emotions and morals in a complicated tangle because they want us to keep watching, reading, ranting, and raving. It makes for good ratings and thus a good bank balance. It is good to keep up on current events and be involved in the public square; it is better to temper our passions and respect the agency of others. Keeping the eternal, extremely long-term view of God’s plan can help us feel calm and know that all will be well whatever happens politically. Our responsibility is for our choices, not the choices of others.
The best place to readjust our sights is in the temple. Attendance there is one of the best ways I know of to align ourselves with God and quiet our hearts so that we can retain our unity as a nation and as the fellowship of Christ.
If we make choices in good faith, with one eye on God and another on where our choices are taking us, it will all work together for our good. Only we know what is in our hearts and from where our choices truly spring. I choose not to interpret other people’s choices, I don’t know what is in their hearts, what their true desires are, or where their eyes are pointed. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt, that whatever choices they are making are the best ones they can make right now. Their choices will educate them, and sometimes if I can watch with compassion and support it can help me learn too. God has his eye on each of us as a loving Father, guiding us to greater light and knowledge. If he trusted me enough to come here and make choices then surely I can trust others to make their own choices also.
- How does our right to choose impact how we vote and interact in the political realm?
- Should our religious views impact our vote, or does agency play such a great role that we should let people make their own choices on everything but the most vile crimes (theft, rape, murder)?