Sometimes when people look at a church with a lot of rules, they think the members must have no freedom to make their own choices. For Mormons, this concern is answered by looking at the principle of agency—the right to choose for ourselves. Mormon is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormons believe that God created His plan to include the gift of agency. Agency is the right to make choices for ourselves. Mormons believe we lived with God for a while before we were born and that we are here because we agreed to come here under the conditions God chose for us and we agreed to live a certain way and to accomplish certain things. Of course, once here, we again had the agency to choose—we could keep our promises or we could break them. What we couldn’t do was to choose the consequences of our choices, including whether or not our decisions would affect others.
Mormons do have a lot of rules, but when you realize they are commandments from God, not random rules, you look at them differently. My non-Mormon parents were fairly strict—not overly controlling, just strict enough to keep us out of trouble. To my friends, it seemed like I had too many rules, but to me, it was a safety factor. Saying, “I have strict parents,” kept my friends from pushing me to do things I didn’t want to do.
However, even though my parents had a lot of rules, they weren’t with me every moment. At any given time, I could break the rules. Of course, I couldn’t avoid any consequences that came from that decision. If they found out, I’d be punished. There were often natural consequences attached to the rules as well. If I didn’t do my homework, I’d fail a class. If I smoked, I’d probably get cancer, since it ran in the family. There was no way around the consequences, either good or bad, but I still had the right to choose.
If you know a number of Mormons, you’ll discover they probably have varying degrees of commitment to the rules. Some work really hard to know and follow all the commandments. Some follow the ones they like or that aren’t too hard. Some come to church but don’t really care much for the rules and don’t follow them. They are all free to do this. There are blessings and consequences attached to every commandment, but no one from church is going to follow me around forcing me to obey.
Agency is critical to our mission on Earth. We aren’t just here randomly and to pass the time. We chose to come here because we were eager to be tested. We’d worked hard before our births to become the person we are and we wanted to leave home and see how we’d do when we lived away from God—rather the way a young adult finds out who he really is when he leaves home.
The Bible tells us we will be judged by the choices we make on Earth. Without agency, those choices would be completely meaningless. For them to matter and to impact our lives, we have to make them ourselves. For this reason, although Mormonism has a lot of rules, we decide for ourselves if we will keep them. We choose what blessings we’d like to receive and then do what God told us to do to get them. We have no choice but to accept the consequences of our choices as well, of course.
We can’t work our way into Heaven—only the atonement of Jesus Christ could save us from our sins. However, the Bible makes it clear that our choices in life matter, and without commandments, we wouldn’t know which choices God wanted us to make. For a Mormon, obeying the commandments is a free-will offering of love to God.