Agency and Accountability
A couple of years ago the College adopted a set of cultural beliefs. Later, they were adapted for you as students. They consist of six beliefs that we can rally around and use as guides not only here at the College but throughout our lives. They are:
- Do Right
- Support Each Other
- Value Others
- Counsel Together
- Be Accountable
- Measure Success
Today, I would like to speak on the fifth of those beliefs, Be Accountable.
In order to be truly accountable we must have the ability to make choices. In other words we must have agency.
In the book, Jesus the Christ, James Talmage wrote:
“The Father of souls has endowed His children with the divine birthright of free agency; He does not and will not control them by arbitrary force; He impels no man toward sin; He compels none to righteousness. Unto man has been given freedom to act for himself; and, associated with this independence, is the fact of strict responsibility and the assurance of individual accountability.”
While we have agency to do as we choose the restriction placed on us is that we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. Some consequences are controlled by the laws of nature, such as jumping off a cliff, which may bring into play some serious consequences. Others may be imposed by the laws of the land we live in, while yet others are of a more eternal nature.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that for there to be agency four conditions must exist:
Laws ordained by an omnipotent power must exist, laws we can either obey or disobey.
There must be opposites – good and evil, right and wrong.
We must have knowledge of good and evil; we must know the difference between the opposites.
We must possess an unfettered power of choice.
In Moses 4 we read of The Council in Heaven, verse three says: “ Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man.” This principle of agency was so important that the war in heaven was fought over it and one-third of the hosts of heaven were lost. Fortunately, we all were among those that were on the side that followed the Father and the Son.
Satan continues to try and destroy our agency in many ways I would like to discuss two of them.
The first is explained in D&C 93:31, 39
“Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.”
“And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.”
You may remember a question I asked in the survey. What is the first law of heaven? While faith is the first principle of the gospel, President Ezra Taft Benson said that; obedience is the first law of heaven.
One of the first things every new missionary learns is the importance of obedience. So much of the success that missionaries hope to find is contingent on the level of obedience to the mission and Church rules.
There are opposing forces competing for our attention. On the one hand we feel love for our Father in Heaven and want to please Him, on the other, we like water tend to follow the easiest course. We read of this dilemma in Mosiah 3:19
“For the natural man is an enemy to God,and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
Our becoming accountable for our time here on earth is contingent on our obedience to the commandments and yielding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
A second way Satan tries to remove our agency is found in 2 Nephi 28:8-9
“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.”
“Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.”
Many in the Christian community teach that you need only confess Christ to be saved, but this is only a subtle lie that is part of Satan’s great deception. If we succumb to that belief we are well on the road to justifying many egregious sins.
Every day all around us we hear the siren call of those that would have us abandon our principles to follow a different course, even what may appear to be an easier course.
I found a definition of accountability that I think fits our gospel understanding:
“The obligation to demonstrate and take responsibility for performance in light of agreed expectations.”
It continues with this further explanation:
“There is a difference between responsibility and accountability: responsibility is the obligation to act;accountability is the obligation to answer for an action.”
In 2 Nephi 2:26,27 there is an explanation of this principle of accountability.
“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
Wherefore,men are free according to the flesh ; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life , through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”
It is important to understand that our Father in Heaven knows the challenges that we face and he knows that we will not always make the correct choices. For that reason we have been given both repentance and ultimately the atonement to make up the difference once we have done all we can do.
As a young boy in the Aaronic Priesthood I remember that on Mutual night we would stand and recite the Mutual theme. It was posted on a large sign on the wall at the front of the chapel. I recited it so many times that it is still burned in my mind over fifty years later. 1 Nephi 3:7
“ I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
The ability for us to accomplish all things which the Lord would have us do, is within our ability, we have been given both the power and opportunity.
I have come to understand that life is a journey where we learn to subject ourselves to the will of the Father, not out of force but out of our love for Him, and out of gratitude for the Savior’s atoning sacrifice for us. We have the perfect example in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ who in Gethsemane prayed nevertheless not as I will but as thou wilt.
Here is another experience from my youth. When I was eight years old I remember going with my parents to the Salt Lake Tabernacle to be baptized. In those days there were few chapels with baptismal fonts so they were scheduled in the Tabernacle. At the time I didn’t know the complete significance of baptism. But I did know it was something that I had been taught was the right thing to do, that I was making a covenant, that I was promising to live the commandments. I knew that when I partook of the sacrament I was renewing that covenant. It was much later when reading in the Book of Mosiah that I discovered some of the fine print of that covenant and membership in the Church.
“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn ; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy,and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts."
Embedded in that scripture is not only the cultural belief of Accountability but also the belief Support Each Other.
Accountability to self – One aspect of personal accountability is doing what we say we will do. I once heard the definition of character as what you would do if you knew that no one would find out. The truth of the matter is that we know and we are accountable for our actions.
Yet another lesson from my youth, it’s even older that the last one I mentioned. It comes from my days in Primary and if you grew up in the Church you also learned it in Primary. The second Article of Faith: We believe that man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.
We will stand before the judgment bar and answer for our actions and not repented sins.
Sister Elaine Cannon former General President of the Young Women said this about accountability.
“Spiritual maturity is understanding that we cannot blame anybody else for our actions. Some factors may make it harder for us to perform according to God’s plan for us, but being accountable for how we use our agency means being answerable for our own behavior.”
“It is one of the things that I admire most about mother Eve—her absolute strength in personal accountability. When she was called on the proverbial carpet by God, she explained that Lucifer had tempted her with the fruit. But then she admitted, ‘And I did eat.’”
We all must take time to reflect on our personal accountability.
While we work and study here at the Business College we have many opportunities to practice and prove our understanding of the Cultural Belief of Accountability.
The first exposure you had was probably when you were being interviewed by your Bishop or Branch President for the Ecclesiastical Endorsement. You were asked if you would adhere to the Honor Code. The fact that you are here is in testimony of the answer you gave.
Now that you are here, you are held accountable for that commitment you made. This is only one of the examples of accountability here at the College and it should not be taken lightly.
This is one of the great advantages you have by attending the LDS Business College or another of the Church institutions because as we are held accountable to a higher standard we will be blessed as individuals and as an institution.
President Eyring in a meeting of College employees said:
“If we can conduct ourselves in such a way that we invite the Spirit of God and we work our hearts out, our students, if they do the same , will learn at rates that the world will just be amazed.”
It may be interesting for you to know that all of the faculty and staff of the College go through an annual certification just as you do to show that we are worthy to work here and all employees are held accountable to the standard of being worthy to hold a temple recommend.
You are also held accountable for the information presented in your classes. Assessments are held often in all of the classes where you demonstrate your accountability.
In the Old Testament is the story of a man who was completely accountable for his actions it is found in the Book of Numbers and the man was Caleb.
Moses was leading the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. The Lord had told him that Israel was to occupy the land of Canaan. He told Moses to send twelve men, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, to spy on the land and return with their report. The men traversed the land for 40 days and then returned to give their accounting.
They told both good news and bad. The good news was that Canaan was a land that flowed with milk and honey. The bad was that the land was populated with strong men even giants and that the cities were great and walled.
Ten of the men reported that “We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we”. The Israelites became afraid and didn’t want to follow the commandment of the Lord to occupy the land and said they wanted to return to Egypt and captivity.
Caleb and Joshua tried to reassure the people but the ten prevailed. The Lord condemned the Israelites for not hearkening to His voice and said they were to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness. The ten spies died of the plague. Only Caleb and Joshua were spared and were the only ones over the age of twenty that were allowed to enter into the Promised Land.
Of Caleb the Lord said:
But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land where into he went; and his seed shall possess it. Numbers 14:24
In three different books of the Old Testament it is repeated of Caleb “He wholly followed the Lord God of Israel…”
I pray that each of us will be accountable as was Caleb and it may be said of us He/she wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.
I have often reflected on the trials faced by the early saints as they were driven from place to place through no fault of their own. The difficulties they faced as they traveled across the plains to this valley. The commitment they had and how they stood up to their challenge show they were accountable for their beliefs.
And now I see you as you sit here today and as I stand with you in the elevators or more likely wait with you for an elevator. Your challenges and opportunities I believe are greater than theirs or mine.
It has often been said that the Lord has saved his best for last. I have heard those words for as long as I can remember. I have always felt those words meant me but now I am sure they are not. What a responsibility you have to live up to the trust that has been placed in you to come forth when so many wonderful things are happening in the world. Things both wonderful, and yet so challenging, that they should drive you to your knees. This is a time when the entire membership of the Church has great responsibility and accountability to build the Kingdom of God on earth.