Posted by: rusch | March 11, 2006

Agency: Some thoughts not usually discussed

I attended Ricks College when it was Ricks College, and then Ricks after it made the transition to BYU-Idaho. In all, about three years were spent in the cold desert of southeastern Idaho.

All of the Brigham Young University campuses have honor codes that are similar but differ in how these codes of conduct are applied. Brigham Young University Provo, the largest and most prestigious, lies in the middle. Their honor code enforcement is very moderate. If you violate your contract to live by the honor code, there will be consequences, but as a whole, people are free to live their lives and pretty much do what they want. They represent the middle ground.

Brigham Young University Idaho, the jealous little brother who suffered crisis of identity when it was pulled under the umbrella of BYU and lost its’ beloved name, is by far the most extreme and has the most restrictive honor code, banning shorts at all times on campus except in the gym, flip-flops, and heaven forbid if you did not shave that morning. The thinking that I found in Idaho was, this the law and you will live it, and we are going to make sure that you will.

I don’t fault them for having an honor and holding students to it, but it is a bit extreme to encourage students to tattle and spy on their roommates. While I was going there, I always had the feeling that I was being watched by someone wondering if I would get one of those dreaded phone calls from the Dean’s office (I had plenty of friends who did get those phone calls, and it was never a pleasant experience). During my time there, I had two roommates who were asked to leave, or rather, “asked” meaning,” we will not let you take any more classes at our institution, so we ask you to find another option for your higher education.”

Then there is BYU-Hawaii, the smallest and by far the most liberal of all the Church’s universities. The Polynesian culture has a strong influence on the way things are done at the University.

Instead of a spy on your neighbor way of doing things, there were those who litterally spied, they simply taught what is expected, and then expected the students to act accordingly. When students mess up, they are usually dealt with, but you will not find the long lines outside their Dean’s office, the way you might find at Idaho.

At all of the Universities, usually during the weekly campus wide assemblies, known as devotionals, at some point, usually at the beginning of the semester, the President of the university will talk about the school’s honor code. At Idaho, many students expressed that their agency had been taken away and that they were forced to abide the code of honor.

This must have gotten to fever pitch because during one of these beginning of the semester talks about the honor code, the president of BYU-Idaho stated that by signing to live the honor code, they gave up their agency.

I thought about this a lot. If I were to write about book about doctrinal principles, it would include a chapter entitled “Agency: A blessing and a burden”.

An important teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that human beings are free to choose between good and evil. This ability to choose has been termed free agency in the past, and moral agency or simply agency in recent times. Names aside, it is held that men and women are free for themselves, to make choices, and live their lives, according to either the will of God, or the will of the Devil, receiving the “wages of those they list to serve”.

Through agency human beings choose either eternal life, or misery and sorrow. But the question that must be asked is it possible for people to give up their agency, and through their choices, can they lose agency?

In reality, when someone signs an honor code, makes a covenant, or signs a contract with an employer, they are just as free as before they made the agreement. After making the agreement, the person can either honor the agreement, or break their contract; literally there is nothing preventing anyone form breaking a covenant then their own freedom to choose between good and evil and their own conscience.

I have often asked others, myself included,” What keeps you from drinking beer, doing drugs, or having sexual relationships outside of marriage?” The answer is you. God will not stop you, he will warn you, even plead with you through the spirit and the words of living prophets to do what is right, but he will never force any of his children to do good. That is not his plan and as long as people are in this mortal probation, they will have the ability to choose good and evil of their own free will.

Even if someone were to put a gun to your head and said,” do this or else” the choice would still be your own as to whether you complied or not. Pressure applied from external sources does not change the responsibility that rests on the individual to make the decision.

So when someone signs an honor code, have they lost their agency? NO! They have not. Their accountability has merely increased. Whether or not they choose to live the honor code remains within the realm of their responsibility.

Agency is a great blessing. Perhaps aside from the atonement of Christ, it is the most important gift that men and women have. While they have the power to choose, it must be realized that upon making a choice, the individual has chosen the consequence that is attached to that choice. A person, who has sex outside of marriage, has chosen temporary pleasure. They have also chosen the misery and sorrow that often comes when a relationship in which there is immorality comes to an end, or the Godly sorrow that is necessary in repenting for such sins.

In my calling I witnessed this in a major way as people who were close to me had to withdraw from priesthood service because of using their agency to choose evil and temporary pleasure. But with their decision to choose evil, they also chose the months required to repent of the things that they did which violated sacred covenants made in sacred places. The choice was always theirs, when they made their decision; they simultaneously chose the consequences to their actions.

In the Gospel we find a continuum of covenants with attached blessings. As people make covenants, they receive blessings. As they progress through the continuum, making covenants and receiving greater light and knowledge, they become more and more accountable. The individual is free to keep or violate the covenants, but cannot escape the wrath that comes from violated sacred promises.

At all the schools, the students are free to choose whether they will abide the honor code or not. While I may disagree with the philosophies that effect the enforcement of the Honor code, I agree with the overall goal of what they are trying to accomplish being; to provide a university education in a an environment of faith.

In the end, no one should forget that they have within him or her, to choose between Eternal life and damnation. There are only two ways, either the way of life and salvation, or death both possibly physical and definitely physical.

With this in mind, hopefully it will be understood that we are all free, but that there are consequences attached. But hopefully these things will help be us be happier and more productive saints.


  1. Your post reminds me of the following verse from the Doctrine and Covenants

    D&C 93:31 Behold, here is the aagency 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.

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