What is the connection between agency, freedom, independence, and liberty? Do these words all basically mean the same thing or is there a difference?
The prophets and scriptures teach us that we had moral agency in our premortal home with Heavenly Father. "Thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee" (Moses 3:17). We used our agency in the premortal Council in Heaven when a conflict arose between the followers of Jesus Christ and the followers of Satan. Heavenly Father presented His plan for the happiness of His children; His plan included the use of individual moral agency and a Savior. Lucifer - also known as Satan - didn't like our Father's plan and presented an alternate plan. "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" (Moses 4:1). When he made this statement, he "rebelled against [God] and sought to destroy the agency of man" (Moses 4:3). We were given the opportunity to vote for either Heavenly Father's plan or for Satan's plan. We know that we supported the plan of our Father in Heaven because we are here on earth with bodies. Satan's plan was rejected, and he and his followers were cast out of heaven without the opportunity to ever obtain bodies. (See Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-37.) Our choices in heaven made us worthy to come to earth.
One of the purposes for our lives here on earth is to learn to use our moral agency correctly and to show Heavenly Father that we can make correct choices. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we are free to choose liberty and eternal life by following the teaching of Christ; we are also free to choose captivity and death by following Satan. (See 2 Nephi 2:27.) This right to choose either good or evil and to act for ourselves is called agency.
Our life on earth is a period of testing. When planning for the mortal creation of His spirit children, our Heavenly Father said, "We will prove [or test] them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abraham 3:25). Without this wonderful gift of agency, we would not have the ability to pass the test or to show Heavenly Father that we will do all that He commands us to do. Because we have been given the gift of agency or the ability to choose, we are each responsible for our own actions. (See Helaman 14:30-31).
We can strengthen our agency by choosing to live according to God's plan for us. When we make right choices, we increase our ability to make more right choices. We also grow in wisdom and strength of character and faith. Our ability to make right choices increases. Our Heavenly Father gave us commandments to help us choose righteousness. He wants us to grow in faith, power, knowledge, wisdom, and all other good things in order than we can become like Him. (See Doctrine and Covenants 93:28.)
In order for us to choose righteousness, there must be opposites of good and evil. Lehi, a great prophet in the Book of Mormon told his son Jacob, there must be "an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad" (2 Nephi 2:11).
God allows Satan to oppose righteousness. God said of Satan, "I caused that he should be cast down;
"And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice" (Moses 4:3-4).
Satan does all that he can do to destroy the work of God for he seeks "the misery of all mankind…. He seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:18, 27). Satan does not love anyone; he does not want us to find happiness or to have anything that is good in our lives. (See Moroni l7:17.) In fact, Satan wants us to be his slaves, and he uses many disguises to deceive us and to enslave us.
When we make bad choices and follow the temptations of Satan, we limit our choices. We are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions. Consequences, whether good or bad, follow as a nature result of any choice made. (See Galatians 6:7; Revelation 22:12.)
God's commandments help us to use our agency wisely and to move away from the dangers of wickedness. When we choose wisely, we enjoy perfect happiness and move toward exaltation and eternal progression.
Agency is a gift from God that we were given in our heavenly home. We used it there to make correct choices, and we can use it on earth to make righteous choices. In order to use our agency, we must be able to choose between good and evil, good and better, or better and best. This opportunity to choose comes through freedom and liberty.
Freedom, independence, and liberty are often used interchangeably. Freedom is described as "the condition of being free of restraints; liberty of the person from slavery, detention, or oppression; political independence; exemption from the arbitrary exercise of authority in the performance of a specific action; exemption from an unpleasant or onerous condition; the capacity to exercise choice; free will; ease or facility of movement; … a right or the power to engage in certain actions without control or interference" (The American Heritage College Dictionary, fourth edition, p. 552).
The same dictionary defines liberty as "the condition of being free from restriction or control; the right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing; the condition of being physically and legally free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor; freedom from unjust or undue governmental control" (p. 798).
Independence is described in the same dictionary as the quality of being "not governed by a foreign power; self-governing; free from the influence, guidance, or control of another or others; self-reliant" (p. 704).
Using these definitions, I conclude that moral agency - the ability to choose between right and wrong - is a gift from God. We brought this great gift with us when we came to earth. Freedom is the condition of being free from anything that would bind us or control us. Liberty is freedom from unjust or undue governmental control. Independence is freedom from foreign powers. As individuals, we can exercise the gift of agency only when we are living in a state of freedom or liberty such as we have in the United States. Under these circumstances, we can become self-reliant and independent by the choices we make. Therefore, independence and self-reliance are built upon freedoms and liberty and come by exercising agency.
Our founding fathers and mother understood the importance of liberty and the responsibility of agency in obtaining it. They also understood that independence was not going to come without a difficult struggle. The Declaration of Independence closes with these words, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Samuel Adams told those who were loyal to England, "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."
Benjamin Franklin spoke the following truth: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
John Adams understood that there are certain requirements we must meet if we want to have liberty and independence. He said, "Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among people." He also said, "While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader…. If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security."
There is little doubt about the feelings Patrick Henry held toward liberty: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
As we continue in our efforts to maintain our freedoms, liberty and independence, it is important that we understand the truths written by William Boetcker, a German-born Presbyterian clergyman (1873-1962): "You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves" ("The Ten Cannots" (1916) - often falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln) [http://www.cincinnatiskeptics.org/blurbs/Lincoln-cannots.html]
We cannot build ourselves up by tearing someone else down, but by working together we can become united and independent. Our Heavenly Father wants His children to be free in order to exercise their God-given agency. We will remain free and independent as long as we worship the God of this land who is Jesus Christ. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can obtain true liberty.