Many members of the Mormon Church including yourself and the General Authorities use the term “Free Agency” when speaking of agency. I believe it was Joseph Fielding Smith who said that agency is not free. It was bought and paid for by the Savior’s atonement for those who repent, and paid for by pain and suffering by those who do not repent. Do members of the Church misuse this phrase, or am I incorrect in being annoyed by its use?
You’re incorrect in being annoyed by the use of the term free agency. It looks like we’re involved in a play on words–i.e., free agency not being free. So to begin with let’s define a couple of terms–first, agent. An agent is a person who is authorized to act for or in behalf of another. Agency is the office or function of an agent. So what is a free agent? In sports a free agent is one who is free to negociate a contract with any team. In business terms a free agent is, if you will, an agent without portfolio. In other words he is responsible only to himself for the agency he has to represent the business.
In religious terms a free agent is one who has the responsibility to represent or stand for the cause of righteousness according to his own volition. The Savior put it this way in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph-
And again I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you–
According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;
That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. (D&C 101:76-78)
Since this moral agency embodies the responsibility to live a pure life, such that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment, it has come to be called free agency. Now that free agency was won for mankind at a great cost. It was the subject of a great war in heaven. When our Heavenly Father, in the pre-mortal spirit world, proposed the plan for the continued development of His children as they progressed through mortality, Lucifer, or Satan, countered with a plan whereby he would save everyone, regardless of merit. Thus, there would be no exercise of agency–all would be forced to be obedient–and for such a feat, Satan demanded the glory of God. But Jehovah, or Jesus Christ, responded Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever (Moses 4:2). The Savior’s offer was accepted and Satan rebelled. In so doing he convinced a third of the hosts of heaven to follow his plan and a great war ensued in which Satan and his forces hoped to gain the victory and impose his plan of force, permitting no one the freedom to choose good or evil. However, Satan lost that war and he and all those that followed him were cast into outer darkness and were forever precluded from progressing further in their eternal development. That is part of the reason why Joseph Fielding Smith said that the concept of free agency is not a free gift of God. It was made available to man at the cost of one third of our Father’s children.
Further, in the plan proposed by the Savior he volunteered to give himself as an infinite sacrifice to pay to the demands of an eternal justice the full price for all the sins that would be committed by all of our Father’s children who were permitted to come to mortality. This was offered and accepted so that the Father could extend His mercy in forgiveness of repentant sin without violating the eternal laws of justice. Thus the cost of providing for the free agency of man was actually an infinite cost–the price of an infinite suffering by the Savior of mankind.