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Accountability

by C. Terry Warner

In LDS doctrine, to be "accountable" means that one must answer to God for one's conduct. Answering for the deeds done in mortality is not simply an administrative requirement but an aspect of human nature itself: to be a child of God is to possess agency, which is both the power to choose between obedience and rebellion and the accountability for how that power is used.

The scriptures teach that accountability is not limited to public behavior; everyone will be asked to answer for all they do and say and even for what they think (Matt. 12:36; Alma 12:12-14), and for the use they make of every resource and opportunity God gives them (TPJS, pp. 68, 227). Joseph Smith taught that strict accounting is represented in the New Testament parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30): the master commits a certain sum in talents (an ancient currency) to each of three servants and later calls for an accounting. Two of the three use and double the resources entrusted to them, while the third, out of fear, buries his portion and thereby steals the increase that rightfully belongs to the master: "Where the five talents were bestowed, ten will be required; and he that has made no improvement will be cast out as an unprofitable servant" (TPJS, p. 68).

Only those capable of committing sin and of repenting are accountable (D&C 20:71). Children younger than eight and the mentally impaired are not. Satan has no power to tempt little children or other unaccountable individuals (D&C 29:46-50).

While individuals are usually accountable for their own sins, leaders may also be accountable for the sins of their people if they do not "teach them the word of God with all diligence" (Ezek. 3:17-21; Jacob 1:19; see also Voice of Warning). Parents may have to answer for the wrongdoing of their children if they do not teach them the gospel (2 Ne. 4:5-6; D&C 68:25; Moses 7:37).

It is sometimes claimed that people cannot help doing some of the things that God calls sin, such as acts of homosexuality and substance abuse. Regarding such conduct, however, Church leaders teach that "we are to control [feelings and impulses], meaning we are to direct them according to the moral law" (Packer, 1990, p. 85). "One's parents may have failed," wrote President Spencer Kimball, "our own backgrounds may have been frustrating, but…we have within ourselves the power to rise above our circumstances, to change our lives. Man can change human nature" (p. 176).

(See "According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts" by Elder Neal A. Maxwell; Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page)

Bibliography

Brown, Victor L. "Agency and Accountability." Ensign 15 (May 1985):14-17.

Kimball, Spencer W. Faith Precedes the Miracle. Salt Lake City, 1972.

Packer, Boyd K. "Atonement, Agency, Accountability." Ensign 18 (May 1988):69-72.

"Covenants." Ensign 20 (Nov. 1990):85.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Accountability

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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